Bernardo M. Villegas
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Celebrating Good Friday with OFWs

           Over these more than forty years doing road shows all over the world, I could not avoid in some years being abroad during Holy Week, especially on Good Friday.  In many countries, including Christian ones, Good Friday is a working day and Filipino Overseas Workers have to be really heroic in being able to attend the services in the few Catholic churches that they find in their respective cities.  My experience, though, is that no matter how adverse the circumstances, Overseas Filipino Catholics still find ways and means to organize in their respective parishes the liturgical services and other traditions that they followed when they were still in the Philippines,  complete with the Santo Entierro and the “Salubong” on Holy Saturday.  What is truly uplifting is to hear the choirs made up of mostly Filipinos sing the Hallelujah of Handel on Easter Sunday.  In a few places where there are no restrictions to religious practices (as in some Middle Eastern countries), the Holy Week services can even include the singing in Tagalog of the “Pasyon.”

          This coming March, I will find myself in a road show in Spain during part of the Holy Week.  I dedicate this column to the millions of Filipino Catholics who will be celebrating Holy Week outside of the Philippines.  I want to share with them the gist of a homily delivered by St. Josemaria Escriva, Founder of Opus Dei, on Good Friday, April 15, 1960, thus helping them to derive the most spiritual benefits from their celebrating this most holy day of the year in which we commemorate the Passion and Death of Jesus Christ on Calvary.  Since these “heroes” of ours have very little spiritual guidance when they are working abroad, I hope the ideas of the “Saint of Ordinary Life,” as St. Josemaria was called by St. John Paul II, can help them celebrate the whole of Holy Week in a way that will have repercussions on the rest of the days of the year.  As St. Josemaria emphasized:  “…In thinking about Christ’s death, we find ourselves invited to take a good hard look at our everyday activities and to be serious about the faith we profess.  Holy Week cannot be a kind of ‘religious interlude’, time taken from a life which is completely caught up in human affairs.  It must be an opportunity to understand more profoundly the love of God, so that we’ll be able to show that love to other people through what we do and say.”  If there is one thing about OFWs all over the world, it is that they work and work hard and long hours.  It is so important for them to listen to the doctrine that St. Josemaria started to preach in 1928 and that was literally “canonized” by the Second Vatican Council:  that every baptized person is called to be a saint, and that it is primarily through ordinary work that he is able to sanctify himself and sanctify others.

          In explaining the meaning of Good Friday, St. Josemaria encourages all baptized persons, and especially Filipino Catholics who live in environments that can be hostile to Christian living, to be salt and light to those around them:  “The liturgy of Good Friday contains a wonderful hymn, Crux Fidelis.  It invites us to sing and celebrate the glorious struggle of our Lord, the victory of the cross, the splendid triumph of Christ.  The redeemer of the universe is sacrificed and triumphs.  God, the Lord of all creation, does not make his presence felt by force of arms or by the temporal power of his followers but by the nobility of his infinite love…The Lord does not destroy man’s freedom; it is precisely he who has made us free.  That is why he does not want to wring obedience from us.  He wants our decision to come from the depths of our heart.  And he wants Christians to live in such a way that the people we deal with will find in our conduct—despite our weaknesses, faults, and failings—an echo of the drama of love that was Calvary.  Everything we have comes from God; he wants us to be salt which flavors and light which brings the happy news that he is a Father who loves without measure.  The Christian is the salt and light of the world, not because he conquers or triumphs, but because he bears witness to God’s love.  And he won’t be salt if he can’t give flavor.  Nor will he be light if he doesn’t bear witness to Jesus through his example and word, if he loses sight of the purpose of his life.”

            Wherever they may be, OFWs can play a very important role in the new evangelization of which Pope Francis speaks.  Many of them are in many countries of Old Europe that have to be re-evangelized.  Others are in non-Christian countries in which the Gospel of Christ still has to be preached.  As former Finance Secretary Roberto Ocampo once wrote in a column, these Filipinos abroad are the New Chosen People of God who will bring the Good News through their personal example and word.  As St. Josemaria ended his homily on that Good Friday of 1960, “Here before the cross, we should have sorrow for our sins and for those of all men, for they are responsible for Jesus’ death.  We should have faith to penetrate deep into this sublime truth which surpasses our understanding and to fill ourselves with amazement at God’s love.  And we should pray so that Christ’s life and death may become the model and motivation for our own life and self-giving.   Only thus will we earn the name of conquerors:  for the risen Christ will conquer in us, and death will be changed into life.” OFWs who want to know more about St. Josemaria and Opus Dei can log on to www.opusdei.org. For comments, my email address is bernardo.villegas@uap.asia.