[Rewind #AwaNgDiyosPH] The poor’s ‘church:’ Found in makeshift homes

 

For Easter, The Filipino Connection releases articles from its special edition on the apostolic visit of Pope Francis last January 15-19, 2015.

 

CITIES OF SAN FERNANDO, PAMPANGA and IMUS, CAVITE—They sleep with Jesus. Literally: with Jesus.

Go to the home of Rachel “Tetet” Garcia, found in a vacant lot in Brgy. San Jose Panlumacan in San Fernando City, that’s made of old rusty iron sheet. The house was put together by tarpaulins and card boards, with a white curtain serving as a door. Neighbors also have makeshift homes like Garcia’s and the lot’s a public trash bin. That makeshift abode has been the Garcia family’s 15-year permanent address.

Adelina Barro of Imus City, Cavite (photo by MIA ROSIENNA MALLARI / The Filipino Connection)

Adelina Barro of Imus City, Cavite (photo by MIA ROSIENNA MALLARI / The Filipino Connection)

But a small portion of the bamboo bed belongs to two “key persons:” Two images of the Santo Nino (Holy Child Jesus), sporting two rosaries each. There are also posters of Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary, found in the home’s “prayer room” lit up by a small red bulb.

There’s a similar makeshift home at a sitio called “Halang” in Brgy. Poblacion IV-A, Imus City, owned by 65-year-old grandmother Adelina Belaro and her brood of 40. The home’s found above a barangay hall; Belaro, who’s widowed for decades with her five children raising families of their own, wades through her day-to-day life in a four-bedroom space built for ten people, one that her family rents out from the local barangay.

Halang is what residents from Poblacion IV-A informally refer to as a tumble-down street where people have set up homes on a lot where a cockpit once stood, above ashes of countless homes swallowed by a fire in 2001. Yet bordering crummy, provisional shacks in the Belaro home are two foot-tall Sto. Nino images, both looking after 20 children in the household.

Those homes by these chronic poor —those who have experience poverty over a long period of time— house tales of economic and religious resiliency. The Garcia and Belaro families admit their human frailty as Christians, especially given their immediate environments and their needs to survive. But they’re hanging on in their places of rest: their homes —their watering holes to be themselves and lift up their miseries to God, in prayer. That makeshift “church” structure is where faith and hope prosper, where praying’s their first option.

 

* * *

 

Hung clothes have sheltered Tetet’s makeshift home. At the entrance, there’s a small kitchen with a metal pot, a spatula and a liter of water. The entire family of five shares one bamboo bed, placed at the right side of the house, the side where the Sto. Ninos stand.

Tetet, a laundry woman, is the bread winner who usually earns P300 weekly (or P42.86 a day). “Baon ng mga bata dalawang piso, minsan wala [The kids’ allowance is P2, sometimes none at all],” Garcia said. “Halos ganoon ang nangyayari sa kanila [That’s what always happens with them].”

Tetet and her husband Michael, a construction worker, got married and had six children. She said her husband never helped her in the house expenses, while confessing Michael always hits her and their children.

Hard up, the 40-year-old mother was forced to give her children Mark (16) and Kervin (12) to her sister so that they can study. Tetet’s eldest, 16-year-old son Christian, serves as a caregiver to their other relatives so that they can support Christian’s education. Tetet also works in a small town lottery as a sideline.

Tetet and her children Angel, Nico and Paul all eat a maximum of two times a day, sharing rice or noodles in a soup bowl (mangkok). “Kapag nakikita nila ko sasabihin nila ‘Mama, kain ka na,’ naaawa sila sakin, minsan gusto kong sabihin na wag na nila akong intindihin, hindi baleng isang instant noodles lng yan, kumain lang sila, kahit ako hindi na, okay lang [When the children see me, they say, ‘please eat, Mama’. You can see them pity me. Sometimes I want to tell them don’t mind me. Don’t worry that they eat just one pack of instant noodles, just so that they eat. That’s fine with me].

In Halang, Lina is best known for her good humor, her problems often shrouded by the loftiness of her sunny disposition, all of which she owes to her “labis na pananampalataya [immense faith]”.

Also a laundrywoman as well as househelp for well-off families in Poblacion IV-A, health problems forced Belaro to stop working for seven years already and to focus on child-rearing duties.

Her children at present all have unstable incomes from contractual jobs, so there’s the daily struggle to pay rent and fill the stomachs of the entire Belaro household. And Adelina (or “Mama Kana”) is the Belaros’ stronghold.

The home of Tet Garcia of San Fernando City, Pampanga has a special place for Jesus, Mary and the Sto. Nino (photo by JHOANA PAULA TUAZON / The Filipino Connection)

The home of Tet Garcia of San Fernando City, Pampanga has a special place for Jesus, Mary and the Sto. Nino (photo by JHOANA PAULA TUAZON / The Filipino Connection)

Kapag walang-wala na kami, naiisip ko na bakit ganito. Lalo na wala akong trabaho, wala akong pera [When we have nothing left, I cry out why is it like this? No work and no money?],” Adelina said.

After her husband’s death, Adelina was left to tend after their brood alone, and doing laundry work even until the day’s wee hours. She set out her thin hands wrinkled by time in front of her and lamented how much scars on her hands she got back then from scrubbing all day.

