Discovering God In The Tragedies Of Life
By Fr. Restituto Ogsimer
It’s been over a month since the triple tragedy devastated the Northeastern part of Japan. I have been asked to write a reflection on my involvement with the evacuees from the Tohoku region. Since I am a priest, I am often asked questions that are related to God, like, Why does God allow tragedies to happen? Where is God in all these calamities? Is he punishing us for our sinfulness? I find it normal to ask questions of this kind when something terrible or tragic happens and my answer has always been the same: calamities and tragedies are never God’s doing. It is not caused or inflicted by him. He is also not punishing us. Otherwise, that would contradict God’s nature because fundamentally his message is about love. Someone who truly loves us would never intend to destroy us. But one thing is certain though -- calamities, sickness and death are real and they happen to both good and bad people. They happen to remind us of our rightful places on the face of the earth. If dying is our greatest fear and our final end, look at it this way: death has already been conquered by God. When God died for our sake, it was for our salvation, a life in eternity with God. Therefore, death has no more power over us because God has already redeemed us.
What is God’s plan?
I am convinced that whatever happens to us, there is a reason and purpose. The only problem is, we can only truly discover this in hindsight, that is, after things have unfolded, when things have settled and we look back, we come to understand and see his well laid-out plans. For example, I am strongly convinced that God had a hand on how I got involved in the evacuation work. March 15-31 was the peak of the rescue operations carried out by the Philippine Embassy. On March 14, I had a planned overseas trip, a very crucial one, so I was torn between leaving and staying in Japan. Both choices were of equal importance and urgency. But as an obedient priest, I decided to leave it to God to decide my fate. With a heavy heart, I headed to Narita Airport only to end up missing my flight because there were no rapid trains operating on that day. Subsequently, I went back to our convent and braced myself for the unknown. There was one thing that I remember very clearly -- I had a deep sense of peace in my heart in spite of the missed flight and the hurdles I went through that day. Then, it was in the same evening that I received information about the evacuees from Fukushima. The following day came the official request from the evacuees for a Tagalog mass and that they needed a Filipino priest. And the rest is history!
The Evacuation Centers
The first evacuation center was Kichijoji Church, followed by the Franciscan Chapel Center, the Tokyo Light House and the Wesley Center. The Filipino network was very organized. A coordinating body composed of representatives from the Philippine Embassy, the Catholic Tokyo International Center (CTIC), the Philippine Assistance Group (PAG), church groups, FilCom and volunteers was organized to better respond and attend to the needs of our displaced kababayans. It was an emergency situation and most of the evacuees had nothing with them. The evacuation centers had no available resources. We had to depend and ask help from kind hearted and generous individuals and concerned groups for everything. Everyone was willing to get involved, share and contribute in many ways from volunteer work to monetary and donations in kind such as food, clothing and medicines. It was inspiring and uplifting to see how the Filipino community was cohesive. The support was overwhelming and phenomenal!
Thanks to Facebook
For a long time, I have never taken FB seriously. A lot of people I know would talk about it with so much gusto and I would simply listen to their stories with a sense of indifference. It was in May last year, while taking a 1-month course in the Philippines, that I finally created a Facebook account, through the promptings of my professors and classmates. It was only the beginning of this year that I decided to officially use Facebook in my ministry. I had a good number of followings in my daily shout-out and it never crossed my mind that my Facebook account someday will serve as the “bulletin board” that would play a pivotal role in dissemina-ting information and making announcements for all the needs of the evacuees and those who wanted to help.
The Final Day
March 31 was our last day at the Franciscan Chapel Center (FCC). We organized a simple closing ceremony attended by the staff and volunteers of the Catholic Tokyo International Center as well as the FCC, Consul- General Sulpicio Confiado, representing the Philippine Embassy, and Fr. Russel Becker, OFM, the Parish Priest of the Franciscan Chapel Center. The purpose was simple: to thank and acknowledge all the key players who contributed in successfully managing the evacuation program. We heard for the first time, Fr. Russel’s reflection about the situation. His message was heartwarming. That, in the midst of the chaos and devastation, God was moving in mysterious ways. He recounted that when the first earthquake hit, he rushed outside the front door of the church and prayed that the church would collapse. The reason being, he wanted a new church building. He would later retract by saying that it is good that God does not listen to all our self- centered prayers, otherwise, the church would have not been available for the evacuees. Interestingly, a few weeks before the tragedy happened, Fr. Russel ordered the renovation of the children’s play room located at the basement of the church. This facility was designed to be of great use for children for their activities such as drawings, English lessons, and their time for play. And it served its purpose when the evacuees came because almost half of the evacuees were children. During their stay at the FCC, we saw how the young evacuees' drawings were all bright, colorful and joyful, as if to reflect how happy and at peace they were. As an evacuation center, FCC was a happy and grace-filled place to be.
What lies ahead is very uncertain. But these happenings have opened and made us aware of the necessity of being prepared both externally (emergency kit, food provisions, etc.) and internally (heart). We cannot foretell tomorrow but we do hope that no matter what the unknown has in store for us, we will not be caught off-guard. Instead of blaming God for all these happenings, I have chosen to discover him in the tragedies and see how God moves in the midst of all these happenings. I pray that what we have experienced in Japan may help us realize and discover the things that truly matter, of what is most important, and discover who we are without God in our lives.