Tour guide and cultural activist Carlos Celdran is in the international news recently after news that the Court of Appeals upheld his conviction for “offending religious feelings”in 2010. It was widely reported in the press that Celdran had interrupted a Mass at Manila Cathedral to protest the Catholic Church’s lobbying against the Reproductive Health Bill.
Except that he had not in fact interrupted a Mass.
In fact, Manila Cathedral was filled with both Catholics and non-Catholics alike to celebrate the second anniversary of the “May They Be One” Bible –a campaign to sell low-cost Bibles to 5 million poor Filipino families. The campaign and event was organized by the CBCP’s Episcopal Commission for the Biblical Apostolate (ECBA) and the Philippine Bible Society.
“When I entered the cathedral, there were speakers taking turns,” Celdran told When In Manila. “I waited until the current speaker was done before moving to the front of the church with my DAMASO sign.”
Celdran did not interrupt any prayers. Clad in the costume of Jose Rizal, he was not immediately apprehended after raising his sign, but stood unaccosted before the assembled audience. Not until he shouted “Stop getting involved in Philippine politics” did anyone act to have him removed.
Given the celebratory (and not solemn) nature of the event, three of the four prosecution witnesses testified that at first they thought that Celdran’s act was part of the program, and thus were not initially offended. According to the Regional Trial Court decision, Father Oscar Alunday, ECBA Executive Secretary testified that “When he saw the word “Damaso” in the placard, he, at the inception, thought it referred to [Damasus] the secretary of Saint Jerome, prompting him to think that the scene was part of the reflection…”
The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines called the event an “ecumenical prayer service,” in their communications with the press, but somehow the word “mass” was picked up by multiple major news outlets, including a confusing piece on abs-cbnnews.com which reported he had disrupted a “Mass” in the first paragraph and an “ecumenical service” in the third.
“I am loud,” Celdran told When In Manila, “but I would never interrupt while people are praying. I entered an interfaith ecumenical meeting between Catholics and Protestants. No Mass. No Eucharist. No ceremony. I really wish many out there including members of the press would get this right. I wish they would stop using the word ‘Mass.’”
What do you think of this case?