[PHOTO AT LEFT - PASSION SUNDAY: A young girl sells palaspas (palm fronds) in front of the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene in Quiapo, Manila for use in today’s observance of Palm Sunday. - Photo By EDD GUMBAN]

MANILA, APRIL 9, 2006 (STAR) By Evelyn Macairan - Today, all of Christendom are asked to remember the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as Catholics start the eight-day celebration of Holy Week, from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday.

Monsignor Pedro Quitorio, spokesman for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), said today’s religious event is also called Passion Sunday to impress upon the public that "Palm Sunday should not only be limited to purchasing palms, having them blessed during Mass and hanging them on the doors of houses to ward off evil spirits."

More than that, he added, "Passion Sunday celebrates the entry of Christ to Jerusalem where He would accomplish the work of salvation through passion, death and resurrection. This is the Paschal mystery."

He said it was only during the 1961-1962 Second Vatican Council that the Catholic Church gave the observance of Palm Sunday greater significance.

On this day, Jesus Christ rode into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey (some Biblical translations say a colt) and was welcomed by a great crowd waving palm branches. The people shouted "Hosanna" and laid their cloaks and palm branches from the nearby trees in His path.

The Son of Man arrived on a peaceful donkey, instead of presenting Himself as a mighty king on a high horse, to remind the people that He was not a physical king looking for worldly riches but a spiritual king who wished to bring peace and forgiveness to the world.

During this time, Jesus had fully accepted His mission in life. In order for Him to accomplish this, He had to be presented to the people as a common criminal after being wrongly accused of pretending to be the Messiah. In the coming days, He endured physical hardships that ended when He died on the cross at Mt. Calvary. His resurrection came on Easter Sunday.

On this special occasion, Manila Archbishop Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales reminds Filipinos to also recognize Palm or Passion Sunday also known as Alay Kapwa Sunday.

In his pastoral letter, Rosales said: "In this part of Christ’s journey towards His Passion and Resurrection I invite you to focus on observing Alay Kapwa on Palm Sunday. Alay Kapwa means offering (alay) to our neighbor (kapwa) who we are and what we have as an expression of our solidarity with our neighbors, especially the poor."

"We look around and there is so much that moves us to tears — widespread poverty, social injustice and moral degradation. It is in these situations that we are called to manifest our faith. Can we say we love God if we turn a blind eye to poverty and have deaf ears to cries of justice? ‘Love not with words but in actions and truth,’" he urged Filipinos.

Alay Kapwa calls on each of us to be especially generous today, sharing not only our time, talents and prayers but also our treasures, Rosales added.

Small donations saved during days of fasting that could be collected at today’s Mass would be used to fund the Church’s scholarship program for 5,000 poor but deserving students, operations of 13 parish health clinics and a feeding program for 5,000 malnourished children.

It would also help finance job fairs and livelihood programs, micro-finance and cooperatives, paralegal assistance and values formation for prison inmates, relief for victims of calamities, advocacy on AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) prevention and assistance to persons living with HIV-AIDS.

"Your love offering will also support the social action centers of the other dioceses nationwide and their programs on peace advocacy, democratic governance, ecology, sustainable agriculture and disaster management," Rosales said.

In relation to this, the CBCP’s National Secretariat for Social Action-Justice and Peace (NASSA) would hold its annual Alay Kapwa Sunday with this year’s theme "Integridad: Hamon sa Simbahan at Sambayanan Pilipino (Integrity: A Challenge to the Church and the Filipino People)."

It focuses on calls for the restoration of each person’s "integrity," including those in the Church, political leaders in the midst of rampant graft and corruption in private and public offices, and the political bickering and mudslinging that has resulted in chronic economic crisis and degradation of social and moral fiber in the country, NASSA said in a statement.

The prevailing situation has subverted Filipino values of simplicity, humility, kindness and peace, it added.

"That is why our integrity as a people, nation and Church has been gravely compromised because we have abandoned the innate goodness in us and choose to espouse the culture of fear, arrogance and dishonesty," the statement said.

NASSA, in its reflections, reminded the faithful to go back and live out the basic truth of one’s faith — which means facing and accepting life’s trials and difficulties, pains and sufferings if we truly want to follow Christ.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved