I remember a Tuesday afternoon in the downtown area of Calbayog. I was walking along Nijaga Street, when out of nowhere a boy about 9 years old approached me. “Kuya, tagi man piso (Brother, please spare me a peso),” he said, his left arm outstretched.

I was about to reach for my wallet when I remembered that I didn’t have change. What I had were two P500 bills. I got alarmed, confronted with a moral dilemma: to give or not to give. To opt for the former would be to entrust a huge (by my standards) amount of money to that boy. On the other hand, to choose the latter would be to ignore someone’s plea for compassion. My mind was in a rut. My ethical compass was a disordered mess. But, in the end, I settled for the latter option. “Pasensya dong. Waray ko sinsilyo (I’m so sorry, I have no change),” I shamefully told the boy.

On my way home back to the seminary, I thought about what had just transpired. There was this feeling of guilt that had taken hold of my conscience. How could I do that? Me, a seminarian? How could I not help that young boy? The guilt occupied my emotions and made me feel like one of the worst people out there. And so, to feel better, I came up with a number of reasons to justify the choice I’ve made: It’s okay. There are hundreds of passers-by in that street alone. Surely, the next person will give him something. Besides, if I had given him money, who knows what he’ll use it for? How can I be sure that he won’t spend it on playing computer games at internet cafes or use it to buy cigarettes? No matter how much money I give him, a bill won’t change the life of that young boy. It won’t pull him out of poverty. It won’t make a lasting difference in his life. It could even, in fact, encourage him to continue begging, and remain on the streets, consequently subjecting him to further dangers.

Such were the thoughts that swirled in my head. But, as valid and justifiable my reasons were, they didn’t make me feel better. “I should have done something,” I thought to myself.

As I look back at that incident now, it made me question my own authenticity as a witness of the Gospel. I am quick to preach solidarity and never hesitate to proclaim that we should help the least, the lost, and the last. It is easy for me to say that we must attend to the needs of the marginalized and excluded in society the way Jesus did.  However, when it comes to embodying the message, I downright failed.

The majority of us who profess to be true Christians are all guilty of this. The problem is that, until now, whether we are aware of it or not, we are still treating social justice as though it is something that is only integral and not constitutive in the church’s ecclesial mission. We don’t view it as an absolute requirement in our engagement with the world. This is why when we see a beggar outside the church’s doors, we don’t feel any sense of urgency to help. When we see homeless people sleeping in the streets, we only regard them as another fact of life.  We have developed an insensitivity to the cries of the needy. We keep living our lives as if we don’t have a responsibility to fulfill to our fellow human beings. We simply don’t care enough. But, this is not the way it’s supposed to be. We have a moral duty to uphold the dignity of other human persons. We have a moral responsibility to bring social justice to the world in any way we can.

In retrospect, here is what I should have done that afternoon at Nijaga Street: I should have asked the boy the reason why he begs. I should have concerned myself with the details of his life. I should have spared him more of my time. And after knowing his story, I should have helped him somehow. A coin was what he was begging for, but the bill in my wallet could have kept his stomach full for that day. Thus, at the very least, I should have treated him to some food to eat. And most importantly, I should have, in my own simple way, devised means so that he won’t have to beg anymore.

I know the problem of poverty won’t be solved through minor gestures. It requires the absolute participation of the state and society as a whole. But an ordinary person like me could have shown a little more care and exerted a little more effort. Perhaps, writing a letter of concern to the DSWD regarding the city’s mendicant culture could have made an impact. Perhaps, grabbing the attention of a charitable institution could have made a difference. Perhaps, organizing a donation drive could have brought a positive influence. The point is, I shouldn’t have done nothing. I should have done more. Indeed, I should have done more!

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