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The Church Bells of San Isidro

The church bells of my old hometown parish figured prominently in my boyhood. As an altar server and later on a violinist with our choir, I had the chance to ring the bells by pulling the bell rope from the choir loft level and sometimes climb to the belfry with my best friend from where we had a good view of the town.

The church bells of San Isidro woke up the people without fail one hour before the daily morning Mass and the Simbang Gabi Masses to invite them to church. The bells were also rung at noon and 6:00 p.m. for the people to pray the Angelus.

The bells were also rung outside those hours to announce the passing of a parishioner. They called it "plegaria" (prayer). The tone of the bells was unmistakably somber. It was an invitation to the parishioners to pray for the soul of the dead.

The bells of San Isidro tolled when my dad breathed his dying breath. I hope they are continuing the tolling of the bells to announce that another parishioner has left this earth.

Each time a funeral was held, the bells were also rung. A few minutes later we would see from our house the funeral hearse followed by the family in black and mourners walking on their way to the cemetery.

The Ave Maria by Gounod was almost always played during the funeral procession from the church to the cemetery. It showed the faith of the family in the intercession of the Mother of God for the soul of their departed one.

The bells of San Isidro remind me of the title of a novel by Ernest Hemingway "For Whom the Bells Toll." Hemingway himself took this title from a homily by John Donne, which says:

"No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; . . . any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."

I do not expect to go back to my old hometown anymore to visit the church of my youth, much less climb its belfry and get awed by the huge heavy bells. The bells of San Isidro will not toll for me when my time comes. But that is not important. The important thing is that I did not live as if I were an island, like John Donne described, but somehow got involved in mankind even in little but meaningful ways.

No man is an island. No man lives alone. No man dies alone . . . #

English Translation of "Pananagutan"

No one lives for himself alone;

No one dies for himself alone.

We all have a responsibility for one another;

God gathers us all to be with Him.

With our love and service for anyone,

We are spreading the good news of salvation.

Let all nations sing together

Because the Lord considers all of us His children.

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