For six days in early August, scholars, pastors and students from 15 countries in Asia and the Pacific got together in Manila, Philippines to do something new: to think about the church from the perspective of the poor using liturgical tools as forms of mission and defiance. The backdrop of their work was the heavy present of the Empire breathing death in the lives of the poor across the world, but understood from the specifics and local struggles of the poor in Manila. The National Council of Churches of Philippines hosted the participants, and facilitated their connection and experiences within four different communities: Workers, Peasants, victims of the war on drugs and Indigenous People communities.
The first day of introduction helped them to get to know each other, learn about the situation in the Philippines from local leaders, and the liturgical theological grounds, methodology and cultural awareness before they were sent to the local communities.
The next three days living in the local communities gave them all first-hand experiences with the deep struggles of the people and their fight for survival. During this time, the group was to offer “deep listening” as their methodology and hear the voices of the suffering and ask questions as how they could be in solidarity with these communities. They visited workers on strike against Nutri Asia, a big company in Manila. The presence of Labour Unions has been discouraged by the government, making it easier for companies to abuse workers who work for 12 hours to gain 315 Philippine pesos (USD 3) per day, half of the minimum wage, without any benefit.
They heard from the peasants and how their lives are completely abandoned by the government. They live without roads, without hospitals, and are exposed to violence and sexual abuse. They heard the deep cry of the mothers who lost their kids to the government’s war on drugs where the police kill whomever they want leaving mothers without any explanation of their death and no justice. They heard from Indigenous People communities who have been thrown out of their lands by mining and logging companies, evacuated from their lands and their communities bombarded by the military.
All these excruciating forms of pain filled the hearts and minds of the conference participants and prepared them for two days of writing liturgical resources from the perspectives of those in suffering. During those days, they went through a liberative process of engaging the poor and thinking about faith from their perspectives. While liturgies are often done based on church traditions and documents, they used the method of liberation theology: “we first live with the poor and then we write (liturgical) theology”.
The Christian liturgical resources they all know in different ways were now rewritten by the cries of those suffering and together, they wrote a variety of liturgical sources for worship: calls to worship, mourning rituals, eucharistic and baptismal prayers, blessings, meditations, songs, artistic resources, performances, prayers of thanksgiving, strength, anger, and transformation. They believe that prayer is the vocabulary of their faith, and their task and hope was to create a new language, one that hears the cries of God from the margins, the voice of God from places of absence, forgetfulness and shadows. From there they prayed, now a different prayer, a prayer that speaks a different language, a prayer that starts where it hurts, a prayer that resists the Empire, a prayer that hopes to offer trans-national forms of solidarity to those living with and near death.
Twin hopes rose from this gathering: To offer to the church worldwide a host of liturgical resources that can be easily used in local churches to help the church to learn how to be in deeper connection and communion with the poor, to go where the poor live and be Christ’s presence in their midst; Also, they hope to create a new methodology for the creation of liturgy. If “books of worship,” are often done by specialists in hotel rooms, deciding how everyone should pray anywhere, this workshop intends to create a “different worship book,” one that comes from the pulsing lives of the poor, and done by people who are committed to the poor. These two aspects intend to detach the church from both conscious and unconscious connections with the Empire and offer tools, no matter how frail, to resist and dismantle powers of death and free us from the grip of the Empire of our world today.
This Manila workshop was a thrilling and unforgettable experience for all. Now they are continuing their work back home, using the same liturgical process with their own people in their own contexts and they will add these new resources to the common worship book. As they start the same process in Africa, the Americas and Europe, they will continue to add resources from other places in Asia. Their hope is that all will learn to pray together with the poor a prayer that offers to God all the glory, a glory that defies the dominance of the Empire, puts down the rich and lift up the weary.