ASIA/PHILIPPINES - Eucharist and poverty: the Franciscans celebrate Christmas at Greccio

Thursday, 21 December 2023 franciscan   christmas  

Cebu (Agenzia Fides) - In the Philippines there is a vestige of the Rieti Valley, the "third homeland" of Saint Francis of Assisi (after Assisi and La Verna). The friars of the "Rieti House" in Quezon City, who manage the "Poggio Bustone" Spiritual Retreat Center in the town of Zambales, together with the brothers of the Franciscan Province of San Pedro Bautista and the Custody of San Antonio of Padua, have celebrated in recent days the eighth centenary of Greccio's Christmas with a meeting in Cebu City. The Franciscans of the Philippines wanted to "remember" the first Nativity set up in the small town of the Rieti Valley by Saint Francis of Assisi to renew their mission, "founded on the Eucharist and poverty", the two essential elements of Christmas at Greccio. The national assembly, organized by the Inter-Franciscan Conference of Ministers of the Philippines (IFMCP), was attended by representatives of the three orders of the Franciscan Family, friars, nuns and lay people, including young people, for a total of approximately 800 people.
Brother Antonio Maria L. Rosales, OFM, reminded those present that: "The first Nativity Scene was a lesson in love and poverty: for us it is a moment to review the kenosis of God and his love for all Creation". To remember and relive the spirit of Christmas in Greccio, the Filipino Franciscans wanted to carry out a "Walk for Creation", to rediscover themselves and their relationship with God in contact with nature, then carrying out an activity of planting some 1,200 trees in a town in the area. Likewise, they promoted solidarity initiatives in favor of those in need, with the assistance of doctors, dentists, nurses and healthcare workers, who treated more than 1,240 people. In addition, some 500 children from a rural village participated in a food and nutrition program. Renewing the commitment to follow the Lord inspired by Saint Francis, the assembly drafted and disseminated a declaration on the occasion of the eighth centenary of the nativity scene, reaffirming: "We commit to reliving the mystery and experience of Greccio in each local community. We commit to deepen our personal and community prayer and devotion, to strengthen the foundations of our fraternal life, apostolic service and evangelical lifestyle in society". Wherever Franciscans gather, the spirit of joyful fraternity is always present. Along these lines, the young Franciscans have performed a theatrical representation of Thomas of Celano's story about the Christmas of Saint Francis in Greccio. "Celebrating the Franciscan centenaries", states the Franciscan Family in the Philippines, "offer us a valuable opportunity to invigorate the richness of our charism with a prophetic vision toward the future ", so that "the message of hope, humility, and joy become incarnated in the lives of people today". Since their arrival in the archipelago in 1577, the Franciscans have made a valuable contribution to the evangelization of the Philippines. In addition to the founding cities and parishes, they dedicated themselves to the creation of charitable institutions such as the Hospital of San Juan de Dios (1580), the Naga Hospital in San Diego (1586), the Hospital de las Aguas Santas in Los Baños (1592) and the Hospital of San Lázaro (1580), the first leper hospital in the Far East. The Franciscans also composed the first Spanish-Tagalog dictionary (Vocabulario de la Lengua Tagala) which was published in 1613. They are also credited with authorship of the first book printed in the Philippines in 1593 and the first catechism on the Ten Commandments in Tagalog.
On a social level, the Franciscans introduced the "Monti di Pietà" in the region, began the construction of infrastructure such as roads, dams and bridges, and established the first water supply system. One of the most prominent Franciscans was Saint Pedro Bautista (1542-1597) who, several apostolic ministries, defended the dignity of the indigenous people of Zambales. Later, he was a missionary in Japan, where he found martyrdom. From his arrival to the country until the end of the Spanish Franciscan mission in 1898, the missionaries managed to found more than 200 communities. Today, Franciscans continue to serve in various areas of the country, playing roles in numerous parishes, schools and fields of apostolate. Its commitments include presence in prisons and hospitals, as well as a commitment to justice, peace, the safeguarding of creation and interreligious dialogue. (PA) (Agenzia Fides, 21/12/2023)