15 November 2013

'There will be great earthquakes . . .' Sunday Reflections, 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C

Sto Niño Basilica, Cebu City, Philippines, 15 October 2013

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)                                  

Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)

And as some spoke of the temple, how it was adorned with noble stones and offerings, Jesus said, "As for these things which you see, the days will come when there shall not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down." And they asked him, "Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign when this is about to take place?" And he said, "Take heed that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name, saying, 'I am he!' and, 'The time is at hand!' Do not go after them. And when you hear of wars and tumults, do not be terrified; for this must first take place, but the end will not be at once." 

Then he said to them, "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences; and there will be terrors and great signs from heaven. But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name's sake. This will be a time for you to bear testimony.  Settle it therefore in your minds, not to meditate beforehand how to answer; for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict.  You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and kinsmen and friends, and some of you they will put to death;  you will be hated by all for my name's sake. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives."

Tanauan, Leyte, after Super Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda 8 November 2013

Sr Maricel Fuerza TC and Sr Reah Lei Talibas TC are friends of mine, members of the Capuchin Tertiary Sisters of the Holy Family. They both happen to be in the same small community at the novitiate of the Sisters in Talisay City, Negros Occidental, just north of Bacolod City.

Sr Maricel is from Catigbian, Bohol, very near the epicentre of the 7.2 magnitude earthquake that hit Bohol and other parts of the Visayas, noticeably Cebu, the morning of 15 October. Her family home was destroyed, though nobody was hurt.

Sister Maricel is on the left.

Sr Rhea Lei is from Tanauan, Leyte, a coastal town south of Tacloban City that has been featured so much in the news since Super typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda passed through the central Philippines on 8 November. Her family home too was destroyed though all are safe. Sister texted me the other day that her family were suffering from hunger because of the lack of food and water. She texted later 'I desire to go [home] but I feel helpless at this time'.

Sister Rhea Lei is on the far left.

A word I have often used about the people of the Philippines is 'resilience'. Many reporters, foreign and Filipino, have been seen that resilience this last week. I have seen it so many times. I remember travelling on a bus nearly 40 years ago in northern Mindanao sitting next to a young couple with two or three very young children and two or three bags. I didn't really find out their story but I knew they were moving to another place to make a new start. Jesus tells us at the end of today's gospel, By your endurance you will gain your lives.

People here, especially those who are poor or without influence, are long-suffering. Sometimes this can result in an unhelpful passivity. But the other side of that is an extraordinary resilience when disaster strikes. Very often this is an expression of deep faith. I saw on TV a shot of people kneeling and praying in front of a statue of Our Blessed Mother in one of the churches in Tacloban City. These were people left with nothing who had probably lost family members or others close to them.

The Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, the Redemptorist church in Tacloban, is sheltering 200 to 300 families,  the pews serving as beds. A BBC reporter there described Fr Edwin Bacaltos CSsR, the parish priest and whom I know, as a genuine good shepherd. And it was stated that, as usual, there would be four Masses on Sunday.

Though there has been some looting, what I saw on TV showed an 'orderliness' of some kind, even though some were taking goods that couldn't possibly be of any use. I have been struck by the orderliness of very long queues of people, young and old, waiting patiently  and with hope for food and water, even when hardly anything is available.

Christ on the Sea of Galilee, 1854, Eugène Delacroix [Wikipedia]

I know that the Church in some countries will have special collections for the victims of Haiyan/Yolanda. I know that people will be very generous, as so many have been already.

'I have returned', 1944, Gulf of Leyte [Wikipedia]

An iconic photo from World War II is that of General Douglas MacArthur landing at Tacloban to help, with the aid of both American and Filipino soldiers (the soldier with the helmet behind General MacArthur is Philippine General Carlos P. Romulo), to liberate the Philippines from the Japanese. 69 years later an American aircraft carrier has arrived in the same area to help, with many others, to liberate the people of Leyte from their present misery. The 'many others' include not only countless Filipinos but people on board ships sent by the United Kingdom and Japan. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom Jesus tells us, That was the reality in the Pacific War 70 years ago but now former enemies are working together to help the victims of what is said to be the strongest storm ever to hit land.

Surely this is a symbol of God's presence just as Jesus, God who became man, was present while asleep on the boat in the middle of a storm.

Filipinos have a great devotion to the Sto Niño, the Child Jesus. The video at the top shows the bell tower of the Sto Niño Basilica in Cebu being destroyed by the earthquake. The main church in Tacloban City is also named after the Sto Niño. I used the video below earlier in the week. The hymn to the Sto Niño of Tacloban was recorded in that church, which is seen in the video. The hymn, both the words and the way it is sung, captures for me something of the faith and hope of Filipino Catholics, in this instance those in the region that has been most severely stricken, a trust in God's love and mercy. The people fervently sing as they ask the Holy Child of Tacloban not to leave them.

He won't.

Shortly after I uploaded Sunday Reflections I received the following reflection from a friend in Manila, not as a response but by coincidence.

Calamities, natural and man-made have besieged our country in recent months and years, with increasing frequency, intensity and horror. As Christians, how do we witness about God, to a man cradling his lifeless daughter in his arms, or a child made orphan by surging sea and homeless by howling wind, or a community whose locus of worship for centuries has been reduced to a pile of rubble in seconds? Is God punishing us? As Catholics, fortified by the Year of Faith, we can never ever believe that. Instead, we witness to a God of love, as we help bury the dead, feed, clothe, shelter the living, comfort the grieving. We cling to our faith in a God who brings good out of evil, for our sake and for those who are on the verge of losing their faith. The good has started coming, in the deluge of donations, equipment, rescue and medical missions, from all over the world – even from those, with whom, we have had differences. Indeed, natural calamities make humankind realize how fleeting is life, how fragile is our shared planet. Reminded of how helpless we truly are, we raise our hearts in prayer, our arms in surrender, like children asking to be carried, confident, that our Father will scoop us up in His arms and carry us home.



No comments: