After attending to some official business in Manila one day, I decided to take a detour, glad to get in touch with the local scene and to savor that local flavor, which I sometimes miss as the rector of the Shrine. I asked the driver to take the route that passed by the market under the Quezon Bridge in Quiapo, which is known to the Filipino-Manila dweller as “ilalim ng tulay.”

Looking through the window, a stall that sold earthen jars, pots, and cookware caught my eye. I signaled to the driver that I was alighting and headed for that store. I just remembered that a young lad I am helping said his teacher asked him to bring a potted plant to beautify the school. He claimed his mother’s budget was short that week because of the opening of classes. He said that they had some plants in their humble backyard, but he did not have an earthen pot. I thought this was the perfect opportunity for me to buy him the much needed pot. After all, I told him to call me at the Villa because I was going to see what I could get for him. Now that I found myself in the market, seeing something that I needed, I decided not to let the chance pass me by. I felt, too, that if I gave him only the pot and he got the plant himself, he would feel that he had some real contribution to this said project.

While waiting for the saleslady to attend to me, my attention was drawn to a child who was wailing and screaming at the top of his voice. I was standing by an alley, and as I glanced in the direction of this child, I also saw what to me seemed like a truly harassed mother. Since the boy did not want to stop, I saw the anger building up on the mother’s face; I could feel the blow that was about to be flung at him. True enough, he got a whack in the mouth for allegedly not stopping this sobbing and shouting. The blow made matters worse. He cried even louder. I did not know the issue, but I could not help but feel for the boy. He was not more than 1/2 years of age. What did he know about perfect self-expression? How on earth could the mother expect him to state his case clearly, I thought. Crying was his language for many complaints and pains. Maybe all he wanted was food amidst this obvious atmosphere of lack and poverty.

The mother left him with two older boys and walked out of the scene, angrily mumbling to herself. My guess was the elder boy was perhaps five years old and the younger one about three years old. It is difficult to estimate because they were suspiciously small but capable. I could not help but notice how the eldest boy in the group welcomed this boy in tears. The youngest one was uncontrollable in his crying. The eldest boy continued to stroke his back, comforting him. I have never seen such a little tyke handle an even littler tyke with so much gentleness, compassion, and understanding. He kept telling the one-year-old boy, “Tama na. Huwag ka nang umiyak. Wala na ang Nanay mo. Sige na, halika na. Laro tayo.” The boy with the problem did not want to stop. He was coughing and retching, that I expected him to vomit any time soon. Instead, I noticed urine flowing down the alley, obviously originating from the problematic little one. The 5-year-old, without any prompting, got a broom and swept the urine away. Now, the 3-year-old, showing signs that he wanted to make sure the culprit was the 1-1/2-year-old, reached out and touched the youngest one’s pants, checking for wetness. Gently, the 5-year-old brushed the 3-year-old’s hand away, still trying to protect the youngest boy from further embarrassment and harassment and yet making sure he did not hurt the curious 3-year-old’s feelings.

Then it hit me like a bolt of lightning. Here I was, standing in front of actual human drama. Never was it clearer to me what God meant when he told us that we have to be like little children in order for us to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. He did not only mean the wailing child who needs to be guided and corrected. He meant the child that knew how to love, be caring, and, to a certain extent, be responsible. He also meant the curious, innocent, but supportive 3-year-old onlooker.

After some convincing, the littlest one began to hush up a bit but continued whimpering. Just then, the mother came back with a stick of fish balls. Remorseful, it seems, she began kissing her son. She tried massaging his mouth where her angry hand had landed earlier. She sat him on a nearby “carinderia” bench and left him there. Of course, the “little big” guy joined him. The 5-year-old looked at the fish balls as if he had not had anything to eat in the last two days. The thought of asking for some for himself did not even seem to cross his mind. He still kept stroking and comforting the youngest boy, and then when he noticed that the remaining pieces of fish balls were too much toward the center of the stick, he carefully pulled them up so the one 1/2-year-old could get to them better.

I could stand preaching for weeks in the pulpit, speaking about the great qualities of little children we ought to emulate. But this is one time when the actual scene could speak more profoundly and drive home the point so accurately. No amount of my own words can describe the fullness of my heart as I experienced firsthand – innocent, pure love.

Do not forget our main character, the one-year-old. He did not feel any anger toward his mother for hitting him and yelling at him the way she did. He let her embrace him and treat him like nothing happened. Have you ever heard of unconditional forgiveness and love?

If the world could only love like these children, especially the 5-year-old boy, perhaps there would be no more tears for everyone. I hope and pray that this child’s loving way will be nurtured by parents who do more than worry and work themselves to utter exhaustion, nearly to death. The truth is, there seems to be no choice because they have to eat at least one full meal a day. Yet, even if their bodies survive by God’s grace, their psyches are often badly damaged. Often, their spirits cannot soar to higher realms. In an effort to try to make ends meet, they forget to see their children as gifts. They can no longer see themselves as human beings, which is reflected in how they treat their children. They tend to hit their children as they hit their workhorses or beasts of burden. This is a horror story. Think of all the damage this can do to our already fragile society. It seems the unspoken rule is: to hit the children, control them, and keep them quiet so they get out of the way. Sadly, the noisy and dirty physical environment plus the noisy and messy interior environment lead parents, especially mothers, to momentary blindness. The cares of the world impair their vision, and they become blind to the real beauty of their children. Children become “pets” or, worse still-“pests.”

Wives and mothers constantly complain about their husbands and sons being such burdens. True to form, these boys do grow up not amounting to much because that is what they were repeatedly told when they were young and beautiful.

I want to dwell on that refreshing sight of the boys in the marketplace. The market is cluttered with piles of trash, the accompanying roaches and rodents, and people of all sizes and shapes with personal histories, busily scurrying to and fro. The sight of loving, innocent ones in this environment came like a whiff of fresh air.

These are the people the Lord came, lived, and died for. These are the people He has asked me to serve and tell of the Good News.

Jesus Our Light


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