Fr. John Leydon describes celebration of the Season of Creation in the parish of Malate, Manila, along with resources they have developed over the years to “celebrate the beauty and pain of our world, our connectedness to the natural world and the on-going struggle for social justice”
Around 1997, the parish of Malate in Manila decided to celebrate the feast of St. Francis of Assisi on the Sunday nearest to Oct. 4. We celebrated the day by inviting people to set up exhibits on various ecological topics like organic food, natural medicine and waste recycling. We were approached by some residents (I use that word, rather than parishioners!), to have a blessing of animals during the main mass. We thought it was a good idea, and so a ‘tradition’ was started of the blessing of animals on that day.
We got a lot of media attention. Malate is close and convenient for journalists and a feature on animal blessings is easy to put together. We were even featured on CNN and other cable channels. The parish is also near Manila Zoo, so we also had very exotic animals being blessed – I remember someone even coming with a python!
Around 1998, we expanded our program to include Season of Creation, the Sundays between Sept. 1 (Creation Day of the Orthodox Church) and Oct. 4. We were in touch with the Season of Creation movement. We got a great boost in 2003 when the Executive Committee of the Catholic Conference of Bishops of the Philippines (CBCP) issued a statement endorsing and encouraging all to implement the Season of Creation. “During this special period of ‘Creation Time’, we urge, as we did in our 1988 pastoral letter, that ‘our different liturgies celebrate the beauty and pain of our world, our connectedness to the natural world and the on-going struggle for social justice.’”
Since then we have celebrated the Season of Creation yearly. We use the readings of the year, but weave in creation themes in the introduction, penitential and prayers. The homily and prayers of the faithful are reflections on a particular theme. In fact we now have ‘kits’ for Liturgical Years A, B, and C and share them with whoever wants to make use of them.
Over the years, the parish developed a Care for the Earth Ministry and through them we have added other things. Before mass there is a short video presentation on the theme of the day. We have also developed rituals in the form of short entry processions. One of the themes we have developed is the Four Elements: Fire, Air, Water and Earth (soil). These are understood as the traditional sources of creation. We use the ritual to stress the inter-connectivity of all things:
Fire: Every cell in our body is an energy-using furnace of fire.
Air: Our body is constantly absorbing and expelling air.
Water: We are around 70% water
Earth: Our bodies contain up to 2 kilos of bacteria, without which we would die.
One of the wonderful things about Laudato Si is the clear position taken that creation or nature, alongside sacred scripture, reveals the divine to us. “We can say that ‘alongside revelation properly so-called, contained in sacred Scripture, there is a divine manifestation in the blaze of the sun and the fall of the night’ “(#85). It could not be more explicit: “The entire material universe speaks of God’s love, his boundless affection for us. Soil, water, mountains: everything is, as it were, a caress of God (#84).
Initially we realized that we had a problem. The parish is made up of extreme poor and quite rich. The contrast between some of the pampered animals and the obvious malnutrition of some of the parishioners was obvious, to the extent that the poor tended to shy away. We had a breakthrough when we scheduled a free vaccination for rabies for dogs. Suddenly we were inundated with what are known in Filipino as ‘ascals’- a diminutive for ‘asong calle’ that is ‘street dogs’, the favourite pet of the poor. We also had a problem with ‘using’ exotic animals for ‘our’ pleasure which is symptomatic of our basic ecological problem. Thankfully this resolved itself and we have mostly house pets now.
People responded very positively to our Season of Creation and began to look forward to it almost in the same was as for Christmas and Easter. We became more daring and introduced the story of creation from an evolutionary point of view. We developed a theme of ‘Moments of Creation’ – some of the key moments in what we now know of where we came from.: the birth of the Atom,; the birth of Life; the birth of the human; the birth of modern civilization; the promise of the ‘Ecozoic’ Era, (when the human would undergo ecological conversion and participate in a new earth ‘era’). We also developed more traditional devotions – like the Living Rosary with a reflection on the Joyful mysteries from the point of view of the creation story.
The ecological crisis is unique, and on a scale that humanity has never faced before in all of history. We feel so blessed that Pope Francis has established Sept. 1 as a Day of Prayer for the Care for Creation. Our hope is that the Season of Creation will become part of our official liturgy and take its place alongside the Seasons of Lent/Easter and Advent/Christmas.