TWO Sundays ago, our Holy Father Pope Francis celebrated a mass in anticipation of the 5th centenary celebration of the Christian faith in the Philippines, which will be officially inaugurated on Easter Sunday, April 4. During his homily, the Santo Papa took special note of our reputation as “smugglers of faith,” with our willingness to “sow the faith” by sharing the good news of salvation wherever we may go.
This is consistent with the theme of the jubilee celebration, “Gifted to Give,” which is not only a challenge for Filipinos to engage in charity and in helping each other during these trying times, but also an acknowledgement that the value of sharing our blessings has featured prominently in the history of Filipino faith.
The history of our faith, as some are almost too eager to note, is complicated. The past 500 years have seen us grapple with colonialism, revolutions, wars, tyranny, and countless natural and manmade crises. It is a history tainted with human error, even as it is blessed with human virtue and Divine Providence. But as leaders of the Catholic Faith here in the country recognize, it is a history of Filipinos giving what they have, from their material possessions to their lives, in service of one another. Even in the darkest years of our faith, we have witnessed twinkles of hope in our Church workers, missionaries, and lay-people who have armed themselves with the might of the Gospel in witnessing to their brothers and sisters through their actions and lives.
But the story of the Filipino people being “Gifted to Give” should not just inform how we remember the past, but is a call to how we must approach the present and the future. It comes with a question and a challenge: What has the Lord given us now that we may share with others? And are we willing to share it?
For many of us, the answer seems obvious. The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted many inequalities in our society: whether you have food on the table, whether you can afford not to go outside to pursue your livelihood, whether you can study or work from home, are matters of whether you have or have not. And so it is clear those who have an excess in material wealth are called to share them with the less fortunate. Yet, the past year has also shown us a deeper truth about what has been given to us, and thus what is expected from us to share.
In the months following restrictions due to the pandemic were introduced, experts have observed that natural ecosystems throughout the globe have been healing. The ozone layer has been recovering. Species thought to be extinct are resurfacing. It seems as though it took us being locked in our homes — unable to experience nature firsthand — to realize what we have had all along: our environment. Our beaches. Our forests. Our common home.
Moreover, the last months of 2020 have also shown us what we have to lose. The typhoons we have faced together, especially here in Negros, have shown us that climate-related disasters do not wait for pandemics to be over. It has given us a peek of what is to come for the next 500 years, if we do not treasure Mother Nature and work so that we could share it with the coming generations. Will we give them a future of more floods, stronger earthquakes and more frequent storms and droughts? Or will we share with them blessings we have been so fortunate to enjoy: clean air, clean water, our natural parks, forests, and mountains?
This March 27, environmental advocates, cities, and individuals will be observing Earth Hour. While it is not enough that we only set aside one hour to save energy and think about the planet Earth, perhaps we could also use this moment -- in anticipation of Holy Week -- to reflect on the Common Home God has given each one of us. Perhaps, as we gear towards remembering how God gave His only Begotten Son to the world, we can also remember the world that was given to us, His Children, for us to enjoy, fill up, and ultimately, share with one another.
With all that is happening in our country and in the world, I am still hopeful that the next 500 years of Christianity in the Philippines will still be marked with the value of giving and sharing. But this relies on our ability to become good stewards and guardians of what we have been given. Especially when speaking of our environment, in order to be able to give the next generations what we have, we have to work to keep and protect them. And with the abundance of good works seen from Filipinos during this pandemic, despite the many flaws of those in power and the many problems we all have to face, I am confident that the spirit of giving and sharing and caring for one another among Filipinos, will last even beyond the next 500 years of Christianity in the Philippines.