Tuesday, January 17, 2012
IN THE SERVICE OF THE POOR
For a quarter of a century a small group of former seminarians and other devout Christians, including a number of Filipino-Americans, have quietly fed the poor of Manila during the Christmas season.
“We started this program when I was still in the seminary together with friends and fellow seminarians,” revealed Virginia-based bank executive Ramon Llamas.
Last month, they conducted the 25th year celebration of “Tunay na Diwa ng Pasko party for beggars”. In this group were Fr. Soc Montealto, Atong Lamsen, Boy Bandoles, Dandy Bastillo, Noel Licono, the Tarcisian Adorers and young volunteers from the parish of Our Lady of Sorrows in Pasay City.
“Though it’s a once a year occasion and definitely would not alleviate their poverty, the celebration prays to give them hope and encouragement that there are people who do respect and care for them,” Llamas explained.
The Tunay na Diwa ng Pasko party is done every Dec. 28 where the guests are street beggars from Pasay City, the Quiapo and Sta. Cruz districts in Manila, Makati and other places.
“We invite about a hundred of them but this year we were able to serve about 160 of the poorest of the poor,” Llamas revealed.
And the ranks of the poor in the Philippines are growing, according to recent reports. The World Bank noted that in spite of remarkable economic growth over nearly a decade, progress appears to bypass the poor – poverty has worsened from nearly 25 percent of the population in 2003 to about 27 percent in 2010.
The government National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB) said over 23 million Filipinos are still subsisting on less than $2 (about 85 pesos) a day – one of the worst in Southeast Asia.
“Our nation is in an explosive situation,” warned Cagayan de Oro Archbishop Antonio Ledesma. “Streets are teeming with beggars and dislocated indigenous peoples. The children wake up to poverty, eat poverty for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and sleep poverty – without understanding why.”
Leonor Magtolis-Briones of the advocacy group Social Watch Philippines said that as long as unemployment remains high, people won’t be able to escape from poverty.
The National Statistics Office (NSO) estimated close to 3 million Filipinos are jobless with another 7 million suffering from underemployment. The International Labor Organization’s country director in Manila Lawrence Johnson said many of those lucky enough to have jobs remain vulnerable because they don’t have social security, health insurance and other benefits.
The Tunay na Diwa ng Pasko party may seem like a drop in a very vast sea but it aims to reassure their constituents they are not alone. “We are all poor in the eyes of the Lord,” Llamas stressed.
Rather than be paralyzed by the enormity of the problem, this group is also driven by an abiding faith that they can see God’s face in the smiles of the poor they serve.