26TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME: GOD’S LOVE WITHOUT BORDERS

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Not all who pray and venerate Our Mother of Perpetual Help are Catholics. In the Novena church in Singapore, for example, Singaporean Redemptorist Fr. Gerard Louis reports that 20 to 25% of those who attend the Novena to Our Mother of Perpetual Help are non-Catholics, people of other faiths—Hindus, Buddhists and Muslims.

Here in Baclaran, we have no exact figure or percentage of how many non-Catholics pray the novena. From time to time, though, we received some admiration from other Christian denomination. For example, Jullian Robin Sibi said that Baclaran is one of those spots where you have to go to even though you are not Catholic. Andy Dierickx, who identifies himself as a Protestant Christian, expressed admiration for the devotees’ dedication despite that he does not approve of every practice they do:

Let me preface my comment by saying as a ‘protestant Christian’ (for want of a better label) there are many things I don’t understand about the Roman Catholic church. Novenas, rosaries, praying to statuary and knee-walking are just some of the things I don’t comprehend. Lately I have been a bit outspoken on the subject and have offended loved ones in the process. On reflection I pray and ask forgiveness for that. I may never understand the rituals and practices, but I cannot question the devotion of the devotees of the Our Mother of Perpetual Help Church. They sit and sweat and kneel and sweat when they could be in SM or home in front of the aircon! If some of my fellow Christians could have half of that fervor it would be amazing. While I could never subscribe to the Catholic precepts and ideology I pay respect to the beautiful folk who gather at Baclaran each Wednesday. Next time I am in town I might just drop in and sweat with you

This shows that Mary Our Mother of Perpetual Help and God’s love appeal not only to Catholics but also to non-Catholics, even to atheists and those without religion.

The boundless nature of God’s love and the redemptive activity of God that goes even beyond the Catholic Church is reflected in today’s readings of the 26th Sunday in ordinary time.

In the first reading from the book of Numbers Joshua wanted Moses to stop Eldad and Medad from prophesying because they didn’t follow the rules. Moses makes it clear that prophecy, the carrying of God’s message to the world, is not the special task of only a few people:

Would that all the people of the LORD were prophets!
Would that the LORD might bestow his spirit on them all!”

Moses’ was also quick to point to Joshua’s attitude: “Are you jealous for my sake?”

In the gospel of Mark, John, one of the three in the inner circle of Jesus expressed dismay when they discover someone driving out demons in Jesus’ name even though they were not disciples of Jesus.

“Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name,
and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow us.”

Jesus responds with an inclusive impulse,

“Do not prevent him.
There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name
who can at the same time speak ill of me.”

Jesus defends the outsider and rebukes the tribalism of his apostles.

“Whoever is not against us is for us,”

In effect, Jesus’ response was throwing back the question to the disciples: Who doesn’t count as one of his own? Who actually is against Christ?

Jesus declares that those against him are those who draw children away from the Lord or who make the vulnerable and helpless worse than they otherwise would be. They would be better off being dropped into the sea.

“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin,
it would be better for him if a great millstone
were put around his neck
and he were thrown into the sea.

Thus, instead of cutting people out of God’s love, Jesus points out that the disciples themselves may need some personal cutting to attend to.  Jesus re-echoes this in his farewell address to his disciples: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower … Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit” [John 15:1].

If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off.
It is better for you to enter into life maimed
than with two hands to go into Gehenna,
into the unquenchable fire.
And if your foot causes you to sin, cut if off.
It is better for you to enter into life crippled
than with two feet to be thrown into Gehenna.
And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out.
Better for you to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye
than with two eyes to be thrown into Gehenna,

Jesus challenges us to “cut. . . off” from any manner of living, attitudes or behaviors that prevents us from recognizing God’s presence and work in the broadest classes of people especially the most excluded and oppressed in society. James, in the second reading, declares that we need to cut ourselves off from impeding God’s presence and love amongst the poor. James reserved his strongest rebuke to the rich who amassed great wealth at the expense of the poor.

Behold, the wages you withheld from the workers
who harvested your fields are crying aloud;
and the cries of the harvesters
have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.
You have lived on earth in luxury and pleasure;
you have fattened your hearts for the day of slaughter.
You have condemned;
you have murdered the righteous one;

This Sunday’s readings become highly relevant in the context of continuous religious conflicts and the rise of religious intolerance and fundamentalism in the world today. Despite the climate of pluralism, multiculturalism, and ecumenism, there are many who advocate for a return to exclusion, religious discrimination, religious fundamentalism and, religious extremism.

We will not stop proclaiming Jesus as savior of all humanity. As St. Paul said, “Woe to me, if I don’t proclaim the gospel” (I Cor 9: 16). Our readings for today, however, reminds us about the boundless nature of God’s love. The seeds of the Gospel go beyond even the Catholic Church. While Jesus invites us to follow him, he also invites us to embrace and participate in his love for the little ones and the lost sheep.  We need to discover God’s presence and action in the other–those who are different from us, the outsider, even our enemies. Jesus summons us today to welcome the refugees, shelter the homeless, care for the earth, feed the hungry, teach the ignorant, stand for justice, clothe the naked, in his name.

