The Philippines has had about 1.9 million reported cases and 32,700 deaths, according to Reuters. New infections reported average about 15,000 per day, and less than 15% of the country’s population has been fully vaccinated.
According to Cuevas, Zamboanga City is “greatly blessed” to have people who live “not by bread alone” but seek “the ‘eternal food’ of selfless service and witnessing to the call of communion and solidarity with those who can be left behind and struggle most amidst this crisis.” He specifically mentioned doctors, nurses, essential workers, volunteers, clergy and men and women religious, as well as parents, elders and family members who seek to stabilize their communities and their households.
“They understood that no one is saved alone,” said the bishop, citing Pope Francis’ December 2020 apostolic letter on St. Joseph, Patris Corde.
He stressed the need for true charity, not a false charity that is “manipulated as an affection or sentiment,” or is not “an authentic encounter or engagement with the other.” This is the kind of false charity that attempts to “live on bread alone.”
“As a Church, we encounter Christ as the life-giving word from the Eternal Father and the Bread that gives life in the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist,” said the bishop. “But the encounter must begin with our personal journey in confronting ourselves to what makes us cling to our raw instincts for personal survival and selfish gain.”
“Whenever we refuse to come out of ourselves, comfortable in the cocoons of our own satisfaction and privilege, Christ cannot come to us—and we cannot come to one another,” he added. “Our vicious obsession for self-preservation gives us this illusion of contentment and achievement that effectively cuts us off from the rest of struggling, barely-surviving humanity. Only in our willful and sustained encounter with Jesus can we realize what it means to share our lives and give the best of ourselves for others in a similar manner to His willful self-giving for humankind.”
He called anyone who had sinned against charity and justice to repent and make reparation:
“to those who have obsessively consumed and hoarded bread for themselves, those who have taken more than what they can collect, I say to them: return that which is stolen, remit that which needs accounting, in the name of charity and justice.”
He also sought the intercession of the Virgin Mary, Our Lady of the Pillar, saying her first encounter with God’s word “led her to wholeheartedly embrace her vocation as the Mother of the Redeemer and of the redeemed as well.”
“In our personal encounter with Christ in his word, who also shepherds and provides for us during this pandemic, we imitate and honor Mary’s humility and openness to charity and service for others,” he said. He cited Mary’s words from the Gospel of Luke: “Let it be done unto me according to your word.”
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Kevin J. Jones is a senior staff writer with Catholic News Agency. He was a recipient of a 2014 Catholic Relief Services' Egan Journalism Fellowship.