In the Philippines, the family is the “foundation of the nation” — the importance of families is written into the country’s constitution. And since the 1992 signing of Proclamation 60, the country has affirmed that belief by celebrating National Family Week annually during the last week of September.
This year marks the 28th National Family Week for the South Asian island nation, and members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints there are celebrating throughout the week of Sept. 21-27 with the theme #BFF: Building Forever Families.
With the global COVID-19 pandemic bringing unique challenges and circumstances, the Church is hosting a weeklong series of live-streamed shows on its Philippines-facing Facebook page. The presentations feature local Latter-day Saint families and specially themed efforts focusing on family bonding through activities like family home evening, fitness and family history as well as sharing important fundamentals for self-sufficiency like budgeting and finances, farming and gardening and building foundations of faith.
The events of National Family week “bring to the surface deep-seated, closely held desires within all of us to protect our family members and promote values and traditions that will fortify our children against the evils and challenges of our day,” said Elder Steven R. Bangerter, General Authority Seventy and first counselor in the Philippines Area presidency.
Speaking to the Church News following the main event for the week — the 3rd Interfaith Family Forum, hosted Sept. 23 in partnership with the Filipino interfaith community, Uniharmony Partners Manila (UPM) and the National Committee on the Filipino Family (NCFF) — Elder Bangerter explained that the week’s virtual gatherings provided a space for leaders from many faiths to share “wisdom and learning that teach parents to establish a foundation of love, unity and trust within their homes.”
He continued, “Our efforts this week seek to put into action [President Russell M. Nelson’s] encouragement to reach out and befriend those not of our faith. His example is a cherished blessing to the entire Church membership and emulates the love and compassion of our Savior, Jesus Christ.”
The theme of the Interfaith Family Forum was “Mapagkalingang Pagtugon at Proteksyon sa Bawat Pamilyang Pilipino Mula sa Suliraning Pang-Ekonomiya at Karahasan sa Gitna ng Pandemyang COVID-19” or “Caring Response and Protection of Every Filipino Family from Economic Concerns and Dangers Amid the COVID-19 Pandemic.” A lineup of speakers shared their expertise on issues that affect the modern family such as mental health and suicide, pornography and addiction, social media, health and wellness, self-reliance and spirituality.
These professionals from various faiths joined together to provide engaging virtual presentations that stimulate meaningful interactions among the thousands who tuned-in, Elder Bangerter said. By sharing common interests and concerns for the well-being of children and families, theological differences and boundaries can be transcended as meaningful friendships are established.
“Understanding that these tender emotions tied to our love as parents for the well-being of our children are held by every loving, nurturing, caring parent enables a true coming together in genuine bonds of friendship,” Elder Bangerter said. “We saw that coming together during the Interfaith Forum on the Family as members of various faiths provided prayers, gave presentations and participated in the process of answering questions submitted by listeners online throughout the two-hour broadcast.”
Leading the event as the keynote speaker, Luzviminda C. Ilagan, the Undersecretary for Policy and Plans Department of Social Welfare and Development for the Philippines, noted that the challenges already facing families in the Philippines have been aggravated by the pandemic and the burdens of quarantine. And while the government has worked to come up with the aid and solutions needed to help those most adversely affected, citizens also have a responsibility to address the needs of their neighbors, she explained.
“We are now working and living under a new normal, and we have to adjust but hope should still be there,” she said.
Emphasizing the importance of gratitude and hope amid difficult circumstances, Ilagan called upon faith leaders and participants in the event to serve as examples. “It is incumbent upon us … that we do something to encourage people to retain hope,” she said. “Now more than any other time in our history as a people, as a nation, we have to find strength among all of us. … We can not survive this pandemic alone.”
Following the keynote, presentations during the event were provided by Dr. Maribel Canlas, a clinical counseling psychologist, who spoke on mental health and suicide; Mary Ann Balen, with LDS Family Services, who spoke about addiction and pornography; Rev. Fr. Roy Bellen of the Archdiocese of Manila, who spoke on the dilemma of social media; Carlomagno Aguilar, a home gardener, who spoke about self-reliance through farming and growing food; Renz Christian Argao, the national adviser for the Youth for Mental Health Coalition, who spoke about mental health; and Elder Bangerter, who spoke about the importance of spirituality in the family.
The act of coming together to learn about and discuss how to strengthen and help families during the challenges of an unprecendented time during the COVID-19 pandemic was essential, Elder Bangerter said.
“While the pandemic has, in many cases, caused families to experience isolation, fear and hopelessness, interfaith webinars and online activities focused on the family brings the light of the Holy Ghost who bears witness of every truth taught throughout the week,” he said. “What may previously have been seen as ‘boundaries’ established by different beliefs and religious affiliation, become less significant when we engage together in efforts like the National Family Week to strengthen and sustain healthy, happy, enduring family relationships.”