Shrine of the Lay

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The Baclaran shrine joined the whole church in the Philippines in the annual celebration of the National Laity Week from September 22– 29, 2018. This coincides with the feast of San Lorenzo Ruiz our first Filipino lay saint. This week-long celebration is a celebration of  lay empowerment in the church. This year the highlight of the celebration is the critical role of the lay faithful in collaboration with the Clergy and Consecrated Persons in the building of the Church and in the transformation of present day Philippine society.

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The ministry at the shrine cannot be possible without the valuable work of the lay. We have lots of lay people working at the shrine, some are full-time and many are volunteers. Many of them bring and share to the shrine their talents and specialties out of their devotion to our Mother of Perpetual Help. Having freely received blessings from God through the Blessed Mother they freely share these blessings to others especially to fellow devotees.

Lay Missionary

The Redemptorist lay missionary are active partners in the various ministries of the shrine.   They fully and directly participate in the shrine apostolate.  Rejoicing in the vocation and mission of the laity the Shrine welcome them as co-workers in the task of evangelization in accordance with the charisms proper to them as lay people.  In the shrine, we affirm our commitment to lay-empowerment. They are different from the staff and volunteers as they are fully integrated into the mission and community life of the Baclaran Shrine community.   They are not just involved in administration and management of the different programs and services of the shrine but directly involved in the mission and community building.

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Staff

The shrine employs around 30 full-time staff and 20 more part-time and student workers.  They are part of the Redemptorist family working behind the scenes of the various ministries of the shrine.

All the services in the shrine and the smooth running of our houses would not have happened without our staff running our services.  We have young, competent, committed and happy social workers, and volunteers in the social services, carrying out dutifully their respective responsibilities with a sense of fulfillment and dedication. They have shared our dedication and commitment to the poor.

Our staff have tried to embody our charism and saw their work not just as work but their own small contribution to the exercise of the mission of the community.

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Volunteers

The Shrine is home to more than 500 volunteers helping in various programs and services of the shrine.  Most of the volunteers offered freely their time and effort first and foremost out of their devotion to our Mother and their strong sense of  service to others.

Despite the big number of volunteers, the shrine still needs volunteers.  With the big number of devotees, the many programs and services of the shrine can only run through the generous efforts of  many volunteers.

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If you have the heart of service and wish to express your affection to our Mother by joining our services, check out the different programs of the shrine and see where you can put to good use your talents.

If you want more information about volunteering at the shrine and wish to become a lay volunteer , you can go to our website.

25TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME: BECOMING FIRST IN GOD’S KINGDOM

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One of the bad habits that we Filipinos often accuse ourselves of is so-called crab mentality. This habit is based on the behavior of the crabs in a bucket. Whenever one crab is on top, one pulls it down. Many crabs could have escaped from the bucket if nobody pulls it down or if the rest of the crabs helped the one on top to succeed in getting out of the bucket.

Of course, they are just crabs but often we behave like them or even worst. For example, how often have we pulled someone on top or preventing someone from achieving something? When somebody is doing good or experiencing success in life, instead of praising or offering support, how many times have we purposely try to bring him/her down. Just because we are jealous or we try to justify our action by saying, “If I can’t have it, then you can’t have it as well.” Tragically, in the end, nobody ever succeed and nothing ever gets accomplished.

This mentality is nothing new as it may have been around ever since human interaction began. Talk about survival of the fittest! In the gospel story today–the 25th Sunday in ordinary time–we read of a similar incident, an incident from about 2,000 years ago. Jesus and his disciples were walking to Capernaum. The disciples were following Jesus who was going from village to village preaching the good news of the Kingdom of God. The final destination of this missionary journey is Jerusalem. Along the way, the disciples were arguing with each other. When they reached Capernaum at the end of the day, Jesus asked them what they were arguing along the way:

They came to Capernaum and, once inside the house,
[Jesus] began to ask them,
“What were you arguing about on the way?”
But they remained silent.
They had been discussing among themselves on the way
who was the greatest.

Along the journey, the disciples were trying to vie against each other about who will be on top when Jesus will finally reign once they reach Jerusalem. They all were trying to pull each other down in order to take the top spot.

The funny thing is that Jesus told them beforehand that what awaits him once they reach Jerusalem is anything but glory, power and fame. It was all about betrayal, suffering and death.

“The Son of Man is to be handed over to men
and they will kill him,
and three days after his death the Son of Man will rise.”

It seems that, pitifully, no one among the disciples heard what Jesus was saying. Either they did not understood him or they were overwhelmed by fear.

But they did not understand the saying,
and they were afraid to question him.

(They will eventually understand and banish all their fears, after the resurrection of Jesus).

But suppose the disciples fully understood then what Jesus was saying, would you think they would vie among each other about who would be the first in his kingdom? If they understood that to be part of Jesus kingdom entails suffering, sacrifice and even death, would the disciples still scramble for the top position? Probably not. Each one might say to the other, “You go ahead, you be the no. 1, I’ll be right behind you.” or “Its OK, i’ll be no. 2 or no. 3 even last, just not want to be the first.”

