Bernardo M. Villegas
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Mission of the Filipino Family

           Next Sunday will be the Feast of the Holy Family.  It is very appropriate to reflect on the sublime mission of the Filipino family in promoting the common good.  In a document entitled “The Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and the Contemporary World,” that was used for the deliberations in the Synod of Bishops on the Family last October 2015, certain apostolic tasks are assigned to the family as a social unit in promoting the good of society.  There are four major areas that were enumerated that Filipino families should seriously consider.  They are solidarity with the poor, openness to the diversity among people, the stewardship of creation and a commitment to fostering the common good, beginning primarily where one lives.

          The first is especially critical because of the high incidence of poverty in the Philippines where more than one fourth of the population live in dehumanizing conditions.  As the family is the first school of virtues for every human being, it should be in the family that parents should nurture in their children the compassion for the needy and the poor that was the very theme of the pastoral visit of Pope Francis to the Philippines last January 2015.  One very concrete practice that has become customary in a number of middle-class families in the Philippines is that of organizing a visit to a poor household, say in the slum areas of a city, in which parents and their children bring some gifts of food, clothing or other useful consumer goods that can cheer up especially the children of the poor.  These visits can be made in coordination with the parish priest of the neighborhood.  The visit can last from any where to half an hour to an hour during which a friendly conversation can be held, encouraging the children to interact with the young members of the household.  The children of the visiting family can even be encouraged to identify some of their own personal belongings (clothes, sports shoes, cell phones, etc. which are no longer in use) that they can personally give to the poor.  The parents can also give an example by sharing things from their own respective wardrobes which they have not worn for more than a year.  This is contrary to the “throw-away” culture frequently mentioned by Pope Francis who is precisely referring to consumer societies in which still functioning and useful articles are thrown away needlessly.

          It is also in the family that children can be taught an openness to all social classes, races, cultures and religions.  This is especially applicable to societies in Europe and the Middle East in which there are strong racial, religious or cultural tensions dividing segments of society.  In the Philippines, there may be some room for the family to be a venue for children to have amicable relationships with visitors belonging to different religions, cultures or races.  Especially in Mindanao, in which the Muslim population and some indigenous natives may be more numerous, the family can be the school of inter-religious and intercultural camaraderie.  In the urban areas, there may still be room for some Filipino families to remove any remaining bias that still exists against Filipino-Chinese or Filipino-Indian individuals in the community.  Although the Philippines has the least problem with racial discrimination in Southeast Asia, there is still room for preparing future generations for a completely racism-free society.

          As Pope Francis points out in his Encyclical Laudato Si on the Care for our Common Home, it is an obligation of both Christian charity and justice to take care of the physical environment which is God’s creation.  The stewardship of creation can be an important lesson learned and practiced in the family.  Parents can do much to make sure that their children are educated from early childhood to refrain from dirtying the environment and to conserve scarce natural resources.  There should be clear and strict guidelines on how to dispose of wastes, conserve water and electricity, and if there is a garden help in watering the plants and trees and appreciating the flowers and the butterflies.  This education on the care of the planet should descend to the smallest details, such as how to brush one’s teeth without wasting water, how to always turn off lights and appliances when not in use, how to put on one’s plate only what can be consumed at every meal, etc.  There should also be family outings or excursions organized to forested areas and  vegetable, fruit or flower farms for the youth to appreciate the beauty of nature so that they would have the motivation to protect it from wanton use.  The same can be said of corals, mangroves and other aquaculture treasures.

            Finally, as early as possible, children within the family should learn that the common good is a social order that enables every one in the community to attain his or fullest development as a human being.  This means always thinking of the impact of one’s individual behavior on the good of others.   One of the effective means of education on the common good is to train children to always consider the welfare of others when using public goods or services.  As one is always reminded in the toilets of airplanes, one should leave the toilet bowl and the wash basin immaculately clean after use in consideration for the next passenger who may remain completely anonymous but who is surely a human being.  This concrete case of promoting the good of another without expecting anything in return is a very good exercise in promoting the common good.  If the family as a unit is very conscious of this definition of the common good, then many more in society will act in an analogous way in the many spheres of economic, social and political life.  For comments, my email address is bernardo.villegas@uap.asia.