MANILA, Philippines?(UPDATE) Despite the searing heat, thousands of Catholic faithful started trooping to the Quirino Grandstand in Manila past noon Friday to attend a prayer rally and vigil against the reproductive health bill pending in Congress.
By 6:30 p.m., the crowd swelled to 20,000 as people, some coming from as far Laguna, poured into the area for the prayer rally and vigil? dubbed ?Filipinos! United Under God for Life?? organized by the Catholic Church.
In his homily in the 7 p.m. mass, Manila Archbishop Cardinal Gaudencio Rosales stressed the sanctity of life as God's greatest gift to man.
He said, "If life is not given value at any stage, whether as an infant, fetus, elderly, weak or strong, nobody would respect life. Once life loses importance and respect, man will be cheated, abused, lied to and robbed with impunity."
Rosales reiterated the sacredness of marriage and sex. He expressed the view that teaching children "games" in the form of contraceptives was diminishing life's value.
"What they should teach is the purity of conscience, cleanliness of the heart, discipline and self-restraint and respect for money that is not theirs," the Manila archbishop pointed out.
To pass the time, the crowd chanted "Obey God's will. No to RH bill," and said the rosary.
While others joined the revelry, a few took to a confessional, manned by two priests, set up beneath a tent beside the medical teams on standby.
Father Charlie Aldema of the diocese of Novaliches explained that the rally coincides with Feast of the Annunciation and Incarnation and most of the faithful could not pass by the Church to have their confession.
"While people are waiting for the mass, they can go here and get the opportunity to confess," Aldema said.
"It is only proper that we be reconciled with the Lord. We need healing and forgiveness of our sins as reparation for the unborn children and the destruction of life," Aldema told the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
He pointed out that a lot of rally participants were getting confession, "People don't really have the chance to go to the church for the rite. So it was convenient for them to bring a confessional out here."
"It is a beautiful day," he remarked, adding that "the spirit really here now is of life."
Rhodora Emping, 56, of Binangonan, Rizal, who was a member of the contingent of the diocese in her area, maintained that she was against the RH bill because government funds that could be used for uplifting the economy by addressing poverty would be used instead on the purchase of contraceptives.
"The RH bill does not go by the Lord's teachings. The funds to be allocated for that should be used for providing jobs to the poor. It will also breed immorality," she maintained.
For her part, Maricris Celorio, 47, of Makati City, said that she took part in the rally not only out of her protest against the bill but to pray for the disaster-stricken people in Japan as well as the three OFWs slated for execution in China on March 30.
Celorio pointed out that RH bill is unnecessary and stressed that the youth's curiosity on sex would only be aroused.
She stressed that she has been married for 5 years and only bore one child without the use of contraceptives, "That should be proof that it can be done through self-control."
The Vatican secretary of state encouraged pro-life Filipinos to firm up in their commitment to defend life and the family against attacks to devalue them.
In a statement read by Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo during the rally, Cardinal Tarciso Bertone acknowledged that Filipinos are "passing through a difficult period in all that concerns life and its defense."
"The Church is not indifferent in such moments, because she believes that life is sacred, a gift from God who calls man to cooperate with Him, aided by a deep sense of responsibility for his actions," Bertone said.
He cited Pope Benedict XVI's commendation of the Church in the country for its "defense of the integrity of marriage and the family."
Bertone concluded, "Strengthened by this clear message, I again encourage you and all who value the human person to be firm in your commitment to honor God and, by doing so, to manifest a deep love for life and for its protection at this time."