A Pastoral Letter: Ash Wednesday 2010

His Eminence Gaudencio B. Cardinal Rosales, D.D., Archbishop of Manila (Photo from rcam.org)

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the most important period in the Church calendar. The forty-day Lenten season that starts today prepares us for Easter. Prayer, almsgiving and fasting are three penitential practices that Christians are called upon to do to better celebrate Easter. They help us draw attention to God’s Word that encourages us to seek true conversion of heart and soul. Fasting disciplines our bodies, helping us seek the Lord with greater intensity, while putting us in solidarity with those who suffer. Works of Charity enlarge our hearts as we commit ourselves to the good of others. Prayer means speaking with God in spiritual communion.

Good deeds and almsgiving consist of self-sacrifice to serve and benefit others. Christ and His Apostles spent their lives serving others. Christ instructed His followers to do good deeds for spiritual rewards, not for human recognition. By doing good, you can ease the emotional and physical pain of people in need. You also encourage compassion and charity in your daily life and strengthen your Christian soul. One such good deed is to respond to a call to feed the hungry children in our community.

"For dust thou art, in art thou shalt return." (Photo courtesy of http://allsaints-el.blogspot.com)

In the last 5 years, the pernicious problem of hunger and malnutrition persists in the Philippines. Initial results of 7th National Nutrition Survey conducted in 2008 show that three out of ten Filipino children are hungry and malnourished! They are underweight and underheight, stunted in their growth. Worse, the acute or severe cases of malnutrition are increasing. We now have more than 8 million Filipino children who are underweight and under height. According to the WHO, malnutrition prevalence rate of 5% is considered of public health significance. The rate in the Philippines is about 30%.

Hunger and malnutrition are very pressing concerns for our society. As Pope Benedict XVI said to world leaders gathered for the UN Food summit in Rome on November 16, 2009, “Hunger is the most cruel and concrete sign of poverty.” He said that the fundamental right of every human person is first and foremost the right to sufficient, healthy and nutritious food supportive of the essential right to life itself. He also called on churches to defeat hunger in a planned, responsible and regulated manner to support the sector-wide effort to eradicate it as a manifestation of solidarity.

HAPAG-ASA is a Christ-centered nutrition program and values formation that helps malnourished children through nutritionist-approved feeding, as well as their families through skills training and livelihood opportunities for their parents. The promise of HAPAG-ASA is to have fullness of life through feeding the body and feeding the spirit.

HAPAG-ASA is a sustainable program that not only gives out food for the hungry, but at the same time teaches children and their parents, values that would lead them to a better life. Through collaborating dioceses and organizations, it has fed more than 500,000 Filipino children nationwide in the past four (4) years. This year, it is targeting another 120,000 children, of which more than 30,000 will be fed in the parishes of the Pondo ng Pinoy member dioceses where you belong.

We appeal to you to support HAPAG-ASA in its efforts to care for hungry and malnourished children of our parishes. We encourage you to give to the HAPAG-ASA what had been set aside from your fasting. Your donation, no matter how small, will go a long way as it only costs a mere ten pesos a day or P1,200 to feed a hungry child once a day, five days a week, for six months. You can save the life of a Filipino child with P1,200. Please ask your parish office for donation envelopes or ways you can be of help to the program. You can also help your parish start a HAPAG-ASA program for the malnourished children in your parish if it has not yet done so.

Our Lord said: “I was hungry and you gave me food. I was thirsty and you gave me drink. Whatever you did to the least of my brethren, you did it to me.” We wish everyone a meaningful spiritual journey this time of Lent, “casting aside all that distracts the spirit and growing in whatever nourishes the soul, moving it to love of God and neighbor.”

Archbishop of Manila