Our Mother of Perpetual Help and Muslims

duyog-Marawi

“And when the angels said, ‘O Mary!
Indeed God has chosen you, and purified you,
and has chosen you above  all other women of the worlds.
O Mary! Be devoutly obedient to your Lord
and prostrate and bow with those bow.’”
– Qur’an 3:42-43

The biggest and most tragic news last week was the carnage of Muslims in two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand last March 15, 2019. An Australian gunman with white supremacist background went on a rampage in two mosques, the biggest massacre in New Zealand’s modern history. According to police, 50 people were killed and 50 injured.  The victims were targeted as they gathered at the mosques for Friday prayers.

This tragic incident show that Islamophobia is on the rise and has been for some time. British political commentator, Ayesha Hazarika claims that Muslims have been demonized, dehumanized and scapegoated on an industrial scale by society since 9/11.

In the light of this event, this short essay explores some relevant points about Mary and our devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help and its relationship with the Muslim community and the Islam faith. Through this, the essay hopes to inspire some concrete actions towards dialogue between Catholics and Muslims. Indeed, Mary is key to ecumenism not just with Islam but with other faiths.

Arrival of Muslims at Baclaran

Outside the shrine, there are many Muslim vendors selling all sorts of wares—clothes, electronics, housewares, even Catholic religious articles like rosaries, statutes, novena booklets and other religious materials. Most of these Muslim traders came from the provinces in Mindanao, the island in the south of the Philippines that has the largest Muslim population in the country. The Muslim traders began to arrive in the 1990s. In due course, some Muslim settlers invested in established stalls (puwesto) and matched medium-and-large-scale business enterprises owned by other merchants in the area. A considerable number, however, remained as street vendors due to lack of sufficient capital.[1]

After the trade came the mosques. Four mosques were constructed within 500 meters from the shrine. The earliest mosque is the Masjid Abdullah, built in 1978; the next to be built is Masjid Rajah Sulayman in 1995. Masjid Al-Nur in Brgy. 79 of Pasay City came next in 1998, while Masjid Al-Wasat, located a few meters away from Baclaran Barangay Hall at the shrine’s northern part, was completed in 2009.[2] At present, only three mosques exist. The Masjid Rajah Sulayman which sat on a reclaimed land on Roxas Boulevard just south of Epifanio de los Santos Avenue, overlooking Manila Bay was demolished by the government in 2013. The government’s reason for the demolition was the tenants’ lack of legal ownership of the site and an ordinance to widen city streets and prevent pickpocketing and violence in the area.

The shrine has maintained a relationship of peaceful co-existence with the Muslim community in Baclaran in the past. Besides small attempts at reaching out, there was no substantial effort towards dialogue between the shrine and the Muslim community. I do not know why no substantial dialogue between the Baclaran shrine community and Muslim community occurred. The best reason I can offer is that both sides did not know where and how to begin.

Nevertheless, this is a big challenge for both parties now and in the future. Because of the large number of Muslim community, the Baclaran shrine has the potential to become a center for Christian-Muslim dialogue in the country. In this endeavor, Our Mother of Perpetual Help (OMPH) can play a vital part in the dialogue with the Muslims.  OMPH can be a vital part because Mary is also greatly revered by the Muslims.

Muslim-vendor-Baclaran
Photo courtesy of David Madrid, https://www.flickr.com/photos/manilahobo/8207497472

Marian Shrines of Ecumenism

An interesting phenomenon in some countries particularly in Asia where there are shrine for OMPH is non-Christians praying before the Icon of OMPH. This is true in Singapore, India (Bombay), and the Philippines. In the Novena church[3] in Singapore, for example, Singaporean Redemptorist Fr. Gerard Louis reports that 20 to 25% of those who attend the Novena are non-Catholics, people of other faiths—Hindus, Buddhists and Muslims. Among all Catholic churches in Singapore, they only go to the Novena church. They only go for the novena not for the mass and other church sacraments and services.[4]  Some new Catholics, however, have come to faith and Baptism through the Novena Devotions.

Another Marian shrine in Asia is the Shrine of Our Lady of Vailankanni. It is one of the most frequented religious sites in India, where Hindus, Muslims and Christian from all over India congregate in large numbers and worship in harmony. Hundreds of miraculous cures are reported every year. Centuries of devotion to Mother Mary both by Hindus and Christians have evolved an amalgamation of practices borrowing elements from both religions.[5]

Here in Baclaran, there is no exact figure or percentage of how many non-Catholics pray the novena. From time to time, though, the phenomenon has 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.[6] Andy Dierickx, who identifies himself as a Protestant Christian, sincerely admires the devotees’ dedication despite the fact 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 OMPH 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.[7]

Ben Hernandez, a non-Christian, left a comment on the Baclaran FB page in July 2, 2017: “I am not a Christian but, as l have said in my wall post, Baclaran Church truly reflects our Filipino culture, values and heritage.”[8]

Conflict in the Time of Ecumenism

We live at a time where there is a growing movement of dialogue among religions and faiths.  The increasing calls and efforts for interreligious dialogue continue to break down walls of prejudice and intolerance. Fiore describes today’s global world as a world where one in seven people lives outside his/her place of origin; a world where cultures meet, spiritualities compete, and we are left wondering what to do with the faith we have received as an inheritance.[9] The world is heading towards greater openness beyond the religion we have grown into. There is no turning back, as David Tracy contended, “[T]here can be no return to a pre-ecumenical, pre-pluralistic, ahistorical theology.”[10]

The interreligious milieu poses several challenges to the living of one’s religion. First, each one is challenged to have a clearer understanding and deeper living of one’s religion.  As people are exposed to other religions they learn to see more the distinctiveness of their own religion and this help to clarify their religious identity. Alternatively, each one is challenged to learn from the other.  Everyone is challenged to have a wider and deeper understanding of God that goes beyond one’s own religion.  Finally, it provides an opportunity for mutual enrichment about God as each religion reveals a special facet of the truth about God.[11]  In this interreligious milieu, dialogue becomes a necessary attitude, a way of life. It challenges each one to learn the art of listening despite actual differences.

These developments affirm the church’s conviction in recent years towards continuous interreligious dialogue.  Many church documents, especially after Vatican II, have affirmed that the seeds of the Gospel go beyond the Catholic Church. For example, LG says that salvation is possible for all people of goodwill whether they have explicit faith in God or not.[12]  Nostra Aetate declares that other than Christianity, there is a ray of truth that enlightens all men and women.[13]  And Gaudium et Spes affirms that the Holy Spirit in a way known only to God offers every person the possibility of being associated with the paschal mystery.[14]

Despite the climate of pluralism, multiculturalism, and ecumenism there is continuous religious conflicts and the rise of religious intolerance and fundamentalism in the world today. There are those who advocate for a return to exclusion, religious discrimination, religious fundamentalism and, religious extremism. In the Philippines, there is still a perceived mutual prejudice between Muslims, Lumads, and Christians. Many suffer from the continuous war between Muslims and Christians in the south.

Mary in Islam

Vatican II ushered a new attitude towards Islam: “Upon the Muslims, too, the Church looks with esteem.”[15] Nostra Aetate listed several reasons why the Church should respect Islam; it shows parallels between Islamic belief and Christian faith. Among these many common elements, Mary is clearly mentioned: “They also honor Mary, His [Jesus’] virgin mother; at times they call on her, too, with devotion.”[16]

Virgin_Mary_and_Jesus_(old_Persian_miniature)

Love for the Virgin Mary runs deep in Islam. In the Qur’an, Mary’s name (Maryam) appears explicitly thirty-four times; in twenty-four of these references, she is identified as the mother of Jesus (Isa). Mary is mentioned more often by name in the Muslim scripture than in the Christian New Testament. One chapter of the Qur’an (Sura 19) is in fact entitled “Mary” and it narrates the events of the annunciation of Jesus’ birth: Mary is chosen by God and given divine favors; she is immaculately consecrated to God from her mother’s womb; an angel appears to her and announces the miraculous virgin birth of a child; Mary accepts, conceives Isa and gives birth to him.[17] The very story of the birth of Mary, which the feast day commemorates, is found in the Quran 3:35-36.

In the international pilgrimage shrine of Our Lady of Fátima, one aspect that often goes unnoticed is the subtle connection with Islam. The Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to the three shepherd children near the city of Fátima, Portugal, a place named after both a Muslim princess and the daughter of Mohammed.[18] As Venerable Fulton Sheen said, “I believe that the Blessed Virgin chose to be known as “Our Lady of Fátima” as a pledge and a sign of hope to the Moslem people, and as an assurance that they, who show her so much respect, will one day accept her Divine Son, too.” Thus, not surprisingly, the shrine at Fátima, Portugal, has also attracted Muslims in great numbers. They go to see the place where the Virgin Mary appeared in a city named after one of their most highly revered women. [19]

Thus, Mary can serve as a bridge between Islam and Christianity: It is certainly true that in her very person there is a meeting point, or at least a stepping stone, between Christianity and Islam. Indeed, as the Qur’an itself says: “To those who believe, God has set an example (“mathalan”) … in Mary, who preserved her chastity …, who put her trust in the words of her Lord and his scriptures and was one of the truly devout” (“Prohibition” LXVI:12).[20]

duyog-Marawi-about

Conclusion

OMPH can be a bridge between communities. Marian devotion can be an avenue for inter-faith dialogue with peoples of other faith traditions. Devotion to OMPH does not harbor biases against people of other faiths or people with different political convictions. The devotion can be an instrument of peace, mutual cooperation among peoples of different faiths towards common fight against poverty and violence.

