CONTRA COVID-19: THE CLARETIAN RESPONSE in the PHILIPPINE PROVINCE

The recent years had not been easy for us, Claretians in the Philippines when we talk about disasters and calamities. The past decade had been witness to how we collectively hurdled the atrocities brought by super typhoon Haiyan in 2013 and the devastating earthquake in 2017 which both occurred in the central region of the country where we have our novitiate community, not to mention our continuous vigilance and pastoral efforts to contribute in the preservation of peace and order in our missions down south.

The opening of the year 2020 had been most challenging as well. Last January, we had the eruption of Taal volcano. Taal is a town in the northern part of the country closer to the national capital region. Among our Claretian communities, our postulancy house sits closest to this area. The eruption made us rise again to the challenge of gathering our resources and manpower to help the survivors and their communities, the best way we can. Our own Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Quezon City in Metro Manila became our command center to gather relief goods that were distributed to affected areas.

And while the volcano was still billowing with smoke and ashes, news of gloom started to churn and alarm the world of an impending pandemic. The coronavirus or COVID-19. Caught flatfooted and unprepared, we gathered anew our spirits and best efforts to pastorally respond to the situation. Since the government declaration of national quarantine last March, Manila, our capital city, became the country’s epicenter. Two of our parishes which are both located within the metro became our immediate concern and inevitably becoming centers of relief operations and temporary shelter for frontliners – the Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish (IHMP), which is under the Diocese of Cubao and  St. Anthony Mary Claret Parish (SAMCP) under the Diocese of Novaliches. With the onset of the pandemic, we immediately identified the most vulnerable sectors needing help, especially those residing among informal settlers in an urban setting – the elderly, the children, persons with disabilities, daily-wage earners – all affected by the mandatory quarantine and lockdown.

Although Metro Manila has been identified as the epicenter, our other mission areas and institutions where Claretians are present, either in the Philippines or overseas, responded equally to the disaster, given the spillage of cases, from the center to the peripheries: Ako ang Saklay Foundation in Nueva Ecija, Ormoc mission and novitiate community, Zamboanga City and Zamboanga Sibugay communities, Basilan communities, Datal Anggas community, and Claret Samal-Bajau Foundation among our indigenous people, ZABIDA with its 4 alliance NGOs, all Claret Schools, the Institute of Consecrated Life in Asia (ICLA), our seminaries, Radio Veritas Asia, the Claret Solidarity Group and Myanmar mission.

Reaching out to thousands of beneficiaries, we got themselves involved in relief operations, preparing meals and lodging for frontliners, sewing face masks and PPEs (personal protective equipment), distributing food vouchers, and conducting psychological first-aid. Some of our mission areas had been closely working hand-in-hand with local government units and other civil society organizations to deliver and respond to the most urgent needs of the people. In the entire ecosystem of charity in these trying times, we have reached out to Christians, Muslims, and the indigenous peoples, mostly those in the society’s hemline.

Our resources are scarce, but this scarcity was never a deterrence to the spirit which calls us to make a qualitative missionary response to what is “timely, effective and urgent”. We recognize the help coming from some government offices, other private sectors and organizations, private persons, benefactors, sponsors, friends, and parishioners – and to them we are grateful. We likewise doff our hats to our local religious communities, who, in the spirit of shared mission and solidarity, shared whatever resources they have to help our missions in the peripheries.

Two important things which are always placed to the fore as Claretian missionaries, every time we are in a crisis just like this pandemic: First, our mandate to help the poor, the vulnerable and the disadvantaged. “The cry of the poor and those in need are heard in diverse ways in our world. We are challenged by the situation of inequality and injustice that are causing an ever-wider gap between the rich and the poor, the growing number of those excluded and neglected.” (#9 25th General Chapter Declaration). Second, acting and responding to the needs of our people, with the grace of being a missionary community. “Therefore, we feel challenged to promote the beauty of community and to reactivate our fraternal covenant to avoid indifference, the existence of persons who live without consideration of others and separated from them, groups without community living and apostolic individualism…. We are called to cultivate…concern for others, spiritual sharing, fraternal relationships, and transparency in the sharing of goods.” (#27 25th General Chapter Declaration).

We go forth as Claretian Missionaries.

by Fr. Larry V. Miranda, CMF

Prefect of Apostolate