By Simone Orendain
MANILA, Philippines — On the drive to the University of Santo Tomas or on any drive into Manila, you’ll find street kids knocking at your car window asking for money. The more industrious ones carry a plastic bottle of greasy water and a squeegee and get to work “cleaning” your windshield. Some of the children are barely tall enough to even look into heavily tinted windows of vehicles shielding against the fierce tropical sun.
I don’t give them money and try to roll away ever so slowly so they get the hint and move on to the next car.
I don’t give money because I’m just not sure whether that money will go to an exploiter like a syndicate. But it always bothers me inside to just drive away.
Today at the university I attended a recollection for journalists, led by Manila Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle. As he spoke on the theme for the papal visit to the Philippines, “Mercy and Compassion,” I kept thinking to myself, “How is driving away showing mercy and compassion to our brothers and sisters who have so little?”
My immense guilt mixed with lack of sympathy for exploiters of children was even more magnified when I learned that the Archdiocese of Manila had started its “Year of the Poor” Nov. 29.
Cardinal Tagle said church officials in Rome said the Philippines is the first country to have held spiritual preparations in anticipation of Pope Francis’ visit. The messages were sticking: God never tires of giving forgiveness. We are creatures that have been given the capacity to wait.
But at every mention of mercy and compassion for others, I kept thinking of the street children, puzzling over how to help without helping perpetuate a possible wrong.
The fact that there was a persistent question in my head also went with Cardinal Tagle’s “waiting” message: Life is a series of Advents — anticipating major events in family life, or waiting for an answer to a deep question all pretty much equated to the country’s waiting for the pope’s visit. It’s the kind of waiting that ends in a promise fulfilled, he said.
In Advent, that promise is the coming of Jesus.
As I drove back to my office I saw a gang of kids waiting for their bottles and squeegees to be handed out by a couple of older boys, and it dawned on me that giving them something to eat might be a better option. I resolved to always have food with me before entering Manila. At that point, perhaps I’d had my own tiny moment of a promise fulfilled: the grace to find a solution that would help those with so little.