Mass, at least where I regularly go to, has been quite… routine for me, most days. I rarely hear one at the Gesu, since the ones there are usually held at 10:30 in the morning, and I oversleep a lot during weekends, and I also rarely hear Mass at Greenbelt.
This Sunday’s Mass, though, was rather different. You see, at Pandacan’s Sto. Niño Church, there’s this elderly beggar who attends the 3:30 p.m. Mass. Not always, but regularly enough. He has this kid he lugs around, a big kid, obviously unable to move on his (her?) own.
Even in a Parish Church for a community that’s essentially “middile-Middle,” the pair are, well, a sight to behold. 3:30 in the afternoon is the Children’s Mass, but the priest who used to celebrate it, Fr. Romy de Castro, has quite a bit of a following from the parishoners that many of the attendees to the Mass are adults, or young people.
One time, the old man sat on the center-left aisle area. You could see the way people… moved away from the pair. It wasn’t even that subtle. And the looks they gave…
This afternoon was different. I arrived late, and the new, young priest was already well into his sermon; it would seem the Gospel for this Sunday was about the leper (lepers?) that Jesus cured, and the young priest was telling his flock about how we would feel if we were lepers – whether physical or something else – and people would shy away from us, ostracize us even. Because that’s what Jesus thought and felt, and which was why he acted as He did and cured the leper(s). The young priest said that with that single act, Jesus changed the way society viewed its outcasts, calling on the people to shun the practice of shunning, that we should bring everyone into the community especially those that most need our love and care.
The pair of beggars at that time were sitting in the third-to-the-last pew of the rightmost aisle of the Church. There was the… expected space around them, and I was observing how the people around the pair would react. To tell the truth, I was expecting more of the shunning of this pair, and was quite ready to feel bad throughout the whole Mass.
Then, one of the people nearest them stood and gave a small amount of money to the old man. Then another. The next thing I knew, nearly everyone beside them gave them money. Even in farther pews. There was even this young woman in front of me who chased after them just to give a few pesos. If i remember correctly, the first to give was this young couple, who had their baby with them.
To say my heart was touched is to give an understatement. This was totally unexpected. But maybe I should have. As a Guardian, I have seen the worst and the best in the Filipino. And this is but a simple expression of the best in the Filipino soul: that, regardless of all the things that has bowed down this once-noble race, we have not forgotten what we are. And what we are is a people whose hearts are so big that, no matter how small, we will extend help to our fellowman.
I said in an earlier post that this country has stood countless trials not because of its leaders or heroes or martyrs, but because of its people. This magnificent, brilliant, beautiful and deeply-spiritual people. When disaster strikes, we don’t abandon each other but pick one another up, and the rule always is women and children first. We give so much to charities and to worthy causes, not out of a sense of noblesse oblige – how can that be the case when many of those who give are not of the “noblity” of this country? – but out of a genuine desire to help others. This charitable and helpful aspect of the Filipino spirit is I think part of the reason why the NGO culture is so much alive here, why volunteerism is a living, changing force in this country.
Perhaps we are apathetic, young and old alike. Perhaps that new, ugly word of sociopolitics – pragmatism – has buried the Filipino soul under so much muck. But the FIlipino soul is a resilient and powerful force that cannot be broken nor buried for so long. It cannot forget nor deny for long what it truly is. It yearns to shine forth. That was what both People Powers were all about: the Filipino soul blazing forth in all its majesty and glory to show the world that, yes, there is another, better way. That the world need not be about darkness and pragmatism, that reality can be soo much better and sweeter.
And, yes, that’s why you fight on, even as your idealism flutters in tatters in the cruel winds of Philippine politics. Because you have faith in the Filipino, and that its true worth will once again shine true.