January 20, 2008

Panatang Mabayan

Feast of Santo Ñino
Matthew 18:1-5, 10: “Unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the
Kingdom of heaven”

Today is the Feast of Feast of Santo Ñino. It started when Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan landed in Cebu on April 7, 1521. Rajah Humabon, his wife Hara Amihan, and their subjects were converted to Christianity. Magellan planted the wooden cross and gifted Hara Amihan an image of Santo Niño. From then on, the devotion to the child Jesus became an important part of our Filipino culture, highlighting the Filipinos’ religiosity and deep faith in God. Ironically, we are the only Christian country in Asia and we are proud of it - yet we are one of the most corrupt and less developed nations in Asia.

Majority of Asian countries have grown economically for the past ten years. Twenty years ago, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Thailand were trailing the Philippines, now we are trailing behind. We used to export rice to Cambodia. Now we are importing rice from them. When I was in Sydney last year, I felt sad when their travel agencies have colorful promotional posters of Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia but none from the Philippines. We have more than 7,000 islands - blessed with simple smiling folks and breath-taking natural sceneries to offer. Our Taal Volcano is as beautiful as Australia’s majestic Blue Mountain. Our El Nido in Palawan is a divers’ heaven. Our OFWs are the preferred skilled and professional workers in the Middle East. The Filipino Catholic communities abroad (like the Chatswood Community in Sydney) are havens of beautiful liturgies. We have lots fiesta celebrations all year round all over the country. We have so many things to boast of. Unfortunately, we are progressing very slowly. The graft and corruption, peace situation, and the poor image of our country scratch us out from the tourists’ list.

The Feast of Santo Niño is offering us a challenge; unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven …unless we turn and return to reclaim our culture… we will never see progress in our country. To turn and to become like children in our context today is to return to our inner “generating cultural energy.” Fr. Albert Alejo defines this “generating cultural energies” as “the people’s collective capability or desire to be the best of who they really are.” We need to reclaim and relive our uniquely Filipino culture by demonizing all bad practices we have acquired in time and strengthened the life-giving values that our culture possesses.

In spite of the many negative feedbacks we receive - like our notoriously known “Filipino time,” crab mentality, and political immaturity of our leaders, our culture has its own beauty and potential to transform our country. We just need to return to our beautiful values and traits our culture possesses but lost along the way because of greed and desire to survive in the midst of widespread poverty, graft and corruption and peace problem.

Trish, a young Filipina living in Sydney, will be in Bacolod this January to help build houses under the auspices of Gawad Kalinga. That’s a personal revival of “bayanihan spirit”… in dark contrast to a Filipino who reported to the US immigration his well-off TNT kababayan out of jealousy. On my way back to Manila from Melbourne, I met Joel, a middle age Filipino who became an Aussie ten years ago, proudly accompanying his 15 year-old niece for her first trip to the Philippines. He wants his niece to experience the Filipino Christmas tradition like the dawn masses and noche Buena, and retrace her roots in Bohol.

We have a treasure in our trunk… a beautiful culture worth regenerating … that needs to be rediscovered to revive our unique but dying Filipino identity. We look elegant wearing the American suit but we are more “we” wearing barong Tagalog and saya…The Philippines is not a hopeless case. We should do our share to build that “collective capability” to do our best to upgrade our country to a more respected status economically and socially.

Where do I begin? Think big in small things. Start with small things. Just tickle the imagination of every Filipino and allow their childlike mind to explore and be creative. Re-introduce Filipino values to our children, re-learn our history and heroes, recall the Panatang Makabayan we used to recite in grade school, play with your children traditional street games like piko, luksong-tinik, and patintero, proudly wear a barong tagalog in a formal gathering, watch an old Filipino movie like Vilma Santos’ Kampanerang Kuba or Nora Aunor’s Himala, eat Filipino products - choknuts and curly tops, refrain from saying negative things about our country or people (there is no perfect culture) but say something positive or constructive, attend a Chabacano or Visayan Sunday mass with your family, visit the Banaue Rice Terraces before visiting the Great Wall of China (don't be a stranger in our own country ). Be spontaneous and creative like a child. Solicit wild but positive regenerating suggestions. Recall and Explore. Be a Filipino. Discover your own cultural identity, be in-touch and you will know your strength as a Filipino. Rizal said, Ang hindi marunong tumingin sa kanyang pinanggalingan, hindi makakarating sa kanyang paroroonan.”

One time, Fr.Bert Alejo was asked, “Can anything significant be done to transform our national situation? We feel hopeless because our culture of corruption is like a cancer, and therefore it has no cure.” His usual candid reply comes from a friend in the Amuna Cancer Support Group Foundation, “Father, we may lose hair, but we never lose hope.”

We are eternally indebted and grateful to Magellan and Spain for bringing the Sto. Niño and the whole Christian faith in our land. In fact, Magellan died because he wanted to convert Lapu-lapu to the Catholic faith. But Lapu-lapu’s revolt against the Spaniards symbolizes our ninunos’ resistance from being invaded by a foreign culture. But in the present modern era of one global community and cyberspace technology, the call is not to resist the influence of other cultures. The call is to preserve the life-generating colors of our Filipino culture and strengthened it with our own experience of the beauty of other cultures.

Be like children … they know how to enjoy and learn something from the school of life … but they know their home.

-Fr.Willy Samson,SJ
Mercedes Retreat House
Zamboanga City

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