THE ARCHBISHOP of the Philippine capital Manila has highlighted the importance of vigilance and sense of urgency in his Christmas message, citing the virtues of the often overlooked shepherds in the nativity story.

“We can learn three spiritual virtues from those shepherds: keeping watch, crossing over, and going in haste,” Cardinal Jose Lazaro F. Advincula said in his message published on the news site of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines.

Despite feelings of lethargy and boredom, he said the three shepherds kept close watch of their flock.

“Let us contemplate the presence of Jesus in our brothers and sisters, especially the needy and the suffering. Like the shepherds, let us recover the art of keeping watch,” the 70-year old church leader said.

“Let us take a long loving look at the real. Let us intently and honestly listen to the truth. Let us be sensitive to the signs of the times,” he added.

He also pointed to the original biblical text of the shepherds’ journey to Bethlehem, which “implies going beyond borders, transcending our comforts, being open to personal conversion, transforming our society, penetrating through walls of division, and building bridges of solidarity.”

On going in haste, Mr. Advincula stressed that the Christmas rush should not be about consumerism but pursuing a “mission” guided by values amid these tough times.

President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr., meanwhile, said charitable acts during the holiday season could help Filipinos recover from economic difficulties, days after he signed the national budget for 2023 which, according to critics, lacks adequate social safety nets.

“Across beliefs, all the generosity and goodwill stirred in this season are welcomed,” Mr. Marcos said in his Christmas message. “Surely, embracing these will help us overcome the difficulties brought by the pandemic and other challenges.”

The Marcos administration’s first Christmas is confronted by several economic challenges, including rising inflation, which has reached record highs this year. Economists expect 2023 to be more challenging than 2022 globally, due partly to supply chain disruptions caused by the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war and a growth slowdown in major economies.

Despite the economic difficulties facing the country, Filipinos are celebrating Christmas with hope and are welcoming the new year with optimism, according to recent Social Weather Stations and Pulse Asia surveys.

The Philippines has one of the biggest Catholic populations in the world, with about 81% of its over 109 million people belonging to the religion, based on the 2020 census. — Alyssa Nicole O. Tan and Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza