Thursday, April 17, 2014

Lamentation for Manila 2014

Philippine Daily Inquirer
By Denis Murphy

Situated just after the prophecies of Jeremiah in the Old Testament, the Book of Lamentations tells of the terrible destruction and sorrow in Jerusalem after the city was conquered by the Babylonians, and the Jewish leaders taken into captivity in 586-520 BC.  God had punished the city for its sins of idolatry and injustice. The Book also tells us of the people’s indomitable belief that God would forgive and gather them from the corners of the earth to begin anew with Him in friendship and love.

The Lamentations were sung years ago in the Jesuit Novitiate of New York in the evenings of the Holy Week. The haunting and beautiful words and music can stay with a person all his life. The Lamentation that follows for Manila begins with the Lord walking along the R-10 road in Tondo in the early evening, as He once walked in the Garden of Eden. In Eden He found that Adam had sinned. In Manila the Lord finds that His plans for the Philippines have suffered serious setbacks.

The Lord walks slowly along R-10, past the piers where already, girl prostitutes wait for customers. They are hardly more than children. They may have sex in the back of a dump truck. He sees the slums of Parola and Slip Zero where His children live in unimaginable squalor, packed in at almost 1,000 families per hectare. He groans, as Jesus did at the graveside of Lazarus. If we who are evil know how to grieve for our children, how much more will the Lord know how to grieve for all His children? (paraphrase of Luke 11:13)
Pope John Paul II once wrote: “Anyone who has to live in a slum through no fault of their own is a victim of injustice.” These poor people of the slums have been wronged. Society must, in recognition of their right to justice, provide much better housing. The Lord, however, sees little love of justice, and even less love of the poor.

The Lord is clearly disappointed in what He sees. He chose the Philippines out of all the countries of the vast Asian continent to be Christian. He hoped, as He did with the Jewish people, that the country would be a “Light to the Gentiles,” that all of Asia would see peace, justice and solidarity flowering in these islands and be drawn closer to Him. The Philippines has rejected this vocation of a missionary nation.

It has also rejected God’s call to care for the poor. The Philippines is perhaps no worse than other countries in Asia in its treatment of the poor, but it is no better, despite the example of the “preferential love of the poor” that He exhibits in the Old and New Testaments. In Tondo the children go to school hungry, too hungry to learn very much, and end up prepared only for a life of poverty. The income gap between rich and poor widens every year. During the Holy Week, small groups of poor women chant the Pasyon. It is the dirge of the poor.

The Lord walks among the shacks of Parola and Ulingan, hears the children coughing from deep in their chests, unable to sleep. He hears men and women arguing and fighting. He sees the open drains full of human waste, and He wonders about His well-off sons and daughters who have allowed such a display of inhumanity to fester. He sees the rubber tubing that carries the people’s drinking water as it coils through the mud of the alleys and the filth in the drains. The Lord gave Filipinos a lovely land, and they have turned it into a place of punishment for the poor. I wanted you for My own people. I had such hopes for you, and look what has happened, the Lord reflects.

The Lord walks in the stillness of Forbes Park, where the only other people walking are the armed guards. On the half-hectare lots of the rich there is still land enough to accommodate 10-15 poor families. It seems clear, however, that the well-off people aren’t aware of how ugly such a disparity is in the eyes of the Lord. Doesn’t My Church talk about these matters? the Lord wonders.

Do the rich think that the Lord tolerates such injustice among His children? If the rich were a structure of stone and steel, He would tear it all down and begin over.

The Lord remembers the unbreakable faith of the people of ancient Jerusalem that their suffering would end and the Lord would restore them to His care. Their poignant faith and trust in God saved the Jewish people. He looks for signs of such faith in Manila. He says to us: “Fear not, I am with you. Be not dismayed, I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you, and uphold you with My right hand of justice.” (Is. 41:10)

Denis Murphy works with the Urban Poor Associates (

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