One of the fruits of a healthy and productive devotion to OMPH is the openness to forge a  relationship and dialogue with other faiths and Christian denomination through Mary and the icon. The icon and Mary can help to reinvigorate our devotion through dialogue with other religions.

In the light of this, Mary and the Icon can be the starting of a dialogue between the Muslim community and the shrine in Baclaran in the future.

 


 

[1] Manuel Victor Sapitula, Marian Piety and Modernity: A Sociological Assessment of Popular Religion in the Philippines, A Thesis Submitted for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy Department of Sociology, National University Of Singapore, 2013, 150. Accessed at https://scholarbank.nus.edu.sg/bitstream/10635/43728/1/SAPITULA%20-%20PhD%20Thesis.pdf

[2] Ustad Samanuddin, personal communication, 2011: Sapitula, Marian Piety and Modernity, 147.

[3] The official name of church is St. Alphonsus but everybody calls it the Novena Church.

[4] Gerard Louis, “OMPH Devotion in a Non-Christian Context: Possibilities for Interfaith Dialogue,” in a Talk Given to the 150th Jubilee International Congress, Baclaran, April 24-27, 2017.

[5] “About Annai Velangkanni,” Velangkanni.com. Accessed at https://velangkanni.com/en/about-annai-velangkanni/

[6] Jullian Robin Sibi, “Kalye Serye Maynila: When in Baclaran,”Blissful Snapshots. Accessed at http://www.blissfulsnapshots.com/2016/11/kalye-serye-maynila-when-in-baclaran.html

[7] Andy Dierickx, “Devotees,” baclaranchurch.org. Accessed at http://www.baclaranchurch.org/devotees.html

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

[9] Fiore, “The Spiritual, Pastoral and Missionary message of the Icon,”22.

[10] David Tracy, “Defending the Public Character of Theology,” Religion Online. Accessed at https://www.religion-online.org/article/defending-the-public-character-of-theology/

[11] Nostra Aetate, 2.

[12] Lumen Gentium, 16.

[13] Nostra Aetate, 2.

[14] Gaudium et Spes, 22.

[15] Nostra Aetate, #3

[16] Nostra Aetate, #3

[17] R.J. McCarthy, “Mary in Islam,” Mary’s Place in Christian Dialogue, ed. Alberic Stacpoole (Slough, England: St. Paul Publications, 1982), 208-211.

[18] Philip Kosloski, “The surprising connection between Our Lady of Fatima and Islam,” Aleteia, May 7, 2017. https://aleteia.org/2017/05/07/the-surprising-connection-between-our-lady-of-fatima-and-islam/

[19] Kosloski, “The surprising connection between Our Lady of Fatima and Islam.”

[20] William Keeler, “How Mary Holds Christians and Muslims in Conversation,” United States Conference of Catholic Bishops USCCB, 3.

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The First Complete Tagalog Mission

 

market-visitation

In March 1933 the first complete Tagalog Mission was given in Obando, Bulacan. Frs. Edward “Ned” Gallagher and Charles “Charlie” Taylor were the Missioners and this Mission was complete according to the Baclaran Chronicles in all ways including the trimmings. The Mission lasted from March 8th-17th.

This is all contained in one paragraph of the Baclaran Chronicles. But this paragraph contains a big chapter in the lives of these two men. Who were they?

They were born in Australia. They studied in the Redemptorist Seminary in Australia. When the Monastery in Baclaran was almost completed they were among those chosen to be in the first community. They arrived in the Philippines on Feb. 15th 1932 with hardly any knowledge of the Philippines or the Filipino people. Fr. Taylor was 34 years of age and Fr. Gallagher was already 40. Yet in one year they were to give the First complete Redemptorist Mission in Tagalog.

This was not their first work in Tagalog. We read in the Chronicles that less than six weeks after the arrival of the first Baclaran Community they were already serious about learning Tagalog. “After Easter March 27th, Fr. Taylor went to San Jose del Monte Bulacan to learn the language, with the help of the Parish Priest. By July 3rd Sunday Fr. Taylor, who had already preached several times in San Jose del Monte, preached the first Tagalog sermon in the Redemptorist Church on Baclaran.”

And on July 18th we read “Fr Superior, Gallagher, opened a retreat to the children of the Good Shepherd Convent in Sta. Ana, Manila. It will close on the morning of the 22nd. This is the first Tagalog Apostolic work undertaken by any member of the Community since our arrival.” This was only five months after their arrival in a foreign land.

