2019 World Day of the Poor Reflection
by Fr. Jason H. Laguerta
Authentic faith is constituted by justice, expressed and embodied in our social relations as well as in our personal lives.
– John F. Kavanaugh, Following Christ in a Consumer Society:
The Spirituality of Cultural Resistance (2006)
A LIVING FAITH, AN ACTIVIST LOVE
Seven years ago, I met a youngster whom everybody called Abubo (we renamed him John Paul). He had some form of autism which hampered his communication skills and verbal capacities. He lived in the streets and slept on the pavements. In spite of his condition, he knew how to make ends meet, by begging or “barking” for jeepneys. He loved to dance and had this uncanny ability to make everybody laugh every time he performed.
We decided to adopt him and made him a sacristan in the church. We gave him a room (where he never slept), bought him clothes (which he would often lose because everything was disposable for him), and tried to provide for all his needs. But he died a few months ago. His early death could have been avoided. If only he was given more attention and care. (After I got transferred to another assignment, he went back to the streets and got sick). If only he was given more kindness and empathy.
Around the time I was looking after John Paul, I also met a little five-year-old girl named Aya (not her real name). She was quite a handful. Her cursing and swearing was strange for a preschooler. Her parents were in and out of jail. Like John Paul, she would scour the streets to survive. We placed her under the care of a child center. She’s twelve now and both of her parents are still in jail. In spite of the concern and all out support being given to her, she struggles to stay in school and motivate herself to succeed. She finds her “tropa” (gang) more appealing and their escapades more exciting. She’s looking for something, I know. And I just hope that she finds herself before the turbulence of adolescence sets in.
As war has many orphans, poverty has many guardians. It is easy to lecture on hard work and determination. It is another to face inequality, marginalization, disconnect and alienation. Pope Francis says that “the option for the poor is primarily a theological category rather than a cultural, sociological, political or philosophical one (EG, 198).”
As followers of Jesus today, we cannot look the other way and ignore the heartbreaking circumstances of the majority of our people. Our faith would be untruthful and empty if it does not involve an intimate encounter with the pains and longings of the poor.
The Holy Father explains, “Our commitment does not consist exclusively in activities or programs of promotion and assistance; what the Holy Spirit mobilizes in us is not an unruly activism, but above all an attentiveness which considers the other ‘in a certain sense as one with ourselves.’ This loving attentiveness is the beginning of a true concern for their person which inspires me effectively to seek their good. This entails appreciating the poor in their goodness, in their experience of life, in their culture, in their ways of living the faith (EG, 199).”
My experience with John Paul, Aya and many others like them have taught me that addressing poverty starts with a dedicated focus on the person of the poor and the excluded. It is to listen to them and embrace them as Jesus would affectionately welcome them. This does not mean, of course, that we overlook the systemic and social roots of poverty. But everything has to start in what Pope Francis calls loving attenti