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

 

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

children

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.