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As you read this article in the comfort of your homes or offices, around 1.2 million children are roaming the streets of our big cities worldwide. According to Caritas Manila, around 50,000-70,000 street children in Metro Manila alone, and around one-third of them may be sexually abused. They are usually malnourished and sickly, with tuberculosis, scabies, or some other infectious diseases. They will be out there early in the morning, weaving in and out of traffic, selling what they can sell, scavenging, snatching, wiping car windows, and begging. Some may catch a few hours of sleep out in the open, while others will find themselves in the bed of a nameless adult.

Three years ago, a group of three working ladies who take time out together on Friday evenings took notice of the growing number of street children in the Ortigas area. As a gesture of concern, they would save a slice of pizza or a portion of spaghetti for the street children in the area. By the inspiration of the Spirit, they skipped these Friday night outs and started buying food for the children. The Street children outreach program at the EDSA Shrine was born from this inspiration.

We started by gathering the children on Friday evening for a hot meal, some fun games and religious instruction. As the number of children grew, the number of volunteers and the volume of food donations grew faster.

It is evident that the children needed food for the soul as much as food for the stomach. They were hungry for God. They needed to be formed in the values and beauty of sharing, prayer, and concern for others. In return, they taught the sponsors and their “ates” and “kuyas” the beauty of childlike innocence and simplicity of life. The poor are not only there to be evangelized. They are evangelizers, too. They have practically nothing in the things of this world. Their joys are simple, and their peace is deep.

Sometimes we deceive ourselves into thinking that to get rid of our loneliness and sadness, we have to spend. We go shopping or eat to our heart’s content at restaurants. The wealthy go to Hong Kong or Singapore. Those who cannot afford trips abroad go to the provinces such as Palawan or Boracay, and so on.

The Lord tells us that you cannot depend on what is in your pocket to be happy.

To be happy, what is important is that we open our hearts to what the Lord can give us.

In other words, for us to grow in our spiritual life, we must acknowledge we are nothing. To grow in happiness, we must ensure our hearts can be full.

When St. Peter cured the crippled man at the beautiful gate, in the Acts of the Apostles, he said, “Gold and silver I have none. But in the name of Jesus Christ, I bid you to rise up and walk.”

The crippled man was able to rise up and walk because Peter was speaking from the wealth of his heart. There are so many crippled men and women, but we cannot make them walk because we can no longer say, gold and silver, I have none.

To be happy, you do not need anything. In fact, to be happy, we must be nothing before God. To be satisfied, you do not need anything in your pocket. You only need a heart full of God to be happy.

When I was a young boy, my religion teacher told me a story that I could never forget. It is the story of Martin of Tours.

My teacher told me that St. Martin of Tours once met á beggar who was very dirty, asking for alms. St. Martin had nothing in his pocket. The only thing that he could offer was his cloak. But he said, “If I give you my cloak, I will have no cloak.” So he took his sword, cut his cloak in half, and gave one half to the beggar.

That same night, St. Martin had a dream where he saw Jesus wearing the other half of his cloak.

I thought it was a fairy tale. I thought it was Jesus coming in disguise. I thought it was one of the fairy tale stories which featured a frog who turned out to be a prince or a rag-clad Cinderella who was transformed into a beautiful woman. But the Gospel proves to us that Jesus does not come with a disguise. Jesus is the poor; Jesus is the prisoner; Jesus is the one who is thirsty. There are no disguises which convey the notion that a person is not what he actually is. If we say that Jesus is disguising, it will mean that it is not Jesus, but he just appears to be like Jesus.

What the Lord is telling us is not to be interpreted that way. The Lord is telling us, “It is I. I am not coming in disguise. It is I who is coming to you; in the poor, in the neglected, in the marginalized.”

Sadly, however, so many of us find it very difficult to understand this, or maybe, we simply refuse to understand. Unfortunately, we are missing the whole point. If we continue this way, then Karl Marx will rise from the dead and scoff at us that truly, religion is the opium of the people.

Religion is not the opium of the people. Religion should make us aware of the needs of the poor.

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