My first steps in Manila
I would like to share with you my three-month experience of serving a mission in Manila, the capital of the Philippines in times of a pandemic. When I joined Sister Claudia last November, she took me to one of the poorest neighborhoods in Manila, Payatas, just a few minutes’ drive from our home, where the sisters work in the apostolate. Payatas is a district that was built on a huge rubbish dump that is brought from all over the city. A very large part of the population living there deals with their segregation. And I must admit that I was greatly surprised that people live in such poverty almost next to us. I worked for several years in Tanzania and saw poverty, but I did not see such extreme poverty as here. And one more thing, almost every day we travel the streets of Manila, whether by car, public transport or on foot, but I haven’t seen people drinking alcohol or just drunk, which is a common picture in Europe.
The second thing I want to tell you about is Catholicism and religiosity. When we went to the shopping center with S. Claudia for the first time, I was surprised when the Angelus prayer was heard over the loudspeakers at noon, and at 3 p.m. the prayer to the Divine Mercy, and this is not the end, because in every such shopping center there is a chapel and despite the pandemic every day at at 12 o’clock, a Mass is celebrated in which everyone can participate. In each shop there is an altar with a statue of the Prague Child called here “Santo Niño”, the oldest and most venerated image of the Infant Jesus in the Philippines, brought here as a gift by the discoverer Ferdinand Magellan for the first Christians of the archipelago.
What still struck me here, and I like it, is that in the churches lay and young people are very involved, some are responsible for flowers, others prepare readings, still other comments or singing, others are responsible for the altar, on each of them Holy Mass is the liturgical service of the altar. Figures of Jesus, Mother of God and Saints are here almost life-size, always dressed in beautifully sewn garments, richly decorated according to the occasion with natural beautiful hair. Just like in the attached photo.
There is also a very beautiful custom here, the tradition of showing respect to the elders. The most visible is showing respect by placing a hand given by the elderly person to the forehead. This tradition is still alive and common. When we walk the streets of Manila, children often run up to us and put our hands to their foreheads saying “sister bless”.
We trust that the time of the pandemic that limits us in our actions will end and we ask God for this in our prayers. Finally, I am asking all of you who will read this to pray for our missions here in the Philippines, that we may continue and develop here the work of our Founder.
With cordial greetings and prayers for all those who support us spiritually and materially.
S.M. Agata Sobczyk