MY FAVORITE TABLES
Memories of Villa San Miguel and Cardinal Sin
+Socrates B. Villegas
Villa San Miguel is a house with many rooms. It has ready rooms for priests who need a place to rest. It has big rooms for big meetings as big as all the bishops of Asia and small rooms for small meetings like pre-wedding interviews. That Villa San Miguel has many rooms is to be expected. It is not a villa for nothing! What makes Villa San Miguel most memorable to me are the many tables in the house. Villa San Miguel is a house of many tables! The tables give character and identity to the rooms. My favorite table is the working desk of Cardinal Sin. The second table that I love the most is the big round table in the bar room.
On these two tables, Cardinal Sin undertook his mission of justice and peace.These two tables know more about the inside story of historical events in the country than any other person.
THE OFFICE DESK
Cardinal Sin’s office desk is an old style narra table with carvings on the corners. It has the usual drawers on the side of the person working on the table. The only drawer Cardinal Sin really used was the long drawer on the level of the stomach. Here he kept rosaries, stampitas, medals and little religious articles. These were given away generously to the guests and visitors. There is no peace without prayer. From that small drawer, he gave tokens to his guests and reminded them to pray. A nation at prayer is a nation at peace.
There is something peculiar about his office desk. It has a movable table extension in front so that his guests can have a place to lay their cups of coffee or cake plates while they talk to the Cardinal. Over a cup of coffee or a glass of juice with a slice of cake or a simple sandwich, Cardinal Sin entertained his guests, counseled estranged couples or mediated between politicians. That little table extension has served nuncios and
archbishops. Its unique design even became a conversation piece. How can you fight against eats from the same cake? The easiest way to cool hot heads is through the stomach. This is a table extension for peace.
This was the table on which he read letters from Popes and Cardinals, from Kings and Presidents. Here on this table, he read countless manifestos of the urban poor and political prisoners. Here on this table, he wrote his pastoral letters, signed them and issued them. Here on this table, he read “The Imitation of Christ” by Thomas a Kempis, his favorite spiritual reading book. Here on this table, he read the newspapers and magazines and scribbled his Spanish poems. From this same table, he took the telephone, called Radio Veritas and summoned the people to go to EDSA!
In the morning of January 20, 2001, the future President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo called on Cardinal Sin at Villa San Miguel and told him that she was accommodating the request of the generals to give former President Estrada an honorable exit. The generals were asking her to give Estrada four days to prepare to exit from office. The Cardinal’s face grew red. He pounded his hand on his table and said,” Gloria, you are now the President! You are now the commander-in-chief. If you begin your Presidency by doing what the generals want, you will have to do that for the rest of your term. Let the generals obey you and take orders from you. Please take your oath. The people are waiting for you.”
At this moment, the cell phone rang and the caller informed her that the negotiations with Estrada had reached an impasse. Putting down the phone, she said, “Your Eminence, this is the will of God for me. I will take my oath at the EDSA Shrine by noon.” The Cardinal bowed his head and his tears rolled on his desk.
What a historic table this is! If tables can speak, I am sure every fiber and splinter of this table will proudly retell recent Philippine Church history.
THE ROUND TABLE OF THE BAR ROOM
The second table is one of a kind in the whole house. It is the only round table in the house that seats sixteen persons. To bring the table into the room where it is now, we had to dismantle a part of the wooden wall to bring it through.
This table is in the bar room. It used to have a wine bar during the time of Cardinal Rufino Santos. It was originally a recreation room for a leisurely drink or just to laze around and watch the television. It has evolved through the years. The television is not there anymore. The lazy seats are not there anymore. The wine bar is not there anymore. It is still called Bar Room in spite of the changes.
The Bar Room has become a room for confidential meetings. The sixteen seater round table is symbolic of the rules that operate in those meetings. There is no special place for the head. All are equal in this arrangement. The discussants look at one another; listen to another and decide together. This round table is symbolic of the Church as a community of disciples called by the Lord personally and yet answering the call of the Lord together. This table is symbolic of the Church as people of God.
On this table, Cardinal Sin met his Board of Consultors once a month in order to decide on matters affecting the Church. On this table, he met Governor Chavit Singson and allowed the tense governor to lay before him all the evidences against the incumbent President. On this table, in the presence of the Board of Consultors, he told Cory Aquino that she will be President of the Philippines long before EDSA broke out. On this table, Cardinal Sin prophetically told Cory Aquino to prepare her gown for her oath taking as President of the Philippines. On this table, he met then Vice President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo during the Erap Resign Campaign and advised her on moral principles for moral governance. On this round table, he made decisions that changed the course of our history.
THE TABLES OF PEACE
The true table of peace is Jesus Himself. This is symbolized liturgically by the altar for the Eucharist. From the table of the Eucharist, we are fed and nourished. On the table of the Eucharist, we lay our gifts for the Lord. There is a second table for the spiritual nourishment of the people of God. It is called the table of the Word. The Word of God refreshes us and gives us strength.
The desk table in the Archbishop’s Office is a veritable table of peace. On it, feuding camps were reconciled, differences were resolved and commitments to peace, no matter what the cost, were vowed.
The huge round table speaks so eloquently of equality and justice, one of the many pillars of peace. It speaks of a Church less concerned with dignity and more preoccupied with humble service. From the table of “communio”, we find the bread of peace. In the House of Sin, the house of many tables, there is peace.
+SOCRATES B. VILLEGAS
Balanga City, January 31, 2006