Earth Day in the Time of Pandemic

earth-day

Today, April 22nd we celebrate earth day. Earth Day is an annual event celebrated worldwide to honor our common planet we call earth and to highlight our role as stewards of mother nature.

After more than a month of lockdown due to the pandemic, earth and mother nature is thriving once again. The absence of human incursion and industrial activity have provided a wondrous time for mother nature to heal and to rest. Air is clean more than ever. Dolphins have swam back into the canals of Venice. Wildlife is venturing out into the streets again. Animals and birds must surely be asking themselves what’s changed, where have we gone?

The lockdown also gave the opportunity for us humans to take a stock of our relationship with mother nature in the context of the pandemic. Would have our continuous incursion into the environment contributed to the genesis of the virus? A number of researchers today think that it is actually humanity’s destruction of biodiversity that creates the conditions for new viruses and diseases such as Covid-19 to arise. Disease ecologist Thomas Gillespie, an associate professor in Emory University’s department of environmental sciences says,

“Major landscape changes are causing animals to lose habitats, which means species become crowded together and also come into greater contact with humans. Species that survive change are now moving and mixing with different animals and with humans.”[1]

The covid-19 pandemic have, more than ever, highlighted the increasingly visible connections between the wellbeing of humans, other living things and entire ecosystems. One of the biggest challenges of the pandemic is how to re-think our attitudes to and reshape our relations with Nature–God’s Creation. The pandemic calls for radical, not just cosmetic, changes to our values and lifestyle with regards to the earth and mother nature.

earth-day2020
Painting by Nick Esquivias

The Baclaran shrine joins the whole world every year in celebrating earth day. The shrine takes part in several activities worldwide like turning off non-essential electric lights, for one hour, usually from 8:30 to 9:30 p.m. On some years, the shrine organizes a tree planting or clean-up drive.

Caring for creation is an important part of the programs and values of the shrine. This is first of all reflected in the immediate environment around the shrine.

When the Redemptorist settled at Baclaran in 1932, the place was a big grassland near the sea shore. Throughout the years, Redemptorists who were assigned to Baclaran planted their favorite trees. Amongst the many species of trees planted in the surroundings were Mahogany, Nymph Tree, Golden Shower, Narra, molave, fire tree, butterfly and mefacasia.

Today, the shrine compound is a lush area full of trees. The desolation and the emptiness of Baclaran’s early days have been replaced by verdant trees giving shade to the devotees.  Both Church and convent are no longer located on grassland near the seashore but on a mini-forest. The shrine and its surroundings serve as an oasis in the city. In fact, it is the only green place in the whole of the densely populated highly urbanized Baclaran.

Many devotees appreciate the natural surroundings of the shrine like Kris Vente Tagayon, who wrote in August 29, 2017,

Nice place to visit where you can light candles and reflect and take pictures in the walkway, and even if it’s crowded, it’s so refreshing outside the church because of the trees surrounding it. It’s my first time to come here.[2]

Likewise Liezel Besuña, writes in January 7, 2018, “I love so much Baclaran church … It’s so beautiful here, the air is cool … adorable…”[3]

Many sit and gather under the trees relaxing and chatting with each other after the novena and mass. The green surroundings provide respite and peace especially for the worried and burdened devotees like Raine Zetolemrac, who wrote in May 22, 2017: “Its ambiance melts my weariness. For me … this is the best place to rest.”

The various hardwood and fruit trees around the shrine provide sanctuary not just for humans but also for many birds, insects and other animals. Just recently new appearances of wildlife were sighted in the trees—squirrels, a migratory bird and a Philippine hawk (Lawin). Nobody knows how the squirrels (sometimes seen as two, other times alone) got inside the shrine grounds.  We assumed that someone let loose these exotic animals in the shrine compound thinking that squirrels will be better off running free in the shrine compound rather than confined in cages.  The squirrels are very shy though; they spend most of the time hiding in the trees. Occasionally, however, one can see them hopping on tree branches.