Nonetheless, even after Jesus’ own prediction of his suffering and death, the disciples remained steeped in their own world. Indeed, what was starkly demonstrated in this gospel story is the diametrical opposition between Jesus’ world and values and the disciples’ world and values and how the disciples’ values and Jesus values never met on the same level. The disciples’ values were worldly success measured in wealth, popularity, influence, status and power. Jesus’ values were godly success measured in service, sacrifice, love and humility. Within the disciples and Jesus’ world and values, lies each one’s concept of greatness. But each concept of greatness is utterly different from each other since their world and values are totally opposite each other

Since greatness was the disciples’ overriding agenda, however, Jesus did talk about greatness, albeit from his divine perspective. And in a powerful way. Jesus took a child and placed the child in their midst.

Taking a child, he placed it in their midst,
and putting his arms around it, he said to them,
“Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me;
and whoever receives me,
receives not me but the One who sent me.”

In most ancient Middle Eastern cultures the child would place last in social status and position. Within the family and the community, the child had next to no status. A minor child was considered almost equal to a slave. Only after reaching maturity did a child become a free person with rights to inherit the family estate. In other words, the child in Jesus’ time and society has no wealth, status, honor, position, influence and power in society. Expanding the image of child or children in society, the child are the poor, the anawim, the insignificant, powerless, the rejects, the sinners, the “little ones” in Jesus’ society. To be great in Jesus’ kingdom, therefore, is to welcome these little ones. Receiving and casting our lot with the poor, the least, the lowly and the most abandoned in society is receiving and welcoming Jesus himself and the Father who sent Jesus into the world.

“Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me;
and whoever receives me,
receives not me but the One who sent me.”

By placing a child right in their midst, Jesus was making a very powerful statement against worldly values that contradict the Kingdom of God. A child who has no power, status and position taking center stage becomes a counter-symbol to power, domination, wealth, violence, pride, and injustice that is the cause of exploitation, inequality and poverty.

Don’t get Jesus wrong. Jesus wants his disciples to be great–in his kingdom. Jesus wanted his disciples to be great not so much in this world but in his kingdom. In order to be great in his kingdom, the disciples need to leave behind their worldly values and standards. They need conversion–metanoia–a change of heart and mind according to the heart and mind of Jesus. They need to change their view of what greatness is. (Again, this will finally occur to the disciples after the life-changing event of the resurrection of Jesus).

To be great in his kingdom is to be like a child–no wealth, status and power but a life full of service, sacrifice and humility.

“If anyone wishes to be first,
he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.”

How can one be great without wealth, status and power? This seems to be a daunting if not an impossible task in our world. Jesus is asking us to do great things without the need to anchor on wealth, status and power. Right! Good luck! This indeed goes against every practical rule in this world let alone every tissue of our body. But come to think of it, Jesus is hinting at a wonderful piece of wisdom here. Just think about who were the greatest people in history, in the bible, in the church and in our country. Think about the greatest saints in the church and the real heroes of our country. Many of them were not kings, princes and wealthy but ordinary, poor, even oppressed and rejected with no fame, honor and power in the time and society they lived. Many of them suffered greatly and gave up their lives in the end. Talk about Moses, David, Isaiah, Buddha, St. Francis, Gandhi, Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King, Andres Bonifacio, to name only a few. Not to mention, the greatest of all–Mary, an ordinary peasant girl.

To be great in Jesus is to discover the real treasure within ourselves and the world around us. The real treasure is the kingdom of God which is like a mustard seed–the smallest of all seed but when it grows becomes the biggest of all trees. To discover the seed of God’s kingdom which God, the prodigal sower, has planted in every human’s heart is to have the mind and inquisitiveness of a child full of wonder and innocence.

In a staunchly competitive world where everybody wants to be first, Jesus wants us to be no. 1 in his kingdom. Everyone can become no. 1 in his kingdom without the need for wealth, power and status. We just have to be who we truly are–a child of God who is dependent on the grace and goodness of God and of one another.

In God’s kingdom, we don’t need to pull each other down as we will all be on top basking eternally in God’s blessings and presence.

Preaching the Gospel in Dangerous Times: The Shrine Under Martial Law

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This September 21, we will mark the 46th anniversary of the infamous declaration of martial law by the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Marcos imposed martial law on the nation from 1972 to 1981. With martial law, curfews were imposed, civil law, civil rights, habeas corpus were suspended, and military law or military justice were applied and extended to civilians. Many private establishments particularly media companies critical of the government were closed, and politician critics and activists were arrested. Under martial law there were widespread excesses and human rights abuses.

At the height of martial law, the Baclaran shrine became a symbol of resilience to the injustices and oppression of Marcos dictatorship and a beacon of hope for the thousands of devotees who struggled and pursued freedom and liberty amidst dangerous times.

Despite the nationwide curfew during the whole martial law period, the shrine was open to the devotees 24/7. The shrine never closed its doors to thousands of devotees and continued to celebrate the sacraments, conduct novenas and minister to both spiritual and material needs of devotees.

In the midst of the political and social upheavals of martial law years, the shrine stood in solidarity with those seeking justice and equality. The social turmoil gradually propelled Redemptorist to get involved with issues of human rights, justice and peace. Redemptorist missionaries stood in protest together with civil and people’s organizations against increasing militarization, rampant human rights violations, crony capitalism, widening gap between the rich and the poor, land reform, repression of workers, and others. The missionaries integrated these social issues in their mission and ministry at the shrine. These issues significantly influenced the method and content of preaching at the shrine and the conduct of parish mission in Manila and Tagalog provinces.

