MANILA, Philippines – Bishop Jacinto Jose asked parishes of the Diocese of Urdaneta to include to Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si (Be Praised) in their homilies, but Reverend Angelo Lopez took the suggestion a step further by talking about this papal letter for 9 days.
In the parish of Saint Anthony Abbott in Villasis, Pangasinan, Lopez, a priest-to-be, preached the Pope’s words in front of a crowd that he was not so sure would receive the message well.
“Mahirap ‘yan na parang walang pakialam ang tao na, kahit sabihan mo siya, wala,” Lopez said. (It’s hard when it’s like no one cares. Even if you tell them what to do, nothing happens.)
Despite the challenge, Lopez persisted; he felt there was a need to battle the indifference.
Lopez saw around him a town he described as “progressive,” but was falling into consumerism and the throwaway culture Pope Francis warned people against. (READ: IN QUOTES: What Pope Francis says about climate change)
“Naging wasteful na,” Lopez lamented. (They’ve become wasteful.)
For Lopez, the holidays remain an opportunity to spread the message to a wider audience. On another level, he said the preparation for the coming of Christ was two-fold: “Christmas is not just about preparing our spiritual life, but we are also going to prepare the world where Christ is born.”
Environmentalist, man of God
Serving the Church as a child was how Lopez began his journey to priesthood. A grandfather, also a priest, “literally forced” him to help during Masses, and Lopez found himself attracted to the Eucharist. The love for the Eucharist grew, and so did his desire to become a priest.
“I think that is the best reason to become a priest,” Lopez said.
It was in the seminary that he developed his advocacy for the environment. As the General Beadle – or the community president – he began an adopt-a-tree challenge. Seminarians would plant a tree and care for it. Those whose trees died would have to plant a new one.
Lopez laughed as he joked about the project’s goal, “Kapag namatay ang alaga mong puno, ibig sabihin namatay rin ang bokasyon mo sa pagpapari.” (If your tree died, so did your priestly vocation.)
Laudato Si was a turning point for Lopez. While he considered himself an environmentalist before reading the document, Laudato Si brought the problem of environmental destruction home.
The encyclical, which covered a wide range of issues, emphasized the need to protect Earth – or, in the Pope’s words, our “Common Home.” Beyond the environment, it discussed the connection between ecology and the common good, particularly the concept of justice. (READ: Pope Francis’ encyclical stands up for climate victims – groups)
Lopez became worried people were forgetting to care about others in the same way they did not care for the environment. He felt he had to help people understand what is at stake in protecting the Earth.
“It really pushed me to promote the advocacy because I realized the effects of our abuses will backfire on us as well,” Lopez said.
Looking to the future
Lopez has several reasons to look forward to 2016: his ordination is on January 11, and the new year brings with it the chance for him to make further progress with his advocacy.
Asked about his plans for his advocacy, Lopez said he wanted to form connections with individuals and groups who want to help and make people aware of what is happening to the environment.
Part of Lopez’s plan is to make the care for creation a more frequent part of his homilies. He felt a sense of urgency, saying he had to do his part as a priest to educate people or risk allowing them to contribute to environmental destruction.
Outside the Church, Lopez already has plans to take the tree-planting project from his seminary days, and work with interested groups to distribute seedlings to different communities.
Lopez does, however, has reason to hope. After his 9 days of preaching Laudato Si, he said people were approaching him who said his homilies made them aware of the situation.
So, for now, he is optimistic change is coming. – Rappler.com
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