Hope and Despair: Two Mixed Sentiments Begin the Year for the Filipinos

For the Filipino nation, the year started with a milestone of unity in faith. From January 15 to 19, the Supreme Pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis visited the Philippines bringing with him mercy and compassion for a country faced with misery and despair after the successive natural calamities and various political scandals.

The Philippines, being a predominantly Catholic nation, welcomed the Pope with so much fervor. The Protestant churches including the Iglesia Filipina Independiente also enjoined with the Roman Catholic faithful in a joyful mood for the visit.

During the visit, the largest papal crowd was recorded at the closing Mass of Pope Francis last January 18, 2015 with six to seven million people attending in Luneta Park.

emperado-papal-visit

A week after the Papal visit, 44 members from the special action forces of the Philippine National Police died in battle after killing a terrorist and Malaysian bomb maker Zulkifli bin Hir, also known as Marwan in the place called Mamasapano in Maguindanao. Controversies arose due to the government’s lack of responsibility in sending a backup force during the course of the battle. The President was also not able to attend the arrival rites of the so-called “Fallen 44” due to an opening of an industrial plant. Later on, the President and his colleagues have been pointing fingers on who is to blame for the incident. The act of pointing fingers at each other thus display the childlike ways of these government officials.

Here, it can be seen that in just a month the Filipino people experienced a faith-renewing experience and a heartbreaking phenomenon. Pope Francis brought hope through his messages of solidarity but the killing of the policemen incited the feeling of despair for most Filipinos.

emperado-protest

A week after the Papal visit, 44 members from the special action forces of the Philippine National Police died in battle after killing a terrorist and Malaysian bomb maker Zulkifli bin Hir, also known as Marwan in the place called Mamasapano in Maguindanao. Controversies arose due to the government’s lack of responsibility in sending a backup force during the course of the battle. The President was also not able to attend the arrival rites of the so-called “Fallen 44” due to an opening of an industrial plant. Later on, the President and his colleagues have been pointing fingers on who is to blame for the incident. The act of pointing fingers at each other thus display the childlike ways of these government officials.

Here, it can be seen that in just a month the Filipino people experienced a faith-renewing experience and a heartbreaking phenomenon. Pope Francis brought hope through his messages of solidarity but the killing of the policemen incited the feeling of despair for most Filipinos.

Due to the incident, IFI Bishops released recently a statement urging the President Aquino to resign as manifested in this paragraph: “The Filipino people, above all, have the sovereign right to remove a president who is not only incompetent to lead the country, but is also guilty in betraying their aspiration for justice and peace. We join the people’s mounting call for the resignation of President Benigno Aquino III, and support their alternative for the creation of the People’s Council that will oversee the country’s governance and the institution of meaningful reforms and will prepare for the election of the country’s new president.”

Bearing the prophetic role, the bishops of the IFI now call for the ouster of the current president. The bishops are calling for justice and accountability due to the incident that killed 44 dedicated men. Sad to note, a cover up is being done in order not to expose the truth behind the incident.

Few days ago, crowds of people flocked the streets in the nation’s capital during the commemoration of the People Power Revolution in 1986. They have a common cry of urging the president to resign from his office.

Now as the church is faced with the Lenten Season, it is very timely that as the Filipinos reflect on Christ’s passion and death on the cross. Filipinos can see themselves in the face of the suffering Christ because they have always been down with poverty and misery over the selfish perpetrators governing the nation. The scenario of the nation has become worst due to the endless political scandals linked with corruption, increasing poverty rate among the citizens and the current issue of peace and order in Mindanao.

The Philippines is now seen as a society filled with untruth. It is quite sad because even the mainstream media cannot give the full account of the events in order to cover up the credibility of these so-called prominent politicians.

At the start of this brand new year, the Filipino faith is put to test through these circumstances. The Filipinos long await the coming of a new day – the dawn of renewal as a nation. May this Lenten Season bring healing, peace and true justice to those who have been afflicted by the recent atrocities.

Young in the Worldwide Church  – Celebrating Unity and Friendship

As I sat in the plane going home from the event at the National Cathedral of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente in Manila, a genuine smile marked over my face as I thought of happy thoughts and the things that transpired over that splendid weekend.

For three days, I was reminded of the best times I spent in Sweden just this year. Being with my program coordinator, Anne Falk, with all the coordinators from the participating churches in the Young in the Worldwide Church Program, felt like the exchange has not yet ended. And for me, it will never end.

Filippinerna-samordnarmöte-Ung-i-världsvida-kyrkan-nov-2014blog

For two days, fun and friendship were shared among the past Filipino participants with the current Swedish participants. This began on a Saturday when we had to prepare the details of the anniversary program.

