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Manila´s Poor Unite With Jesus´ Suffering, Pray for Healing


April 08 2004

Residents of Manila slums re-enacted the Stations of the Cross on Holy Wednesday to show how Jesus continues to suffer through their hunger, homelessness and ill health.

Their Kalbaryo (Calvary) this year featured a giant puppet of the Blessed Mother and men from squatter communities dressed as Roman centurions. Other men took turns carrying a cross around Baseco, northern Manila, amid throngs of excited children while a choir of women chanted the traditional "Pasyon," a poetic narration of Bible stories mixed with lessons.

As they walked, accompanied by community workers and advocates for the urban poor, the slum dwellers prayed and asked God, the wealthy and the government to help them build a better life.

Starting at a relief center where tents and temporary huts were erected following a fire in the neighborhood Jan. 11, the procession wound past children playing and women washing clothes in the streets. But the smell of soap could not quite cover the stench of sewage from around the center, which has no electricity, no regular water and few toilets.

Other centers have been set up in abandoned warehouses, also without basic services but with mosquitoes and rats. The conditions and temperatures close to 40 degrees Celsius have left many children at the centers sick with dengue fever, measles and cholera.

At the first Kalbaryo station, the Institution of Eucharist, the people prayed: "Lord, you made this feast of your Eucharist a symbol of love and giving, a symbol of your presence. Here in Baseco and in other poor communities, we still suffer from hunger, especially the young and old. We want to work but no job is available. We lack not just food but knowledge as well."

The prayer at the third station, Jesus Before the Sanhedrin, was: "Lord, there are laws that have judged us as nuisances of society because we are poor. The laws that should protect and uphold our rights and interests are not usually executed. They continue to demolish our homes and destroy our means of living."

At least 40 percent of the capital region´s residents, or roughly 4 million people, live in impoverished urban communities. Many are families of migrants from provinces seeking a better livelihood. The demolition of squatter homes, as monitored by Urban Poor Associates, an NGO, displaced about 4,000 families in 2003.

At a dialogue with urban poor leaders last February, Archbishop Gaudencio Rosales of Manila promised to ask President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo for land security, basic services, jobs and a one-year moratorium on such demolitions.

The Kalbaryo procession was led by the puppet of Mary followed by 50 children. Behind them came a resident carrying the cross and the centurions.

Urban poor communities and groups have staged a Kalbaryo every Holy Week since 1987. This year puppets were used for the first time.

The prayer at the ninth station was: "Jesus -- poverty and powerlessness have been nailed down deeply into our being. It will be passed on to our children and our children´s children, except for those who have the chance to break free."

The people prayed for enlightenment to help them find a way to be healed of the "cancer" of poverty.

The death of Jesus, reenacted at the 12th station, was staged on a wide, barren stretch of land recently reclaimed from a lagoon and partly covered with garbage.

Community organizer Luz Malibiran told UCA News this Kalbaryo was the "most meaningful" of all. "We saw such suffering all around us. We understood better Jesus´ death and suffering," she explained.

She observed more sadness and weariness in the Baseco people who did not join the march than in urban poor people elsewhere. Many may have given up hope after three fires in the area, which have destroyed close to 6,000 homes. The depression this brought is compounded by frequent killings, lack of jobs and the suffering in the relief centers, Malibiran said.

The Couples for Christ housing program, "Gawad Kalinga" (care-giving), that promised to build at least 250 houses in Baseco has built just 40 homes.

President Arroyo announced the program on Feb. 25, saying Baseco would soon be "paradise." Asked about this during the Kalbaryo, a man rebuilding his house on reclaimed land said with a laugh, "Politics."

On a billboard at the building site announcing the program, Arroyo´s picture has been smeared with mud.

People marched and prayed all through the morning as trucks delivering dirt for the lagoon reclamation rolled by. The local administrative district organized its own Pabasa, a litany of the passion of Christ, that drowned out the Kalbaryo women´s chanting.

Around the capital, most Philippine businesses had closed for the Lenten observances of Christians, who account for more than 80 percent of the 76 million Filipinos.

In a pastoral message posted on the Manila archdiocesan website, Archbishop Rosales reminded Catholics that Lent and the Easter season "is a time of the Church´s annual renewal and revival" in celebration of the Paschal Mystery of Christ´s death and resurrection. "Christians make their annual retreat as one family in Christ, that all may be invigorated and inspired for our mission to bring Christ to the world," the prelate explained.

His message read: "We cannot become fruitful missionaries unless we are filled with Christ. We cannot carry His life-giving message of salvation to our families and to the world unless we comprehend it ourselves. We cannot bring the revealing Light of Christ into the darkness of the world unless this Light blazes within our own hearts."