There was a downpour when the food truck arrived outside the church in Manila's Quiapo district one Friday morning. A group of Black Nazarene devotees, the image of which is housed inside the church, started distributing hot meals to a number of people, who includes Rosa Olivarez. The 48-year-old mother of three was fourth in line that day. "On Fridays, we don't have to beg for food," said the woman and single mother. Although she's not Catholic, Olivarez, who lives with her family in a makeshift shelter beside a bridge, has been coming to church every Friday. "I am grateful that there are people who share what they have with others," she said, adding that it is difficult to raise a family alone.
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She has been raising her children in the streets of the city after she lost her home to a fire in the middle of a slum in the Tondo
district in 2015. "The free meals help us survive a day," said Olivarez. The Nazarene devotees have been feeding Manila's homeless people outside the church each Friday for 14 years. Renato Liwanag, one of those who started the distribution of meals to the poor, said sharing food is his way of celebrating his devotion to the Nazarene. "A hot meal can be a reason to smile. The mere act of sharing is a reason to be happy," said Liwanag. Volunteers prepare rice meals for lunch and the signature congee with bread in the afternoon from money solicited from friends and well-meaning donors. Unlike other feeding programs, the "Porridge of St. Joseph," the name the group of devotees is known as, is "not just an act of charity but a fellowship." Ricardo Alberto, who used to be in the U.S. Navy, heads the group. Jerren, his wife, said they decided to fund the feeding program "out of boredom because we have nothing to do." "It started as something fun, because it was nice to see people sharing meals after going to Friday Mass," she told ucanews.com. The Albertos are regular visitors to the church, especially after Ricardo's retirement and return to the Philippines. On one of his visits, he saw people who looked tired and hungry. "He thought of putting up a small stall beside the church and offering free meals to everyone," said Jerren. Then they decided to organize a group to help them. A volunteer distributes food to people outside the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene in Manila's Quiapo district. (Photo by Rob Reyes)
Not only the homeless benefit from the devotees' generosity. Rafael Visitacion, a 38-year-old mechanic, takes a day off each Friday to attend Mass at the church of the Black Nazarene
. Before going home, he passes by the food stall and has something "to keep me going and survive another four or five hours of heavy traffic on my way home." Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo
said religious devotion should be a reminder that everybody should do acts that demonstrate mercy and compassion. He said showing piety toward the Black Nazarene should be done not only during the feast in honor of the image but "every day of our lives." "We should take care of our neighbors, we visit the sick, aid the poor, and feed the hungry. These acts are the realization of our devotion to Jesus," said the prelate. Bishop Pabillo said the devotion to the Nazarene must be propelled into "acts that display respect for the dignity of life and the sanctity of all creation." The prelate said there are more Catholic devotees than homeless Filipinos. "If all of us — devotees of Christ — would come together and act as one, we could make a world without homelessness and hunger," he said. An estimated 4.5 million Filipinos are believed homeless, according government figures.