God does not want people to be poor. Poverty can make people preoccupied with subsistence or worldly concerns of finding the next meal to fight hunger and to be mentally busy in satisfying one’s family needs. The destitute and materially poor Christians are actually have limited time to pray and resources to travel to holy places to enrich their spirituality compared to the rich ones. They have less time to participate in public rituals, such as attending the Holy Mass, as well as joining the other activities of their Parish church.
Because of the Biblical injunction that God blesses the poor, many Christians think that material poverty can make people humble and more trusting in God. This idea is a misunderstanding of the Gospel’s teaching on being “poor in spirit”. To be poor in the Biblical sense is simply to be detached from material wealth and being attached spiritually to God, whether one is rich or poor. We can see many poor people who are boastful, proud, and even oppressive to their fellow poor and even exploitative of their employers or rich patrons despite their being in the lower class!
Poverty in spirit is an attitude towards wealth–not a social class position in society–which sees possession of material things as a means and not an end or purpose in life. It is also a form of spirituality, socially learned from one’s religious upbringing in the family, church, or local community. In the Bible, the anawim or the “Poor of Yahweh” are not mere religious individuals but a spiritual community with members, whether materially poor or rich, supporting one another in their faith. Spirituality has a social dimension. One cannot just become religious by being alone, without the social influence of one’s social groups or local community. People are social beings.
Now, in one of my interviews for my study on the religiosity of Filipino women who were victims of the flood of Typhoon Ondoy (Tropical Storm Ketsana) in the Philippines, I encountered one poor woman named Aling Betty. Her family was relocated in a remote resettlement built by the government in the Province of Rizal. Because of corruption, typhoon victims in the relocation area suffer a lack of livelihood and jobs despite the government’s assurance that it will provide stable jobs and basic social services for the poor disaster victims.
Aling Betty’s strong faith in God exemplifies the strong private religiosity of Filipinos women. International surveys on religiosity consistently identify the Philippines as the most religious country in the world in terms of personal beliefs in God and the Filipino women as the most religious group of Filipinos.
Aling Betty’s strong faith in God despite extreme poverty in the relocation area for typhoon victims is an inspiring for me. Here’s what I’ve written about her story:
“The story of Aling Betty is one of the many stories of suffering, lack of jobs and sustainable livelihood program in government-owned relocation areas such as Southville 8A. Betty said she saw me conducting interviews in the site and she was hoping that after that I might come back that afternoon.
Click the link below. See for yourself the poverty and substandard houses for disaster victims in Aling Betty’s relocation site:
Indeed, I went back to the site on that afternoon to check follow up my interview with two key informants. She said prayed and tried her lack to find me. She said that she has been at the corner of the entrance road leading to relocation site, sitting on the entrance steps of the relocation chapel. She said that her family had nothing to eat for supper on that evening and that she was worried for her husband and two young of her 6 children who were sick. She was hoping that I could help, at least in proving her some food for the family.
Luckily, I have some kilos of rice and canned goods which I usually give as a token of gratitude to informants after interviews. I learned that her husband, the only breadwinner, who worked as a casual construction worker in the relocation area, was just terminated from his job because his employer found out that he has a heart ailment. Her husband experienced difficulty in breathing. Aling Betty she said she cannot brought him to a doctor for a check-up. The nearest public hospital at that time was Amang Rodriguez Hospital in Marikina City, around 25 kilometers away from the relocation site. They had no money even for the transportation fare. In fact, they worry for their next meal especially that her husband is now sick and unemployed. She said that she was too shy to approach her neighbors and relatives for help since they too are very poor. Besides, they had already helped her many times and lent her some money.”
Aling Betty has no full-time or part-time job. She has no small trade in the area. She was totally dependent on the meager income of her husband as a casual construction worker. She said she participated in soap-making seminars and other skills training in the relocation site. But there was capital or support from the sponsors or local government available to start her own small business. Asked about their future in the relocation site, she said:
Hindi ko po alam kung papaano pa kami mabubuhay dito sa relokasyon. Sa Diyos na lang kami umaasa na hindi niya kami pababayaan. Nag-aalala kami sa aming kalagayan sa ngayon sa pabahay. Napabayaan po kami ng gobyerno. Walang permanenteng trabaho, walang sapat na kita. Paano matutugunan ang aming pangangailangan lalo na sa mga batang nag-aaral pa, paano na ang kinabukasan nila?
I don’t know how we can continue to survive here in the relocation. God is our only our hope that He will not abandon us. We are worried about our current conditions in the housing. The government has abandoned us. No permanent job, no sufficient income. How can our needs be satisfied especially for our children who are still studying, what about their future?
Indeed, there are poor people who have strong faith in God despite extreme poverty and material deprivation. This is a gift that God provides to those who believe in Him. Didn’t he tell us with these words?
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11: 28-30).
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