The rain kept on pounding the roof, but the voice recorder went on. We continued the interview. This time, I asked Bro. Razi how their apostolate works.
“Every time I talk to these kids, I think of how young they still are, yet they are already concerned of survival, of earning to live. Childhood was stolen from them. If you think of it, no child would actually want to live in the street. That’s why I thought, since this ministry is for street children – emphasizing on the word ‘children’ – perhaps, it is best to help them experience being a child even once every week or every weekend.”
Bro. Razi and his fellow seminarian, Bro. Eche, established a program for street children. They looked for sponsors. Sometimes, they arrange a Jollibee party for the kids. They let them watch child-friendly films. They let them play. The only thing they haven’t done yet is a ‘swimming party’ since these kids can get naughty. They apparently need more volunteers for that.
“Whenever we ask them what their dreams are,” Bro. Razi continued, “they find it hard to express themselves…since they grew up in the street. And I realized, poverty really kills dreams. When you are always concerned of how to get food for tomorrow or how to get food for later, you can no longer be concerned of what to dream of (Pag iniisip mo kung paano ka kakain bukas o kung paano ka kakain mamaya, hindi mo na maiisip kung anong pangarap mo). Of course, you got to think first of how you could be complete, right?”
For Bro. Razi, this kind of situation hinders anyone – especially a child – from thinking of studying, of becoming someone, or of getting out of the street. But I was surprised when he admitted that although these kids are apparently lacking, he thinks that he lacks more than they do.
“One time, we prepared meals for 50 children. There came, however, 90 to 100 children. So I got quite stressed. I wondered how we were going to feed all of them. Suddenly, a kid poked me. ‘Kuya, is that our food?’ he said, ‘are we also going to multiply that as Jesus did?’ I was surprised, ‘How did you know that?’ I asked. ‘We watched it before, remember?’ he said. The kid remembered it, and I didn’t. I was struck by the moment, and I’ve never forgotten it since.”
I asked Bro. Razi what they did to resolve the situation. He said that they just let children be. They shared their food and were all able to eat. For some reason, that experience made him feel like God is truly in us.
“I felt God in that moment. Perhaps, God became man to make us realize that He is here. Yes, the church is a stone church, but the church, really, is the people. We are the real church. We are the true incarnation. That’s why our experiences with people are blessed.
Isn’t it that what we always think – well, I personally think this way before – is we have to bring the church to people, to children? But actually, the church is already in them. So what we want, our purpose, is to experience the church.”
Bro. Razi spoke from his heart, and after minutes of listening to him, I couldn’t help but pray for his perseverance. I thought, He’ll be a good priest. I then asked, “Can you say that you are living well?”
“I believe that I am living well because I’m living my calling and my vocation.”
Intrigued, I asked again, “How do you know that you are living your calling?”
“I believe that I am living my calling because I am loving. I fall in love, and I love. Maybe, once you find yourself truly loving and giving everything for love, that’s one of the signs that you are living your vocation or you’re living your calling.”
I couldn’t agree more to this. I found myself teary-eyed, wondering if I was living my calling, if I was truly loving. “What do your prayers contain?” I wondered.
“I have many prayers, but I think most of them have the words ‘thank you’. I say Thank You, God, because I got tired albeit I didn’t have to be. I felt like I got tired, but I got tired because I loved. Those kinds of prayer. Thank You, Lord, because I loved. You gave me the opportunity to love. There are also times when I feel my unworthiness. When you’re in the seminary, you will not only feel God’s love; you will also feel your unworthiness. It’s inevitable.”
“How do you overcome that feeling of unworthiness?”
“Actually, it seems that we cannot really overcome it because honestly, we are unworthy. I just think that God loves me. Although there is really that tendency for you to forget that, God will always, always make a way – through events or people – to remind you that He loves you. He loves you despite your weaknesses. I feel strong inside whenever I realize that. Sometimes, I’d tell Him, “Lord, I’ve so many…” “Stop it,” He’d suddenly say, “that’s enough.”
It was no longer raining when we finished the interview. I thanked Bro. Razi, gave him copies of Finding You, and took a couple of photos. I stepped out of the office refreshed. My heart was at peace. Surely, all those traffic jams and getting myself a little damp just to get to the parish were worth it. And then I thought that the rain was more like a sign of grace pouring than heaven protesting.
I want to do more of this. I want to hear more religious people baring their hearts and talking about their inner life, their prayers, their struggles. That way, I – well, all of us – can be reminded that the church, however wounded, is not hopeless.