BELOW THE LINE
By AMBASSADOR JOSE ABETO ZAIDE
There is a French sexist idiom for a man reaching his 60th year. The “Grand Climacteric” is the age when man raises his horizons above the carnal and the temporal to carve his niche in the pantheon.
From the profane to the pro patria: A dozen years ago, in the year 2007 the Philippines and France commemorated the 60th year of bilateral relations. The two countries began looking more to each other from 26 June 1947, when then Philippine Vice President and Secretary of Foreign Affairs Elpidio Quirino and French Foreign Minister Georges Bidault signed in Paris the Treaty of Friendship establishing diplomatic ties.
In 2007 in Manila, French Ambassador Gerard Chesnel had his hands full in the year-long commemoration of the 60th anniversary. Among many initiatives, the French embassy published
a book aptly titled, “60 Years and Bon Vivant.”
In my previous incarnation as our Man in Paris, I had the privilege to sherpa activities to mark the special milestone:
• For the agora (Washington Sycip talk at OECD; Atlas Mining presentation on investment opportunities).
• For the academe (French scholars on Philippine studies.
• People-to-People exchanges (students, nurses, ICT and other professionals; “tender loving care” by Filipina nurses).
• Culture, needing no translation: The Alun-Alun dancers, Harana book, commemorative wristwatches (Marianne and Philippine flag), tri-color cravats for ties-that-bind, Manuel Baldemor commemorative postage stamps, and Philippine Madrigal Singers at the Cathedral Saint Louis where Napoleon lies interred.
• Paris-bound haute couture (Roy Gonzales), cuisine (Aaron Isip), furniture (Kenneth Cobonpue).
• Cinema (from Manuel Conde to Brillante Mendoza).
• Naturally, we promoted tourism (which brings trade, which in turn brings investments).
France is every tourist’s favorite destination. But, just as much, of pilgrims: Filipinos head to the Miraculous Medal at Rue de Bac, to St. Bernadette in Nevers, to St. Therese the Little Flower in Lisieux. I daresay that there are more Filipino pilgrims to Lourdes than Filipino gawkers to the Louvre.
A high-water mark on the eve of our 60th anniversary celebrations was the Archbishop of Paris, His Eminence, André Armand Cardinal Vingt-Trois, celebrating mass at the Notre Dame cathedral with the Filipino chaplin Fr. Gil Apuli and the Filipino community and Friends of the Philippines. Even Quasimodo and the gargoyles would have harkened to the celestial hymns of the Philippine Madrigal Singers.
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A dozen years after 2007, much water has flown through the Pasig and the Seine; and envoys from both sides have taken turns to widen and deepen bilateral relations.
Our ambassador to France, Teresita Lazaro, thanked His Eminence, Cardinal Vingt-Trois, for the rare privilege of a designated church for the Filipino community in Paris to hear mass in Filipino. She also intimated plans for Archbishop of Manila Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle to say mass in Filipino at the Notre Dame de Paris Cathedral.
FAST FORWRWARD TO TODAY. Pope Francis accepted on 7 December 2017 Cardinal Vingt-Trois’ resignation, when the Cardinal turned 75 years. He was succeeded by The Most Reverend Michel Christian Alan Aupetit, who was installed as archbishop of Paris on 6 January 2018. The new Shepherd of the flock of Paris is a late vocation. He was a physician for 20 years before
entering the seminary; he was ordained a priest on 24 June 1995 at the age of 44. Archbishop Aupetit oversees more than 100 parishes in the center of the country. On his promotion from his old post to his elevation to Paris, he compared it to a trooper marching to battle. “In Nanterre, I was at the back… Now, I am called to the front.”
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But Archbishop Aupetit might not have expected finding the tempo accelerated. He witnessed last week the gutting of Notre Dame in Paris and the devastation of parts of the 850-year-old cathedral. The fire was put out, but not before the iconic steeple fell in the hours it took to battle the blaze. French President Emmanuel Macron, addressing the nation, promised Parisians
that they would “rebuild this cathedral together.”
BTW. Manuel Baldemor, our peripatetic UNESCO artist, was at his atelier in Paete, Laguna, when he saw on CNN the fire in Paris. He impulsively attacked the canvas to reveal a Quasimodo. The image of the hunch-backed bell-ringer and watchman of Notre Dame is the artist’s mournful reflex on this freak accident at the iconic cathedral.
Ambassador Tess Lazaro will lead the Filipino community in Paris to respond in equal measure. You can count on the Pinoy laity – in France, those dispersed the world over, and those of us here in the Philippines – to pull our own weight to help bring the Notre Dame aright.