Gifts from God

By Elbert L. Balbastro

Most of the fond memories that I have growing up were my involvement in Church activities. Reminiscing, I recalled that throughout the whole month of May, my playmates and I gathered flowers and petals on the street for our Flores De Mayo. During the Holy Week, we had a procession on Good Friday to bury the statue of Jesus in the coffin alongside the statue of the saints. On the very morning of Easter Sunday, we would re-enact the meeting of Jesus and Mary, and we called it “Salubong.” Christmas in the Philippines is the longest and happiest celebration we have since it starts in September. I remembered as a child we sang Christmas carols in every house in my village and help out in making a parol (an ornamental lantern displayed during Christmas). Furthermore, as an Illongo (one of the Hiligaynon people of the Philippies), every 4th week of January we celebrate the Dinagyang festival to honor Senior St. Nino. In this time we commemorate the goodness and graces that God through Jesus Christ bestowed on us. There is also a street dancing and people shouted “Viva Senor St. Nino.” Lastly, as a child up until my youth, we had an evening prayer we called “Barrangay sang Virgen” where we placed the statue of our Blessed Mother from one house then we prayed the rosary together with the family. The next day we transferred the statue to the neighboring house and performed the same activities. All these fascinating and joyful expressions of faith that I experienced stayed with me and became an integral part of my faith in God as a Christian.

As we mark 500 years of Christianity in the Philippines, I couldn’t help but express my gratitude to God for the gift of faith that I have. Without the missionaries that came into my country, I don’t know if my life would be the same. I am grateful to them, because I am harvesting now the fruits of their labor. I am also thankful for their sacrifices of coming to an unfamiliar place risking their lives crossing the Pacific oceans. Their faith in God is worth emulating. Also, by introducing to us the devotion to Mary, Jesus as well as to the Catholic faith, I am able to appreciate the beauty of life and to be hopeful, trustful, and faithful especially during the turbulent times of life. Storms, earthquakes, volcano eruptions, Covid 19 virus, and other natural calamities come to the Philippines, but we Filipinos have the resilience and always have the hope to continue living happily because of our strong bond to God.

Looking back at my vocation, I choose to join a missionary society as my sign of gratitude and to honor the works, hardship, commitment, and dedication of those missionaries who came to the Philippines. It is my way of expressing my sincerest appreciation for their contribution to the Philippine Church.

It is fitting to give thanks to God, to the missionaries, and the lay faithful for sustaining the faith up until now. Without the gift of faith, what are we grateful or celebrating for? Because of the gift of faith, we have the reason to celebrate and be thankful. The faith of the Filipinos is a grace from God that we want to share to others and also a constant reminder for us that God is always present in our midst no matter what happens.

Columban seminarian Elbert Balbastro is studying in the Philippines.