by Fr. Phillippe Angelo Garcia
The journey continues.
As we celebrate the first month of our community pantry - serving the Lord by serving the poorest of the poor - I thank God for giving us the grace of serving 16,000+ beneficiaries and 5 out of 10 sustainable community pantries at our chapel areas in a month.
We have been journeying with our partners in the police force, barangay partners, 30 lay on site volunteers and our generous, committed lay catholic donors, including those who are poor.
In view of our first month celebration, let me now share a few learning points:
First, we serve because we love God.
Our team started with so many questions in mind.
There were times that I was confused as to how to do things and manage the sustainability of our pantry. But despite the difficulties, many questions, negative thoughts, and even discouragement from others, our sole answer to why we are still doing this is our love towards God.
We don't get paid for this. We don't get anything in return. We work under the heat of the summer season. This pantry is more than rolling up one’s sleeves because this is unreciprocated service in action.
But this pantry gave us consolation. It is an opportunity to love more.
In a way, to love like Christ. To embrace this difficulty as an expression of our love to God.
After our first week, when we first had our sharing, one volunteer told me this: Hindi ba, Father, ang tunay na umiibig ay hindi sumusuko? Mapapagod pero hindi susuko. Mapapagod pero pipiliin paring umibig. (Father, is it not true that one who loves does not give up? Will get tired but will not surrender. Will get tired but will still choose to love.)
One will never understand embracing difficulty when one is not loving.When you serve, there will be an amount of suffering. But despite these trials you will still continue to serve simply because you are loving.
Kapag mahal mo, paglilingkuran mo. (When you love someone, you will serve him.) As Mother Teresa said, “loving truly hurts” because it hurt Jesus to love us. We thank Jesus for giving us the opportunity to love like him through our community pantry.
Second, it makes present the Holy Spirit.
As a priest, I saw more than the “bayanihan spirit” in our community pantry. I also saw the presence of the HOLY SPIRIT, the LORD and the GIVER OF LIFE.
It is good for us to reflect, after a month: why is this pantry still serving and expanding?
Aside from the obvious, which is that we love God, therefore, we serve Him; I also saw that this pantry makes present the HOLY SPIRIT of LIFE. Beyond ayuda (aide) to the poor, it also brings out the missionary zeal and intention to serve many.
Out of the many missions of our Parish, the community pantry became the most profound one. It has united us and has given us life. To the hungry, life is given, in a way, through the ayuda and the presence of the Church. To the donors and servers, life is given by the awakening in their responsibility for one another. This makes them a better person.
The central pantry inside the Cathedral is bearing fruit through its decentralization and expansion.
The HOLY SPIRIT gives us the power to continue and to give life in many forms. The HOLY SPIRIT also empowers us to develop our relationship with God.
Third, the Community Pantry gives us an image of the Church of the Poor.
This year we celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines (PCP II).
According to PCP II, one of the visions of the church renewed is the CHURCH OF THE POOR. The council teaches that the Church of the Poor shows a preferential love for the poor. The Church of the poor not only evangelizes the poor but recognizes that the poor will, themselves, become true evangelizers.
Such as when some of our beneficiaries turn out to be volunteers. When I entrusted an endeavor to some of our beneficiaries and they turned out to be dedicated servers in the Church. Even the sampaguita vendors near the church compound who were only selling before have, with the pantry present, heeded the call to serve.
The poor are not just objects of our mission. They are also capable of becoming missionary partners. As potential missionary partners, they have their own CHARISM. Which is equal to all our charisms. The charism of the poor is significant for us because they are the ones who really know the realities of their life.
I will never forget one ‘giving session’ when I asked my staff not to release rice (bigas) anymore because we needed to finish consuming the bread first. Six beneficiaries from the poor sector consecutively asked me, Father, ano pong isasaing namin? (Father, what will we cook?) Then one volunteer from the poor sector explained to me, Father, importante po ang isasaing kahit wala nang ulam dahil mayroon namang asin at toyo. Kasi kapag walang isasaing, ito po ay nakakalungkot. (Father, it is important to give rice to cook because when the poor have no viands, we can use salt or soy sauce. When there is no rice to cook, it is truly sad.) I was not aware of this reality before. So when I learned about this, I immediately responded. I see this as a great consolation because the pantry teaches me and my volunteers many values and makes us aware of realities in life.
What we shall learn from the poor makes us a better Catholic.
Listening to the poor is an image of the Church moving forward.
To cease listening to the poor is to betray our Christian identity. (Cf. PCP II D 34)
It is a touching experience for me to receive donations from the poor. Whenever they are serving and donating, it sends all of us a message that they are partners in this mission.
One volunteer even shared to me this message, Hindi ibig sabihin na mahirap ka, eh ikaw palagi ang tutulungan. Marunong ding tumulong ang mga mahihirap. (It does not mean that if you are poor, you are always the one to be helped. The poor also know how to help others.)
As we celebrate our community pantry’s first month in existence, it is my prayer to gather more people, particularly the poor, in serving God.
I am grateful to our dear friends for sharing their time, talent, and treasure as we serve God through our San Roque Community Pantry.
With all these, OUR JOURNEY CONTINUES.
*Fr. Philippe Angelo Garcia is the Parochial Vicar of San Roque Cathedral and Vocation Director of the Diocese of Kalookan.