Oracion, Oremus, Kyrie Elieson, Pater Noster....these are just few of the latin prayers I knew as a child. I eventually learned how to pray the rosary and to have the Litany of the Virgin Mary in Latin. Some of the words had been translated by my mother, and explained to me what they mean.
On all soul's day I have learned the novena in a form of a chant, and singing this song every all souls day formed a formidable bond between me, my mother and my grandmother who had been told to be the original Latin chanter. The story I am going to tell is not about her Latin but is largely related to the Latin prayers we learned as a child.
This is my brother's personal account and I want to present this story in his point of view.
Prayers in My Life as a Soldier
I had been in the battlefield for more than twenty years since I joined the army in the 80s; part of the Special Force Team of the 8IB of the 4ID Brigade in Mindanao, Philippines. Our operations focused mainly with the insurgents calling themselves the New People's Army, a division of the Communist group, CPP-NPA, whose Headquarters are said to be somewhere in Europe.
The insurgents had maintained strong command in the mountains of Southern Mindanao, and in the 80s and the 90s road ambush and the term "SALVAGED" was born, referring to either a civilian, an NPA member, or a government soldier being killed and recovered. Salvaging, gained a new definition and became quite popular, successfully creating a stir in the government and sowed fear all over Mindanao.
Agusan Province, the most violent place in the Island for more than two decades, became a mass grave of both innocent civillians, NPAs and members of the Army. It became the most dreaded destination for most newly graduated Army trainees.
In 1990s, I was assigned in the area. I must admit even a well-trained soldier like me felt the greatest fear for my life. I had formal training on air, water, and ground assault, but I wasn't spared. Originally my team was for Iraq assignment when the great middle East Crisis occurred in 1991. Even then, the training did not spare me from imagined horrors of NPA's wild tortures.
My loved ones had sleepless nights for the first six months of that crucial assignment in my career. My mother, did not let an hour pass, without offering any prayers for my team's safety.
The Amulet : Booklet of Latin Prayers
I was born a Roman Catholic, but never led a prayerful life as a child and a teen-ager. However, my destination deviated all that. It seemed that the only weapon that was invincible at that time was prayer....a Latin prayer. It was not hard to get a copy of a Latin chant, as my grandmother was known to be an authority in Latin Prayers. But she died in 1992, years before that assignment was given to me.
Before she died, she was known to have granted one man all her powerful prayers. The prayers, according to rumors were in a tiny booklet and was written in Latin. This was handed from one generation to another. Only the booklet chooses where it should be passed. Nobody knew where it was, and who was the next Latin chanter, after my grandmother.
The booklet remained a mystery until today among local folks. No one was able to prove it, but apparently, no one was also able to disprove its existence . Personally, I did not show any interest in it. Even though Latin prayers were known to be powerful in battlefields, I don't think it could spare me. Stories about St. James the warrior, St. David's chant, St Anthony's prayer, all in Latin had spread all over our town. Everyone in this remote locality talked about it.
I heard stories about my Grandmother talking to a spirit of a dead man asking for her intercession. They also talked about an enchanted "Gabi" leaves ( a kind of root crop) that Grandma used amid the storm, as she reportedly showed up in my Aunt's door dry and well, minutes after leaving her typhoon-stricken hut in the middle of the night. She was also known from keeping the sun from setting, while they were on their 8-kilometer walk from my Uncle's place back to their home. My father, also talked about a certain mystic creature that saved them one stormy night in the middle of the ocean, as they sailed to the infamous Camiguin Island, north of Cagayan de Oro City. The place in itself was believed to be enchanted.
Shortly before granny's death I had a heart to heart talk with her, and had personally requested for a Latin Prayer for my protection. She only laughed at the idea, denying that she was a keeper of the booklet of POWER. She blessed me though, by putting her two weak hands on my head and prayerfully closed her eyes with obvious chant for blessings.
That was all, no booklet, no Latin prayer. Nothing.
Since the booklet was nowhere to be found, I just went on day after day, battle after battle, horrors of death after death, etc. in my chosen career.
There would be days when the encounters would closely take me, but it never brought me down. In fact, I had series of impossible missions, and I surpassed them all, without the booklet. But I must admit, there was somebody who continuously prayed for me, my mother; and no doubt she was using Latin in all her prayers. So it's hard to disprove the power of Latin prayers in my life as a soldier.
