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Rizal the Superstar

BY RADO GATCHALIAN,KR  on the 159th birth anniversary of PH national hero Jose P, Rizal,

JESUS CHRIST Superstar is one of the popular musical operas nowadays where it depicts the arrival of Jesus and his disciples in Jerusalem and ending with the crucifixion. To Christians, he is the Superstar.

PHOTO – 2019 wreath laying at Philippine Consulate, Sydney with PH ConGen Ezzedin Tago

Philippines is blessed with another kind of Superstar – a man so revered by Filipinos that almost every municipality has his statue. A hero whose name is written in history and engraved in “piso”. His name is Dr. Jose Protacio Rizal, born in Calamba, Laguna, on June 19, 1861, the son of Teodora Alonso and Francisco Rizal Mercado.
Allow me to briefly reflect on the life of Rizal in comparison with the Christ. This is to emphasize though that I do not encourage anyone to worship Rizal like how Christians worship Jesus. There is a Rizalist cult in the Philippines that believes in Rizal as God or the reincarnation of Christ.

Ironically, it has been told that Rizal was an enemy of the Church. He had criticized and depicted in his two novels the abuses of the friars. So, how could Rizal be a Christ model when he himself was considered a mortal enemy of this Catholic empire?

Because of this – Filipinos think that Rizal was a freethinker and with a liberal rational mind. As such, many suspects that he was anti-religion and did not give importance to spirituality. But Rizal as a member of Freemasonry strongly entails that he believed in a Supreme Being, The Great Architect of the Universe. Here, we can rest the case that Rizal believed in the existence of God. A prerequisite to be a mason is to believe in God.

Like Jesus of Nazareth who was believed as the Savior of mankind, Rizal was considered a “savior” of the Philippines. The death of Christ was the salvation of mankind. The death of Rizal was the birth of the Filipino nation. With his death, he has saved the Philippines from the abuses and injustices of the Spaniards. He has awakened the heart and mind of the Filipinos.

As we can see – both Superstars were killed by religion. Jesus, from the hands of the Jewish pharisees. Rizal, from the Catholic friars. Jesus was hanged in the cross at Mount Calvary. Rizal was shot to death at Bagumbayan.

Was Rizal imitating Jesus?

One of the last books that Rizal read when he was imprisoned at Fort Santiago was The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a` Kempis. Before his death, he gifted his wife, Josephine Bracken, this book. Why did Rizal choose to have this book in the last hours of his life? Did it give him comfort and consolation – and courage to face his execution?

What existential or spiritual message can we derive from this last moment of Rizal when he was holding this book about the Christ? Was he surrendering to a Greater Power? Was it an admission of man’s failure to achieve justice? Was it an act of faith? Was it even a proof of Rizal’s retraction?

The answers I do not know. I would like to invite you to think about the answers.

His novel Noli Me Tangere (Touch Me Not) was derived from John 20:17 where Jesus responded “Do not hold on to me…” to Mary Magdalene. This strongly proved that Rizal read the Bible.

Interestingly, there are groups of historians who believe that Rizal’s last words were the same as Jesus’.

Consummatum est. It is done.

Whether these were all a coincidence or not, we cannot deny the fact that both Jesus and Rizal played a significant part in our history.

As we remember the birth of Rizal – may we remember his immortal legacy to our nation. May he remain a superstar in our hearts.

As we imitate Rizal – we might indirectly imitate the life of Jesus.

Then, all Filipinos will become a Superstar.

I believe in revelation, but in the living revelation of nature which surrounds us everywhere, in the voice speaking out through nature — powerful, eternal, unceasing, incorruptible, clear, distinct, and universal as the Being from which it comes. It is this revelation that I believe in, which speaks to us and penetrates our being from the day we are born to the day we die. Can any other books reveal to us more faithfully God’s work, His goodness, His love, His providence, His eternity, His glory, His wisdom?” – Excerpt from Rizal’s letter to Fr. Pablo Pastells, SJ

(Rado Gatchalian was born in Dagupan City, Philippines, and now based in Sydney, Australia. He dedicates poems and essays every year on Rizal’s birthday and martyrdom. He is currently the Archivist of the Knights of Rizal – Northern Sydney Chapter.)