In November 2016, a migratory bird called Narcissus Flycatcher from China was spotted on the trees of the shrine compound.  The word spread fast and in no time, many bird photographers and researchers flocked to Baclaran and spent almost a week photographing the special visitor. The narcissus flycatcher (Ficedula narcissina) is a passerine bird in the Old World flycatcher family. It is native to East Asia, from Sakhalin to the north, through Japan across through Korea, mainland China, and Taiwan, wintering in Southeast Asia, including the Philippines and Borneo.[4] It is highly migratory. The bird watchers surmised that the birds chose to stay at the shrine because they found lots of food in the many trees of the compound.

The shrine has implemented several ecological programs through the years. The shrine, for example, has long been converting its biodegradable waste like food waste, paper waste, dry leaves and twigs into compost. The compost is used to fertilize the flowers and other plants in the shrine compound.

The shrine has been practicing waste segregation since the 90s.  Three separate bins are scattered all around the shrine where devotees can throw their trash. Announcements in every novena and masses enjoin the devotees to throw their trash in the proper bins. The first bin is for organics like food scraps: fruit, vegetable, meat, bread, pasta, rice, garden waste: grass clippings, leaves, flowers, weeds, twigs, small branches, soiled paper and cardboard and small timber off-cuts. Everything that goes into this bin gets must be able to decompose and thus, goes to the compost. The second bin is for recyclable materials like milk and juice containers, paper and cardboard, glass and crockery, plastic containers, plastic bags and soft plastics, aluminum cans, clean foil, steel cans, aerosol spray cans and dry paint tins, hard plastics such as children’s toys and plastic tableware, small plastics such as bread tags and straws bagged. The third bin is for mixed rubbish items that cannot be composted or recycled like small plate glass, disposable nappies, scrap metal, pet droppings in a plastic bag and others.

Care for the environment is also integrated in the liturgy of the shrine. On October 4th, 2005, the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, a blessing of animals was held for the first time in the shrine. This began a yearly tradition in the shrine. Every year on  4th of October, except when it falls on a Sunday, devotees bring their pets—dogs, cats, hamsters, birds, turtles and other animal pets—for the blessing of animals.

Since 2014, the shrine has been observing the Season of creation. The season of Creation is celebrated during the four Sundays of September that precede the feast of St Francis of Assisi on the 4th of October. The season of Creation incorporates into the liturgy, prayers and visual elements celebrating God’s creation.

Promotion of the integrity of creation is also incorporated in the novena. In the latest version of the novena—the 2016 Jubilee edition of the novena—one petition to Our Mother of Perpetual was added for the care of creation:

That we may care and protect God’s creation, Loving Mother pray for us.

In 2015, the Redemptorist community began a project called greening of the shrine. The first step undertaken along this project is the banning of smoking within the shrine compound. The project also involved using recycled materials for the beautification of the garden and wall art.

The community also initiated vertical gardening on some of the fences of the shrine. This was aimed at showing that growing vegetables even in the city is feasible, and consequently, encourage the devotees to grow their own vegetables right in their own backyard. The shrine also conducted seminars on Laudato Si, Pope Francis’ encyclical on caring for creation, and some concrete ways to care for the environment like waste management and urban gardening.

Another project in line with the greening of the shrine was the installation of solar panels in the shrine and convent in 2016. The shrine and the convent now use free electricity from the sun during the day and revert to MERALCO at night. The shrine has the highest number of solar panels among all the churches in the Philippines. There is also a plan for a water harvesting system which will harness rain water.

Caring for the environment is not just practiced within the shrine. Every year the shrine volunteers and devotees participate in the beach cleanup activity in the nearby Manila bay. The event is part of the International Coastal Cleanup Day, the world’s largest annual preservation and protection event and volunteer effort for beaches and waterways. It is celebrated annually on the third Saturday in September since its inception in 1986.

 


 

[1]  ‘Thomas Gillespie, Tip of the iceberg’: is our destruction of nature responsible for Covid-19?” The Gurdian, accessed 22/04/2020 at https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/mar/18/tip-of-the-iceberg-is-our-destruction-of-nature-responsible-for-covid-19-aoe

[2] https://www.facebook.com/pg/omphbaclaran/reviews/

[3] https://www.facebook.com/pg/omphbaclaran/reviews/

[4] Narcissus flycatcher, Wikipedia. Accessed at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Narcissus_flycatcher.

27TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIMES: FAITH CAN MOVE MOUNTAINS

greta
Greta Thunberg Poster designed by machasgear, https://www.redbubble.com/people/machasgear/works/38452049-greta-thunberg?p=poster

One of the hottest figures on the news all around the globe during the past two weeks was not a head of state, nor a famous actor nor a sports star nor even an adult but a 16 year old girl by the name of Greta Thunberg. Greta is a Swedish environmental activist fighting for immediate action to address what she describes as the climate crisis.

A very tall order, indeed. After all, who would listen to a small high school autistic girl? Ordinarily, adults will just ignore such a seemingly childish babble coming from a girl who does not yet have much experience and knowledge about life and the world. And soon everything will be forgotten.

No, this didn’t happen to Greta. On the contrary, it was the adults who behaved like children babbling about her message and Greta behaving like an adult brushing aside every insult and bashing hurled upon her. After she addressed the U.N.’s Climate Action Summit in New York last September 23, conservatives and other critics attacked her demeanor, her looks, her mental health, and above all her autonomy, claiming she is “brainwashed” or a victim of child abuse. Some even compared her speeches to Nazi propaganda. Never mind if she had a valid and urgent message.

Yet Greta is not just a girl with a loud mouth; she has demonstrated concrete, even if small, actions to back her words. At home, she convinced her parents to adopt several lifestyle choices to reduce their own carbon footprint, including giving up air travel and not eating meat. She sailed across the Atlantic Ocean to New York in a 60 ft racing yacht equipped with solar panels and underwater turbines.

In May 2019, Greta published a collection of her climate action speeches which she titled, No One Is Too Small to Make a Difference.

In the Gospel of today’s 27th Sunday in ordinary time, Jesus said to his disciples,

“If you have faith the size of a mustard seed,
you would say to this mulberry tree,
‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.

Jesus tells the disciples that even the tiniest faith can achieve great things. Indeed, faith is a tiny force, yet it can transform our lives and the world. We don’t need to have superpowers to change the world. We don’t need strong men like Trump or Duterte or Putin to solve our problem for us. As Greta have showed us, we only need to have faith in our small efforts and the will to act to tackle this impending disaster that we now call climate change.

This is the kind of faith that Jesus has imparted to us, as St. Paul in the second reading told Timothy. Paul reminded Timothy to constantly enflame the faith he has received from Jesus–a faith that is not a spirit of cowardice but of power and love.

Beloved:
I remind you, to stir into flame
the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands.
For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice
but rather of power and love and self-control.

Indeed, faced with the insurmountable challenges of our lives in our world today, the temptation is to sulk into cowardice and summon an outside extra-ordinary force that will magically solve all our problems. Just like Habakkuk in the first reading who could no longer endure the violence, abuse and oppression in the world, became impatient with God and called upon God to intervene.

How long, O LORD?  I cry for help
but you do not listen!
I cry out to you, “Violence!”
but you do not intervene.
Why do you let me see ruin;
why must I look at misery?
Destruction and violence are before me;
there is strife, and clamorous discord.

Surprisingly, God answers, in a lengthy, encouraging but challenging reply.

For the vision still has its time,
presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint;
if it delays, wait for it,
it will surely come, it will not be late.
The rash one has no integrity;
but the just one, because of his faith, shall live.

God assures Habakkuk that God will make things better, “For the vision still has its time.” But not yet, “if it delays, wait for it, it will surely come, it will not be late.” Perhaps like Habakkuk, we have, at one time or another, screamed at God: “Why don’t you help me right now? Why are you delaying and letting us suffer more?”

Faith! When you go to the churches on Sunday, you see a lot of faith. Yet, still a lot of people today re-echo the apostles’ plea to Jesus: “Increase our faith!” Jesus tells us, it’s not the size of faith that matters, but the character of our faith.  True faith is borne not out of the quantity of religious work we do but out of a constant trust and faithfulness in the power and goodness of God over our lives and our world. Furthermore, the parable, which forms the second half of the gospel reading, warns the disciples against supposing that faith, and the obedient service of the Lord in which faith is expressed, establishes a claim for reward.