One Good Friday , I met a man; bearded with white hair from ears circling his chin, and extending up to the abdomen. He was covered with uncleaned clothes, and looked tired and exhausted from days of traveling by foot. He had few centavo-coins, wrapped in hankies hidden under those big body wraps that extended from head to toe. His feet calloused and unwashed, turned brown and resembled more of a ginger than a human feet.
He excitedly turned around when he heard my voice. I told him to beware, the next mountain would be risky for him. He waited for me to finally reach a foot away from him, and laid his hands motioning towards that one flat bottle of wine called Anejo Rhum. He was feeling cold by the looks of it, so I summoned the lady in the store to open the bottle for him.
I sat next to him and examined his stressed eyes. I was asking myself, what was he doing in the middle of this killing field? I could sense something beyond, creepy and hard to explain. I then remembered the Latin booklet. Could he be sent by Grandma? No way, I said disagreeing my thoughts. It had been five years since Grandma's death.
Just as I was enveloped with wonder, the man finished his wine and took his wrapped coins, about to pay the store keeper. I told him to keep the coins and offer to pay instead. He thankfully handed me a note, and instructed me to open only when I would be in my fiercest battle. He suggested that I should perform a ritual to be done only on the eve of Good Friday in the nearest local cemetery which I immediately compelled. Obeying his advice felt like obeying grandma. The moment he handed that prayer, I always thought it was a Latin prayer and nothing else.
Excitedly, I completed all the rituals, lit candles in an open skull situated in the middle of a mass grave, as I entered a local cemetery. It was scary, but for the sake of the ritual, I braved it and had successfully finished what the old man instructed. I've never seen or heard about the old man since then.
The Fiercest Battle
It had been two years that I kept the piece of paper, when the "IT" battle took place. Stray bullets that came from nowhere rained from every direction. I knew we were surrounded from all direction. We were forcibly held stranded, unable to fire at an unseen opponent, paralyzed amid the misty and foggy coldness of dawn.
I was taken aback with the chain of coincidence. It was Good Friday too, the same holy day the man granted that piece of paper. The government declared a national ceasefire to honor the Holy Week, and As Roman Catholics, we were taken by surprise by that sheer disrespect for the holy week. For the rebels, it was a clear violation of the governments declaration of ceasefire, but a good timing to defeat the government's forces.
It was then in this battle that I decided to finally open the man's note wrapped in small foil that was kept in my wallet for two years. I slowly opened it, closed my eyes, as expected to read Latin words that would spare me from that great distress.
It was hard to read in the dark. It was dawn and I had only one piece of 10-inch slab hiding me from the enemies. I wiped the cold sweat off my lids and without batting an eyelash carefully read the note. It was partially blurry, but it read "Don't fire, just take cover, call HIM or else you'll all die!". If I was not in the middle of danger, I would surely laugh to death....but it was impossible to even sculpt a weak smile. I took it seriously, It could mean something else, I thought...and it did.
I immediately ordered my man to save their ammunition, fire only when enemies cross the line and when we could see them. After several hours, a deafening silence took over. Finally, as the sun peeped on us, I immediately ordered a body count. Except for some wounded by stray bullets, everyone was well accounted for, and I felt like rejoicing. It felt like we've cheated death because of that small note, and the irony is that it was not even a LATIN prayer.
For most of the time since then, I considered life as a bit tricky at the same time funny. We seriously require extra-ordinary prayers when all we need is say His name.
That time I realized how wrong it was to long for supernatural things to take over our fate, for para-normal answers to every questions, when the answer is just so simple. We couldn't just accept that life has its own way of answering questions that we can't fully comprehend. Things just happen and for whatever reason, we need not know and we need not complain. The note is as simple as, there's no one else who could save you but yourself. No need of booklets, no need of Latin words...just a simple "Take cover, Call Him, and You'll live".
This could mean so many things but believe me, It did save me.
I learned a little later from an undercover, that minutes after noticing we did not return their fires, the enemies left believing there was no one in the camp and that we might have celebrated the HOLY WEEK; which for me, was a stupid assumption of a group who has a lot of experience in battlefield, skillful in all field combats. But it happened and I was too joyful to question even more.
Who would have thought of surviving in that battlefield?
No, definitely, not me.