ARCHBISHOP Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle of Manila endorses the appeal for help from the people of the Parish of San Pablo Apostol in Magsaysay Village, Tondo. They need funds for the construction of their parish church.
San Pablo Apostol Parish is located in Tondo which, I think, even in pre-WWII times was already called “the workers’ district.” But now it probably has more squatters and jobless people than workers.
San Pablo Apostol has more than 100,000 parishioners. It is near the pier and has 16 barangays under Zone 8 of Tondo. It has 30,000 squatter families scattered in Happy Land, Temporary Housing, Aroma, Tambakan, etc. Some families live under bridges. Most lack basic facilities: no clean water and no light.
Many of the men do odd jobs at the piers. A few had stable jobs once, but they became jobless when two big factories, La Tondena Inc. and P&G PMC, moved out.
Unemployment is very high. The need for livelihood and skills training for adults and out of school youth is urgent. Other needs are also urgent—housing, peace and order, better disease prevention especially respiratory diseases including tuberculosis.
To help poor families in the education of their children, the parish runs a small kindergarten school of only four rooms. It has some 180 nursery and kinder pupils enrolled in either the morning and afternoon session. It also has a scholarship program, Una Mano aiuta l’altra, which I translate roughly as A Hand to Help Another, that has been able to give scholarships to as many as 1,500 students, from kinder to college, thanks to the generosity of Italian and Filipino sponsors.
San Pablo Apostol Parish also runs a small clinic. And it also runs the vital “Hapag-Asa” feeding program for malnourished kids.
The parish’s social service and development ministry operates livelihood and other charity programs in coordination with Caritas Manila.
Lulu Virtusio, an old writer-editor friend, the wife of short-story writer and retired PR-industry professional Romy Virtusio, sent me an appeal to help San Pablo Apostol parish. She gave me the data I used in the paragraphs above and wrote this touching feature article about some of the people in the San Pablo Apostol parish community.
Tondo Dreaming . . . A New Church for the Poor
By Lulu Virtusio
Nanay Rita is 82 years old and lives in Barangay 104, Tondo. A migrant from Romblon, she first lived in a shanty in Magsaysay Village. Though poor, Nanay Rita is a fighter. She organized her fellow informal settlers to join a march to Malacañang to ask for the right to own land in Tondo. Determined, they won and got their titles. So she and family now live in a small house they own. Her husband Abundo is 84. He is sick and can hardly walk.
Despite their poverty, she volunteered as a health worker in a small clinic of the Canossian sisters. She also helped organize the cooperative and Pabahay housing project for the poor of Tondo which started in 1986. Now afflicted by a heart problem, she still goes to Mass almost every day and attends the meetings of the Apostoladang Panalangin and continues to give wise advice to its younger members.
“Kahit mahirap kami, sa awa ng Diyos, nakapag-aral ang lahat ng mga anak ko at may trabaho na ngayon. Isa na lang ang aking pangarap, sana balang araw, abutin ko pa at makapagdasal sa loob ng ating bagong simbahan ng San Pablo Apostol,” Nanay Rita said. [Though poor, with God’s mercy, all my children finished their studies and now have jobs. I only have one dream left–that I would still be around to pray in our new church of San Pablo Apostol.]
One of the fortunate beneficiary of the parish-run scholarship program, Una Mano aiuta l’altra, is Joy (not her real name), a Grade 6 student from “Aroma-temporary” Bldg 25, the abandoned former relocation area for Smokey Mountain dwellers. She is the eldest of five siblings and a ‘scholar’ under the CTCFI scholarship program of the parish.
Her father makes a living going around collecting and selling bottles and plastics but at times what he earns is consumed when he and his friends go out drinking. Joy’s mother makes puto and other local delicacies and Joy peddles them after class. Last December she went around the streets of Tondo singing Christmas carols with her five friends. On Christmas night before the Mass she approached Fr. Carlo Bittante, FdCC, the parish priest, and handed him an envelope with P200 in it. She told him, Ito po ang tulong ng grupo namin para sa patayo ng bagong simbahan, kahit kaunti galing sa po ito sa puso.” [This is our group’s contribution for the construction of our new church. It’s very little but it comes from the heart.]
Vicente is 11 years old, a Grade 4 student of Vicente Lim Elementary School. He comes from Tambakan, sitio Damayan., Brgy 105. He lives with his parents and two sisters in a shanty by the sea. They are waiting for relocation. His father earns money as a carpenter or mason when requested to work as an “extra.” Otherwise he scavenges at the dumpsite to find things to sell.
Despite being of a poor family, Vicente dreams of becoming a violinist. Every day after class he goes to the “Youth Formation and Social Center” of the parish for violin lessons or practice. He is part of a group of 28 poor kids from the slum areas of Tondo who are taught music and instruments by a group of kind members of the Manila Philharmonic Orchestra. This group guided by Maestro Rodel Colmenar and Giovanni are not only helping the parish in fund-raising for the new church but have also bought the instruments and volunteered to teach music to the children aspiring to form a Children’s Orchestra here in Tondo.
Looking at the digging of the foundation for the new church, Vicente said, “One day I will play the violin not only in theaters but also in our new church.”
Marlon is 47 years old, a taxi driver from Brgy 102. He is a father of 5 and a lolo (grandpa) of 4 grandchildren. He works hard the whole day to bring some food on the table but on his days off he helps in the parish. He is a disaster coordinator, helps in the feeding program, and assists in the youth center. He leads the moment of prayer before the start of the games. His friendly and fatherly presence, his simple advice or reminder to the children and youth about what is right or wrong helps them walk the right path.
On Sundays, he does not go off to start on his taxi duty without first serving as lay minister in the Mass for the kids.
He said, “Mahalaga ang simbahan, kasi ang simbahan ang naka-agapay sa buhay namin. Pangarap ko na magkaroon kami ng disente at malaki-laking simbahan para mas maakit naming magsimba ang aming mga kabataan.”
[The Church is valuable because it stands beside us through our lives. My dream is for us to have a decent and more spacious church so we can attract our youth to worship.”]
“Every time it rains, the church is knee deep in flood water. So despite limited resoures, we started the construction of a new church for our parishioners. Our poor deserve a decent place of worship” Fr. Carlo explains why a new and sturdier church must be built.
Last week, with the help of celebrities Cocoy Laurel and the Manila Philharmonic Orchestra, the parish council sponsored a dinner dance held at the SMX Convention Center.
Some money was raised. But much more is needed to build the church.
Those who wish to donate can call Mila Torres—tel (02) 3596953/09428504421 email: firstname.lastname@example.org or log on to: http://site.google.com/site/sanpabloapostolparishtondo/
Donations will go not just help make the dreams of Nanay Rita, Joy, Vicente and Marion come true. And not just the dream for a new church but for the fulfillment of their aspirations in life.
Connie, an elementary grades teacher, a mother of 4, and a cancer survivor, sums it up with these words: “ This project is not just building our church. It is uplifting our community here in Tondo. In our new church we can gather in a decent place where we can pray, worship God and feel a deeper sense of belonging.”