When you have done all you have been commanded,
say, ‘We are unprofitable servants;
we have done what we were obliged to do.'”

faith-can-move-mountains

I end with a prayer by Anne Osdieck [1]

Lord,
make us your true servants
trusting that whatever
faith you give us
will surely
be enough.

 


 

[1] Anne Osdieck, “Praying toward Sunday,”  The Sunday Website
at Saint Louis University,  27th Sunday of Ordinary Time C, October 6, 2019 accessed at https://liturgy.slu.edu/27OrdC100619/prayerpathmain.html

A Day for Animals at the Shrine

blessing-of-animals

Catholics all over the world celebrates October 4 as the feast day of Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals. The secular world celebrates October 4 as World Animal Day, an international day of action for animal rights and welfare.

The shrine celebrates both events. Every year on the 4th of October, devotees bring their pets to the shrine—dogs, cats, hamsters, birds, turtles and other animal pets—for the blessing of animals. It was On October 4th, 2005, that a blessing of animals was held for the first time in the shrine. This began a yearly tradition in the shrine.

Saint Francis is associated with the patronage of animals. Francis’ deep love of God overflowed into love for all God’s creatures—expressed not only in his tender care of lepers and his (unsuccessful) attempt to negotiate peace between Muslims and Christians during the fifth Crusade, but also in his prayers of thanksgiving for creation, his sermons preached to animals, and his insistence that all creatures are brothers and sisters under God.

Christians worldwide celebrate the Feast of Saint Francis not just with a blessing of animals but also with prayers for creation. Since 2014, the shrine has been observing the Season of creation. The season of Creation is celebrated during the four Sundays of September that precede the feast of St Francis. The season of Creation incorporates into the liturgy, prayers and visual elements celebrating God’s creation.

The shrine in recent years has become sanctuary to many animals. Stray dogs and cats  hang around the shrine and the convent every day not to mention the rats, bats, and the birds which has made the shrine their home ever since the shrine was built. The presence in the shrine of skinny and smelly dogs and cats abandoned by their human owners is a sad reminder of human’s cruelty to animals and of the abdication of our sacred duty as stewards of creation.

stray-cat

Outside the shrine, however, animals of various kinds enjoy the security and food that nature provides. The various hardwood and fruit trees in the shrine compound provide sanctuary for many birds, insects and other animals. Just recently new appearances of wildlife were sighted in the trees—squirrels, a migratory bird and a Philippine hawk (Lawin). Nobody knows how the squirrels (sometimes seen as two, other times alone) got inside the shrine grounds.  We just assumed that someone let loose these exotic animals in the shrine compound thinking that squirrels will be better off running free in the shrine compound rather than confined in cages.  The squirrels are very shy though; they spend most of the time hiding in the trees. Occasionally, however, one can see them hopping on tree branches.

green-shrine

In November 2016, a migratory bird called Narcissus Flycatcher from China was spotted on the trees of the shrine compound.  The word spread fast and in no time, many bird photographers and researchers flocked to Baclaran and spent almost a week photographing the special visitor. The narcissus flycatcher (Ficedula narcissina) is a passerine bird in the Old World flycatcher family. It is native to East Asia, from Sakhalin to the north, through Japan across through Korea, mainland China, and Taiwan, wintering in Southeast Asia, including the Philippines and Borneo.[1] It is highly migratory. The bird watchers surmised that the birds chose to stay at the shrine because they found lots of food in the many trees of the compound.

narcissus-flycatcher

On this feast of St. Francis, we are reminded that care for animals and the promotion of the integrity of creation is an essential expression of our devotion and faith.  In the 2016 Jubilee edition of the novena, the shrine incorporated into the novena a petition that expresses this:

That we may care and protect God’s creation, Loving Mother pray for us.


[1] Narcissus flycatcher, Wikipedia. Accessed at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ Narcissus_flycatcher.