We also read that “from December 18th – 25th, a Mission was given at the request of the Archbishop in Jalajala in Rizal. This Mission was given by Frs. Gallagher and Taylor.” Apparently they were not completely satisfied by this effort because we read in March 1933 the first complete Tagalog Mission was given in Obando, Bulacan.  According to the Baclaran Chronicles “this Mission was complete in all ways, including the trimmings.” So what was the difference?

mission-in-the-market-at-caloocan~-fr-ted-roche-preaching

What comprised a Complete Mission in those days? The regular timetable for a Mission was, Mass, usually at 5.30 a.m. followed by a 15-minute instruction which was followed by another Mass.  The Morning was spent in Home visitation. In the afternoon there could be listing for Baptisms, or Marriage rectifications, (many were only married by the judge). The Baptisms would follow immediately, but the marriages would be done after the Mission at night. Confessions were also available during this time. After supper, there followed the mission proper which was made up of the rosary, notices of coming events, jokes, efforts to urge people to bring their friends and relatives for the next night, then the Mission Sermon, which lasted at least 30 minutes. If the Mission was in the town, there would be Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. This included the ìSinners bellî which was rung during the recital of five “Our fathers”, Five “Hail Marys” and Five “Glorias” for the conversion of all poor sinners. This was followed by Confessions. And in this case the Mission lasted for a week.

Quite an effort for two men who had only been in the country for around one year, and were still struggling with the language.

Obviously God was with them.

Fr. John Maguire, C.Ss.R.

COMELEC Programmers Take Refuge in Baclaran

This week we commemorate the 1986 EDSA People Power revolution. Baclaran shrine played a pivotal role during this momentous event. This week we will run a couple of articles depicting Baclaran shrine’s role in this historical event.

comelec-walkout

In 1986 when President Ferdinand Marcos was under some pressure, both at home and abroad, to show that the people still supported him he called a snap election. The election was held on February 6th. The official Comelec quick count of the votes was held at the PICC and computers were used to speed up the counting.

The people were able to watch the counting on Television and the figures being fed into the computers were transferred immediately to the large television screens in the PICC.

By Feb 8th, the second day of counting, the figures were big enough to be interesting and in the evening the Redemptorist Community of the National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual was watching the television, as was most of the country. Suddenly they saw a group of the computer operators stand up collect their belongings and walk out of the Convention Center. Was it a protest? Did they all have to go to the comfort room at the same time? What was the problem?

About twenty minutes later the front door bell of the Redemptorist Convent rang. One of the Fathers went to the door and returned a little later to declare that the people who had just left the Convention center were at the door looking for refuge. They had walked out because they had noticed that the Computers had been preprogrammed to count incorrectly. They could see that the figures going into the computers were nothing like the results appearing on the screens in front of them and on the Television. So they had left taking with them many of the computer discs with the incriminating evidence on them.

After a short discussion they were brought in and spent the night in an upstairs hall, which had been the community chapel many years before. One of the fathers provided merienda for them while they tried to contact by telephone their relatives and others who they felt would be ready to help them. By the following morning they left as they had already contacted lawyers and some support groups.

When asked why they came to Baclaran they said that they had no idea where they would go when they walked out but when they got outside someone said lets go to Baclaran. And so they did. Even the News reporters had no idea where they had gone.

The rest is history.

Fr. John Maguire, CSsR,

The Shrine and the Sick

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAToday, February 11, we celebrate World Day of the Sick. Today is also the Memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes, a name given to the Virgin Mary who appeared to St. Bernadette Soubirous in Lourdes, France. The church calls people around the world today to take the time to pray for the sick and for those who work very hard to alleviate the sufferings of the sick. Pope John Paul II initiated this celebration in 1992.

The shrine has responded to the needs of the sick since its beginning. Many sick devotees have asked the shrine for help in their sickness, whether spiritual and material. Since the beginning of the novena, there was a prayer for the sick. The shrine has also celebrated many healing masses with praying over and anointing of oil for the sick, through the years.

To give a more concrete and organized response to the needs of the sick, however, the shrine established the Redemptorist Medical & Dental Health Program. The clamor of people for health services because of the unavailability of health services to the poor, the high cost of medicines, medical services and consultations which the poor cannot afford were some of the concrete needs that led to the establishment of Medical/Dental services of the shrine. Established in 1991, the Redemptorist Medical & Dental Health Program aims to respond to the health needs and formation of its beneficiaries and extend assistance to calamity stricken areas.

medical-dental-logo

At the center of the Redemptorist Medical & Dental Health Program is the shrine’s clinic. It is an outpatient clinic that offers primary health care services like maternal and child care, control and prevention of communicable diseases, health education, minor surgical procedures, environmental sanitation, Natural Family Planning Method and basic dental procedures.  The clinic is open two days a week at Wednesday 8:00am – 7pm and Sunday – 8:00 am– 5:00 pm. The clinic is operated by a full time clinic staff, and medical/dental health practitioners and volunteers.  Those who avail of the services are churchgoers, indigent walk-in patients with referrals from NGO’s within Parañaque, shrine volunteers and staff, beneficiaries of the Social Mission programs of the shrine and adopted Community/Mission Areas.

