My brothers and sisters in the Lord, and especially my dear First Communicants:
Just the other day, I finished reading a book. The title of the book was, “When Elephants Dance” by Tess Uriza Holthe. The book was about Filipinos during the World War II – which took place long before you were born. The author explained her title. She said: When elephants dance, chickens must be careful. She was talking about World War II – where the elephants were America and Japan. The Philippines was the chicken. When America and Japan were “dancing” – the small nations, somewhere between the elephants feet, must be careful. This is all the more true of the simple families during wars. They had to be very, very careful, lest they be trampled underfoot by the elephants. My book told the story especially of the Karangalan Family as the elephants above them “danced.”
For you, who have never really been part of a war, your experience of “war” may be limited to war games: Star Wars, the War of the Transformers, the computer “War Game,” or even Chess. How many of you play chess? Chess is a war game, where one army works to defeat another army.
The book that I read reminds you: War is not a game. It is a terrible, terrible thing! It is the spectacle of huge, powerful elephants killing each other, and many, many chickens getting trampled beneath their feet. It is the horror of people killing people in hatred, of people struggling to stay alive but not succeeding, of families trying to stay together, but failing, of members of families – a husband, a sister, a wife, a child, a grandfather, a mother – lost or killed in just trying to stay alive. War is when all becomes violent, and there is much suffering, hunger and even starvation.
In Holthe’s book, war was of a family hiding in an air raid shelter. You know what an air-raid shelter was like? It was a basement – more like a cramped, dirty, damp and dingy hole in the ground – where people hid in order to be spared from the bombs falling from the sky. It was not nice to be in an air-raid shelter. The space was cramped; it was over-crowded. There was no electricity, no air-conditioning, no-fans – even, no C.R. – so that the small closed space was filled with the stink of human stench. The Karangalan family was hiding in such an air-raid shelter. They suffered. They feared the cruelty of the Japanese, who at that time were losing the war, and killing people in frustration. They feared the violence of the Americans, who at that time were winning the war with bombs that did not discriminate between colors of people’s skin. They feared being trampled under the feet of dancing feet of warring elephants. But among the greatest of their sufferings was hunger. Food was very difficult to find during the war. Food supplies quickly ran out. They could not easily be replaced. So people were very, very hungry.
Have you ever been hungry? Of course, you have. You have sometimes had to wait long to get your supper; you have sometimes missed a meal, and so have felt your stomachs grumbling in hunger. But the hunger during war is much, much more terrible, much, much more intense! People were hungry for days, or weeks, or even months. The little that people could bring from hand to mouth could not still their hunger. Hunger brought weakness, quarreling, sickness, and death.
In the book I read, the first story is about young Alejandro Karangalan, nicknamed Jando. His is a very moving story – a story which brought me to tears. He was only eight years old – the same age as most of you – but he was charged by his family to walk the streets of wartime Manila to find food. Of course, it was a very difficult thing to do for such a young boy. But the family was desperate: they were all hungry, and he was hungry. So he hunted the streets of Manila, where the dead were simply left on the streets, looking for food. On an ordinary day, he would walk from twenty to twenty-five kilometers a day searching for and gathering anything that could be eaten: rice, beans, camote, papaya, pineapple, canned tomatoes – anything edible! He walked the streets, avoiding the Japanese patrols, knowing that if he fell into their hands, anything could happen. At night, he waited on the table of the people who had placed tables on Dewey Blvd, serving them coffee, bringing them whiskey, all in order to be paid in cigarettes. He would not smoke these cigarettes. He would take them and trade them for food. Why? Because his family was hungry. Because he was hungry.
One day, Jando, carrying his precious supply of cigarettes to trade for food, fell into the hands of the Japanese. They tried to force him to say where Domingo was. Domingo was a guerrilla, an enemy of the Japanese soldiers. Jando would not say. So they tortured him. They hung him up by his thumbs, and told him e would be freed if only he would say where Domingo was. Jando would not say anything, even though others were urging him to tell. In the end, the Japanese recognized the strength of his character, and let him go. His thumbs were broken, but not his honor.
When Jando finally found his way home, he was still filled with grief. He was weeping. Not because of the pain he felt in his body. But because of the hunger in his family, and in himself, which he could not still. He had lost his cigarettes. There was nothing anymore he could trade for food. His family was still hungry. He was still hungry. He wept in hunger and despair.
If you were in Jando’s place, what would you do to still your hunger? What would you do to stop the hunger of your loved ones? Do you understand hunger?
God understands hunger. On this day of your First Communion, recall that God understands hunger. When he created this world, and created you and me in this world, he knew that people would become hungry. That’s why he put food in this world. So that hungry people could eat it. When the Israelites were hungry in the desert, he sent special brad from heaven – manna – so that they would no longer be hungry. When Jesus walked this earth and taught , and large groups of people who had come to listen to him, he multiplied loaves and fish to feed them all. When Jesus himself got hungry, he ate with the people; he ate even with sinners. He ate with his friends and his followers as well. At the Last Supper, he said, “This is my body.” This I give to you to eat. “This is my blood.’ This I give for you to drink. After his resurrection, when he appeared to his disciples on the beach of the Lake of Galillee, he actually prepared breakfast for them. “You prepare a banquet for me in the sight of my foes,” the Israelites said. The Creator understood hunger. Jesus understood hunger. God is Love in stilling hunger.
When stomachs are empty, painful and grumbling, people are hungry for food. When people are lonely, people are hungry for love. When people lack companionship, people are hungry for friendship. When people crave success, people are hungry for recognition. When people seek for meaning, people are hungry for life.
Jesus said: “I am the Bread of Life.” Ordinary bread lives you hungry again. I am true nourishment for all your hungers. Eat me. I bring life. Make me a part of you. I am genuine food.
Today, my dear First Communicants, but also mothers and fathers and friends, Jesus comes to you as Food for Life – as the Bread of Life. Even without your having had to walk 20 kilometers a day searching for him, he has searched for you. Even without you having had to endure any pain, any torture for him, he has endured torture for you. Even without your having had to risk your life for him, he has suffered and died for you? So that you might accept him as Bread of your life. So that, in accepting him, and eating him, and welcoming him as a part of you, there would in our world be no more war, no more killing, no more hunger! So that you might have life, and have it to the full!
Why? Because he loves you. And wishes to nourish and strengthen you all the days of your life!
Welcome him, gratefully!