This Christmas promises to be a bleak one for millions of Filipinos who have lost jobs or are experiencing hardship due to the coronavirus pandemic and natural disasters. (Photo: Unsplash)
The Advent season is usually known as “shopping season” when Filipinos, just like other people around the world, buy gifts for their loved ones.
Bonuses are given to employees, enabling them to buy wanted gadgets and clothes. Children also look forward to family trips and eating at their favorite restaurants as well as having their dream toys.
But all this will not happen for nearly 5 million Filipinos who lost their jobs this year. The coronavirus forced businesses to either retrench their employees or fold.
According to the Philippine Statistics Authority, the unemployment rate in the Philippines stands at 10.4 percent.
Coronavirus has not only claimed millions of lives but the jobs of millions of ordinary workers. It has continued to cause desperation and anxiety not only in terms of lack of a cure but also in the future of children of retrenched parents.
In April, when community lockdowns began, unemployment was at its peak at 17.6 percent, equivalent to 7.2 million jobless Filipinos.
Flexible working arrangements were proposed to cushion the effect of the virus on businesses. Under this arrangement, workers were given the option to reduce their working hours or work on a rotational schedule to save costs on the part of the employer without severing the employer-employee relationship.
But even this kind of arrangement was not sufficient to deflect the economic effects of the pandemic.
Natural calamities continuously and repeatedly hit the country, leaving hundreds of millions of dollars worth of damage.
Last month Typhoon Vamco inundated hundreds of houses in muddy water in Manila’s Marikina City, while Typhoon Goni buried people in their homes in mudslides around the 2,400-meter Mayon Volcano in Albay province.
How can these people prepare for and celebrate the birth of our Lord? How can the Catholic Church explain that despite the disasters they experienced, Christmas is still worth celebrating?
Christmas preparations widen the gap between the rich and poor. They show how the rich have plenty of money for the rainy season while the rest have none.
I can imagine Manila’s huge malls will not be as busy this year as in the past. Besides social distancing protocols, shopper numbers are an indication that belts are tightening and money is more difficult to spend because we do not know when this pandemic will end.
On the other hand, for some families, their Christmas will not be affected much by the pandemic. They will not be counting every peso to make sure money is spent only on the essentials such as food and bills.
Some will shop just as they usually do. Buying luxurious and branded items has become a yearly tradition no pandemic can break.
Pope Francis said Advent is an important season for us regarding our relationship with God.
“Advent is the season for remembering the closeness of God who came down to dwell in our midst ... Let us make the traditional Advent prayer our own: Come, Lord Jesus,” the pope said in his homily during the first Sunday of Advent at the Vatican.
The pope’s message has a very powerful assumption, that is, God is close to us. He always wants to be close to us. But the question we need to ask ourselves is — do we want to be close to him? What prevents us from getting closer to him?
Our lack of sympathy for the poor and our unquestionable thirst for material possessions are things that prevent us from getting closer to God. They are heavy baggage that prevents us from being our truest selves in climbing the mountain of humility.
During Advent season, may we spend our preparations for the coming of Christ by going beyond our comfort zones and remembering the poor.
Let us see God among the poor and the needy, not in shopping malls and in glittering Christmas trees and lights.
Advent invites us to be watchful — to be consciously watchful of God’s presence in our lives yet not self-absorbed by money and material things.
By being conscious of the needs of the poor, we notice the coming of Jesus just as Pope Francis said in his homily by quoting St. Augustine: Timeo Iesum transeuntem — I fear that Jesus will pass by me unnoticed.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.