medical

The second primary program of the Medical and Dental Services of the shrine is an outreach program. It aims to provide immediate health services to calamity stricken areas, nission areas of the Redemptorist Community from the Vice Province of Manila, organized communities of People’s Organizations, communities with poor health statistics, limited or has no access to or low quality health services and low socioeconomic status.

medical-dental-mission3

The Redemptorist Medical & Dental Health Program also implements advocacy and networking. This extends current services by collaborating with governments and local organizations, church, other private institutions. It also establishes networking and referral to hospitals, institutions and other health agencies to help the beneficiaries in their health needs.

The program also have a regular education and training program for the Baclaran clinic staff and volunteers, beneficiaries from  Mission Areas, Health Committee members, and regular beneficiaries. There is an effort to support the development of appropriate indigenous health care like acupuncture, herbal medicines, etc.

On this World Day of the Sick let us pray for all our brothers and sisters who are in need of God’s healing, whether in body or in spirit. Let us also pray for all the carers of the sick–the Doctors, Nurses, caregivers, and others. Let us pray the prayer for the sick at the Novena:

Lord Jesus Christ * you bore our sufferings and carried our sorrows * in order to show us clearly * the value of human weakness and patience; * graciously hear our prayer for the sick especially ___________________________ (pause and remember your sick loved ones). Grant that they who are weighed down * with pain and other affliction of illness * may experience God’s healing power and comfort*. Restore them to health* in body and soul* so that they can continue to serve you* and their brothers and sisters.
Amen.

Manila Bay Clean-Up and the Shrine

 

Coastal clean-up is a regular program of the Baclaran 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.

The pictures above were taken during the International Coastal Cleanup Day in September, 2014.

3RD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME: RECLAIMING JESUS’ MISSION STATEMENT

proclamation

The Baclaran shrine has become well-known among the devotees through these years as a shrine of vigorous preaching about justice, peace and other social issues. The Redemptorists have always been very vocal in preaching about the burning issues in the world and country today in the light of the gospel.  Because of this, every now and then, we get reactions from devotees. When devotees asked us why do we have to preach on social issues, I often quote today’s gospel text, the very words of Jesus which has come to be known as Jesus’ mission statement.  Some of them are surprised to hear these words as they may not sound particularly religious. Some even could not believe that they actually come from Jesus.  Many of them have believed for a long time that being Catholic is merely going to mass, receiving sacraments, praying the novena. For them, the Catholic faith is merely a spiritual activity and has nothing to do with the concrete realities of the everyday life of the ordinary people.

Today’s readings of the 3rd Sunday in ordinary time talks about the essential importance of the proclamation of the Word of God in Christian faith and life. The Word of God proclaims God’s eternal plan of total salvation and liberation of all peoples from sin and all forms of evil and oppression. The proclamation of the Word of God is both and at the same proclaimed in words and action; they are not mutually exclusive nor can be separated from each other.

In the First Reading from the book of Nehemiah, Israel, the people of God, has newly returned to Jerusalem from captivity in Babylon. They listened to Ezra, a priest-scribe who read the law (Torah) for the first time. After Israel’s exile from Babylon, the Torah was just completed. Ezra read the law for more than six hours, to men, women and children old enough to understand (7 years old up).  While Ezra read the Torah, the assembly cried as all around them lay the ruins of what Israel and Jerusalem and the Temple and God’s people had once been.

In the second reading, St. Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians, proclaimed about how the Body of Christ, the Church, is to live out the mission statement of Jesus. St. Paul points out that all members of the Church have gifts for ministry. The members of the Church, however, have different gifts for ministry; we are not clones of each other. The different gifts can only come to life in the context of the whole.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus, following his river baptism and his long wilderness fast and temptation, returns to his home town of Nazareth. Reports about him have been spreading through the population, probably the result of his healing miracles and his synagogue teaching. So when he comes back home, it’s quite a big day in the synagogue. It was the day of Sabbath.  Everybody’s there, eager to hear the local boy who’s making a name for himself.

Like Ezra, he takes up a scroll, this one containing the book of Isaiah. He reads a passage which says that the Spirit of the Lord has sent him to “bring glad tidings to the poor,  …  to let the oppressed go free,” to proclaim a time of favor from the Lord (Is 61: 1-2).