Because of involvement with justice and peace issues, the shrine became well-known as a shrine of activism and social involvement. As Filipino sociologist Manuel Victor Sapitula commented, “The Perpetual Help shrine’s emphasis on ‘engaged devotionalism’ sets it apart from other places of pilgrimage in the country.” [1] The shrine became very vocal about issues and advocacy towards transformation in Philippine church and society. Redemptorist were not just administering sacraments but also preaching about burning issues of the day in the light of the gospel. Gradually, the thrust of the shrine was not just devotional and spiritual but social and missional as well. These activities and the strong preaching on justice and peace, however, subjected Baclaran church to a continuous surveillance by the Marcos Intelligence forces. There was not a few times that the shrine received warnings and death threats over the phone.

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The last years of martial law saw the shrine playing a pivotal role in the eventual downfall of Marcos dictatorship.

When the main opposition leader, Ninoy Aquino, returning from exile in 1983, was assassinated at the Manila International Airport, it was to Baclaran that his family and welcoming party went to pray. A spokesman addressed the Sunday congregation asking for prayers for Ninoy and for the country he said was worth dying for. That tragic event rudely awakened the middle class from its complacency and timidity, ushering in an era of unprecedented activism.

An ingenious expressions of dissent that was used against the Marcos regime after the Ninoy assassination was jogging. On Sundays, a group, led by Ninoy’s brother Butch and their sympathizers, would jog from Rizal Park along Roxas Boulevard and end up in Baclaran for the 9 a.m. Mass.

When Redemptorist Father Rudy Romano was kidnapped in Cebu on July 11, 1985 amidst strong suspicion of military perpetrators, Baclaran Church gave his case all out support, even dedicating in his memory, a hall–Romano Hall, a street marker and a monument (together with other desaparecidos or missing persons during the Marcos regime).

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When Marcos called a “snap election” and Ninoy’s widow, Cory, was persuaded to run against him, things began to heat up to boiling point. During the counting of the ballots, some computer technicians began to notice how the official figures on the tally board kept showing a widening Marcos lead, even as the citizen’s NAMFREL count was showing the very opposite. Sensing a highly sophisticated scam manipulating the results, 35 of the technicians found the courage to walk out, dealing a major blow to the credibility of the whole electoral process. Not surprisingly, the Marcos people attacked the walk¬out as “staged” for the benefit of the foreign press. One cited the fact that the group that walked out proceeded to Baclaran where they were interviewed by the press, “when we all know that the Redemptorist church is a haven for the opposition.”

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What happened was that someone from the crowd shouted out the suggestion for them to proceed to Baclaran. When they arrived at the shrine, Redemptorist Fr. Frat Warren, happened to notice the group outside in the grounds. When he heard what they had done, he brought them into the convento in an act of humanitarian sympathy, to shield them from inquisitive reporters. He prepared a bit of supper for them and provided them with mats and sheets so they could spend the night in what used to be the community oratory on the second floor. They stayed there through the wee hours of the morning until it was thought safe enough for them to transfer elsewhere.

After Marcos endeavored to nullify Cory’s victory, the Bishops issued their now famous pastoral letter declaring the elections so “unparalleled in the fraudulence of their conduct,” that there was “no moral basis” (on Marcos’ part) for continuing to govern. Cardinal Sin chose to air the official hierarchy’s stand during the 6 PM Mass at Baclaran. Cory, who was present, began to address the crowd, but a gun threat caused the people to make a hasty exit.

Then came the brutal assassination of the former governor of Antique, Evelio Javier, whose remains were brought to Manila for burial. From the Manila Domestic Airport,. the remains were brought to Baclaran Church where a concelebrated mass was immediately said. This was followed by an all-night vigil and another mass the following day, attended by Cory. The huge crowd accompanied his remains on foot from Baclaran all the way to Ateneo, Evelio’s alma mater, a distance of some 20 kilometers. He had been an idealistic Atenean who went back to his native province to try to reform the political system. He had succeeded as far as getting elected governor, a feat in itself considering the rough and dangerous game that was the politics of those days. In the end, the system got him and murdered him. Thousands viewed Evelio’s remains and saluted him as a martyr for the cause of justice, thus helping to galvanize opposition to the perpetuation of Marcos’ rule.

All these events were significant build-up events to the now famous EDSA people’s power revolution which led to the Marcoses fleeing the country.

The aspirations of the people during martial law is reflected today in the wall art of the western wall of the shrine’s compound. Images from the history of struggle of the Filipino people especially during martial law are expressed in painting, mosaic and sculpture on the wall. These images are interspersed with images of creation and caring for mother earth. Pope Francis’ encyclical on the care for creation, the images of brother sun and sister moon provide a backdrop for many of the art works in the wall.

