WILSON FLORES: DO YOU BELIEVE IN MIRACLES?
MANILA, December 9, 2004 (STAR) By Wilson Lee Flores (People travel to wonder at the height of mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, at the long courses of rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motion of the stars... and they pass by themselves without wondering. – St. Augustine (354-430 A.D.), Italian saint born in North Africa )
Anyone who doesn’t believe in miracles is not a realist…
(In order to be realist you must believe in miracles. –Polish Jew and 1948 Israel founding father David Ben-Gurion)
(The age of miracles is forever here. – 19th century Scottish-born British writer Thomas Carlyle)
(I know this world is ruled by infinite intelligence. Everything that surrounds us – everything that exist – proves that there are infinite laws behind it. There can be no denying this fact. It is mathematical in its precision. –World’s greatest inventor Thomas A. Edison)
Is it possible that in all the world’s worst disasters, like the recent catastrophic typhoons, miracles are happening to inspire and change us for the better? Every time CNN reports on the submerged towns and rescue efforts in our typhoon-hit regions, I wonder, is this typhoon situation all that bleak and gloomy like all the reports on our government fiscal crisis and possible international credit rating downgrade on our inefficient economy? Aren’t there inspiring tales of unexplainable miracles amid the flood of tears and rains, of lives being saved in the nick of time by selfless humans or even by real-life angels? Couldn’t our politicians turn around this crisis into a rallying point for national unity, faith and altruism?
A lot of cynics would laugh at the mere mention of the word "miracle" as fantasy or hogwash in this modern era of science and technology, but I sincerely believe they still happen. When I was a baby on Aug. 2, 1968, an earthquake hit Manila, causing the collapse of the Ruby Tower and leaving hundreds of people trapped underneath the rubble. People years later recounted that during that earthquake, my late dad rushed into my bedroom, picked me up from my crib and seconds later the long fluorescent light above my crib came crashing down and splintered into thousands of broken glass. To me, that is a miracle. Life is a never-ending series of miracles! Miracle Saves A Billionaire Clan From Nazi Holocaust One of the world’s top dozen wealthiest clans in the 1990s became legendary philanthropists and strong believers in God due to a Nazi era miracle which saved the whole family. A young Reichmann boy was scheduled to mark his Jewish bar mitzvah on March 12, 1938 in the top orthodox synagogue of Vienna City, Austria, but when his grandfather suffered a stroke in their small Beled village in Hungary two weeks before, all grand festivities were cancelled and family members moved to this village for the ceremony. On the evening of March 11 when the Reichmanns were back in the small village, thousands of brown-shirted Nazis and their allies rampaged through Vienna and other cities in anti-Jewish violence.
At daybreak of March 12, Adolf Hitler’s German Eighth Army crossed unopposed into Austria. A few hours later in the small Beled village of Hungary, 200 Reichmann relatives and friends gathered at the little synagogue for the bar mitzvah rites with the boy delivering his Talmudic discourse as a violent pogrom raged back in Vienna. The stroke of the grandfather saved the wealthy Reichmann family from the racist Nazis and they eventually sought refuge in England.
Even the magazine Business Week recounted: "To be spared the ordeal of Nazi imprisonment through the instrument of religious ceremony was a deliverance from evil that the Reichmanns considered an act of God in the most literal sense. In the ultra-Orthodox view, as journalist David Landau noted in his book Piety and Power, God ‘’did not merely create [the world] and then leave it to run itself by rules of Nature which He had previously ordained.... He is constantly and directly involved – both in the affairs of Man and in the operation of nature.’ Embellished in the retelling over the years at countless bar mitzvahs and weddings, the story of the bar mitzvah in Beled became a cornerstone of family identity – Exhibit A in the Reichmanns’ seldom articulated but deeply held sense of themselves as a family of exalted destiny."
At the peak of its success, the Hungarian-Jewish Reichmann family’s Olympia & York real estate group was North America’s biggest property developer with $25 billion in assets. They are strictly observant, or ultra-Orthodox, Jews. Even when their vast wealth was dissipated by changing fortunes, their $1 billion donations to religious charities have made their family name legend in the Jewish diaspora.
Even as their net worth topped $10 billion, Business Week magazine said "the Reichmanns led rigorously devout, modest, and private lives… Revered by their Orthodox peers for their charity and religiosity, the brothers were no less esteemed by their business peers for their integrity… The brothers founded O&Y with the goal not merely of making a living but also of generating the surplus needed to finance a self-contained local infrastructure of parochial schools, synagogues, and other institutions required to project the family’s religious identity into succeeding generations. Long before they became billionaires, they set aside a heaping portion of Olympia & York’s income for Jewish charities worldwide. All told, the brothers would give away more than $1 billion, almost all of it to ultra-Orthodox causes." Miracle Saves Clan Patriarch From Typhoon At Sea Modern-day cynics do not seem to believe too much in miracles anymore, with science becoming one of the ultimate gods. However, our family’s genealogical book or chok-pho recorded a miracle which had saved our forebear from death in his sea journey to the Philippines two centuries ago. Unlike aristocrats in Europe who proudly trace roots to kings or knights, I am proud of having descended from poor south China peasants who migrated here with indomitable faith and courage.
