We are in a serious crisis.
When our vocabulary has changed from Global Climate Change to Global Climate Crisis to Global Climate Emergency (GCE), we have realized how serious the present ecological crisis is. Moreover, now that the word pandemic has become part of our daily vocabulary, we can see how seriously vulnerable the poor are in the face of crisis brought upon by COVID-19.
We are a witness to this. This past year was the first of our triennial assignment. We are currently assigned to an OFM (Order of Friars Minor) inserted community called KAPANATA. There are five of us, OFM friars, living in a small house in the midst of our brothers and sisters in an urban poor community. Our community is not far from the Our Lady of the Angels Seminary-College where I presently work as the Dean of the Graduate School, located in Bagbag, Novaliches, Quezon City.
I am happy that I only need to walk from our community to my workplace, vice versa. It provides me my needed daily physical exercises. Moreover, since I am walking, I have reduced my carbon consumption. A person’s simple lifestyle does help the planet. But what could be more helpful to our groaning planet than an individual lifestyle is the concerted effort of a fraternity-in-mission.
I remember that sometime in the first quarter of this past year how we as a community began doing waste segregation. One day, I found three small trash bins in some corners of our small house. I immediately cleaned them up and put some labels such as “Paper,” “Plastic” and “Food Waste.” I would understand the sincere reactions of some of my companions whether segregating our wastes inside our house would really pay a price since those who collect the wastes in our area would normally end up mixing them up. Nevertheless, I don’t find such practice as a futile effort. I am convinced that waste management must start from ourselves as consumers, from our own rooms or inside our own houses. We must start from somewhere if we really want to participate in responding positively to the challenges of our ever-worsening environmental problems, and most of all, we need to be credible. Everyone in the community understood the point and concurred to the vision. We began to practice waste management all together.
After putting up this system of wastes segregation inside our small community, we have decided to launch an ecological solid waste management program in the larger community of our neighborhood. We also envision to promote and eventually use renewable energy. The JPIC (Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation) of the Province, other groups like the Eco-Waste Coalition and kindred individuals are helping us. The people are positively responsive to the program. As of this writing, we are already planning to put up a Material Recovery Facility (MRF) for the benefit of the entire community.
COVID-19 came along during the course of the program implementation. The Philippine Government placed the entire National Capital Region (NCR) under the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ), which is tantamount to total lockdown. Unfortunately, most of our neighbors are daily wage earners. They belong to the “No-Work-No-Pay” sector. When work was halted, the vulnerability of the poor people was seen by our own naked eyes. We could not just simply stand and look at their situation. In our own little ways, we tried doing something to alleviate the dire condition of the people around us.
When the ECQ in NCR was changed to Modified Enhanced Community Quarantine (MECQ), and eventually to General Community Quarantine (GCQ), we have begun encouraging the people in our neighborhood to all together start participating in urban gardening. It is possible that the people in urban poor communities move towards household sustainability in terms of food production appropriate for every household. Nonetheless we also want to promote greater unity and the communal spirit. We, together with our neighbors, are presently putting up a kind of common vegetable garden, developing a vacant lot within the neighborhood. We also envision to put up an aquaponics system, run by solar energy, that would eventually cater to the needs of the people around.
As of now, we do not yet have the needed financial resources to make this plan fully operational. We nevertheless have a vision and the passion to work together in unity. We do know that this vision will come to its full realization one day. And when it comes, let it be our proactive response to the serious crisis people are now experiencing as aftereffects of COVID-19.
The period of Jeremiah’s prophetic activity was also a time of serious crisis. He had his limitations because he was called to prophesy though he had a problem with his speaking capacity. We may remember that the LORD first trained his way of seeing, lest he would fail to speak and perform his prophetic mission. The two visions of Jeremiah are described through natural phenomena: the rod of almond and the boiling pot (cf. Jer. 1,11-16).
On the one hand, the almond is used to describe that the LORD is “watching his word to perform it.” Almond is also the first to bloom in springtime. It is a symbol of hope. On the other hand, the boiling pot conveys the message of the evil breaking from the north. If one relates the image of “the boiling pot” to the image of Leviathan described in the Book of Job (cf. Job 41,20), this seems to convey the message that the LORD is in control amidst serious crises. The LORD, however, invites everyone to stay with him and together with him to fight against the nonsense. The boiling pot symbolizes our call to participate in God’s work of bringing salvation.
Like Jeremiah, we must have a vision and do our role in order to actualize such vision. With the aftereffects of COVID-19, we must not merely stand in front of the starving people and look at them. We need to do something while helping them to be empowered in the process. Let us not ignore the “the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor” (cf. Laudato Si’ 49), the groans that have become louder than before (cf. Rom. 8,18-23).