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At a corner of the shrine lawn fronting Roxas Boulevard, is a monument called Bantayog ng Desaparecido (Memorial for the Disappeared) in memory of Fr. Rudy Romano and many other missing persons during the Marcos regime. The Bantayog lists the names of Fr. Rudy and hundreds of other missing people etched in granite panels. Unveiled in September 2004, the memorial is the refurbished “Flame of Courage Monument,” designed and created by sculptor Lito Mondejar. It features a mother carrying a torch, which symbolizes the courage of those left behind and continuing the struggle for justice. For families and friends of the disappeared, the Bantayog stands as a common ground for remembrance. The families come here every year in November 1 because they have no tomb to visit on All Souls’ Day.

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At the entrance of the shrine on Redemptorist Road, there is a marker embedded into the wall that records the visit of Cardinal Thomas O’Fiaich, Primate of Ireland, who came to show his solidarity with Fr. Rudy Romano’s case on Dec. 5, 1986.

The aspirations of the people during martial law years also influenced the revision of the novena in 1973. Some of the petitions in the 1973 novena reflected these aspirations:

“That we may work for the just distribution of this world’s goods,

Loving Mother, pray for us.”

Promotion of justice and peace was incorporated into the petitions of the novena.

That there will be genuine and lasting peace in the world,

Loving Mother pray for us.

That we may proclaim the dignity of work by doing our own work conscientiously,

Loving Mother pray for us.

The novena encouraged devotees to work towards justice and peace.

Help us to grow daily in genuine love of God and neighbor so that justice and peace may happily reign in the entire family of mankind. Amen.

[W]e earnestly ask you, our Mother
to help us comfort the sick and the dying
give hope to the poor and unemployed
heal the broken-hearted
teach justice to their oppressors
and bring back to God all those who have offended Him.[2]

novena2Indeed, Baclaran shrine served as a counter-symbol to the domination and oppression and a glimmer of hope amidst the dark period of the martial law era. Karl Gaspar beautifully sums up this image of the shrine as a counter-symbol,

Baclaran serves as a counter symbol, as a beacon of light, as a parola [lighthouse] by the shores of Manila Bay for the weary travelers out there in the pitch darkness of night. Because in this church-shrine which lies at the crossroads of people’s pains and struggles, but also their hopes and joys; which is open 24 hours a day from Monday to Sunday, through sunshine and rain, earthquakes and typhoons, dictatorships and people power; allows the devotees to sit still under the gaze of a loving Mother who bridges them to the God of small people, the anak-dalita [wretched children], the most abandoned. Here the poor came home to the bosom of God who does make possible plentiful Redemption.[3]

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[1] Manuel Victor Sapitula, Marian Piety and Modernity, 89.

[2] Perpetual Help Novena, Baclaran, 1973.

[3] Karl Gaspar, “Embracing the Mother’s Perpetual Compassion: The Specific Place of OMPH Icon-Novena in the Philippines’ Varied Marian Devotions,” Our Mother of Perpetual Help Icon and the Philippines: Multidisciplinary Perspectives to a Perpetual Help Spirituality (Manila: Institute for Spirituality in Asia, 2017), 87.

The Shrine and Peace Building Today

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This September 21, the shrine joins the whole world in the celebration of the International Day of Peace.

In 1981 the United Nations General Assembly passed resolution 36/67 declaring an International Day of Peace. In 2001, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a new resolution 55/282 declaring 21 September of each year as the International Day of Peace. The resolution declares,

“The International Day of Peace shall henceforth be observed as a day of global ceasefire and non-violence, an invitation to all nations and people to honour a cessation of hostilities for the duration of the Day…”

Indeed, the World Day of Peace serves to inspire people to embrace compassion, to respect life and to live in harmony with one another. Peace on earth can only become a reality when all people rise above national boundaries, politics, religion and ideologies. We need to celebrate our cultural diversities rather than using them as a reason for conflict.

Peace is an essential element of our life as Christians and devotees of Our Mother of Perpetual Help.  Peace is one of the chief teachings of Jesus:

“I leave you peace, my peace I give you.”

The peace that Jesus gave us is different from the peace that the world gives. Jesus’ peace is borne out of justice and inclusive embrace of all people especially the poor, the marginalized, the weak, and the abandoned. As followers of Jesus we are called to be vigorous witnesses and advocates of Jesus’ peace.

To be advocates of peace in our country today is to stand up for life and strongly protest the unabated killings that is a daily occurrence in our country today.  Most of the recent spate of killings is in line with the government’s war on drugs for which the main victims are the poor. On the other hand, rich drug lords and politicians coddlers of drug suppliers are given the full extent of the due process of law.

Suspected poor addicts and pushers are not the only targets of killing. Political activists, journalists, church people, clergy and Lumads (tribal Filipinos) have also become victims of extra-judicial killings.  Extra-judicial killing has no place in a civilized democratic society.  No one should be killed just because one’s political conviction is different from mine.  The continuous killings makes a mockery of our democratic and Christian society.

As Christians and devotees of Our Mother of Perpetual Help committed to peace building, we need to condemn the utter loss of respect for the dignity of life and human rights. We are utterly distressed that in a Christian country like ours, the killings is tolerated, even supported. As peace makers we need to question what kind of society have we become, what kind of people have we become? Our country has turned into a big killing field. Death is the order of the day. A culture of killing with impunity is the new normality. To add insult to injury, a culture of silence and a climate of fear has prevailed. In the midst of the daily killings, many people go on with their lives, show no empathy to the victims and accept the government war on drugs as necessary evil.

