“Much of the Gospel has become part of us – compassion, forgiveness, caring, piety – and makes of us a basically decent people (PCP II, 15).”
We are a decent people. We are not savages or “damaged” as some observers would say. Yes, we have many fragilities and fractures as a society. But we are basically a people soaked in the values of the Gospel. In the words of Pope Francis, we can say that we have been “mercified” (kinaawaan / kinahabagan). We live by mercy – “sa awa ng Diyos” (through the mercy of God). We rely on His mercy – “may awa ang Diyos” (literally: God “has” mercy). Our elders even bless us in mercy – “Kaawaan ka ng Diyos.” (May God have mercy on you).
The Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy is both a confirmation and an appraisal of our history and culture as a predominantly Catholic country. On the one hand, after almost five hundred years of Christianity, we are witnesses to the never-ending mercy and compassion – “habag at malasakit” – around us. Tragedies no matter how painful have become occasions of solidarity and sharing. Poverty no matter how heartrending has become a humbling locus of our resiliency and grit. Our faith in the merciful God (“mahabaging Diyos”) encompasses all our personal and social life. On the other hand, our culture and society is also replete with “walang-awa” (absence of mercy) and “pasang-awa” (barely passing). In politics, corruption and public service are almost synonymous. In terms of economy, poverty and inequality have become a way of life. In religion, God’s name is constantly invoked to sow hatred instead of brotherhood and cooperation. Among families, migration is tagged as the best solution to domestic problems. In ecology, natural resources are constantly exploited for profit and greed. Looking at ourselves from the lens of mercy, we cannot help but feel conflicted. We are grateful for the abundance of mercy (“umaapaw na awa”) in our midst. But we are also enraged by the unconscionable dearth of mercy (“di na naawa”).
The Third Philippine Conference on New Evangelization (PCNE III) is our attempt to explore further our appreciation of mercy, the primary attribute of God. We will journey for three days with the disciples in the 24th Chapter of Saint Luke, which is often called the Gospel of Mercy. We will use the framework of “Awa-Unawa-Gawa” to mine the richness of God’s mercy and the trinkets of our Filipino culture.
Awa (mercy) is not just a concept or an idea for the Filipino. It is an experience of the heart, closer to the gut and more visceral. Awa is often associated with the poor and the victims of injustice, describing their abject condition (kawawa). But awa is also sublimely associated with our connection with Bathala (God). We commend our personal and communal struggles to the mercy of God (sa awa ng Diyos). In the face of Mahal na Poong Nazareno, we see very deeply the mercy of the Father. Unawa (understanding) is more than rational understanding. It is closer to empathy and internalizing the situation of the other. If awa allows us to experience mercy in the gut, unawa enables us to enter the world of our kapwa (neighbor). Unawa is not just knowing what mercy is. It is knowing the person behind the walls of isolation and exclusion. Gawa (action) is fascinatingly rooted in awa and expressed more specifically in kawang-gawa (charitable action). Gawa gives flesh to awa. It gives credibility to our musings on mercy. Without gawa, our claims for mercy would be reduced to gawa-gawa lamang (mere rhetorics). Awa-unawa-gawa gives us a three-dimensional experience and understanding of mercy. This framework will permeate the spirit and program of the Third Philippine Conference on New Evangelization (PCNE III) with the following objectives:
- To facilitate a deeper reflection and experience of Jesus as the face of the Father’s mercy.
- To propose and initiate concrete manifestations of the joyful call to become a merciful Church in the age of high technology.
- To awaken a sense of missionary discipleship among the Christian faithful.
DAY ONE: THE ENCOUNTER WITH JESUS (Luke 24:13-35)
Jesus the stranger walks with two distraught disciples. He listens to their stories. He retells their stories. He breaks bread with them. Jesus is the portrait of the merciful God who seeks His friends and journeys with them. No accusations. No blaming. There’s only “awa–unawa–gawa”. The forsaken one enters into the mindset of the confused ones. The wounded one consoles the afflicted ones.
In Day One, we will listen to human stories and we will listen to how Jesus retells our stories. We will listen to His Word. We will break bread with Him.
DAY TWO: THE EXPERIENCE OF COMMUNION (Luke 24:36-47)
After their encounter with Jesus, the two disciples decided to go back to Jerusalem and found the eleven gathered together. Jesus appears to them and blesses them with peace. The mercy of Jesus extends beyond their fears and doubts. He shows them his hands and his feet. He eats the fish that they have offered. Again, no signs of irritation or distress for having been betrayed and abandoned by his followers, there’s only “awa-unawa-gawa”. He breaks the barriers of closed doors and hearts. He crosses the threshold of despair and forgiveness.
In Day Two, we will try to examine our life as a “mercified community”. We will plow through the different levels and sectors of our ecclesial relationships and structures. We will try to study how mercy can open our hearts to the cries of the anguished and how to discover the mercy of God in our human communities.
DAY THREE: THE CHALLENGE OF MISSION (Luke 24:48-49)
“You are witnesses of these things”, Jesus says to his disciples. Beginning from Jerusalem, Jesus is sending them out to preach the gospel of new life and repentance. He assures them of the abiding presence of the advocate. Once more, there’s only “awa-unawa-gawa” – mercy in action and orientation. Forgiveness restores broken relationships. The disciples are called and chosen a second time – miserando atque eligendo. The world needs to hear of God’s love. This is the mission. Nothing can separate us from the love of God (Rom.8:39). Jesus knew that even those who have not seen him deserve to receive his offering of salvation and his kingdom. The mercy of God reaches out to us – who have not seen and yet have believed.
In Day Three, we will be invited to respond to the call of missionary discipleship. We are all “missionaries of mercy”. More than ever, the world today needs the medicine of mercy and not the arms of severity, tenderness not prejudice, compassion not indifference. Mercy is not a sentimental feeling. It is a firm commitment to be a neighbor (“kapwa”) to one another because in the first place, we are the most undeserving beneficiaries of the one who has loved us till the end.
We entrust our conference to Mary, mater misericordiae, whose heart is always attuned to our “perpetual” needs. May she gently show us the tender face of the Father’s mercy (misericordiae vultus), Jesus her son.