I2M 2019: Malate parish and Holy Week (Part 2)

Stephen Awre concludes his reflection on the Invitation to Mission group’s recent experience of Easter in Malate parish.

Having been treated like VIPs in the parish from the moment we arrived, it was a relief to give something back on Holy Saturday. In preparation for the Easter Vigil, a small army of cleaners descended on the parish at 6.00am and set to work.

I was mopping the floor, while others were dusting, wiping and polishing their way around the church. The heat starts early here and it did not take long to work up a sweat. Among us was Fr. Leo, the parish priest doing his bit, and afterwards, all of us gathered for a welcome breakfast, which gave Fr. Leo an opportunity to explain a little of how the parish has developed since he became involved six years ago.

Half of the parish community then and now is from outside the parish and are reasonably well off, while nearer to the parish are the narrower tenements of the working class, many of whom struggle to find work and to support their families, and they were reluctant to attend the parish and to mix with the wealthier parishioners. It has been a gradual process of reaching out and as some have felt welcome, so they have been asked to invite others and to bring the parish in to the homes and hearts of their neighbours. Today, there are three ‘areas’ of the parish with coordinators and there are regular neighbourhood Masses and meetings to discover the needs of the people and to discuss how the parish can respond. The parish is well organised. We learnt about ‘WESTY’, their five ministry areas – Worship, Education, Social Service, Temporalities (maintenance/administration) and Youth – and we witnessed all of them in three days.

I could not sleep on Saturday night. Knowing that we needed to rise at 2.00am probably did not help, but I was also keenly anticipating the Easter Vigil. It began at 3.00am, the fire light flickering at the back of the church and everyone holding a candle. So far, so familiar, but then the dancing began. Young people performed a ‘fire dance’ and so the drama of the resurrection began; the story of Creation and the journey to salvation. Images, song and dance were used to great effect to bring alive the origin of life and to remind us of how we are all connected. A banner displayed to the right of the sanctuary suggests that ‘If you want to know God, embrace God’s creation’ and it is clear that the Columbans in the Philippines and the parish are embracing Pope Francis’ invitation to care for our common home (Laudato Si’).

Then twelve people of many different ages stepped forward with their sponsors to be baptised and received in to the Church. It was a great privilege for us to witness this moment and there was a real sense of them being welcomed by the parish. They were baptised before a stained glass window of Jesus’ baptism and stood before us all, clothed in white and holding their candles. Mabuhay!

Feeling exhilarated and full of Easter joy, we emerged from the parish for the final act. Statues of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and the Risen Jesus were processed in opposite directions around the square from outside the parish, the women following Mary and the men following Jesus, until they meet and an angel (one of nine girls dressed in white) removes a veil from Mary’s face; a celebration of a mother’s joy at seeing her son alive once again. Happy Easter!