Season of Creation in the Philippines: 2003 – 2015

August 28, 2015

The Philippine bishops proposed in 2003 to celebrate creation in this Sep 1 to Oct 4 time-frame, with a pastoral statement that said “We wish to introduce this period to our Catholic faithful and acknowledge “Creation”, that priceless gift of the Almighty and Loving Creator who has made us into his own image and likeness.” 

The Archdiocese of Manila institutionalized the Season of Creation in 2013 by integrating creation spirituality in the liturgies, raising awareness about the ecological crisis and encouraging action to protect God’s creation (learn more herehere and here).  In 2015, Cardinal Tagle issued a letter about the Season of Creation and the Catholic Climate Petition.

Lou Arsenio, Coordinator of the Archdiocese of Manila Ministry on Ecology described their comprehensive efforts to celebrate the Season of Creation, now anticipated by parishioners as one of their most cherished seasons of the church year.

Fr. John Leydon also spoke from the Columbans and representing the Major Religious Superiors of the Philippines.  Fr. John has been part of a pastoral team and a parish since 1996.  Their pastoral team listened to what people wanted in terms of coming up with pastoral programs, said Fr. John.  Some suggested they should have a blessing of the animals on October 4th.  This was quite popular.  They had a special liturgy and blessing and began to more seriously consider how to incorporate God as Creator, in the liturgy.

Over Ten Years of Experience Implementing a Season of Creation

After the Philippines bishops conference 2003 recommendation to implementation of a Season of Creation from 1 September to 4 October, Fr. John and his pastoral team developed a liturgy, following the Catholic lectionary, but bringing in ecological themes.

Fr. John said his parish would have “a PowerPoint before the mass explaining what the Season of Creation was about.”  They developed reflections on moments of creation and the four elements.  Then they would have a procession bringing forward a different theme and aspect of creation each week.  “Over the years they developed ways of talking about the elements, highlighting their presence in us,” an integral ecology “celebrating who we are and all of life is, that all of us praises the Creator.”

“The parishioners have come to expect this and look forward to it every year.  They gear homilies on the the readings toward ecological issues and education and creation spirituality.”

Issues have come up over the years, said Fr. John.  “We have a beautiful old church right on Manila Bay, and there is a scheme to “reclaim” 20,000 hectares and destroy the ecosystem to build casinos, malls, and expensive high rises.  It has been wonderful to have the leadership of the church backing us, and it has been wonderful for the parishioners as well.

Manila bay at Sunset  No to reclamation

In response to facilitator Marie Venner’s questions, Fr. John mentioned “we had some anxiety at the start that celebrating creation could seem a bit pagan, a bit new age,” but they resolved it, seriously facing the question: do we take God as Creator as seriously as God as Savior?  They decided that their liturgy needed to reflect that.

Full-hearted Implementation, 2015 Plans in the Archdiocese of Manila

Ms. Arsenio described how the Season of Creation had been introduced “during rounds of orientation in the different dioceses of the Philippines.”  Her work as Coordinator of the Archdiocese of Manila Ministry on Ecology has been on the cutting edge, before and after the release of Laudato Si’, providing model action and implementation to her colleagues around the world.  Cardinal Tagle’s leadership has also been reflected in the increasingly important roles he has been offered and accepted in the church, but he still makes time to read stories to children in his archdiocese and participate actively in the diocese’s Season of Creation.

The Archdiocese of Manila in the Philippines started celebrating a Season of Creation in 2009.  The following objectives were enunciated this year, building on an earlier set of goals from 2013:

  1. To deepen and strengthen our commitment as responsible stewards of God’s creation by studying, praying, and living the teachings of Laudato si!
  2. To develop a liturgy on the celebration of Creation Time/Season of Creation that will connect faith and care for God’s creation and the poor.
  3. To encourage concrete actions in solidarity with all Christian faithful and all sectors to stop all kinds of environmentally destructive activities that especially undermine the poor and our common home.

The Archdiocese of Manila celebrates six Sundays in its Season of Creation, because the Sunday after St. Francis’ Day is devoted to indigenous people.   September 1 celebrations start with a Holy Hour to Thank God the Father for the Gift of Creation.  Catholic schools are involved and various vicarates sponsor it.  The season opens with a concelebrated liturgy.

The liturgy is preceded by an exhibit at the auditorium showcasing churches and Catholic schools eco-friendly best practices, along with other events.  There is a children’s forum on Laudato Si, an ecology quiz/bee, storytelling with the Cardinal, and an eco-play.  The morning activities close with an Agape meal of healthy food.

As the holy hours and liturgical celebrations start in the afternoon, live-streaming begins, with youth choirs.  A google hangout and prayer chain also offer support.  At 3:30 the diocese holds  a press conference and a climate march and procession to Malate Church, followed by a 6 pm candle lighting ceremony at another church community, San Jose de Trozo.

sign Philippines march   Filipino Art

The theme of the celebrations this year is “Praised to you Lord, for you have taught us how to respect and care for creation as an expression of love for you and the poor.”

Each week of the Season of Creation is framed with different themes and focus.  Fr. John Leydon said they stressed how these elements are present in our bodies as well as the world around us, and care is needed for all.

Week 1 starts with the theme and focus: “Laudato Si Mi Signore, for Brother Sun that provides us free and pure energy to light our days and night!”  Liturgical activities include the introduction of the Mass, entrance procession that includes carrying of symbols of the sun and benefits from the sun, and a homily referencing the sun and its clean energy vs. what the country and world are encountering with coal-powered plants.  Ecologically-oriented songs and prayers of the faithful round out the celebrations.

Week 2 gives thanks for “Sister Water, so precious and humble that quenched our thirst, cleanse us and provide rich marine resources.”  Church entrance processions incorporate symbols and benefits of water, and water in songs and prayers of the faithful.  Outside of liturgies there is a forum on Laudato Si’ Chapters 1 and 2, mutli-media presentations with updates on the Manila Bay reclamation, and a workshop on the waste management process.

Week 3 attends to the air, with “Laudato Si, my Lord for brother wind and air, serene and cloudy to keep this precious life in us.  In addition to accompanying homily themes, processions, songs, and prayers of the faithful, parishes plan for advocacy and awareness campaigns related to the focus.  A forum is scheduled on Chapters 3 & 4 of Laudato Si’.  The remaining weeks proceed in similar fashion, according to each focus.  Week 4 gives thanks for “Mother Earth and soil that nourish and sustain us through the abundance of its fruits.  Week 5 thanks the Lord for the gift of life and creation, which inspired St. Francis to praise you and provide a model for us.

A final week expresses gratitude for the gift of our indigenous people, “who show us how to live harmoniously with Your creation, to respect and protect them,” with accompanying introduction of the mass, entrance procession, songs, prayers of the faithful, and homily themes.  Again, parishes plan for advocacy and awareness campaigns related to the situations, struggles, and examples of the indigenous peoples.

The Global Catholic Climate Movement in partnership with the Columban Fathers developed homily guides for the 2015 Season of Creation.  We will also provide weekly resources adapted from what the Philippines Church is doing, along with the Archdiocese of Manila plan and a resource adapted from the Columban Mission Institute in Australia.