Recently I returned to the Philippines on a vacation after many years away. Currently I live in Los Angeles, California, where I am the Columban west coast mission outreach coordinator. Previously, I was a Columban lay missionary.
Ariel Presbitero is the Regional Lay Missionary Coordinator and West Coast Mission Outreach Coordinator
I had not been home to the Philippines in five long years, and I was anxious to see my family and to do some mission work at the same time. With input from my family and friends in the local parish community, we decided to host a program for the children in the community. We would provide meals and drinks, organize music, games and visits from clowns, and distribute school supplies and prizes to the children who attended the event.
Pasasalamat kay Brother Jesus (Thanks to Brother Jesus) was the theme of this event, which was held in a small barrio in Mambalon, Binangonan, Rizal, a parish started by the Columbans some 40 years ago. The local chapel leaders were welcoming and allowed us to use the chapel, Our Lady of Manog, after we received the blessing of our parish pastor at Santa Ursula. The only concern expressed there was the relatively small size of the chapel versus the number of children we expected to come. But I trusted the wisdom of the local people saying that it would work. And so it did. The celebration was a most enjoyable gathering of children in that community. Since the program coincided with the last weekend of the local summer vacation, we were thrilled when 200 children turned out for the event.
Children were all seated in a circle as we started the program with an opening prayer by my seven-year-old nephew, Jose. The chapel was indeed packed; everybody was seated and excitedly waiting to see what the show would be like. Jose read the beautiful prayer which was prepared by my sister Adina who also coached Jose during the reading. I gave a short speech to explain why my family was doing this for the community, and I shared one popular quotation that many of the kids already knew, Ang hindi marunong lumingon sa pinanggalingan ay hindi makararating sa paroroonan. (One who does not look back from where he started will not get to where he is going).
My trip home allowed me the opportunity to look back and at the same time give something back in the form of the feeding project to the community in which I had been raised and where my family still resides. I hope that one day these children will do the same when they grow up and remember the people and place from where they come.
The sweltering heat and humidity didn’t bother the kids too much primarily due to the fact that they are used to it being 92 degrees all year round. I’m sure the heat and humidity didn’t bother me when I was growing up in that area. The kids’ excitement, especially at the presentation of the clowns, raffle prizes, games, food and our gift of school supplies was very much in evidence. It was very noisy at times but everybody collaborated with much enthusiasm and interest.
After a while, the heat didn’t even bother me when I saw everybody happy and having fun. The smiles and laughter of these children made for a very meaningful day. I was mesmerized when all of them spontaneously sang a Tagalog song Hawak Kamay, (Hold Hands) led by my nephews, playing the electric guitar and singing. It was a song meant to invite everybody to gather and hold hands. Every child who received a raffle prize or game’s award said, “Thank You, Kuya Ariel.” Kuya refers to an older brother. The thank yous were not only for me but also for those who helped prepare and make this event possible.
If one were to ask me what lesson I learned feeding 200 children when I went home to the Philippines, I would say that I learned a lot about gratitude. I felt so blessed for the opportunity to be on mission, to see a reality different from my own yet familiar, to learn from a culture that gives new meaning to living in solidarity with those who are on the fringes of society due to poverty and lack of opportunity.
My dream is to see our children grow with the same sense of solidarity among people who are less fortunate, to see them forerunners of something new to change the world for the better, to look back where they came from and return to give lack something for the good of the community. It was good to be home with the sense of mission, giving back to the community and service to the children. A lot of children, parents and community leaders were pleased with the program. The needs of the economically poor are great, and what we shared may be tiny, but the moments of joy and laughter were remarkable and hopefully made a lasting impression in their hearts.
It was the unconditional support of my family – my mother, all my brothers and sisters, my sister-in-law, brother-in-law, my nephews and nieces, friends and people in the parish community— who believed that together we can do something good and meaningful that made the project a reality. Without them, this project would have only been an idea.
Everything became possible as we worked together in the spirit of solidarity. My hope for the future is that every time I visit home I can do something for the good of the community. It is one way of showing the children that they are loved and that God’s generosity is fully alive on earth even before we enter heaven. “Thanks to Kuya Jesus, indeed!”
This article originally appeared in the October issue of ‘Columban Mission.’