“For the past two years and still now, I have been a volunteer secretary of the Hacienda Luisita Peasant Supporters Network. Hacienda Luisita is a 50-year-old effort by 6,296 farmworker beneficiaries, for the 6,435 hectares of land, as big and wide as the cities of Makati and Manila when combined.
Time and again in just my two years helping to advance the cause of the farmers for genuine agrarian reform, in my limited capacity as a poet, writer, Catholic Christian and advocate, countless times I came across the word solidarity, as part of a statement, or as a rallying theme in a forum, or in a gathering.”
Brother Alois’ Letter invites us to a new solidarity, for, in the world, the growing gap between the rich and the poor is proof that we have not known how to show enough diligence in our role as Christians.
“The retreat reiterated to me the life I had already been living out. My love of God translated and reflected on my love towards people entrusted to me, or to communities I create. New Solidarity does not only mean doing more for the people, but is also about finding new roots, from which we can all grow together in perfect unity as members of the human family. Ang hirap! I am no saint. Tarnished with sins, I am not a perfect Christian to be a paragon of how faith and love of God must be. But a verse from a song of Taizé reminds me that nothing can ever come between me and the love of God, the love of God that is in Christ Jesus. For even in the story of Cain and Abel, we are led to remember that even as we sin, God never abandons us. Even Christ’s choice of community, friends and disciples, were not all saints to start with. And, this is not even about wanting to be a saint, but at the bottom line, striving to be human.
Truly, as with most experiences of retreats for me, I am recharged. I am energized with loads of spare, fully charged, batteries of reflections and prayers that will guide each of my ways until the next stop comes. My mission is to serve the people. A mission shared with a community. All of whom, surely, have chosen to hope and to love, as we embrace this same mission. The last two paragraphs of the Letter from Taizé: ‘Towards a New Solidarity’ pose a challenge that will surely keep on ringing in my head. The last word in the last question is a word that, for the month after the retreat and up to the date that I am writing this, gives purpose to every morning for me. The ultimate challenge that propels me to serve even more... To love even more!”
Visit in 2011: The pilgrimage of trust accompanies many young Filipinos in their everyday life
Well before our arrival in Manila, we had already noted that the Asian stage of the pilgrimage of trust in February 2010 had found an echo and continued to inspire young people, even more than a year later. Young people from Vietnam, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand and elsewhere told us how much the friendships made with the Filipinos remained alive. Some were returning to the Philippines to visit their new friends, to pray together, to support and strengthen these links, not just by internet, but by the concrete sign of a visit.
For we brothers, our three week visit at the end of May 2011 was also an opportunity to look afresh at all that we had been able to live together with our Filipino friends over these last years.
Our visit was marked by very diverse meetings in different regions of the country. On Mindanao, we went to Kitcharao (Butuan), in the Visayas to Cebu and to Iloilo, in the region of Luzon to Imus, to Manila and the surrounding area, to San Fernando (Pampanga), to Dagupan and as far north as Tabuk. We prayed during a summer camp with 600 young people and met seminarians and theology students.
At some places there were afternoons based on the ‘Letter from Chilé’, common prayers, bible introductions and sharing groups on the letter’s themes: joy, compassion, forgiveness. Afterwards the young people told of their experiences. How can joy be lived when everyday life is often tough and confronts us with the many challenges arising from the country’s problems? How can one care for others and broaden communion when frontiers and differences seem insurmountable, even within our own parish communities? What does it mean to ‘live forgiveness’ when deep wounds affect us, even through people very close to us?
Almost everywhere there were young people who had been to Taizé during the last few years, sent for a time by their dioceses or youth organisations. We met one person who had been to Taizé in 1991 and who is today seeking how to make possible a better future for the most impoverished through microcredit. Some young people who had returned from Taizé at the beginning of the year, and whose experiences were still fresh, invited us for prayers and sharing in their parishes.
At Manila, regular prayers continue in many of the communities that welcomed pilgrims during the meeting in 2010. We were touched by the joy with which these young people prepared the prayers. With plants, icons, candles, stones, fabrics, they decorated the places of prayer simply and beautifully, especially in the poor neighbourhoods of the city. All this opened us to the mysterious presence of God.
After one of these prayers, those who had taken part in the pilgrimage of trust told us what they had experienced and what of this remains today in their everyday life. We were astonished to hear what had had an effect on their lives as young people. Here are some of their remarks:
“This experience has changed my life. I am more confident after this pilgrimage of trust.”
“I found an interior peace during the prayers. I was able to centre myself on God, to talk to God in a personal way.”
“I discovered silence. In silence I listened to God’s voice and I never want to lose the passion for prayer. The pilgrimage of trust showed me the way.”
“There was a communion beyond all differences and I felt that I counted for God, and that if one trusts God, nothing is impossible.”
“People trust in me because I gained in confidence during the pilgrimage.”
