|| By James H. Kroeger, M.M.
The second in our series of spirituality columns for 2014 reflecting on events of the liturgical year.
People of faith in the Philippines struggled to find God in the human suffering and mass destruction caused by Typhoon Haiyan, one of the world’s strongest typhoons that struck the island nation in Southeast Asia on Nov. 8, 2013. The full impact of the tragedy may never be known, but about 6,500 persons perished.
I was moved to tears when I heard about a mother and daughter whose shanty was swept away by the storm surge, comparable to a tsunami. The mother was trying to save her badly injured child by pulling her from the water. “Ma, just let go. Save yourself,” the child told her mother.
“I was holding her and I kept telling her to hang on,” high school teacher Bernadette Tenegra, 44, told a Filipino newspaper. “But she just gave up.”
A similar incident happened in September 2009 when the country suffered two back-to-back typhoons. Muelmar Magallanes, an 18-year-old construction worker, got his own family to higher ground. Then the strong swimmer went back to do the same for 30 others. On his last rescue, that of a mother and her 6-month-old baby, Muelmar succumbed to fatigue in the raging currents. Time magazine named him one of the top 10 heroes of the year.
My experiences of the sufferings of the Filipino people—earthquakes, typhoons, floods—force me to look closely at suffering, the “passion of humanity,” in the contemporary world. Although human misery is often reduced to cold statistics or media clips, suffering must never be depersonalized; it always has a human face. It is in contexts where God seems absent or hidden that our Christian theology of the cross becomes realistic.
The Lenten-Easter season provides a special time to reflect on a profound truth that stands at the center of our Christian experience: the paschal mystery. This term expresses the unified, total event of Christ’s passion, death and resurrection.
In the paschal mystery, Christ “passed over” to the Father, drawing all humanity with him and fulfilling the Father’s loving plan for the salvation of all peoples. In a unique way, we Christians remember, celebrate and share in this paschal mystery. During the liturgies of Holy Week and Easter, we join our prayer with all our own concrete life experiences as well as those of suffering peoples—in the Philippines and elsewhere.
Pope Francis met with the Filipino community in Rome in the wake of their country’s recent disasters. He encouraged them to never tire of praying. “In these moments of sadness,” he says, “let the power of this prayer be most useful: ‘the prayer of why.’ In these moments of great suffering, don’t tire of saying, ‘Why’? Be like children … and so attract the eyes of our Father for your people; draw the tenderness of the ‘dad of heaven’ upon yourselves. Be like the child when asking: ‘Why? Why?’ ”
Undoubtedly, our Christian faith is, at heart, a paschal faith. We accept that all reality has a paschal paradigm and all life is shaped by rhythms of life through death. Our Christian faith and practice, our “missionary eyes,” continue to discover elements of this very mystery hidden in the lives of all peoples.
We are challenged, in imitation of Christ, to embrace our broken world. In the words of Jon Sobrino, Jesuit priest and theologian, we are called to recognize the existence of “crucified peoples” and strive to “take them down from the cross.”
This is the vision of all sensitive Christians who with “eyes of compassion” look upon the reality of our world today. This is the paschal vision of life I have encountered in my experiences with countless Filipinos—and the daily passion lived by them in the aftermath of many heart-rending tragedies.
Father James Kroeger, from Greenville, Wis., has served in the Philippines and Bangladesh since 1970.
Featured Image: Father holds the body of his daughter, killed by Typhoon Haiyan last November.
(CNS/Philippine Daily Inquirer via Reuters/Philippines)