Celebrating the 19th year anniversary of the Concordat Relations between the Iglesia Filipina Independiente and the Church of Sweden was more than an event. The friendship and the sharing of thoughts between the Filipino and Swedish exchange participants became a profound showcase of what the relationship between churches meant. What has been signed on paper years ago, was given a breath of life and was put to flesh.

firande-av-samverkan-mellan-Svenska-kyrkan-och-Iglesia-Filipina-Independienteblog

Fun, laughter, endless conversations were at the heart of all the preparations for the next day. Song rehearsals were as fun as being with people whom I have known for a long time. Only to realize that the group just met an hour ago or through Facebook but there was something common in us and that was our exchange experience and the love for the two churches.

The following day, the Eucharistic celebration was described “colorful” by the Primate, Ephraim S. Fajutagana due to the presence of friends from different nations and continents. During the said Sunday, it was the National Council of Churches in the Philippines’ 51st Anniversary celebration. IFI is a member of the said aggrupation of mainline protestant churches in my country.

Psalmboken-och-dess-motsvarighet-i-Filippinernablog

What made me feel even more nostalgic was when the National Cathedral Choir sang “Du är Helig” as a very inspiring unaccompanied piece for the processional. I can’t help but sing the song by heart in Swedish. As a music minister attending a Mass, I brought with me two hymnbooks, one from my church and the other the “Psalmboken” of the Church of Sweden. Aside from that, my heart warmed when I saw the priests from Brazil’s Lutheran Church distributing communion.

And as I sit while writing this blog, the song “We are Marching in the Light of God” translated in several languages rings in my ear. The lyrics of the song is kept in my heart for a special reason that it connotes unity among peoples in God, our common Father.

The relationship between the IFI and the Church of Sweden has been existing for 19 years and the celebration of such unity is not only through the exchange, clergy visits, and program grants.

Yet the more profound and genuine expression and celebration of the unity between churches is the life shared among its faithful especially among the youth and the clergy.

Unity is celebrated when parishes in the Philippines pray for the Church of Sweden in their aim to share Christ is such a challenging setting. In a way, unity is celebrated when the Swedish Church faithful lights a candle and say a prayer for the Filipinos that they may be spared from the Typhoon or any calamity.

In the end, I didn’t feel any regrets despite the tiring days spent for the preparation of the fellowship program because in the end, I felt how blessed I am to be part of the remarkable event. The privilege given to me by the IFI and the Church of Sweden is incomparable. What I contributed cannot even repay the great blessing of meeting people and sharing my life, faith and aspirations in Sweden.

Lay People: The Lifeblood and Strength of the Filipino Church

Blog 2 pic2

Churches in the Philippines, especially the Iglesia Filipina Independiente, may not be rich with financial resources but there is one aspect that makes it appear to be abundant with the active participation of lay workers. Through the years, it has been an inspiring sight to witness these men, women and young people exercise their ministry to edify the church and to heed God’s call to serve His people.

In retrospect, the Iglesia Filipina Independiente was founded by common people, workers and laborers who were involved in the first labor union of the Philippines called the Union Obrera Democratica in 1902. A century has passed yet the humble beginning of the historic church is relived whenever a lay worker offers sweat and blood for the church and aim for its development. Serving the church is often voluntary yet the commitment shown by the lay workers is enormous and these people have different motivations in pursuing various voluntary works.

Some draw inspiration in serving the church through what God has done in their lives. Some consider serving the church as a family legacy – an act of honoring and continuing their ancestors’ heritage of faith and service. Also, others may point out that it is their calling or vocation to serve. But for whatever reasons these people bear, they all have a single thing in common: church work is at the heart of their existence. In the end, they would claim that fulfillment comes when they have found the purpose of existence and that is to serve God.

Some have shifted their careers and some juggle up things in order to help in the development of the church. Former Young in the Worldwide Church participant, Sharon Famaran Advincula of Romblon Diocese, shared that she saw a purpose on why she completed an undergraduate degree in Civil Engineering in relation to becoming a youth worker and Diocesan Program Officer.

“I want to make a difference in peoples’ lives especially for the young people. I am a graduate of Civil Engineering and you know I realized that it was not huge buildings God wants me to build but the lives of the people, it’s not the bridges that He wants me to make but He wants me to make bridges for the people to Him. And all of these are for the glory of God,” explained Sha as she is fondly called.

Sha travels around the Diocese of Romblon every now and then to give lectures and to help train church workers as its Program Officer. She is also engaged in teaching and for holistic development of the Mangyans, an Indigenous Peoples group.

 

For a youth leader like Dunhill Angelo Maraya, who currently leads the youth in the National Cathedral, he points out that serving God is both a duty and an obligation. Dunhill also added that God makes him feel complete, loved and his service to God one way to payback what God has bestowed on him.

“As a member of IFI, one way of showing my servitude to God is by serving my lowly brethren,” added Dunhill who points out that the IFI’s church work is not limited to the four corners of the holy edifice. The reason lies behind the church’s core mission of liberating people from the bondage of untruth, injustice, poverty, corruption and all of the society’s evils.

“The lay people play a great role in fulfilling God’s mission,” shared Praxy Cadiz who is one of the founding members of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente – United Arab Emirates Community.

