The meeting day by day
Tuesday 2 February
Frère Roger visited ’Smokey Mountain’ in 1991. A mountain of Manila’s waste, steaming in the Sunday morning heat. A mountain so tall and so wide that from the top we can see across the cranes of the port to the blue horizon of Manila Bay beyond. And at the foot of this mountain, a small wooden church is filled with children and young people, singing. "Sapagmamahal", they sing together, "Naroroon ang Diyos". Where there is love, there God is. And then silence. What silence! Broken only by cockerels crowing and the sound of distant traffic. The young people on the Taizé preparation team are welcomed here so joyfully, so generously. And later this week pilgrims from other parts of the Philippines and beyond will also be welcomed in this parish of The Risen Christ, Smokey Mountain. Well, there is certainly love here. Sapagmamahal, Naroroon ang Diyos.
And further south, cradled in the urban bustle of Manila, our little preparation room at Don Bosco Technical Institute seems to shrink as the team of brothers, sisters and volunteers grows each day. There is energy in the air; people moving, preparing, singing, sharing. Signs are being painted ready to welcome people in the beautiful ancient calligraphy of many Asian scripts.
Selamat datang! स्वागत! Mabuhay! 환영! 欢迎! Welcome!
Children play basketball in occasional spaces between the buildings. One such basketball court, our vast church space, is being decorated with three kinds of Filipino bamboo, standing tall like organ pipes, green with new life. Here in the Philippines, bamboo is a symbol of unity - how can one stem stand alone?
This weekend brought the feast of Don Bosco, and the compound here has been throbbing with music and celebration. We remember how it was also a Don Bosco school who welcomed the Taizé meeting in Kolkata in 2006; Don Bosco, whose commitment was to ’journeying with the young’. Perhaps that is why we are here too. And on Wednesday we look forward to many more joining us on this journey, this Pilgrimage of Trust on Earth.
Wednesday 3 February
Today we welcome and are welcomed. And with such joy! Groups of young people sit together, faces from all over Asia and beyond, resting after long journeys. The young Filipinos who offer us their city take every opportunity to greet, to share, to guide, to welcome. Our meeting place is a quiet green haven amidst the towers and building sites of the city; the mango trees and bougainvillea offering their cool shade to those weary from travel.
And some have travelled so far. We have welcomed groups from all corners of Asia, from Viet Nam, from Bangladesh, from Japan, Indonesia, East Timor. From other continents - Lithuania, Canada, Kenya. Others have come from the many Philippine Islands, from Luzon, from the Visayas. Even the journey across Manila took many hours for some. We are especially happy to welcome groups travelling from the southern island of Mindanao, Muslim and Christian friends together.
Many international pilgrims returned to Manila today from a ’pre-meeting stay’ in other parts of the country. One, from Sweden, spoke warmly of staying with a farming community on the island of Negros, and of being welcomed so openly that soon she was joining the harvest of sugar cane and bananas.
In the golden light of the late afternoon, music from the song practice echoes around our prayer space, now decorated with many large printed icons; we can smell bread being baked ready for tomorrow in a small bakery run by young people who have moved to Manila to work; impromptu games are being played on the football field next door; we gather for a simple supper of chicken and rice; and then we pray. A young volunteer from Hong Kong shares: "We’ve been waiting for this moment for so long, and today has been so exhausting, but then as I sat down to pray this evening, I looked at all these people sitting with me and I realised - today has been so beautiful".
Thursday 4 February
At the heart of the meeting are the prayers, a heart which beats the rhythm of the day, just as it did in Poznan, just as it will do in Porto next week, just as it does each day in many homes around the world. The first takes place in our local communities, the seventy-seven parish welcome centres which have opened their doors to pilgrims. And then, from all over this vast, diverse city, we gather, led by teams of volunteers who appear, somehow, and guide us from train to bus, from jeepney to jeepney. The ringing of the bells from the hill in France leads us towards our prayer space, ‘the dome’, where swathes of fabric billow in the cool breeze. “O halina, halina, Diyos Espiritu Santo”, we sing, accompanied by guitars, flute and violin; O come, come, Holy Spirit. And such gusts of wind surround us!
The songs we sing seem to tell of a thirst within us: “Diyos ang bukal ng buhay”, Lord, you are living water; “Kaluluwa ko’y nauuhaw sa ‘Yo”, my soul yearns for you in the night. And then the floating melody of a Filipino song, a response perhaps, “Ang Panginoon ang aking pastol, pinagiginhawa akong lubos”, the Lord is my shepherd, he refreshes me to the fullest.
We reflect today on Jesus’ encounters with two women – the Samaritan woman at the well, and Mary Magdalene at the empty tomb. After the midday prayer, Frère Alois shares: “Mary Magdalene is filled by the thirst which is present in every human heart… Is not that thirst a mark engraved by God in us so that we can turn to him?”
Here in the Philippines, religion is visible everywhere – painted on buses, Christmas decorations still adorning many streets. But rather than being tokens, perhaps these are signs of a deeper faith, of a longing, a thirst, which is so central to many lives here. We are reminded of how Frère Roger “admired the gifts of young Filipinos. He told them how much he appreciated in them a heartfelt trust, trust in the living God.’ This afternoon we are invited to share in small groups. One young girl from Mindanao tells us: “In 2008 we saw conflict very close to home, many homes were burned and people killed. So we thirst for peace; we have decided to be peacemakers in our school and in our community. It takes a lot of courage, and sometimes we despair, but we hold on to hope”.
We have so much to learn from one another.