It is not true that Filipinos have latent anti-Chinese racism. It was the Spanish colonizers who had that bias that they had attempted to pass on, since the early Chinese had lived here in harmony for five centuries before Ferdinand Magellan "discovered" our archipelago. The colonizers had this bias due to insecurity, since the early Chinese numbered more, excelled in crafts and commerce. The colonizers feared the grit, drive, entrepreneurship and social success of the immigrants whom they considered non-Christian "infidels." Canons atop the Spanish colonial bastion of Intramuros were all positioned facing the Parian ghetto, where early Chinese were forced to reside similar to Jewish ghettoes of medieval Europe.
Our family’s first-generation migrant to the Philippines was reportedly a relative who came only to work like an OCW, but our direct paternal forebear who came next and had experienced a miracle was our great-great-great-grandfather Dy Siu Gam. My uncle Ambassador Howard Q. Dee told me to write his saga and the struggles of the family for a book project, since all the descendants of Dy Siu Gam’s seven sons have since excelled magnificently in diverse economic, civic, socio-cultural, scientific and other endeavors in Philippine history. There were even several World War II heroes and martyrs.
Dy Siu Gam set sail for Manila two centuries ago with three other Dy cousins from Chio-Chun Village, Fujian Province, South China. These four youths boarded three separate junk boats in a port. However, due to a strong typhoon similar to the recent Winnie and Yoyong, it was only Dy Siu Gam who survived the journey. Coincidentally, his given name was auspicious – "Siu" meaning "long life" and "Gam" meaning "strong mountain rock." Our surname "Li" is pronounced "Lee" in Mandarin and "Dy" or "Dee" in the Hokkien or South Fujian dialect. Only the junk boat he rode had survived, while the two other junk boats with his three cousins and other migrants were lost at sea in a big typhoon.
Once at lunch in his Assisi Development Foundation office, I asked the deeply religious Ambassador Dee: Shouldn’t this story of our paternal ancestor’s survival of the typhoon disaster at sea, while his three cousins and other migrants all died, become a cornerstone of our own family identity–proof of God’s possible plan to use some relatives to be of great service to society and that ours is a clan of unique destiny?" I sincerely believe that all of us human beings are unique, that we have a great exciting destiny on this earth, that life is a never-ending series of miracles.
Arnold Toynbee said that believing in miracles is a basic necessity of mankind. He said: "The fundamental need of our world today is a rebirth of belief in the supernatural. If this rebirth is not forthcoming from the more progressive creators of our mechanical culture, it may come from the ‘backward’ peoples like the natives of Africa and Asia, those who have not yet been victims of the proud materialism of the Great Powers."
Pundits claim that capital will make the Philippines prosperous, our government leaders are crowing about our mining wealth as our ticket to economic progress, while other experts point to our vast arable lands, sea resources and strategic geographical location. I believe one of the truly great resources of the country is the tremendous faith of the people in God and innate good cheer despite the worst crises, so why all these non-stop gloomy talk, self-doubt, self-flagellation and pessimism?
It was not merely capital or machineries or high education which made the "economic miracles" of East Asia possible, but their people’s indomitable faith in themselves, in a better future and in God’s benevolence. For 2,000 years in diaspora, through the bloodiest racist pogroms, the resilient Jewish minorities were sustained by their indomitable faith in God, in themselves as they recite the ritual phrase every year on the night of their Passover: "Next Year in Jerusalem". In 1948, just a few years after Hitler’s horrific Holocaust killed six million European Jews, the stunning miracle of an independent Israel was achieved based on unshakable faith.
What our society needs most today is not relief goods, used clothes, canned goods and doleouts, we need a radical change in attitudes and revolutionary change of hearts. We need to use the sledgehammer of common sense and optimism to smash the age-old misconceptions that it is our fate to be a poor and backward society, that politicians cheating us and plundering the state treasury are normal, that the only way out of poverty is to work overseas. Feed your faith and your fears will starve to death! Believe, work hard, dream and overcome all tribulations with courage, then miracles will happen.
Nobel Prize-winning writer Rabindranath Tagore said : "Faith is the bird that sings when the dawn is still dark." Rev. Norman Vincent Peale said: ""Hope is wishing for a thing to come true; faith is believing it will come true." After the destructive typhoons of rain and windy fury, after the storms of political and economic tumult, can we urge all sectors of our society to pull together in faith, hard work and optimism to achieve the modern-day miracle of Philippine renaissance and economic liberation?
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Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi
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