THE Filipinos’ faith acts arguably as a strong unguent for solidifying society. One only has to witness the waves of hands raised by pilgrims during the singing of the “gozos” at the hourly masses celebrated at the Basilica del Sto. Niño de Cebu during the nine-day prayers leading to the feast of the Sto. Niño to repeatedly return to this insight.
The eidetic fervor of piety and devotion is no less expressed in the patience and obedience with which many pilgrims and other visitors follow the system implemented by authorities to ensure order and safety at the Basilica grounds and during the hours-long processions that usher in and culminate the novena to the Cebu’s patron.
In recent years, the belief that the Holy Infant protects the faithful in all conflicts and trials has been channeled by both Church and secular leaders to encourage more personal introspection and motivate individuals, families and communities to embrace listening and dialogue, respect and care for others, especially the marginalized and powerless and cooperation and co-existence with others, including the non-human creatures sharing the Earth with people.
Viewed in this context, the novena to the Infant Jesus is a powerful communal prayer for generating greater civic consciousness of and sensitivity to the symbiotic connections that link people to all of God’s creations, crucial portal for the urgent and vital advocacy for environmentalism that should be pushed to the fore specially in the wake of the recent wildfires and other manifestations of the escalating ecological crisis shaping the global future.
Last Sept. 2019, residents in Metro Cebu and other central and southern parts of the country reduced outdoor activities and scrambled for masks to protect themselves from the haze that spread from the forest fires in the islands of Sumatra and Borneo in Indonesia.
Yet, many commuters of Metro Manila and Metro Cebu already use facial masks since air pollutants are not just carried from outside the country by the southwest monsoon winds but are generated by local urban pollution.
Thus, the ecological awareness stirred by homilies and prayers to end environmentally risky traditions, such as the sending of prayers tied to balloons released after the mass that killed marine animals ingesting the balloons that collapsed into the sea, must be sustained by applying the lessons from the climate crisis.
The first lesson is that it is not just Indonesia and Australia put at risk by wildfires. All countries are vulnerable to being “set... ablaze, physically and politically, (due to) similar terrain and a leadership that has yet to wake up fully to the new reality that climate change is creating,” reported “The Economist” in its Jan. 11, 2020 edition.
But even as the wildfires confirm the increasing severity of environmental disasters and consequences for people and the rest of creation and the inadequacy of present responses and programs for addressing these natural disasters, the responsiveness of Australians and global volunteers to rescue and succor people and animals injured, orphaned, and left without homes and habitat by the fires show that humanity continues to tap from unabated wellsprings of empathy, compassion, and communalism to face and rise above ecological challenges.
Through its advocacy for the stewardship of all of God’s creations, the Roman Catholic Church shares the stake in sustaining this mindset and will power among Cebuanos anticipating and preparing for the systemic consequences of climate change.
Deeper contemplation and activism are needed to address the corporate plunder of dwindling resources, the pressures imposed by heedless populations and consumerist lifestyles and political compromises that soft-pedal on social responsibility for expediency and personal gains.
No less than the Catholic community should be at the forefront of local and global dialogues and actions addressing our changing ecology.