After reading these verses, Jesus rolls up the scroll, returns it to the attendant, and takes his seat. It is the custom for teachers to sit, rather than to stand. So when Jesus sat, everyone looked at him, expecting some commentary, some explication of this text, a text well known to many of them. Jesus, however, merely said,

“Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

This is, very possibly, the world’s shortest sermon, but packs lots of punch.  The people of Israel have waited for centuries for the fulfillment of promises that God made throughout their history, beginning with Abraham (Gen. 12:1-3).  Now Jesus declares that the wait is over — that the day has come — that the promises are fulfilled — that salvation is nigh!  This is, indeed, good news.

Jesus claims for himself the ancient prophetic words as his own mission statement. He bring good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, let the oppressed go free, proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, the sweet Jubilee Year, when the economy will be conformed anew to God’s justice.

Jesus’ mission statement did not become merely a string of high-sounding words (as some mission statements do). Everything that follows in his life, as presented to us in the Gospel, amounts to the living out of the prophecy he claims for himself that sabbath morning in Nazareth.

urban_mission

Today, we are called by Jesus to continue his proclamation of the Word of God. In order to be true Catholics or Christians, we should not be content with living our faith merely by going to mass, praying the novena or receiving the sacraments. To be true Catholics and Christians we need to reclaim Jesus’ mission statement as our mission statement too. In the light of today’s reality of continuous suffering by many of our people–the exploited poor, unemployed, homeless, the addicted, refugees, indigenous peoples, the wounded creation, the elderly who are increasingly isolated and abandoned, and many others, the proclamation of Jesus’ glad tidings remains imperative and urgent as ever.  As each one of us has our own distinctive gifts, as St. Paul said, we are called to apply and share our gifts generously for the continuation of the enactment of Jesus’ mission statement.

Let us pray for the courage and grace of the Holy Spirit that we may become vibrant hearers, proclaimers and doers of Jesus’ words, our Lord and primary missionary of God.

 

 

FEAST OF SANTO NIÑO: GROWING UP IN OUR FAITH

sto-nino

While the rest of the Catholic world celebrates the 2nd Sunday in ordinary time, the Philippines Catholic Church celebrates the feast of Santo Niño (Holy Child Jesus). Vatican granted the Philippines Church a special permission to celebrate the Feast of the Santo Niño every third Sunday of January because of the Filipinos’ exuberant devotion to Santo Niño.

The celebration of the feast of Santo Niño is a beautiful expression of the wedding between the Christian faith and the Filipino culture. Santo Niño symbolizes, on the one hand, the introduction of the Christian faith to the Filipino people.  The relic of Santo Niño is the first Christian image that set foot on Philippine soil. On the other hand, Santo Niño symbolizes the celebration of the Filipino culture. The native’s cultural appropriation of Santo Niño is beautifully expressed in the dance called Sinulog. Before the Spanish conquistadores came, Sinulog was already danced by the natives in honor of their wooden idols and Anitos. The natives then adapted the Sinulog as a dance ritual in honor of the miraculous image of the Santo Niño. Thus, Sinulog became the link between the country’s indigenous past and its Christian present.

While devotees dance the sinulog, they chant “Pit Señor.” “Pit Señor” is the short form of “Sangpit sa Señor,” a phrase in Cebuano that means, “to call, ask, and plead to the king.”  Indeed, the image of Sto. Niño depicts an innocent boy Jesus with a smiling face yet dressed as a king. Dressed in the robes of a king, crowned and holding the sceptre, the globe and the cross, Sto. Niño reminds us of the link between God’s Kingdom and the mystery of spiritual childhood. These enigmatic contrasting elements provide us with one of the profound reasons to believe that Sto. Niño is our protector and has the power to grant and answer our prayers as many miracles have attested.

The feast of Santo Niño is a continuous celebration of God’s incarnation—God immersing himself into the life and situation of his people. The celebration of the feast of Sto. Niño is a celebration of the childhood of Jesus. Jesus as a boy experienced all the joys and pains, anxieties and jubilations that every Jewish boy would have experienced during his time.

The readings of today’s feast talk about the spiritual meaning of the boyhood of Jesus.

In the first reading, Isaiah prophesied that “the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” This light will be a child who will be born among them, “upon his shoulder dominion rests.” The description of the child sends a strong message to the oppressors of Israel. The child is not someone to be babied, not a weakling, but a strong leader.  The child will defeat machineries of oppression and rule over Israel with wisdom, peace, justice and good judgment.

In the gospel, we hear of the story when Jesus was twelve years old, his parents–Joseph and Mary–took him on a journey to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover. After the feast, however, the boy Jesus remained behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Thinking that he was in the caravan, they journeyed for a day and looked for him among their relatives and acquaintances, but not finding him, they returned to Jerusalem to look for him.  And when they found him, he was among the learned in the temple. They did not fully understand what Jesus told them about his mission.

And he said to them,
“Why were you looking for me?
Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”
But they did not understand what he said to them.
He went down with them and came to Nazareth,
and was obedient to them;
and his mother kept all these things in her heart.

