18 October 2010

Who is Damaso?

Padre Damaso and the Friars
The name 'Damaso' was suddenly thrust into the limelight when performing artist-tour guide Carlos Celdran disrupted a Mass on 30 September 2010 to protest the Catholic Church's interference in the State's pro-contraceptive policy. Celdran was wearing a dark suit and top hat and held up the placard with the word "Damaso" in the the middle of a homily.

The name "Damaso" is actually a reference to Father Damaso, an abusive friar in Jose Rizal's novel, Noli Me Tangere. He is the kura paroko or parish priest of the fictional town of San Diego, the main setting of Noli Me Tangere. The Spanish priest belongs to the Franciscan order.

In the novel, Damaso is described as an enemy of Don Rafael Ibarra, a mestizo patriarch who is the father of the novel's protagonist Crisostomo Ibarra. Damaso, who accused the elder Ibarra of being a heretic, pushed for his excommunication from the Roman Catholic church. As a result, Don Rafael was imprisoned. Later, Don Rafael died in prison. His body, which was initially buried in the local Catholic cemetery, was exhumed and set to be transferred to the Chinese cemetery upon the orders of Damaso. However, the gravediggers threw Don Rafael's body to the river.

Damaso is the biological father of Maria Clara, Crisostomo's sweetheart. He secretly impregnated Dona Pia Alba, wife of San Diego town chief Santiago de los Santos (a.k.a. Kapitan Tiyago). De los Santos stood as Maria Clara's formal father.

With his animosity with Don Rafael, Damaso became hostile to Crisostomo, as evidenced in the novel. Damaso continued to taunt Ibarra and in a party, the latter lost his cool and physically attacked the former. As a result, Crisostomo was excommunicated by the archbishop but was later pardoned by the captain general.

With the attack, Damaso persuaded Maria Clara not to marry Crisostomo. Damaso offered a Spanish man named Linares as Maria Clara's husband. The lady declined and opted to enter a convent. At the end of the novel, Damaso was transferred to another town, where he later died.

In popular culture, Damaso is perceived to be the face of Catholic conservatism, as manifested by a real-life controversy involving Celdran. However, historian Ambeth Ocampo believes that Padre Damaso is not the real villain in Noli Me Tangere. Ocampo wrote:
"The evil friar is not Damaso but his replacement (as parish priest of San Diego) Father Salvi who lusts over Maria Clara and engineers an accident that would have killed Ibarra during the laying of the cornerstone of his school. Failing in that, he instigates a rebellion and implicates Ibarra. The fat, corrupt corrupt friar is not Rizal's Fray Damaso, but Graciano Lopez Jaena's Fray Botod."