Originally written for the Feast of the Holy Child. As the people of CDO and Iligan remember the devastation of Sendong a year after it ravaged their two cities, we pray with them and pray for them.
by Fr. Jet Villarin, SJ

When I saw raw footage of children being fished out of the water after Sendong, I found myself sobbing, shuddering with deep anger and sorrow and helplessness. One thing about being celibate and childless is that other people’s children somehow become one’s own.

They were clinging on to logs that had been washed to the sea from the mountains. It must have been hours, since the sun was already out and the sea calm. They appeared to be in a daze as they were taken out of the water. In shock, they could not even cry, as children are wont to wail when lost or afraid or hurt.

Why must these things happen to our children? Why can we not see the folly of our ways? Why are we so juvenile we are disabled from imagining tomorrow, the consequences of our action and inaction? Why are we so senile we forget yesterday and fail to learn from the tragedies of history?

Why must our children hang on to logs for dear life?

Children are by nature curious. The hardest questions are those asked by children. A child from an indigenous tribe asks, if our goal is to go to heaven, why do we dig the ground? Indeed we may ask with every child, if we must dig the earth to build our houses and schools and playgrounds, why are there so few houses and schools and playgrounds? Why must we live under bridges and learn arithmetic from counting coins we collect from selling sampaguita on the street?

Try imagining our country from the eyes of a child and ask.

Why are we so poor we live from day to day, and are left with little or no choice? Why are we so rich in some gated places of the city while most in our country go hungry? Why do our hearts harden, our minds close, our arms give up so easily? Why can we be so selfish and proud we end up becoming quarrelsome and divisive, and thus disabled from dialogue and building peace?

Why does our faith (Christian or Muslim, etc) or, more properly, the practice of our faith not seem to matter? The ones who can shape but instead steal our future, don’t they receive communion too? When our brothers and sisters face Mecca to pray, what does God say to them? Those who couldn’t care less about going to church or mosque or temple, where do they go and who is it that they worship?

Who learns and profits from going to school? If five children start schooling, why will four not make it to the very end? If heroes died to let this country live, why then must lives be lost continually to the water?

Why do we want to win and why is losing so hard to accept? Early on, we learn to play games, and play by the rules. Why do we change the lines when we step on them? Why is it so difficult to be fair? What is it about winning anyway and gambling too (in games or elections, etc) that drives us to hurt ourselves and one another?

Why do people lie and grab the limelight and take credit for what is not rightfully theirs? Why do our leaders take tribute for building things from money that is not theirs? Why do we live for the praise and recognition and allegiance of others?

Why do we live believing we are not loved enough? Why do we go about our lives unsure whether we are seen at all by those who matter to us? Why do we act as if God does not see us and see through us?

Try looking at our country from the jaded eyes of grownups and weep. Why can’t life be fresh and simple and true again, as it is to a child? Where and when do we lose all this goodness and grow to be guarded and unsatisfied? When and how do we become proud and entitled and thus unable to accept gifts like children?

On this very Filipino feast of the Sto Nino, the gospel story shows a picture of something very Filipino: people bringing children. The disciples ward them off but the Lord admonishes the adults and tells them, “Let the children come to me…. Whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.”

In that raw footage of children being fished out of the waters, one of the girls started to cry quietly. Before she was saved, she was with her little brother floating among those logs. She did not know where he was and she wanted to know. In her tears, she was praying to know.

Why do we pray for God to answer our prayers and not for us to answer His prayers?

Many lives are lost not just to the water. The Sto Nino is a child who in tears is asking and praying to know.


Fr. Jet is a Filipino Jesuit priest and scientist, who just finished his term as the university president of Ateneo de Manila University. He received the National Outstanding Young Scientist award in 2000, and the Outstanding Book Award for “Disturbing Climate” in 2002. He is also an active member of several local and international environment and climate committees, such as the United Nations’ Consultative Group of Experts for Developing Countries, and the Inter-Agency Committee on Climate Change, among others.

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