When two bombs went off near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, said Brent Nielson, first counselor of the Philippines Area Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, reports quoted survivors as saying their thoughts immediately flew to their loved ones—to parents, spouses, children, friends—who were either cheering on the racers on the sidelines, waiting in coffee shops or hotel lounges for the racers to show up; or just keeping track of the race’s progress back home, on TV.
I think it’s safe to say that none of the “regular people” in the horrified crowd had the time or inclination to worry about deadlines, profit goals or business concerns. And so it is with every tragedy, every disaster.
I recall being in the Inquirer’s offices in Intramuros when the Northern Luzon earthquake of 1990 struck. We editors, who were having our daily “news budget” meeting, ducked beneath the heavy table in the meeting room as hanging lights swayed and the glass windows shook. The first thought that sprung to my mind was my children then in school. I bargained with God: “Keep my children safe. My husband and I can take care of ourselves, but they need your protection and grace. Keep them safe.”
And so it was with many of those caught in the “pandemonium” in Boston that Monday afternoon (US time). Runners and spectators searched the milling crowd for people who had come to cheer them on or just share the experience: family members, friends, support groups. One recalled overhearing, all throughout the area, people talking on their cell phones: “Mom, don’t worry, I’m safe.”
Police evacuated hotels and establishments near the blast sites in anticipation of further attacks, sending many of the runners, some of them still clad in their running shorts and undershirts, shivering in the cold air. But soon, as eyewitnesses recount, as soon as they saw the visitors wandering the streets of Boston glassy-eyed and dazed, Boston residents rushed out of their homes to offer blankets, dry clothes, water and juice and soup. Many offered to take them in, and restaurants even threw open their doors, providing free meals and hot drinks.
One restaurant owner said he did so as a way of thanking neighbors who helped him out when his establishment caught fire two years before. “You’re seeing like random acts of kindness all over the city. You’re seeing… the best in people on a day when you’re seeing the worst,” he said. “It helps a lot to be just around other people… when that kind of stuff happens.… You’re not in it alone. I think, that’s the thing.”
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“You’re not in it alone.” That certainly is what the word “family” means, however you conceive family to be, whoever you think belongs to your own.
And “family” is what’s being celebrated in the Family Values Award (FVA), a program sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, more commonly known and referred to as the “Mormons.” The FVA have been given out in the country since 2005, recognizing “the honorable efforts of moral, upstanding community leaders who are striving to advance standards and values that are consistent with the Church’s position on the sanctity of the family.”
In order to better explain the nature of the awards, the Church invited some past winners to the “Bulong Pulungan sa Sofitel” to talk about their work and advocacies. They included: Lina Laigo, former DSWD secretary and convenor of Family Network or FamNet; Leopoldo Moselina, former chief of the Unicef Manila Child Protection Unit who is now working with church-based family-centered groups; Jo Aurea Imbong, family advocate and Pro-Life leader; and Monde Nissin, honored for their “Kainang Pamilya Mahalaga” campaign.
With 14.7 million members worldwide, including 650,000 in the Philippines, the Mormon Church, said Nielson, “wants to be part of the community,” which is why they have opened the awards to people of other faiths who share the same advocacy for family life and protection of children.
As Moselina remarked: “The protection of children depends on strong and stable families,” adding that the next step in their advocacy for family life is the development of “families for social change,” with parents working to instill in their children positive social values that will redound to the greater good.
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No one would argue against the idea that the family is the bedrock of society, and that “strong and stable” families are needed to shape and mold “strong and stable” individuals. But the very concept of family is shifting and evolving today, and many may be tempted to erect barriers against the inevitable.
In the United States, for instance, the Supreme Court is hearing a case that seeks to overturn Proposition 8, a ballot initiative in California that seeks a legal ban against same-sex marriage. In a recent issue, Time Magazine cited the results of public opinion polls that show a surprising and speedy shift, with more than 50 percent of Americans now saying they support the right of same-sex couples to get married legally and enjoy all the privileges (and responsibilities) that come with marriage.
When I asked Nielson about this, he said the Mormon Church holds firmly to the belief that “marriage is between a man and a woman.” In fact, the Mormon Church was one of the faith-based groups behind the Proposition 8 initiative, and is set to file “amicus briefs” before the Supreme Court.
“My feeling is that you’ll lose the case,” I teased Nielson after the forum, and he merely shrugged in reply. In the face of the winds of change, family will be family, and not even two bombs set near the finish line of the Boston Marathon can change this truth, even if we may still debate the family’s composition.