OurVoices on Ground for Papal Visit to Philippines

OurVoices on Ground for Papal Visit to Philippines

Ciara Shannon blogs her experience of offering OurVoices support to Catholic leaders during the Filipino papal visit.

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Monday 19 January 2015 at 14:57
OurVoices on Ground for Papal Visit to Philippines

by Ciara Shannon

Over the past four days, I’ve been in Manila, meeting with Catholic leaders during the Papal visit to offer them support from OurVoices.

The Philippines has always been the Catholic Church's Asian stronghold. The Philippines today has some 80 million Catholics, with some of the gloriously impressive churches from that time still standing in parts of Manila. This island nation is also highly vulnerable to climate change, as I’ll describe below.

The Pope’s visit has been momentous—Pope-mania is at a fever pitch.

Many roads have been blocked off and thousands line the streets praying, singing, and cheering good wishes for Papa Francisco. T-shirts with pictures of Pope Francis are being sold everywhere—all designs, all colours, and even ice cream carts have photos of Jesus Christ on them. In the heat of the day, and every morning when I wake up, I can hear the recordings from the Holy Masses, being played over and over again floating down the alleyways and streets of Manila—it's truly wonderful. The Filipinos are brilliant singers and they’ve composed quite a few original songs for the Papal visit. The biggest event will be the Holy Mass at Rizal Park on Sunday with 6 -7 million people expected to attend.

Can you imagine how amazing it would be if everyone sang then?

The Philippines is a poor nation and you see poverty everywhere. A quarter of the country's 100 million live on less than US$1,300 a year. In the midst of such dire poverty, Filipinos are wonderfully friendly and fun. Just remember when they greet you, they expect a friendly reply, and there is no looking away or being downcast in Manila.

To compound its development challenges, the Philippines is also considered the third most vulnerable country in the world to climate change.

Tropical storms (or typhoons) hit the country on average eight to nine times a year and are expected to increase in severity because of climate change. Some of the worst damage from these storms comes from surging sea levels, as was the case with Typhoon Haiyan - one of the strongest tropical cyclones ever recorded with 195 mph sustained winds. Haiyan left seven thousand dead and millions homeless in November 2013. Hundreds of thousands of Filipinos are still homeless today because of Haiyan, more than a year after the storm. It’s been devastating for this wonderful country.

In that same year, the Philippines also experienced some of the heaviest rains, turning roads into rivers and submerging much of Metro Manila again—the city had been severely flooded previously following Typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng in 2009.

As Filipinos look towards the future, their vast shorelines mean that tens of millions of people living in coastal communities are at great risk. How well these shorelines will be able to adapt and be more resilient without significant funding is questionable.

Just before the Pope's arrival to the Philippines, he was asked if man was to blame for climate change. His response was, "I don't know if it is all man's fault, but the majority is, for the most part, it is man who continuously slaps down nature. We have, in a sense, lorded it over nature, over Sister Earth, over Mother Earth." He called on world leaders to have courage in taking strong action to address climate change—the same call that represents the heart of OurVoices’ call to action.

The Catholic Church in the Philippines is a leader on ecological issues within the Catholic community.

As early as 1988, the Philippine bishops stressed the urgency of our human relationship with nature. In their pastoral, “What is Happening to Our Beautiful Land,” they proclaimed, "The attack on the natural world which benefits very few Filipinos is rapidly whittling away at the very base of our living world and endangering its fruitfulness for future generations."

As the Pope’s visit approached, a number of Catholic leaders in the Philippines urged the Pope to make climate change an urgent issue. Notably, they also asked the Pope to divest the Vatican from fossil fuel holdings, a remarkable call from within the church.

In the lead-up to the Pope’s visit, OurVoices, the interfaith, global climate campaign, helped launch a global Catholic climate movement which will continue to raise awareness among Catholics about the moral imperative for action on climate change. OurVoices will also be celebrating the release of the Pope’s ecological encyclical later this year through ourour #High5Francis campaign, urging Catholics and people of goodwill from all faiths to give the Pope a digital “high 5” for his leadership. Watch out for more on this soon.

Mass in Tacloban—in a Typhoon (17/01/2015)

I watched on a large screen from the street the Pope’s mass in Tacloban, which took place with tens of thousands of people present in the midst of a storm with 75 mph winds and heavy rain. Typhoon Mekkhala has been upgraded from a tropical storm. Though the Pope had to curtail his time in Tacloban, he did meet with families whose lives were devastated by the super typhoon, and I am sure being so close to a typhoon himself must have brought home the reality of the dangers and risks, as well as a human face.

Rizal Park (18/01/2015)

Today is the big Holy Mass at Rizal Park. Last night people camped out while this morning thousands of people have been streaming there to get a good viewing spot. I got stuck in a crowd of multi-coloured raincoats—a massive log-jam of people all thronging forward.

I don’t think I have ever seen so many people in one place, but the crowds were very polite and patient—even in the pouring rain. Many people were carrying statutes of Santo Nino (Holy Child) as today is the feast day which the Pope picked up on by urging people to "protect" the family. Santo Nino reminds us of the importance of protecting our families and those larger families—the Church, God's family, the world—are our human family.

The Pope is affectionately known here as Lolo Kiko—'lolo’ meaning grandfather, and ‘Kiko’ a nickname for Francisco. Trying to define what the Pope means to people of the Philippines is not easy. Answers have ranged from he embodies Jesus Christ to He is and we are children of Jesus Christ. Many people say his positive and warm spirit lifts them up, inspires and challenges them, and his simple and uncomplicated words stir their minds and hearts—I guess it’s the same world over.

One can only hope that the Pope’s wildly popular appeal and brilliant ability to simplify and emote complex issues will be a much needed amplifier and tipping point for climate change when the Pope releases his encyclical on the environment later this year.


In a final hope to catch another glimpse of the Pope, I went down along one of the routes leading to the airport; today the sun is out and once again thousands lined the streets, all waiting patiently. The whole crowd roared with laughter when we all thought the police vans was the Popemobile—everyone at exactly the same time raised their cameras and went silent. False alarm.

But finally he came, smiling to us all.

He must be exhausted, but in his wake, his smile, humility. and warmth has inspired millions.

Thank you Philippines for a great few days

My thanks also go to the Columbans, in particular Father John Leydon at the Malate Catholic Church.

Ciara Shannon coordinates Our Voices’ work in Asia and is a member of the Global Catholic Climate Movement.

Header image via flickr user Dennis Catacutan

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    Mitteilung der Jugend-Konferenz "Glaube und Klima: heilige Gewässer“ an die versammelten Jugendlichen auf dem XXXI. Weltjugendtag in Krakau, Polen im Juli 2016.

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