Friday 5 February
Perhaps on a greater scale than on other continents, people in Asia live alongside those from different religious traditions, and from this collective experience comes a richness of wisdom. This afternoon we are invited to workshops, to be nourished by this wisdom and to share.
In one, young Muslims and Christians from Mindanao share their experiences of how dialogue between people of different faiths builds a road to peace. In another space, young people affected by addiction tell of a farming community where they are welcomed; others hear from those working with refugees, and with the very poor. In so many there is a longing to be closer to other human beings, to open our lives to ’the other’.
Another group reflects on how the Holy Spirit is given to all people, all classes, tribes, islands, religions. Sitting with our sweet ’merienda’ snacks in the warmth of the afternoon sun, we talk about our fears. We are from from Pakistan, from the Democratic Republic of Congo, from many different Philippine islands. A young woman from Viet Nam speaks of "being in touch with our deepest desires, our inner freedom to move with the Holy Spirit". How much we already share!
We are led to share further here by the deep, abundant welcome we receive from families whose trust leads them to open their homes. One Swiss pilgrim speaks of a moment of prayer shared late one evening on the roof of their home, singing together. We are welcomed across divisions, without question. A German girl wears a necklace given by a new Filipino friend; a volunteer from the Philippines carries with her a pot of red chilli paste brought by a Korean visitor.
In Filipino churches we hold hands as we sing "Ama Namin", Our Father. Each evening this week we are invited to pray together around the cross, to express our burdens, perhaps, and those of the world. We hear prayers in the diverse languages of the Asian continent. The church is lit by torches, the cross supported by structures of bamboo – once again that symbol of unity. As Frère Alois said earlier this week, "It is God who unites us".
Speaking of his life at home, one young boy from Mindanao explains: "We live as two cultures apart. We need to build bridges, simply because it is so hard to live with division". We reflect on the Spirit as a bridge across which we can walk to the other side. A woman from Ecuador shares how earlier today she saw a man selling fish which he had caught in the river, and she realised how much our cultures share.
How many bridges already exist.
Saturday 6 February
“Many of you know what simplicity means,” Frère Alois shares,
“Simplicity opens our heart to sharing and solidarity with others. We
see here in Manila so many people who undertake initiatives of sharing
and are committed alongside the poor.”
We are called to transform the world. And this week we have seen
glimpses of so many lives of quiet solidarity and of action. Many
parish groups have invited ‘people of hope’ to share a little of their
lives; one boy speaks of how, after selling sampaguita flower garlands
outside church for many years, his local community collected enough
small coins to pay for his school lessons. We hear from people who
lived through last year’s floods here in Manila; one young Filipino,
living alongside a community affected by a typhoon, shares, “I have
nothing to give but I am able to lend my voice.”
We hear the message sent to Taizé from Richard, a friend of the
community in Haiti, “At night, life and death, I can’t tell the
difference...” In small groups this week we have been drawn to ask
questions about such suffering. Perhaps we can only be silent. And yet
many share how in difficulties we see gestures and lives which speak
of a deeper hope, of mercy.
This afternoon we gather with those from our region, to reflect
together on the next steps of our pilgrimage; to hear of steps already
being taken in the places where we live. A woman from Portugal shares,
“Here, in such a different place, it is very easy to see God in the
little gestures of everyday life; it is very easy to experience the
joy of sharing. What we now need is to bring this back into our daily
lives at home.” People living here in Manila also speak of “renewing
our way of seeing the world.” So much of this world is represented
here; more than fifty countries. And so much richness is shared with
us all this afternoon as groups offer songs, dancing and music from
their homes. What colour, what life, what joy is given and received!
This week we pray, “Holy Spirit, in our lives you stimulate a desire
for peace and justice… You have placed gifts in our hearts to make us
creators of communion.” This morning, the young people of Smokey
Mountain take their prayer to the top of the hill of rubbish, joined
by those who live there. And this evening, with the prayer drawing to
an end, an impromptu choir of young people from Manila break softly
into song, the Tagalog harmonies surrounding and sustaining those
praying around the cross. And even these simple thoughts become acts
of generous solidarity, of a deeper hope, of mercy.
Sunday, 7 February
Today this step on our pilgrimage comes to an end and we lift our feet
for the next step, nourished by all we have shared.
We do not leave with answers. We heard this week of an 80-year-old
Protestant pastor whom the brothers met in China. He had been in a
work camp for 27 years. "What kept me alive," he shared, "were the
words of Isaiah where God says: ’My ways are not your ways’."
Yes, we do not leave with answers. But our time here together leaves
so many echoes. Echoes not of emptiness, but of resounding
possibility: a glimmer of lives of hope; a taste of what it might mean
to live simply, openly, in community. A woman from the Philippines
speaks of a thirst for community, "always open to others, never
wanting to control." Another, from Lithuania, shares, "I go back home
with the conviction that we are many parts of one body."
We are reminded once again of that one body, as the bread and wine for
this morning’s Eucharist are brought to the altar, and with them a
large basket bursting with fruit. Carrying these gifts are young
people from East Timor, from China, Japan, India and the Philippines,
wearing the rich and beautiful colours of their traditional dress;
many parts of one human family. Birds circle in the sunlight streaming
in above us, and we offer one another a sign of peace. "Peace be with
Cardinal Rosales, the Catholic Archbishop of Manila, ends his
meditation with the words "Duc in altum – go on into the deep." And
yes, we go on, into the deep. We are borne on by the Spirit. We are
called to transform the world. Called to create, with our thirst,
springs of peace, of sharing, of mercy.