In the Temple, the boy Jesus finds home and school: He must be in his Father’s house; he discusses with the learned. The boy Jesus was aware of his mission at an early age. He was discussing already with the experts.  The boy Jesus was obedient to the Father in heaven as well as to his parents.

What does the childhood of Jesus say to you and me today? In the childhood of Jesus we foresaw what he will become when he grows up. The child Jesus grew in wisdom and age and favor before God and people.  He never lost his childlike-attitudes but developed them to become the Messiah who came to serve, not to be served. He grew to become the bearer of good news of God’s liberation from all forms of oppression especially to the poor, the powerless, the vulnerable and rejects of society. He grew to proclaim true greatness and success beyond wealth, fame, and power, but being poor in spirit, simple, and humble. He grew up to suffer and give his life on the cross because of his great love for all humanity.

In the same way, the feast of Santo Niño calls us to grow in our own faith. While not losing our childlike-attitudes, this celebration challenges us to transform our childish attitude and faith to become mature followers of Christ. The image of Santo Niño is not someone whom we can manipulate according to our whims and caprices. The child is not someone to be babied, not a weakling, but a strong leader. Our devotion to Santo Niño demands of us not just piety but radical changes in our attitudes and mindset in accordance with the gospel values that Jesus proclaimed. Our devotion to Santo Niño calls us to commit to God’s kingdom and live opposite the values and conditions that contradict the Kingdom—power, domination, wealth, violence, pride, injustice, exploitation, inequality and poverty.

The feast of Santo Niño is a beautiful festivity brimming with profound spiritual meaning. It is, indeed, fit and just to joyfully dance the Sinulog but the celebration of the Santo Niño goes beyond mere pageantry. To be a devotee of Santo Niño is not to become childish in our faith; it goes beyond piety and petitionary form of relationship with Santo Niño.  It calls us to grow and to change our lives to become disciples of Jesus and proclaimers of his Kingdom. It calls us to grow in maturity of our faith.

Viva, pit Señor!

Shrine of Children

children

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.”

Matthew 19: 14

 

The celebration of the feast of Sto. Niño (Holy Child Jesus) this coming Sunday, is a celebration of the childhood of Jesus. The image of Sto. Niño is an image of Jesus as a small boy. The image, however, shows some contrasting elements.  The image of Sto. Niño depicts an innocent boy Jesus with a smiling face yet dressed as a king. This enigmatic element of the image may perhaps be one of the reasons for the belief of many Filipinos  that the Sto. Niño is their protector and has the power to grant and answer their prayers.

The image of Sto. Niño reminds us of the children in our midst. The children, indeed, both symbolize innocence and dependence as well as challenge us, especially the adults, to learn and return to childlike values like humility, wonder and joy.

The Baclaran shrine is a haven for children. It is always a wonderful sight at the shrine when parents bring their children and pray the novena and attend the Eucharist as one family.  After the novena and mass, a lot of children at the shrine’s surroundings, play, relax and hang around with their parents and siblings. Others sit under the trees and have a picnic.

The shrine through these years saw the need for an organized program for the children.  This implied establishing physical centers to serve the needs of children.  One of these centers is the Sarnelli Center for Street Children. It is a center born out of the need to help the children who were wandering day and night in the streets of Baclaran. Established in 1995, the center cater to the needs – both spiritual and material of the most abandoned street children around the shrine. The goal of Sarnelli Center is to help the street children readjust and undertake a process of rehabilitation and development and eventually become responsible members of their families and their communities.

Another center that the shrine established for children is the Kuya George Children’s Center which serves as the center for all the children volunteers in the shrine, all the children beneficiaries of the programs and services of the shrine’s children ministry and the children in the mission area around the shrine. It is named after Fr. George Tither, an indefatigable missionary who loves children. The Vice-Province has just recently initiated moves to pursue his case for beatification.

The shrine has also formed a Children’s Committee to organize and coordinate programs and activities for children. The committee is composed of a Missionaries of Perpetual Help (MPS) sister, volunteer catechists and children ministers. They meet regularly to plan, monitor and supervise the whole children’s ministry in the shrine.

children-committee-baclaran

On top of the list of the various programs for the children in the shrine is the children’s mass. This is scheduled at 2:30 PM every Sunday. The shrine encouraged devotees to bring their children especially in this mass.  All the lay ministers in this mass are mostly children like the lectors, altar servers and choir. Near the end of the mass, there is a blessing for all children.

children-mass

The second major program for children at the shrine is the children’s catechesis. The volunteer catechists conduct children’s catechesis before the 2:30 children’s mass every Sunday.  To train the catechists, the shrine sponsored the formal education of the catechists. In return, the catechists voluntarily teach the catechism and help facilitate other activities for children.

