Listening to Cardinal Tagle, a journalist finds grace

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.

Filipino children play with mud in slum area of Manila, Philippines, May 29. (CNS/EPA)

Filipino children play with mud in slum area of Manila, Philippines, May 29. (CNS/EPA)

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.

11 Responses

  1. I, too, am troubled by seeing those in need out on the streets with signs asking for help. There are some I’m “called” to help, and others, I’m not. When I answer that “call” I feel good in that I did the right thing at that moment. There were a couple times I went and bought fast food and gave it to them, and they scarfed it down right then and there.

  2. I go downtown to Saint Patrick Cathedral in Fort Worth, Texas. I always respond to a panhandler that I carry no money with me, then I put a determined amount in the poor box, that way I know the money will truly help someone.

  3. Thankyou, Simone, for your thoughtful article. As a physician, I am sad that Cardinal Tagle and others are promoting poverty in the Philippines and increasing deaths of women in multiple pregnancies by blocking the new law to allow free contraceptives to the poor. The Church wants women to remain barefoot and pregnant. Women and couples need to have control of their fertility, so that they will have the number of children that they can care for and get out of poverty. It is shameful what the Church is forcing onto these gentle people who have no voice!
    Sincerely, Dr Rosemary Eileen McHugh, M.D., M.Spir.

  4. I think that’s a good start. We can’t solve a country’s problems but we can do our bit to help like the first comment suggested. As for the second comment, contraception will not solve the problem, it will only create more as seen in the country we live in.

  5. I have to disagree with Andrea. Many women and couples cannot do natural family planning for various reasons. Women and couples deserve the respect of the Church to make their own decisions on how best to plan their families. It is inappropriate for the Church to interfere with the freedom of conscience of women and couples, especially because too many pregnancies are leading to too many deaths of young mothers in pregnancy and childbirth, leaving children with no mothers, and increasing the poverty of the country. Very sad and even cruel of the male leaders of the Church, who do not seem to care about the plight of the women. Rules against contraception are man made rules by men who have chosen to ignore the needs of women. These rules are not from Jesus and need to end.
    Sincerely, Dr Rosemary Eileen McHugh

  6. Thank you Dr. McHugh for your thoughtful and respectful commentary. Thank you CNS for having the courage to allow reasonable dialogue on your blog. The Philippines is a desperately poor country with many, many challenges and problems. Unfortunately, corruption is rampant there, at so many levels of society, government, and sadly, sometimes even in the Church there. We are all human, we are all fragile at times. Best if we all can open our hearts and minds to try to solve or at least alleviate societal problems.

  7. Dr. McHugh

    I think you’re on the wrong page. Stop proselytizing your wayward western, corrupt ideas on poverty and seemingly progressive thinking. Here in the Philippines, there is an abundance of your contraceptives and yet even the top medical scientists does not promote it. Why? Because of the high risk of developmental disorders should there be an “accidental” pregnancy despite the contraception. No, the Church is not promoting and abetting poverty, in fact they have proactively helped people here in the Philippines for decades if not a century. It’s people like you who look down on the poor and actively comment behind a keyboard while sitting in your cozy sofa drinking beverage of your choice. Don’t you think that’s a lot of metaphor? Before you measure and judge the Church here, why don’t you look at your life and how many you have alleviated from their misery? You have the temerity to wave your education behind your name, which only tells us that you’re one of those who like to hide behind their lofty supernumerary titles yet does nothing to help those who have nothing in life. Have some shame and an ounce of humility and not a false one.

  8. I thank God for the Catholic Church, despite the frailties of human beings. I thank God for the Catholic faith and morals which serve to protect and uplift the dignity of the human person.

    I abhor contraception, abortion, divorce, etc. and all the evil and errors that are continually repackaged and justified to look good and humane.

    I’m happy for all the Catholic charities that address human poverty without undermining or neglecting the Church’s teaching on faith and morals.

    I believe that all good works should be backed up by prayer. Otherwise, as Pope Francis says, one’s work will just be along the lines of an NGO.

  9. The Economic Poverty of Children is a disgusting life experience inflicted upon the innocent as they are not the cause of their own life situation. To turn a disgusting life experience into a comfortable feel good factor of benevolence by an individual person is an insult to the dignity of the human child. This is about hungry and malnourished children and not primarily about feel good factors. Hunger and malnourishment (malnourishment begins in the womb) are a human evil and being so should be eradicated from the face of the earth, by humans. Eradicate the evil and stop the appeasing of a self guilt discomfiture with a false sense of doing good works when we are confronted by this human evil.

  10. Thank you Andrea, C Thomas, Zen U and all those who commented that contraception will not solve the problem of poverty in the Philippines, but sharing of values will!

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