When we took our leave of each other, many asked us the question: “When will you be coming back? Where will the next stage of the pilgrimage of trust be?”
Continuing the pilgrimage of trust after the Manila meeting
When we returned to the Philippines after Easter, we were able to see that the pilgrimage of trust is continuing in Manila and in several regions of the country. Several thousand young adults took part in the international meeting in Manila in February. For five days, they prayed together and reflected on the theme: “A thirst for life in fullness – a call to transform the world” (Letter from China). The effect of these days naturally continued within them when they got back to their parishes and communities, and many of them wished to continue the way of the pilgrimage.
It was impressive to see how that the pilgrims to Manila had shared their experiences with those who had not been able to go to the meeting.
Just after we arrived, we set off by bus for San Jose City, Nueva Ecija, where young people from several dioceses of central Luzon had gathered for five days in a local pilgrimage. During the day, the young people were in their host families for sharing on a Bible text – like a “Lectio Divina” between people of different generations, and here the people often live from what they produce on their farms. Towards evening, just before sunset, the young people converged from all over on a large space in front of a rice mill for evening prayer. As the prayer began, the setting sun flooded the icons with its golden light. It was a beautiful end to the day.
At Legazpi, nearly a thousand young people were preparing to be “observers” at the elections on 10 May. Church groups undertake a commitment in the PPCRV (Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting) in order to verify by their presence – during the campaign and in the polling stations on election day itself – that the elections be correct, honest, just and peaceful. Young people from the entire region met on the Thursday evening. We began with prayer. Many of them had come in order to draw their strength from their relation to God, in prayer and song, in listening to the Word of God and in silence, in view of the important service they were giving. During the whole night, there were workshops dealing with practical preparation. Before sunrise, we came together on a hill in front of the imposing mass of the Mayon volcano to celebrate mass with Bishop Joel Baylon, in charge of youth ministry in the Philippines. The beauty of creation that morning was overwhelming. At the same time, the volcano reminded us of the challenges that God always anew puts before us. But in his homily, the bishop encouraged the participants by reminding them that it is in God that we find the strength for our commitments.
We were also invited to a meeting at Malabalay, in Mindanao. Those who cooperate in the youth ministry had come together to coordinate their efforts over the coming years and they wanted to complete this with prayer, a Bible introduction, exchanges in small groups. Volunteers from the parish prepared the meals over an open fire in the garden. Then we continued with evening prayer. The people of Mindanao deeply wish for a peaceful solution for the conflict that has gone on for so long in their region. The young people want to prepare ways of peace by their lives. Young Christians from Mindanao had brought Moslem friends to the Manila meeting. Nor Asiah Madale Adialao, a young Moslem woman, wrote in the regional newspaper of the Church in Mindanao:
“Taizé… a way of peace and dialogue. During my years of commitment for inter-religious dialogue, I realised that I was only one of the rare ordinary people who dream of a peaceful world, a world where people of different cultures and orientations can live together… My life has led me to a personal encounter with Taizé’s pilgrimage of trust. Having seen a Catholic priest, an indigenous sister and myself, a confirmed disciple of Islam, share the same aspiration for peace and dialogue, I continue to be astonished when I see people of different orientations becoming true partners for building peace. That experience marked a new stage in understanding and developing the essence of dialogue. As a Moslem woman, I cannot forget the warm hospitality of the congregation of sisters who welcomed us. It was wonderful to be welcomed with such a joyful heart. I was particularly moved when everybody shared in a time of prayer; a moment that was so calm that I heard almost nothing but my own thoughts and my sincere desire for a lasting peace with people from all walks of life.”
In Bohol, similar prayers and meetings brought together young adults in Talibon and Tagbilaran. For the 12 May we were invited to Puerto Princessa (Palawan). In February, the young people had started praying in solidarity with the victims of the earthquakes in Haiti and Chile, as Brother Alois had invited them to do during the Manila meeting. Similar prayers continue all around Manila. Some people are still using the songs books that were distributed in February, so as to be able to sing with others the new translations and adaptations in Tagalog. We were very happy to be invited to certain communities who had welcomed young people in February; Catholic parishes of different dioceses and assemblies of Union Church at Makati.
What a joy to meet again the fifty boys in the prison for minors. We had already visited them on Ash Wednesday, to pray together and to reflect on forgiveness. So it was quite possible to visit them again after Easter. Meanwhile, many of them had learned the songs by heart. In the spirit of the joy of Easter we prayed and exchanged the peace and joy that the disciples experienced on Easter Day, when they met the Risen Christ. As we were leaving the boys were gesticulating and asking, “Please come back and pray for us!” Visiting one another, praying together, listening to one another, sharing the difficult moments and the joys of life; there is the heart of the message of the Gospel. And so, for each person, the pilgrimage continues, we remain united in prayer until we meet once again.