I’ve been following the Papal visit online, the major events at least, and the way I see it this nation especially those who have encountered the Pope either in passing or up close and rather personal (his security detail including his drivers among the happiest I guess because who else but them can now write in their CVs that they’ve secured or driven the Pope?) have had their dignity and self worth raised up several notches, bringing to mind the lyrics of Josh Groban’s You Raise Me Up (sang by Angeline Quinto at the University of Sto. Tomas during the Pope’s encounter with the youth)

When I am down and, oh, my soul, so weary…
Then I am still and wait here in the silence, until you come and sit awhile with me…
When you come and I am filled with wonder, sometimes, I think I glimpse eternity…
I am strong when I am on your shoulders; 

You raise me up to more than I can be.


What Pope Francis brought – presence (this from a powerful global figurehead) and affirmation via positive messaging that elevated the self worth of long suffering Filipino masses and the ignored children and young people – are like much-needed rain to long-parched soil. The encounter with the Pope was I believe of a very personal nature, through which each one had a glimpse of the more that they can be. And was it mere coincidence that there was Typhoon Amang, it’s rain symbolic of a washing away and the promise of a more fulfilling life?

Attendees of the Mass celebrated by Pope Francis, Tacloban City

For years, Filipinos have pinned their hope and faith, again and again, on leaders who, once they were in the position, proceeded to trample on these instead, forgetting how and why they’re there. When did the country last witness a similar show of “people power”? Filipinos came out as a force to reckon with during the time of the late Cardinal Sin and former President Corazon Aquino and then later to support her son, the current President; simply because they were perceived, initially, as persons of integrity.

But how does one attain integrity? How does one act consistently and persistently within the framework of the poor?

The Pope touched on this in his address to the youth at UST. He said, you only lack one thing– to be beggars. To learn how to beg. To learn how to receive with humility. Do I allow myself to receive from another’s riches? To learn how to love and to be loved. Or, do you think yourself self sufficient therefore think you’ve no need of other people? Do I know my own poverty? Do I let myself be evangelized by those I serve? He said that in learning these one grows in maturity toward serving others.

I was struck by his words. I gave it thought and one way I understood them is in the political sense because after all working for the poor inherently involves going against certain established political, economic and social norms and systems. Thus, the challenge to the collective would go, do we dare step outside of our comfort zones and in the name of the poor go knock on the doors of our leaders until such doors are unbolted and opened?

But before one could even do that, Pope Francis asked that each one ponder on, do I know my own poverty? Do I let myself be transformed by those I serve? Do I allow myself to be loved by others?

That said, the danger in one-sided love is that it can be used as a weapon, something to wield over another, a means to hold the other captive. And, the one who doesn’t allow him/herself to be loved for whatever reason eventually becomes atrophied, turning Hulk-, Scrooge- or Grinch-like.

To learn how to love and be loved entail great risk taking, and oftentimes what’s keeping one or the other from taking that risk is the fear or memory of past rejections. Indeed, how often have we been beggars in the name of love only to be rejected? As such, love of this magnitude is associated with pain and diminished self worth and so we tread cautiously the next time.

This goes both ways. Many of the poor who I’ve encountered are proud. This is an invisible but palpable wall hard to breach which is one reason others are turned off or afraid to approach them. I understand why they are so– pride is all they have left; the last standing wall of self preservation. But, following the Pope’s message, unless they also let go of this state of “self sufficiency” and open themselves to others’ real concern and loving assistance, they miss the chance to be transformed by the experience; unless the poor also learn how to beg (some more), not necessarily on the streets, but rather, enough of their number knocking persistently on leaders’ doors, their real needs shall not be known and addressed.

Among development organizations, the worry is that development has been one-sided i.e. it is the organization going to the poor communities and “handing out development”. The mantra has been for the most part “you need our help so here we are”. Development organizations therefore wait for that time when these communities who they’ve considerably trained and developed are finally empowered, daring to knock on their doors and say, hey, listen, this is the situation in our villages and these are what we need, we’re thinking that you could help us. Can we discuss this further with you? On that day, the organization better be prepared to respond accordingly, with the understanding that it has also let itself be transformed by those it serves.


One thought on “Reciprocity

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