Last weekend I went back to stay with the family who had kindly hosted me in October in Navotas. We had a great time singing karaoke till 3am – lots of Beatles of course! Navotas is a ‘squatter area’ i.e. what might be referred to as a slum area in Manila – overcrowded and under-served with utilities. Over the years it has become better established with electricity and running water in some areas, but there are still many areas where there is none.
That is why I was very excited to find out about this Philippino initiative – called ‘a litre of light‘. Fantastic! Just by getting an empty plastic bottle and filling it with water and household chemicals – and placing half of it so that it catches the sun. This ‘solar bottle’ could make a big difference to the life of many people around the world. It is also recycling waste products. I can’t wait to see it being installed in Navotas. The video below shows you how it works. You can also find more about it by clicking on their website – click here.
This wonderful project reminds me of another story i have just posted on my other storytelling blog – click here. A wealthy Chinese businessman was now old and wanted to retire. He called his three sons too him and said to them, ‘ I have decided not to divide the business into three, but will give it to the one of you who proves himself to be the best businessman. You can prove this to me by passing a simple test.’ Each son was given $10 and instructed to use the money to purchase something that would fill a big empty room.
The first son went and bought a big tree, after cutting it down, he dragged it to the room, it filled up about half the room with its leaves and branches. The second son went and bought the kunai grass that some of the farmers were cutting in their fields, this filled up most of the room. The third son went and bought a small candle for 25 cents, and in the evening after dark, he called his father over to the large empty room. He put the small candle down in the middle of the floor and lit it. After a minute he turned to his father and said, ‘Dad can you see any corner of this little room which is not filled by the light of the candle?’. He won the business.
Today sees quite an event in Manila. Up to 8million people will throng the streets for the procession of the Black Nazarene. This is a black statue of Jesus carrying his cross. Placed on a shoulder-borne carriage, the image is carried by marshals (you can see them in yellow shirts).
Originally a statue with fair complexion the ship that carried it from Mexico to Manila caught fire. It barely survived the fire, thus its charcoal color. Last year, the procession took 14 hours to travel the short distance. Referred to as the translation - the annual procession commemorates the transfer of the Black Nazarene on Jan 9, 1787 to St. John the Baptist Church in Quiapo Manila.
As tertians we visited Quiapo back in September – on just a normal day – and it was crowded with people with queues of up to an hour just to visit the statue. What is behind this devotion? Filipinos identify with the struggles and sufferings of Jesus Christ’ In the statue Jesus is depicted getting to his feet after falling under the weight of the cross – this resilience is valued strongly by Filipinos – even in the most difficult circumstances they never seem to lose hope.
There is something of a frenzy about today’s event – in previous years people have died from stampedes. We were advised not to attend because of the dangers inherent – and also we are occupied most of the day – so I have taken a video clip from last years procession to give you a flavour. You will see people desperately trying to touch the statue – and also throwing handkerchiefs so that they may be rubbed on the statue and passed back. You will also see the crush, danger and discomfort that many of the ‘devotees’ voluntarily undergo. From a Western perspective – this is unsettling – and such religious fervour is challenging to witness. One of the ways to cope with this discomfort is to dismiss it as hysteria or superstition. But maybe there is something deeper at work….. the power of the incarnation ….. an almighty God who came down to Earth, renounced power and privelege – and entered into the reality of our suffering .
So the event can be interpreted as being many different ways. It is a popular devotion – to non-Catholics it may seem superstitious . Having lived here for a few months with the privilege of sharing life with so many Phillipinos – in the slums, in mountain villages – having seen two devastating tornadoes – I have only admiration for their hospitality, warmth and cheerfulness. Their identification with the sufferings and resilience of Christ makes sense to me. This year organizers believe thousands of survivors of tropical storm Sendong will attend.
The German Philosopher Rudiger Safranski says that religion in Western Europe has become “a cold religious project”: a “mix of social ethics, institutional power thinking, psychotherapy, techniques of meditation, museum curation, cultural project management, and social work.” This insipid form of a religion, yearning to be socially acceptable in a society that has changed rapidly, some argue has helped to empty Western Europe’s churches. It is through this lense that I believe we should watch, with a certain humbleness, the outpourings of ‘popular religiosity’. It is easy to mock or scoff, but it always leaves you with a sense of emptiness….
What did the big firework say to the little firework? 'My pop is bigger than your pop!'
I spent most of New Years day in Cebu airport waiting for a delayed flight. The cause for the delay….. Snow? – no, Erupting Volcanoes? – no. Believe it or not it was because of smog caused by the clouds of smoke from the NewYear fireworks in Manila ! New Year is celebrated in style here in the Phillipines – but unlike in the UK where a lot of people will go to shared displays organised by local govt, or other bodies here they are all ‘private’ displays ( if you can ever call a firework display private).
After the simple joys of Christmas in the Mountains I enjoyed a few days of wonderful hospitality with fellow Brit Prov Jesuit Stefan Garcia’s family in Cebu. New Years Eve was marked by a sumptuous meal and celebration with the extended family in the hills outside Cebu. The fireworks were truly impressive – as different families were trying to outdo each other. Stefans father, who owns the Visayan Electricity Company, explained to me that you can tell who has had a good year by their firework display – this year it seemed to be the lawyers and doctors with the biggest displays! Instead of conspicuous consumption – this was a case of conspicuous combustion!
As always those with less resources join in with their own (less safe) fireworks. Very popular is the ‘judas belt’ which is are essentialy firecrackers arranged sequentially along a common fuse. . As the fuse burns, it ignites each of the explosives in turn at a rate of up to 1000 rounds per minute. The noise produced is similar to that of a machine gun, but slightly irregular due to the inherent differences between the rounds. Due to the proximity of the individual rounds, it is possible (and common) for an unexploded round to be thrown some distance by the explosive force of the adjacent one, before exploding itself. This unpredictable nature makes the Judas belt more dangerous than it seems. This year there were only476 victims of firecracker accidents in ‘one of the world’s most raucous and dangerous New Year celebrations’.
Happy New-Year to all – good luck with all those resolutions.