The Church’s Tangible Presence to the Poor
LAST October, I moved to my new assignment in the Diocese of Kalookan. Responding to the invitation of Bishop Ambo Virgilio David, the Jesuits gave a concrete yes to help the poorest of the poor in his diocese in the midst of increasing incidence of extra-judicial killings. He felt that the presence of the religious among the poor sectors of the Church could make a difference in the life of the forgotten, the powerless, and the abused.
As pastor of Kaunlaran Village in Dagat-dagatan Avenue (now known as the Jesuit Mission Station), my first three months were physically draining but heart-moving. I deeply felt the beauty of my priestly vocation when I started living and working with the poor. As their pastor, I became the Church’s tangible presence in the community. My presence brought instant joy and consolation to the community. Through the existing mission stations in the Diocese of Kalookan, the poor no longer feel alone and abandoned in their daily struggles. The mission stations become a source of spiritual nourishment, inspiration, guidance, and protection.
As pastor of the Jesuit Mission Station, I never imagined presiding over three wake Masses in one evening. I never imagined celebrating Mass in alleys, shanties, and basketball courts. I never thought of celebrating three Simbang Gabi Masses every day for nine days. I never thought it would be possible to baptize 40 children in one sitting. And I never imagined blessing seven homes in an overcrowded fifteen-square meter by four dilapidated structure.
I was commissioned to organize the community, but I found myself spending most of my time listening to people and celebrating four Masses every day. Their hunger for God’s presence is manifested as they request for wake Masses, daily Masses, anointing of the sick and house blessings. In the periphery, the Eucharist and other Sacraments play a very important role in nourishing the spiritual life of the poor. But sad to say, in many places, the poor have no easy access to the Sacraments of the Church.
I remember Bishop Ambo’s words, “Hindi lang nasa laylayan ng lipunan ang mahihirap. Nasa laylayan din sila ng Simbahan.” This pretty much sums up the rationale behind Bishop Ambo’s call to seriously consider serving the poorest of the poor. The challenge is not new to us. In fact, Pope Francis is inviting us relentlessly to leave our comfort zones and go to “the peripheries.” In the midst of EJKs and other injustices being done to the poor, we are challenged to leave our comfort zones and take extra effort to assist the poor. More than financial and material assistance, what the poor need now is our presence and accompaniment.
The poor are deeply wounded, ignored, and oppressed. It’s time to help them. I am overwhelmed by the complexity of the task ahead of us. But each time I beg for guidance, the Lord simply tells me … “JUST BE THERE. BE MY PRESENCE. THAT’S ENOUGH FOR NOW.”