A new Laudato Si’ Living Chapel was inaugurated in the typhoon-hit Philippines, the first in Asia after Rome and Venice in Europe. On the occasion of Living Laudato Si’ Philippines (LLS) second foundation anniversary, the faithful community of Santo Niño Parish in Sibuyan Island under the ecclesiastical territory of the Diocese of Romblon, converged in this open-air chapel for integral ecology to learn and take action on the teachings of Pope Francis’ encyclical letter Laudato Si’, On Care for Our Common Home.
Joining the global movement for ecological spirituality under the guidance of the Sector on “Ecology and Creation” of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, LLS closely coordinated the establishment of the Living Chapel with the parish priest, Father Francis Fornal, who readily expressed his desire to initiate Laudato Si’ formation programs in basic ecclesial communities (BEC).
“With the existence of the Living Chapel, LLS will work together with the BECs and ecology ministers in the parish to promote integral ecological spirituality in every family leading to concrete actions. A participative and inclusive formation program and monitoring system will also be developed in the context of our communities,” said LLS executive director Rodne Galicha.
Situated on a pilgrimage hill called Tagudtod sang Pangamuyo (Hill of Prayer) with a panoramic view of rice paddies and the majestic Mount Guiting-Guiting Natural Park in the background, the sacred space was allowed to be established by Dr. Bernardo Rivas and his family.
“It is an answered prayer. I have been praying that if the time would come that I will be called to join the Creator, the Hill of Prayer will be taken care of by the faithful for the protection of our environment,” said Dr. Rivas.
At the center of the open-air chapel is a tree called “tigà” or the Philippine ironwood (Xanthostemon verdugonianus), a threatened species flourishing in biodiversity hotspot Sibuyan Island, The tree symbolizes the biblical Tree of Life and the Burning Bush, and around it are fourteen pillars made of seven tightly tied bamboos which represent the seven Laudato Si Goals and multi-year Laudato Si’ Action Platform.
“This initiative will promote Laudato Si’ Goals, the multi-year Laudato Si’ Action Platform and the eco-actions enumerated in the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines Pastoral Letter on Ecology, in our pastoral work which will be sustained by our ecology ministers,” said Father Fornal.
The CBCP Pastoral Letter on Ecology, “An Urgent Call for Ecological Conversion, Hope in the Face of Climate Emergency”, highlights the Philippine Church’s response to the call of Pope Francis in “pursuing common agenda to protect our fragile ecosystem from the threat of the continuing ecological crisis”.
Seven ecology ministers were solemnly commissioned in a ceremony integrated with the Holy Mass: village nutrition volunteer Emma Roa, seminarian Archie Leo Pijano, former village official Niño Reagan Rase, mountaineer Miko John Rivero, electronics communication specialist Warren Castaño and teachers Sharon Balgoma Rizo and Ester Rase Fornal. They were given copies of the Laudato Si’ and a reflection guidebook.
“As stewards of God’s creation, we are taking the responsibility to reach out to every family in our parish. We shall undergo a 40-day reflection process and further training under the guidance of our parish priest and Living Laudato Si’ Philippines,” said Emma Roa, the newly installed chief ecology minister.
Fr. Joshtrom Isaac Kureethadam, SDB, Coordinator of Sector on “Ecology and Creation” of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, in a video message recalled that LLS was launched two years ago at the Manila Cathedral and two years later, advocates gathered again for the inauguration of the Laudato Si’ Living Chapel and Garden.
“From indoors, you are now going outdoors. Pope Francis constantly invites us that we need to become a church that goes out towards the poor; that goes out to the natural world that is crying out, that goes out into the peripheries,” said Fr. Kureethadam.
Inspired by Pope Francis’ encyclical letter Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home, through its vision “Laudato Si’ as a way of life; sustainability is the future”, Living Laudato Si’ Philippines commit to build capacity and foster partnerships in mainstreaming the principles of Laudato Si’ as framework and tool for sustainable development; and influence institutions to divest from destructive industries and shift towards financing solutions that promote sustainability and social justice.