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A crying shame

/ 02:04 AM January 25, 2015

By and large, the Filipino public comported itself well during Pope Francis’ visit, enduring long hours of waiting behind barriers and exercising discipline in not breaching those barriers in the excitement of seeing him in the flesh.

Indeed, Filipinos gave the Pope the warmest welcome possible. The Metropolitan Manila Development Authority estimated the attendance at the Jan. 18 papal Mass in Rizal Park in Manila as at least six million, and the Vatican affirmed that it was the largest such gathering ever. But for an unfortunate setback early that Sunday when the metal detectors bogged down and the pietistic rushed pell-mell into the cordoned area, it would not be unreasonable to claim that public discipline contributed much to the Pope’s successful visit to the Philippines.

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But for one major thing: Those “disciplined” throngs also passionately left tremendous amounts of garbage. According to the MMDA, 138 metric tons of trash–or the equivalent of 23 truckloads–were collected from the cities of Manila and Pasay, including the routes taken by the Pope’s convoy during the four-day visit. It said 10 truckloads of trash were collected from Rizal Park alone after the Sunday Mass. The detritus included empty plastic water bottles, Styrofoam containers, barbecue sticks, candy wrappers–even discarded liturgical missalettes!

This is particularly discouraging considering how diligently the public and private sectors, as well as the Church, had called on the faithful to take to heart the theme of the Pope’s visit—“mercy and compassion,” not only for their fellow men but also for the planet Earth. Thousands of ecology volunteers had actually been deployed to make sure that the streets were litter-free before, during and after the Mass. This is a pope, after all, who has been outspoken in his advocacy for environment protection.

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The EcoWaste Coalition’s Aileen Lucero deplored the mess left behind and said Rizal Park was “turned into an unsightly garden with trash strewn all over the area.” She expressed sadness “to see such a low regard for the environment at a Holy Mass officiated by Pope Francis, the ‘green pope,’ and participated in by millions of Filipinos led by President Aquino” who, ironically, had earlier “proclaimed the month of January as the first-ever ‘Zero Waste Month.’”

Think that’s bad? Manila City Hall’s Department of Public Service head Belle Borromeo said its workers collected a mind-boggling 1,133 tons of trash from the sites of papal events and the roads taken by the convoy. “We followed the usual protocol,” MMDA Metro Parkway Cleaning Group head Francis Martinez said. “As soon as the events were done, we sent dump trucks and sweepers to the area to begin the clearing operations.”

There’s an apparent cognitive dissonance between Filipinos’ religious devotion and the necessity of protecting the environment. Whenever Filipinos gather in large numbers to worship, mountains of trash appear, requiring an army of sweepers to clean up after them. In the week before the papal visit, 400 tons of rubbish were collected in the wake of the annual procession of the Black Nazarene in Quiapo. The EcoWaste Coalition’s Tin Vergara said she and her colleagues had hoped that the papal Mass in Rizal Park “would not be blighted by the garbage that we saw in the traslacion [in Quiapo]. No such luck. The sweepers and garbage collectors cleaned the streets after the traslacion, only to have to return and clean these again the week after.”

This is a crying shame. What would the pope of the environment, the same one who exhorts the faithful worldwide to be devoted stewards of God’s creation, say? There’s so much to work on in mass gatherings that purport to elevate the spirit. Surely one can display fervor and devotion and at the same time take responsibility for one’s litter. The question is so simple that it becomes a point of outrage: Why should one feel entitled to make a mess and then have others clean it up?

Current discussions involve how the Filipino faithful have been changed by Pope Francis’ visit. Have they become, or are they becoming, better Christians and better guardians of the planet? The silence deafens.

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TAGS: EcoWaste Coalition, editorial, garbage, Papal visit, Pope Francis, Trash
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