IT was a week full of messages that I will not soon forget. That it all happened during Holy Week 2017—the most sacred days in the Catholic calendar—is co-incidental.
The week began with President Rodrigo Duterte’s departure from Manila on Sunday, April 9, for a weeklong state visit to the Middle East, specifically, the kingdoms of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain and the state of Qatar, which are the temporary home of nearly two million overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).
The President did not say why he picked the Holy Week for his Middle-East journey. As we now know from his nine-month-old presidency, DU30 has a penchant for punctuating his actions, decisions and behavior with a flourish. There are days when he presents himself as a Muslim, not a Christian, to the media.
DU30’s first stop on Monday, April 10, was Saudi Arabia, where he met with King Salman. His talks with his royal hosts are taken up by the economic troubles that forced the repatriation of thousands of Filipino workers, who are still waiting for the payment of their unpaid salaries.
The sharp fall in world oil prices since 2014 had caused a Saudi budget deficit of US$79 billion (Dh290.2billion) in 2016, resulting in the government owing billions to private companies it had contracted in the building industry.
King Salman hosted the Filipino President for lunch in the Saudi capital on Tuesday. The two governments signed a number of memorandums, including some dealing with labor.
Filipino organizations in the kingdom met with the President in Riyadh. Saudi Arabia still hosts about 800,000 workers from the Philippines. The workers’ organizations presented a petition on the issue of unpaid wages to DU30.
From Saudi Arabia, DU30 travelled to Bahrain and Qatar, where he was also scheduled to meet with the rulers, top officials, the business communities, and Filipino workers’ groups.
Message to Syria, mother of all bombs
After President Donald Trump ordered a missile attack on Syria a week before to punish Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the US dropped on Thursday, April 13, the “mother of all bombs” (MOAB) — the most powerful conventional bomb in the American arsenal— on an Islamic State cave complex in Afghanistan. The weapon was so massive it had to be dropped from the rear of a cargo plane.
Trump had ordered the firing of the 59 Tomahawk missiles at the Shayrat airbase in Syria on April 7, after more than 80 people were killed, including children, in a chemical weapons attack in Syria’s Idlib province. The US blamed Assad for the carnage.
The US described the missile strike against Syria as a “measured response.”
The Afghan strike was the first combat use of what is formally named the GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast, which the military has argued will help it defeat the Islamic State more speedily.
Mr. Trump called the MOAB bombing “another very, very successful mission.”
Message to North Korea
On Saturday, April 15, the US Pacific Command ordered its US Navy strike group led by the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier to make its way toward the Korean Peninsula “to maintain readiness” as Kim Jong Un’s regime in North Korea prepared to mark key anniversaries during the week.
North Korea was expected to hold a huge military parade on Saturday to celebrate the 105th birthday of its founding president, Kim Il Sung, and to mark with similar fanfare the 85th anniversary of the creation of the Korean People’s Army on April 25.
Analysts raised concerns that Pyongyang could be preparing for a sixth nuclear test.
North Korea attempted to fire the missile it had introduced during the military parade on April 15, but the show of force proves to be an embarrassing failure. The missile explodes at launch.
Which brings us to the end of Holy Week.
On Easter Sunday, April 16, world attention turns away from North Korea and Syria, and America towards the Vatican, the world’s littlest state, and another leader, the pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis, as he delivered his traditional Easter message to the Catholic faithful – Urbi et Orbi (To the city [of Rome]and to the world).
On Christianity’s most joyful day, Pope Francis delivered a message that in its own way was as urgent and telling as the missile strike and the mother of all bombs.
To the city and the world
I take the account below from the Associated Press report on Pope Francis’ Easter message. It is profoundly stirring in its own way.
Both in his impromptu homily during Mass in St. Peter’s Square and later in his formal “Urbi et Orbi” Easter message delivered from the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica, Francis reflected on a litany of suffering in the world, including wars, oppressive regimes, human trafficking, corruption, famine and domestic violence.
He encouraged people to hold fast in their “fearful hearts” to faith, acknowledging that many people wonder where God is amid so much evil and suffering in the world.
Some 60,000 people, including multi-national throngs of pilgrims and tourists, endured tight anti-terrorism security checks—and, later, a brief downpour—to hear Francis and receive his blessing.
The crowd size, cited by the Vatican security forces, was smaller in comparison to some other Easters, when about 100,000 turned out for the occasion.
After Mass, Francis toured the square in his open-topped, white pope mobile and waved back to well-wishers.
In his balcony address, Francis prayed that God would sustain those working to comfort and help the civilian population in Syria, “prey to a war that continues to sow horror and death.”
He cited the explosion Saturday that ripped through a bus depot in the Aleppo area where evacuees were awaiting transfer, killing at least 100 people.
“Yesterday saw the latest vile attack on fleeing refugees,” the Pope said, also praying for peace in the Holy Land, Iraq and Yemen.
Separately, in a letter he sent to the bishop of Assisi, the birthplace of St. Francis, whose name he chose for his papacy, the Pope decried the “scandalous reality of a world still marked by the divide between the endless number of indigent” and the “tiny portion of those who possess the majority of riches and presume to decide the fates of humanity.”
Francis has repeatedly championed the dignity of migrants fleeing war, persecution or poverty. On Sunday, he recalled “all those forced to leave their homelands as a result of armed conflicts, terrorist attacks, famine and oppressive regimes.”
The church’s first pontiff from Latin America voiced concern over the “political and social tensions” in the world as well as the “scourge of corruption” on his home continent. Francis also mentioned hostilities and famine plaguing parts of Africa.
Speaking of Europe’s problems, Francis cited the continued conflict and bloodshed in Ukraine and prayed for hope for those struggling with high unemployment, especially young people.
Traditionally, the Pope gives no homily during the late-morning Easter Mass, saving his reflections for the “Urbi et Orbi” message at noon.
But Francis broke with that tradition, giving an off-the-cuff homily during Mass about what he described as a nagging question for many faithful: Why are there so many tragedies and wars if Jesus has risen from the dead, a belief that Christians celebrate each Easter?
“The Church never ceases to say, faced with our defeats, our closed and fearful hearts, ‘stop, the Lord is risen.’ But if the Lord is risen, how come these things happen?” Francis asked.
He gestured toward the potted hyacinths, tulips and daffodils, which came from the Netherlands, and which were arranged in neat rows on the steps leading to the imposing church.
Easter “isn’t a party with lots of flowers. This is pretty, but it’s not this, it’s more than this,” Francis said.
He said having faith on Easter gives sense in the middle of “so many calamities: the sense of looking beyond, the sense of saying, look, there isn’t a wall, there’s a horizon, there’s life, there’s joy.”