Years ago before leaving for abroad, Praxy served as a church musician of his home parish in Bais City, Negros Oriental. Aside from his family’s influence, he was motivated to join in the activities and choirs due because of his peers in church. He recalls of instances that he would not mind the heavy rains and the scourging heat of the sun when he is called to serve the church. Most of all, he said his inspiration comes from God’s Word and such motivation made him to continue serving God and IFI even in a foreign land.

Those three people are just a few of the thousands who help the clergy of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente. Their sense of service is rooted in Jesus who came not to be served but to serve. Lay people and their contributions to the work in the vineyard are considered the lifeblood of the church operations as they take on different roles such as church cantors, lay readers, catechists, Sunday school teachers, decorators, florists, acolytes, youth workers, utility workers, and a lot more of church work.

In the end, I see the church’s real strength from these lay people who have decided to commit their life to God – whom they consider the Big Boss and CEO.

Filipino’s Transcendent Faith


The Context

In a country faced with unending struggles and tribulations, the common people of the Philippines have only one option but to seek refuge from God. For most Filipinos, their concept of God revolves around the belief in a supernatural being to whom they can express their concerns in time of trial, poverty and distress. Economically speaking, more than half of the population falls below the poverty line. The fact is in full contrary to the moniker given to the Philippines as “Pearl of the OrientSeas.” The country is blessed with natural resources, mineral deposits, vast fertile lands, rich marine biodiversity and a lot more which remains to be mismanaged and only a few people benefit from the wealth.

On the other hand, the Republic of the Philippines is dubbed as the only Christian nation in Asia. But Islam is of strong presence in the southern part of the archipelagic country. Moreover, its history was shaped by the colonization of the Spanish, Americans and Japanese up until it gained independence in July 1946. From that day on and up to this date, the nation still struggles for full independence from foreign dictates and from threats of neighboring countries due to territorial disputes.

Faith amidst Poverty and Tragedy
In poverty and lack of financial resources, Filipinos look up to the heavens and call on God, their only hope, to save them from hopeless situations. Armed with faith, courage and perseverance to cope with the difficult times, a typical citizen is never disheartened with financial problems always finding a remedy to ease the situation. Others may conclude that Filipinos are gifted with eyes that see good things amidst hardships. As a result of this belief, they would couple hard work with strong faith in God.

Take for example a farmer who would walk several miles to town, for several hours, in order to attend the Sunday service. What a grateful and faithful act to cap the week that passed after cultivating the land and tending to the agricultural crops of rich men. This is also seen in a mother of eight children who offers laundry services to well-off families. But on Sundays, she starts work late so that she can attend the first morning service in the nearby church. She tags along her kids and inculcates in them the trust in the Almighty who she describes as a merciful God to those who are working with sincere intentions. In the Philippines, a family going to church on a Sunday is not uncommon. The kids who are brought to church by their parents would develop the habit and later on, will also continue to influence the next generations.

Here we can see the Transcendent Faith that most Filipino families share to their children and grandchildren and the cycle goes on. Faith is the gem that every Filipino bears in their hearts and minds thus, enabling them to withstand a series of calamities such as earthquakes and typhoons.

In fact, during the aftermath of the huge calamities that struck the country, members of the foreign media were in awe at how Filipinos reacted to the fate they were dealt with. It came as a surprise for them to see genuine smiles and laughter from people in the communities. At that time, the sound of laughter from the local folks resounded hope for the wailing nation. The Filipinos’ belief in God is from where Positivity springs seeing God as the “source of all blessings.”

Imagine a woman suffering from breast cancer who prefers not to stay at home. Despite the heartbreaking situation, she keeps her strong faith in God enables her to believe that she will be healed. She also sees the trial as a means to see the blessings in her life shown through the support, love and care that her family affords her. Aside from that, the sickness has not hindered her to serve in church as a lector, chorister and assistant in some services.

Faith Keeps the People Going
The Transcendent Faith fuels the will of the Filipinos to go on with life. It is only God whom they can rely for hope and consolation as they live in a society filled with greedy politicians, helpless government and struggling economy. Filipinos keep their trust in the God who came to earth, struggled and died for them. Their belief is rooted in Jesus Christ, the Son of God and promised Messiah who gave the poor and lowly the hope of a new and abundant life that everyone deserves, not only in heaven but also on earth. In Jesus, Filipinos see the face of a God who can feel what they experience in their everyday toil. They would usually point out that even Jesus was not able to escape the cruel world filled with hateful and selfish people, responsible for beating, crucifying, scourging, killing and persecuting the innocent ones.

Lastly, Filipinos are not in despair when faced with unending trials. They do not dwell so much in the fact that Christ once suffered and died for them. But in this case, they believe that Jesus rose for them from the dead, to bring victory and fulfillment to the promise of abundant life for every believer. Tribulations of any kind may come one after the other but one thing is for sure, the Filipino faith never fades in the faithful God – who recreates things as He promised, redeems them from a life filled with misery and sustains them in their weakness.