Thursday, October 11, 2007

‘Go repair my house’

“Moreover they should respect all creatures, animate and inanimate, which bear the imprint of the Most High, and they should strive to move from the temptation of exploiting creation, to the Franciscan concept of universal kinship.” – from the Rule of Saint Francis

This column piece should have come out last week, when the feast of St. Francis, patron of the environment, was celebrated. But he could be everybody’s every-day saint and his teachings remain as relevant as when he walked this earth some 12 centuries ago.

St. Francis is often associated with sweet images of flowers, birds, trees and animals. Last week, pets in their furriest and scaliest glory were again paraded on the streets by their Filipino humans to proclaim the saint’s love for God’s creatures.

Many sang paeans to Brother Sun and Sister Moon, to peace and kinship, to earth’s beauty and everything that dwells therein. As if all these come naturally these days.

No, they no longer do. There is now a price to pay to enjoy a smog-free landscape, the good smell of moist earth, the clean wind on one’s face, safe water to drink, natural unadulterated food, the virgin wilderness, hillsides that don’t threaten to cascade on one’s home.

If St. Francis were walking on Philippine soil today, what would he find? Would he be disappointed? Would he feel hopeful?

He would probably get mired in a mudslide, have a coughing fit upon beholding the smog hovering over Metro Manila, admonish someone who nonchalantly throws a fastfood styrofoam pack into the gutter, be shocked at the state of destitution in cities and hamlets, not find the dignity in Lady Poverty whom he had embraced in his time. He could even take a bullet. Like anti-mining activist Armin Marin of Sibuyan Island.

But he would gladly attend the launch of a Greenpeace report that exposes the close ties of multinational producers of genetically modified organism (GMO) products and government regulatory agencies, making the credibility of the Philippine GMO regulatory system questionable.

Philippine civilization would get a dismal grade in the saint’s book. For St. Francis is not the cartoon saint that he is often portrayed to be, he was a serious peace advocate and lover of creation.

Long before so-called creation spirituality became in vogue among theologians, Saint Francis, like his female Benedictine counterpart from another age, saint and mystic Hildegard of Bingen, was already into it.

Today’s scholars of Franciscanism have had to get past the Hollywood fluff and comic-book portrayal of the saint to get at the meat of his life’s message.

Franciscan of the Third Order Charles G. Spencer says: “If we were to visit St. Francis’ Basilica and deface a fresco, the world would quickly know, and we’d be chastised. However, for the corporate culture to purge endangered species, develop biological polluting genetic mutants, bio-load toxic metals, acid, dioxin and other persistent chlorinated compounds and hormone disrupters into our environment, spread toxic waste sewage sludge and pesticides over pure and fertile ground, incinerate waste without regard for the chemical complexities of the waste stream or resultant emissions, cause untold animal suffering, etc., etc., we are told is the price for progress.”

That St. Francis would move small worms to the side of the path to get them out of harm’s way has been historically recorded. That neighbourly act was not remarkable during his time, but now, it is, considering how alienated people are from their earth-y neighbors.

St. Francis need not point out that the state of Philippine environment is far from pretty. The air and water have increasingly become polluted, marine and forest biodiversity are under threat, the forest cover is decreasing at an alarming rate, there is subsidence in cities. And with global warming upon Planet Earth, the Philippine environment will soon be among the gravely endangered. Unless.

St. Francis was a lover of children and he would not like to see so many kids left starving and roaming the streets. He would balk at the yawning gap between the rich and the poor, with the latter often blamed for so many societal and environmental ills—crime, garbage, ugliness. What about the owners of the millions of vehicles that release toxic emissions into the air?

No less than an environment secretary himself said that about 70 percent of air pollution comes from emissions by 5 million vehicles around the country, contributing to the country’s “dubious distinction” of having the second most polluted air in terms of suspended particulates among Asean countries.

Solid waste remains a problem that contributes to land, air and water pollution. Metro Manila alone produces 6,169 tons of garbage daily.

The 19 million hectares of forest cover in 1920 has been reduced to less than half. Logging and populations that invade upland areas are the main culprits. The Philippines is said to have the lowest forest cover among Asean countries. Mangroves are disappearing in coastal areas. Philippine wildlife’s habitat loss is cause for concern. St. Francis would be dismayed that the winged and crawling creatures are losing their homes.
But St. Francis would be happy to see that local governments and communities, the indigenous communities especially, are taking part in the restoration of the environment.

Some 730 years ago in San Damiano in Italy, St. Francis heard the crucified Jesus speak to: “Go, repair my house, which you can see is falling completely to ruin.” St. Francis’ own dying words ring true anew in this age: “Let us begin, for up until now we have done nothing.”