As devotees of Our Mother of Perpetual Help dedicated to peace building, it is our urgent moral calling in today’s critical times to resist the killings, defend democracy, uphold human rights and stand up for life.

Through the intercession of our Mother of Perpetual Help, may we obtain the strength to achieve peace in our society today. Like Mary, may we proclaim Jesus, the prince of peace, through our words and action of peace beginning within our family, community, parish and the whole society.

Donation for Victims of Typhoon Ompong in Northern Luzon

The Baclaran shrine is appealing for your help to victims of typhoon Ompong in Northern Luzon.

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You can donate in person by bringing your donation to our shrine’s front office.  Please always ask for an official receipt.

Or you can deposit on our bank account listed below:

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After you made a donation through our bank account please email us at baclaranrector@yahoo.com the details of your donation: Name, Email, Home Address, and Amount Donated.  We can send you the official receipt by email or you can pick it up at our front office. Or you can go to our website to  send your donation through our bank account.

 

24TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME: WHO DO YOU SAY JESUS IS

Jesus in the icon

During seminars in the Baclaran shrine about the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, we asked the participants: “Who is the perpetual help?” Immediately they would answer with great conviction, “Mary, of course!” But then we’ll repeat the question. And this time, we’ll rephrase the question: “Mary is the Mother of perpetual help, so who is the perpetual help?” Then they would think for a while and stare at us intriguingly.

We use this question as a take-off point to a deeper study of the icon and the role of Mary. Mary is Our Mother of Perpetual Help. Mary is the mother of the source of perpetual help which is her son Jesus. As in the icon, Mary is she who points to the way—Jesus Christ. True devotion to Mary leads us to following Jesus. Mary in the icon, presents Jesus as the path towards salvation. Indeed, in the icon, Jesus is the true Perpetual Help. Mary’s role is to announce to us our central calling–to follow Jesus.

In today’s gospel of the 24th Sunday in ordinary time, Jesus directly asked his disciples,

“Who do you say that I am?”

Simon Peter said in reply,

“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Jesus said,

“And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church.”

Peter’s confession is the rock foundation of our Christian life. Without confessing Jesus the Christ as God of our lives, everything we say and do, all our rituals and sacraments will amount to nothing. Christianity is not just a set of obligation, religion or a list of commandments but, first and foremost, a relationship with Jesus. As Pope Benedict XVI said:

“Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.”[1]

To have a relationship with Jesus, however, is not just to have a friendly relationship or a sweet spiritual relationship with Jesus. Like Peter, what many Christians dread to know is that relationship with Jesus entails suffering and even denial of oneself.

“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself,
take up his cross, and follow me.
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for my sake
and that of the gospel will save it.”

Peter did not understand this at first, thinking that believing in Jesus as the Messiah could come without the need for suffering. Jesus has to correct him, albeit bluntly, and teach him God’s standard: Christian life amounts to carrying one’s cross in the footsteps of Jesus.

Then Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.
At this he turned around and, looking at his disciples,
rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan.
You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”

The suffering demanded by our confession of Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of the living God” is articulated in the First Reading by the prophet Isaiah. The first reading comes from the third song of the Servant of Yhwh, the “Suffering Servant.”

I have not rebelled, have not turned back.
I gave my back to those who beat me,
my cheeks to those who plucked my beard. …
The Lord God is my help; who will prove me wrong?

The suffering servant modeled Jesus’ response to Peter’s confession; explaining to Peter that to be the Christ means

“the Son of Man must suffer greatly
and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes,
and be killed,
and rise after three days.”

The second reading from the letter of James explicate further that to have a relationship with Jesus is not just an exclusive and loving relationship with Jesus–me and my sweet Jesus but a loving relationship with others especially the poor and the most abandoned. Relationship with Jesus is not just professing faith in Jesus but also practising it. The practice of the faith is the performance of deeds that benefit those in need. As the letter of James expounds,

What good is it, my brothers and sisters,
if someone says he has faith but does not have works?
Can that faith save him?
If a brother or sister has nothing to wear
and has no food for the day,
and one of you says to them,
“Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well, ”
but you do not give them the necessities of the body,
what good is it?
So also faith of itself,
if it does not have works, is dead.

It took a while before Peter fully understood the true meaning of confessing Jesus as the Christ. When Jesus called Peter, Jesus was well aware of the many faults and flaws of Peter. Despite his weaknesses, Peter stayed with Jesus until the end. Indeed, he became a rock of faith. Peter’s being rock comes from the strength he received from God:

“Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah.
For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you,
but my heavenly Father.”

Like Peter, we fear, we vacillate, and we try to escape from the mission of Jesus. But like Peter, if we rely on God’s grace beyond our capacities, we can truly confess Jesus as the Christ, in word and in deed. Like Peter we will truly experience the fullness of life despite the suffering it entails.

 


 

[1] Pope Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est (“God is Love”), 1.

The Shrine During Typhoons and Other Calamities

shrine-typhoon

As the whole nation braces for the impending arrival of another super typhoon, “Ompong” (international name Mangkhut), I would like to reflect on how the Baclaran shrine witnessed and responded to calamities through the years.

