A garbage-free papal visit | Inquirer Opinion
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A garbage-free papal visit

Last week, the announcement on Pope Francis’ coming to the Philippines in January made the headlines. I was not at the press conference at the Arzobispado when this was announced, so I was not able to ask the question I so wanted to be answered. It had nothing to do with doctrinal issues or Church matters crying out to be addressed. (Not that I had nothing lofty or profound in my question box.)

Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle and Communications Secretary Sonny Coloma, along with several Church officials, were there. Not present was Metro Manila Development Authority Chair Francis Tolentino who, I foresee, will carry much of the burden in implementing logistical plans such as traffic and crowd control in Metro Manila. Other cities have their own plans.

I covered the two papal visits (1981 and 1995) of St. John Paul II. There were two major angles in the coverage—the sacred and the secular. The former was often, if not always, eclipsed by the latter, which had to do with police matters such as security and crowd control. Whatever profound message the visiting pontiff gave was often drowned out by possible threats to his security and other headline-grabbing police stories.

(Well, it was discovered much later that there was indeed a threat to John Paul’s life. Facing the apostolic nunciature where he stayed was a condominium building where a lair of terrorists with bomb-making paraphernalia was accidentally found, thanks to a security guard. This later led to a terrorist’s arrest somewhere by US agents.)


Anyway, one of the questions I would have wanted to ask at the press conference on Pope Francis’ coming was about garbage, trash. Huh?

Filipino Catholic crowds are known for leaving enormous piles of garbage. The morning after the Jan. 9 Black Nazarene procession or traslacion that draws more than a million frenzied devotees, the MMDA gathers tons and tons and tons of garbage strewn all over the vigil site and the procession route. Last January’s haul, according to the MMDA as reported in this newspaper, was 336 tons, or 17 truckloads, of garbage.

Because of the garbage that the traslacion generates, environmental advocates have coined the word “trash-lacion.” This is not to mock the masses’ display of devotion to the image of the cross-bearing Jesus the Nazarene—he with the blood-stained face and sorrowful eyes—but to issue a strong reminder that defiling the environment is tantamount to crucifying Mother Earth and destroying God’s creation.

In grade school, we were taught that “cleanliness is next to godliness.” The saying was written on cartolina and posted on the wall beside The Golden Rule and other mottos and epigrams to remember. As Girl Scouts, we were always reminded to “Be prepared” and to “Do a good turn daily.” These little reminders remained in one’s mind until adulthood. They became second nature to us.


With maturity came more challenging sayings such as “ora et labora,” so easy to say but not so easy to practice. During the days of martial rule we coined so many slogans meant to pierce the darkness, cries that “rage[d] against the dying of the light.” We never ran out of reminders that would make us stay the course.

I mention these as I wonder where and how the disconnect happened. How religious activities of Catholics have come to be associated with garbage. In contrast, mammoth gatherings organized by other religious groups are quite disciplined, and with attendees so obedient.


Speaking of discipline and obedience, many Catholics don’t have it in them. For example, despite the simplest of dress codes required in church Masses, many still come in mall attires—very short shorts and backless getups—something not seen in solemn gatherings of other religious denominations. No moral judgment here, just an observation. And if I may add one more, well, the distinction between mall and (Catholic) church has narrowed, if it is not slowly disappearing, what with Masses now being celebrated in malls and supermarkets. Hey, I once chanced upon a Mass being celebrated in a mall atrium filled with giant-size robots and sci-fi movie characters. It all looked so disgusting to me that I ignored the Mass and proceeded to a shop—to shop!

So, with the announcement that Pope Francis will be in the Philippines on Jan. 15-21, both the Catholic Church and the government are preparing for something really big and unforgettable. I presume that the Pope’s coming is also a state visit, meaning he will be welcomed not only as a spiritual leader but also as a head of state (the Vatican).

One week before the Pope arrives is the feast of the Black Nazarene, which offers the yearly mesmerizing spectacle and psychedelia—almost 24 hours long—not seen elsewhere on the planet. The event might as well be a dress rehearsal on “cleanliness is next to godliness,” a preparation for the Pope’s garbage-free visit. Theologians who have chosen to leave their lofty towers and crash-land on hard ground—cool, I must say—do not have enough words to describe the faith of the crowds, but fail to notice the trashy side generated by such fervent devotion.

These days, after Sunday Masses in Catholic churches, a prayer is said for the success of the Pope’s visit, for the faithful to prepare spiritually for the event. Whether or not this preparation will result in edifying, godly behavior remains to be seen. It might be good to remind the Catholic faithful that Pope Francis (born Jorge Mario Bergoglio) chose to be named after the patron of the environment, and what a disgrace it would be on our part if we laid out a welcome mat strewn with trash.

Such are my rainy-day ruminations.

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TAGS: Catholic Church, column, garbage, Ma. Ceres P. Doyo, MMDA, Papal visit

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