Kaliitan ng mga anak ko, talagang umiiyak ako sa gabi. Tinitingnan ko yung mga anak ko, nakahigang ganun. Iniisip ko, paano ko kaya bubuhayin ang mga ito [I always cry at night when my children were still small. I look at them, while they’re sleeping, and sigh: ‘How will I make a living for them’]?”

 

* * *

 

Times would come when times are hard up, leaving the Garcia and Belaro families with not even a centavo to spare.

Those were the times when both the strong-willed women breadwinners would hold on tighter to their faith.

Tetet continues to pray twice a day with her children to thank the Lord. She may not observe the Sabbath Sundays consistently but she manages to attend mass or visit the church once a week, even on a weekday.

Tetet finished high school and was once a choir member during her teenage years.  She served in the church during masses and join processions on special occasions. However, she had stopped serving in the church after getting married. Son Christian has been serving as a choir member at the Sanctuario de San Jose Parish for almost a year.

But there’s desire from Tetet: We won’t be living like this decrepit forever.

As for Adelina, prayer’s the first option to everything. During a storytelling session with some six grandchildren, Adelina told them (in Filipino) her “secret”: “I do not miss going to the church when I was still working. I always pray for his help in raising my children —that we can somehow eat three meals daily.”

How do you pray Mama Kana, the grandchildren asked Adelina. Lina closed her eyes and uttered how she would pray: “Panginoon, ikaw po ang aming gabay. Lahat po ng pangangailangan, ikaw ang magbibigay [Lord, You are our guide, and you provide everything that we need. For as long as my children do not get sick, even if we’re living in poverty, that’s fine with me Lord.”

 

* * *

 

The Lord as the hard up’s refuge is a common, unsurprising cry from the chronic Filipino poor. Citing some 13 focus group discussions with Metro Manila’s urban poor, the late sociologist Fr. John Carroll, S.J. (Jesuit) writes in Engaging Society: The Sociologist in a War Zone (2006) that the church is the place where the poor “can cry over their problems, after which they feel at peace”.

“Their responses reflect the pain and insecurity of their lives, and a reliance on God when there is no one else to rely on —reminiscent in a way of much of the Old Testament and of the spirit of the anawim, the poor who relied on Him alone,” Carroll wrote.

Tet Garcia and her family (photo by JHOANA PAULA TUAZON / The Filipino Connection)

Tet Garcia and her family (photo by JHOANA PAULA TUAZON / The Filipino Connection)

And it is where the Filipino poor’s needs are too daunting, their numbers —some 24.9 percent of the total population of this Catholic nation— too big to be overlooked. Even recent years of macro-economic growth for the Philippines are not enough to bent inequality or bring down the poor’s numbers significantly. As for the Philippine Catholic Church, this year — “Year of the Poor” —is year four of the nine-year preparation for the 500th year of Philippine Christianity (come the year 2021).

“Those needs (by the poor) cannot be neglected by the church,” writes Carroll, “lest it turn Christ’s ‘good news to the poor’ into an opium of the people.”

It took a Philippine apostolic visit recently by the Supreme Pontiff, Pope Francis, to remind Christians of the Church’s commitment to be with the poor, and for the church to become a field hospital catering to the “wounded.” Interestingly, in some of his speeches during the recent papal visit, Francis said: “Allow yourselves to be surprised by God.” Even by the poor.

 

* * *

 

The chronic poor had been surprised by the Lord too.

Like Tetet: With some five hours left before Christmas Day in the year 2013, husband Michael suffered a mild heart attack and was brought to the hospital. Tetet had nothing on her wallet then, even a hundred to pay for their hospital bills and buy the needed medicines and food for her husband.  She was lost, nowhere to go and just hold on to her prayers.

It was at this point where what she regarded as the “little miracle” suddenly came. Neighbors who helped Tetet bring Michael to the hospital told Tetet she won in jueteng.

So naghingi ako ng pasalamat sa Itaas dahil hindi niya kame pinabayaan, binigyan niya parin ako ng pang gastos [I thank the Lord above for not leaving us behind, and yet He even gave us some extra cash].”

Adelina, for her part, gets daily surprises from God. Daily, the family’s lacking in food. She just prays. In every prayer, God tells Adelina, as she claims, to approach this person and that person for food.

It always works.

Adelina has no explanations for her answered prayers, her “little miracles” as she puts it. What she only has are more prayers: “Basta ako nananalangin may dumadating sa akin na parang… Yung sa loob ko ba? Natutupad. [When I pray from the heart, my prayers are always answered].”

Even if poverty had passed on to the next line of the Belaro clan, so did Adelina’s faith. Her children have all learned from her, praying everyday and making amends by catching Eucharistic celebrations on neighbor’s televisions whenever they fail to go to mass.

With these surprises coming their families’ way, why would the faith dampen? Such is the message of salvation Pope Francis, during his apostolic visit, said that comes from the poor, and that others may want to listen.

Like Tetet Garcia’s outlook in life: “Ikaw ang bahala kung paano mo susuportahan ang sarili mo, hindi naman dahil may hindi magandang nangyayari sa buhay mo sisishin mo ang Diyos, hindi dapat. kung baga naka guide lang siya sayo [You are responsible for your own needs, and not that you blame God for your own miseries. Let Him guide you].

And like Adelina Belaro’s gratefulness: in Filipino, she thanks the Lord that “amid economic hardship, grace comes our way.”

 

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About MIA ROSIENNA MALLARI and JHOANA PAULA TUAZON