Many typhoons and other calamities, both natural and man-made have ravaged our disaster-prone country. According to the World Risk Index, Philippines is the 3rd most disaster-prone country in the world. The Philippines by virtue of its geographic circumstances is highly prone to natural disasters, such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tropical cyclones and floods, making it one of the most disaster prone countries in the world. If we add the man-made calamities like fire, landslide due to mining and deforestation, flooding due to the heedless throwing of plastics and clogging of drainage, one can say, indeed, that calamities is a normal order of the day for millions of Filipinos.

In the midst of all these calamities, the shrine has been a source of concrete help and a beacon of hope especially for those mostly affected by calamities. The shrine has brought hope to thousands of calamity victims by bringing immediate aid in the form of food, clothing, emergency shelter and others. The shrine has also facilitated some rehabilitation projects as victims of calamities try to rebuild their lives. The shrine also became temporary sanctuary for those who were stranded at the height of storms and typhoons and thus, cannot further travel to their destinations. Many of them spend the night at the shrine sleeping on the pews.

The shrine has a Solidarity Assistance Committee composed of volunteers from the different ministries of the shrine. The Committee responds to people in need especially during calamities. In the past years, the committee was quick to respond to the different needs of the people through relief and rehabilitation projects in areas hit by man-made and natural calamities like typhoon, floods and fire.

These relief and rehabilitation efforts, however, could not have been possible without the generous support of the thousands of devotees of the shrine. After every calamity, the shrine asked devotees for help to victims of disasters. Many devotees, though they are poor, have generously given help. Thus, this is a case of the poor helping the poor. More importantly, this shows that help becomes perpetual in the shrine. Many of devotees who asked for help from God through Our Mother of Perpetual Help have received the help they needed. In return, they give financial and spiritual help to many especially those most in need.

The shrine has responded to calamities, however, not just after the disaster has struck. The shrine has also responded before the calamity strikes by helping people to prepare for a disaster through prayer and action. There is the perennial issue of the lack of preparation to a disaster in the country. After a calamity, many times different agencies of our government and even the people, chorused: “We didn’t saw it coming!” The shrine has linked up with government and non-government agencies in disaster preparation programs. Through these programs, the shrine has proactively encouraged and educated the people in preparing for an impending disaster.

Paradoxically, the shrine has utilized calamities and typhoons as opportunities for evangelization. In every calamity, we hear people say that these calamities are sent by God out of his wrath and punishment for our sins. The shrine has always proclaimed that this viewpoint offers a convenient way out of our own culpability for our destruction of nature and exploitation of our fellow humans. This also distorts the very nature of God as loving and compassionate. Our Lord Jesus did not come to punish us through the disasters, but came to be one with us, to live amongst us in the midst of the despair and destitution we experience in our daily lives.

The above belief is just one of the many contradictions that the shrine has witnessed during and after calamities. Another contradiction is the great divide between the haves and the have nots. During typhoons, while the Manila elite drove to posh hotels and malls, the poor had nowhere else to go but to protect their scanty houses making sure the roofs and walls are not blown off by the strong winds and rains.

In the aftermath of the typhoon, there is no power, no water, no TV, no cell phones, no refrigerators, etc. These temporary deprivations forced many to go back to the simple, the basic and the natural things in life. These are only temporary deprivations for some but are permanent deprivations for many of our people.

Through the many calamities, the shrine has also witnessed the validity behind the observation that any typhoon brings either the best and the worst in people. One of the best thing that typhoon brought out of people is at the height of the typhoon, some individuals can risk their own lives to save others like the story of security guards who save 100 from floodwater in the midst of ‘Reming’ on December 9, 2006. Philippine Daily Inquirer reported this event:

“With only a piece of cable wire to cling to and his strength stretched to the limit, security guard Rey Jan Borillo, 18, of Barangay Libod, Camalig, Albay, was able to save about 100 residents at the height of Supertyphoon “Reming.” “Hearing the cries of the residents for help, Borrillo, who was six feet and an inch tall, waded through the narrow passageway, carried old and young people on his back and brought them to a three-story building where the pawnshop (he was guarding) was renting space … Helping Borillo was his co-security guard Ricky Legisniana, 21, of Palanog Camalig.”

On the other hand, one of the worst things that a typhoon brings out of people is when some individuals used the typhoon to put forward their agenda and prop up their image. Like many politicians who love to pose for pictures while giving out to evacuees sardines and noodles donated by private individuals and organizations.

As typhoon Ompong continue to move closer to our land, let us make all the necessary preparations. Let us act together and be ready to help each other so that this typhoon bring not the worst but the best in us. We ask the prayers of Mary, Our Mother of Perpetual Help, so that God may protect us from any danger and destruction.

Street Kids Given Opportunity to Choose their own Birthday

sarnelli_kids

Last September 8, we celebrated the birthday of Mary in the shrine. In that blog, I mentioned that despite the yearly celebration of Mary in Catholic churches around the world, Mary probably never celebrated her own birthday during her lifetime.  The reason being that during the time of Mary, as in any other Mediterranean societies of ancient times, the birth of a girl is a non-event inasmuch as the birth of a boy is a call for a big feast and celebration. Moreover, there was no such thing as a yearly celebration of one’s birthday during Mary’s time.

