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‘Trashed’ Luneta mars Pope Francis Mass

Pia Ranada
‘Trashed’ Luneta mars Pope Francis Mass
Plastic water bottles, food containers and even missalettes are found strewn around Rizal Park after Pope Francis' Mass

MANILA, Philippines – Environmentalists mourned the unholy sight of a garbage-choked Rizal Park and its environs after Pope Francis’ public Mass held in Quirino Grandstand on Sunday, January 18.

“The park, Manila’s green lung and the country’s premier park, was wrapped in trash incompatible with a holy celebration that left eco-volunteers and government workers busy cleaning up the mess,” said Aileen Lucero, national coordinator of green group EcoWaste Coalition on Monday, January 19.

Cardboard containers of fast food, plastic water bottles and even piles of wet missalettes were spotted strewn all over the park.

DISCARDED. Wet missalettes lie on the floor in Rizal Park

The park had been occupied for more than a day by crowds of millions who had come to watch the Mass presided over by the Pope in Quirino Grandstand.

The amount of garbage, far more than what is usually spotted after Feast of the Black Nazarene processions, was ironic given the pontiff’s reputation for being a “green” Pope. (READ: Pope Francis to Filipinos: Care for the environment)

In his homily for the same Mass, he even said, “[God] created the world as a beautiful garden and asked us to care for it. But through sin, man has disfigured that natural beauty.”

Underscoring the irony of it all was a strange scene that confronted EcoWaste Coalition volunteers.

They found garbage piles under discarded tarpaulin emblazed with a quote from Pope Francis that says, “Let us be protectors of God’s creation and of one another.”

Lucero said the “beautiful garden” that was Rizal Park was instead transformed into an “unsightly garden” full of people’s waste.

It was not surprising given that most people stayed the entire day in the park and thus had to eat their meals there. Most of the garbage found were food wrappers like styrofoam containers, plastic glasses, plastic wrappers and carboard boxes.

But Lucero said participants should not have resorted to leaving their trash in the park. They could have found a trash can after the Mass or kept their trash in their bags until they arrived home.

Part of the tips issued by the group days before the Pope’s visit was to bring reusable food containers that could be brought home and washed for future use.

Senator Loren Legarda, author of many environmental laws, echoed the group’s lament.

About properly disposing of waste, she said, “These simple acts should already be part of our attitude and lifestyle if we seriously take our responsibility as stewards of the environment.

“I hope that the discipline that Filipinos have shown in lining up, waiting for hours and attending the Pope’s events would persist and reverberate in our daily actions and decisions.”

'THROW AWAY CULTURE.' Mass participants leave behind meal containers

It was Pope Francis himself who said, in an undelivered speech for youth gathered in the University of Santo Tomas (UST), “As stewards of God’s creation, we are called to make the earth a beautiful garden for the human family. When we destroy our forests, ravage our soil and pollute our seas, we betray that noble calling.”

EcoWaste Coalition thanked the thousands of church volunteers, waste pickers, government workers and non-governmental organizations who helped clean the Manila venues during the papal visit. 

But until event participants themselves take eco-friendly principles to heart, even the most solemn ceremonies can end up tarnished. – Rappler.com

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Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is a senior reporter for Rappler covering Philippine politics and environmental issues. For tips and story suggestions, email her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.