community-based-catechetics

Another major program is  the Children’s Month which is held in October each year. The whole month is filled with special activities for children. The highlight of this month is the All Saints Day where the children dress in costumes depicting the many famous saints of the church.

children-baclaran

 

4TH SUNDAY OF ADVENT: THE MISSION OF CHRISTMAS

The Visitation, James B. Janknegt, 2008
The Visitation, James B. Janknegt, 2008

These past few days, many people have been taking the hard and long journey going home for Christmas. One could just admire all the hardship and troubles that people endure just to be back in time for Christmas to visit their families, loved ones and friends: the long queue and waiting at terminals, enormous traffic, longer trips because of the traffic, exhaustion, hunger, lack of sleep during the trip. But all their tiredness disappear once they arrived home and see their loved ones.

In today’s gospel, we hear of the visit of Mary to her cousin Elizabeth. Mary took at least three days of long and arduous journey to reach the home of Elizabeth (more on this later). But when Mary arrived, her tiredness was transformed into joy.  As soon as Elizabeth heard the sound of Mary’s greeting, very likely “shalom” (peace), the infant in Elizabeth’s womb “leaped for joy” at the recognition of the soon to be born savior in Mary’s womb. Because of this, Elizabeth became filled with the Holy Spirit, and she burst out in joyful salutation:

“Blessed are you among women,
and blessed is the fruit of your womb.
And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?
And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment
of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

Pope Francis describes this visitation scene as a scene of overflowing joy from both soon-to-be mothers because of the coming of Jesus.

… When Mary arrives, joy overflows and gushes from their hearts, because the invisible but real presence of Jesus fills everything with meaning: life, family, the salvation of the people. Everything!

The joyful and blessed encounter between Elizabeth and Mary notwithstanding, we cannot underestimate the importance of the long and arduous journey that Mary embarked to reach Elizabeth. She took off from Nazareth, a Galilean city west of the Sea of Galilee and travelled to Ein Karem, the Judean village where Elizabeth and Zechariah lived. This covers a distance of between 128 and 160 kilometers. Luke does not mention whether Mary made any preparations for the trip or how she traveled. She may have gone on foot or as part of a caravan. We don’t know if she traveled alone or whether St. Joseph accompanied her, or SS. Anne or Joachim.  In Mary’s day, a person traveling by foot could cover about 32 kilometers per day. If Mary walked to Elizabeth’s home, it would have taken her four to five days. If she accompanied a caravan, she would have arrived in about three days.

map-journey-visitation

Such a journey would have been dangerous, especially for a young girl alone. Mary demonstrated her courage as well as her desire for confirmation of God’s plan. She overcome any fear she may have had about surrendering to God’s call on her life or facing the possible danger involved in confirming his will. Such complete surrender freed her to act in confidence.

In going to Ein Karim, Mary became the first missionary, the first bearer of the Good News. Despite being pregnant with Jesus, the word incarnate (logos), in her womb, she journeys through the hill country to the town of Juda. English theologian John Saward refers to this image of Mary on her journey to Elizabeth as the “Logos carrying Virgin.”[1] In this journey, Mary became the first disciple and missionary of the Logos (Word). Indeed she is the Theotokos—bearer of God in our world.

Mary stayed 3 months to be with Elizabeth to continue to accompany and assist Elizabeth into the more delicate three months remaining of her pregnancy. We do no know, whether Mary was still present when Elizabeth gave birth to John the Baptist. This further showed, however, that Mary, despite herself being pregnant, was able to be present and minister to someone who was more in need.

What is this story telling us about Christmas?

Christmas is a joyful celebration that essentially leads to vibrant mission. The celebration of the incarnation of Jesus overflows with life, joy and goodness that it cannot be kept just to ourselves and lived only at this time of the year. It has to be lived, shared and proclaimed to others, to the whole world, throughout the year. As we sing in the famous Tagalog Christmas carol, Sa Maybahay,

Ang pag-ibig ‘pag siyang naghari   (When love reigns)
Araw-araw ay magiging Pasko lagi  
(Everyday will be Christmas!)

Like Mary, we are all called to be Theotokos—God-bearers. We are all called to share the good news of Emmanuel, God is with us, not just with our lips but also with our feet, with all our heart and soul all the days of our lives.

 

St. Francis and the Love for Animals at the Shrine

Every year on the 4th of October, devotees bring their pets to the Baclaran shrine—dogs, cats, hamsters, birds, turtles and other animal pets—for the blessing of animals. This is in commemoration of the feast of St. Francis of Assisi. 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.

Because of Francis legacy, it has become customary for Catholic and Anglican churches to carry out animal blessing ceremonies on his feast day of 4 October. The secular world has also recognized Francis’ legacy by celebrating in October 4 the World Animal Day, an annual celebration of international day of action for animal rights and welfare.

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.