Back on October 3, 2020, Pope Francis wrote his encyclical letter, Fratelli Tutti, on fraternity and social friendship. In essence, he exhorted humankind – “by acknowledging the dignity of each human person, we can contribute to the rebirth of a universal aspiration to fraternity. Fraternity between all men and women. No one can face life in isolation. . . . We need a community that supports and helps us, in which we can help one another to keep looking ahead. How important it is to dream together . . . Let us dream, then, as a single human family, . . .as children of the same earth which is our common home, each of us bringing the richness of his or her beliefs and convictions, each of us with his or her own voice, brothers and sisters all.”
The Rise of the Filipino Brand of Fraternity
Interestingly, some 6 months thereafter, amidst the darkness induced by the COVID-19 pandemic, a curious thing happened in a small village in Quezon City. On April 14, a young lady, Ana Patricia Non, pitched a small bamboo cart filled with some basic groceries by the curbside along Maginhawa Street. With the intention of sharing the goods with the poor, she simply placed a signboard, which read: Maginhawa Community Pantry – “Magbigay ayon sa kakayahan, kumuha batay sa pangangailangan.” (Give what you can afford, take what you need.) Little did she know that her simple act of generosity would touch the hearts of many. In her own little way, she was acknowledging the call of Pope Francis on fraternity and social friendship.
Surprisingly, within one week, this seemingly “unimpressive” act of kindness caught on like wildfire, igniting the proliferation of some 300 community pantries across the nation. Without a doubt, the Maginhawa Community Pantry has proven its mettle as an exercise of fraternity and social friendship. Indeed, it has truly inspired thousands of well-meaning citizens to organize themselves, to contribute food/necessities from their own pantries, and to share it with their respective communities. Such was the amazing albeit unintended consequence instigated by the Maginhawa Community Pantry. Could this social phenomenon, in fact, be the start of a grassroots-led movement on fraternity and social friendship?
DIY Model of Fraternity
Given the natural spontaneity of its groundswell, the Maginhawa Community Pantry has captured the dreams of the Filipino people. Perhaps, it gives us reason to hope, seeing persons exemplified by Ana Patricia (Patreng) emerge from the ranks of ordinary citizens. Indeed, the Maginhawa Community Pantry is showing us the way. Its simple design i.e. a do-it-yourself (DIY) model has broken down walls of indifference between the haves and the have-nots. Clearly, Patreng’s genuine concern for the poor and the hungry have awakened the social conscience of the middle-class, who now realize that, with only a little, one can do a lot.
Interestingly, it did not take a genius to inspire something as noble as the Maginhawa Community Pantry. In my mind, the only qualification of Ana Patricia was her keen sensitivity to the social needs of her neighbors as well as her desire to help out in her own small way. Despite all odds, the Maginhawa Community Pantry initiative has inspired the Filipino people to do good for those in need.
Travesty of Justice
Sadly, in spite of the good espoused by the Maginhawa Community Pantry, it did not sit well with some government executives. Barely a week after its inception, the police initiated an investigation on the Maginhawa Community Pantry. Fearing violence, Patreng had no other option but to temporarily close. Apparently, one of the generals in the military alleged that the operations of the Maginhawa Community Pantry were a Communist ploy. In short, the act of fraternity was being mislabeled by the military as a “communist” – a way of recruiting cadres to the communist party. In truth, however, as seen from the eyes of the beneficiaries, such an accusation was baseless. Clearly, such pronouncements were none other but a travesty of justice.
As may be observed from the above-cited developments, today’s cultural milieu is prone to the exaggeration/polarization of ideas, concepts & language. An act of goodness can be labelled as evil, depending on the protagonist/antagonist in a given situation.
Similarly, during the late 1930s, the young priest, Josemaria Escriva, pointed out his apparent dislike for people who would use euphemism to serve their vested interests. One example is point number 35 of The Way, as shown herein.
“There are many pretty terms I don’t like: you call cowardice ‘prudence’. Your ‘prudence’ gives an opportunity to those enemies of God, without any ideas in their heads, to pass themselves off as scholars, and so reach positions that they never should attain.”St. Josemaria Escriva, The Way, 35
In essence, Josemaria wanted to drive home the importance of practicing Christian fortitude to point out the ‘operative’ truth. If an action by its operation results in something evil, one should have the courage to call a spade, a spade. There is no need to use euphemism to be politically correct in the choice of words. In fact, Escriva would often refer to the age-old quotation from St. John Chrysostom::
“You know to cover vice with nice words and you call riches, freedom; ambition to glory, magnanimity; arrogance, frankness, what is licence, love; iniquity, valour.”St John Chrysostom, Against the challengers, Discourse III, 7
“Wake Up, Lord!”
Finally, as we continue our journey during these tumultuous times of the pandemic, we need to remind ourselves of the message of Pope Francis. Recall when Pope Francis delivered his “Urbi et Orbi” message before an empty St. Peter’s Square last 27th of March 2020. It was on that fateful night when he proclaimed:
“In this world, we have gone ahead at breakneck speed, feeling powerful and able to do anything. Greedy for profit, we let ourselves get caught up in things, and lured away by haste. We did not stop at your reproach to us, we were not shaken awake by wars or injustice across the world, nor did we listen to the cry of the poor or of our ailing planet. We carried on regardless, thinking we would stay healthy in a world that was sick. Now that we are in a stormy sea, we implore you: ‘Wake up, Lord!’.”Pope Francis, Urbi et Orbi Blessing, 27 March 2020