But how about not knowing your own birthday. Do you know that there are people who even do not know their own birthday?

In the Sarnelli Center, the shrine’s center for street children, it is not uncommon to encounter kids whom we pluck out from the streets who did not even know their own birthday.  Being thrown out of their homes voluntarily or involuntarily at a tender age when others are still enjoying their lives as toddlers, they did not know the basic facts about their own lives let alone knowing the day of their birth.

Now, it has always been a tradition in the center to have a monthly celebration for all birthday kids celebrants. Just like a typical children’s birthday party, there is a birthday cake, an ice cream and spaghetti. There are balloons and all the kids sing a hearty happy birthday before they dive into the food.

For those street kids who did not know their birthday, they were given the opportunity to choose a date for their birthday. Some chose Christmas day, other chose September 8, birthday of Mother Mary or any other day they may like. This, I guess, is the advantage of not knowing your birthday; you can choose whatever day you like as your birthday.

Despite not knowing their birthday, these kids were given the opportunity to celebrate their birthdays, only God knows, when it is. In this way, they experience the same joy of celebrating their birthday and having the same sense of dignity like any other normal kid.

sarnelli

For more information about Sarnelli Center for Street Children please visit our website.  If you want to volunteer at  Sarnelli Center for Street Children please go to our volunteers’ page. If you want to donate to Sarnelli Center for Street Children please go to our donate page.

Joey Echano, CSsR

23RD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME: BE OPENED

be-open

In the Baclaran shrine, from among the thousands of thanksgiving letters we received, health and recovery from sickness top the list of specified blessings that the devotees received from God through the prayers of Our Mother of Perpetual Help.

Many of the devotees who come to Baclaran are suffering from various kinds of sickness not just physical but also emotional, mental and spiritual. In the novena every Wednesday, many of the devotees pray for healing and recovery from their illness. In the novena, there is a special Prayer for the Sick where devotees pray for healing for themselves and their loved ones.

In 2016, the Prayer for the Sick went through a major revision. The former prayer seemed to romanticize sickness by projecting an image of the sick who have nothing more they can do about their sickness except to embrace it. God’s compassion and strong desire for the healing of the sick is not much evident. Thus, the prayer was revised to express a more redemptive kind of healing not only for the sick person, but also for the whole family of the sick.

The theme of the readings for today’s 23rd Sunday in ordinary time is about God’s healing.  Salvation from God is not just salvation from our sins but also healing and recovery from sickness. Salvation comes from the Latin word, salūs which means to be well and healthy. God’s healing, however, is holistic; it is not just physical but also emotional, mental and spiritual.

In the first reading, the prophet Isaiah describes the vision of the coming of God’s kingdom as opening the eyes of the blind, clearing the ears of the deaf, and even brightening up the environment.

Then will the eyes of the blind be opened,
the ears of the deaf be cleared;
then will the lame leap like a stag,
then the tongue of the mute will sing.
Streams will burst forth in the desert,
and rivers in the steppe.
The burning sands will become pools,
and the thirsty ground, springs of water.

The responsorial psalm, Psalm 146, is a psalm of praise for the healing power of God, especially for his opening of the eyes of the blind.

The second reading from the Letter of James, focuses not on the physical but spiritual blindness. James warns against taking people according to their physical appearance. The example James gives is that of giving a well-dressed visitor special treatment while neglecting a poorly dressed person, forgetting the beatitude about the poor. That, he implies, is a symptom of spiritual blindness.

For if a man with gold rings and fine clothes
comes into your assembly,
and a poor person in shabby clothes also comes in,
and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes
and say, “Sit here, please, ”
while you say to the poor one, “Stand there, ” or “Sit at my feet, ”
have you not made distinctions among yourselves
and become judges with evil designs?

Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters.
Did not God choose those who are poor in the world
to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom
that he promised to those who love him?

In the Gospel, Mark presents Jesus as the kind of savior prophesied by Isaiah. Jesus did a miracle of healing: a man who was deaf and impaired in speech becomes able to hear and to speak plainly. What Isaiah communicates as vision through poetry, Jesus communicates through action in the here and now. We tend to think of salvation in terms of heaven and the hereafter. Jesus’ action open us to salvation as an event that is here and now.

And people brought to him a deaf man who had a speech impediment
and begged him to lay his hand on him.
He took him off by himself away from the crowd.
He put his finger into the man’s ears
and, spitting, touched his tongue;
then he looked up to heaven and groaned, and said to him,
“Ephphatha!”— that is, “Be opened!” —
And immediately the man’s ears were opened,
his speech impediment was removed,
and he spoke plainly.

Jesus command to the deaf-mute man, Aramaic, ephphatha “Be opened” is more than a just a matter of physical healing. It is also a spiritual healing: God’s superabundant life breaking open our closed human condition. What Jesus commands with respect to the deaf-mute man before, he commands with respect to us today. In the gospel, Jesus commands us, “Be opened!” If we listened well and hard, we too are healed: our ears are opened to hear the Good News and our tongues are loosened to proclaim it.

What sickness and disability do we need to be healed and liberated from? Let us ask Jesus to loosen our tongues, open our deaf ears and touch our blind eyes so we may truly hear, see and speak of the truth and peace of the Word who is Jesus.