Is the Church too rich now to care for the poor?
Not so long ago, I had the privilege of studying in a seminary. Coming from a poor family and neighborhood, I found the place completely the opposite.
Living there was a total treat. It had a swimming pool with a diving board, two covered basketball courts and a tennis court. It even had a small gym where one could flex young muscles in front of a big mirror—an amenity I did not avail myself of because a fellow seminarian had narrated to me how a priest once reminded them that “body-worship” was bad as it replaces God. I didn’t know flexing a little muscle in front of a mirror could be a sin, but the priest accordingly explained: “Of course it’s not a sin yet, but it might lead you there.”
The dorms were good. Each one of us was assigned a nice bed and a locker. Back home, I shared one cabinet with another family member. And to make the contrast more apparent, back home we didn’t share a bed. We shared the floor. Anyway, the library there was excellent. When I was working on my thesis on Gabriel Marcel, I did not have to visit another library to get a better understanding of his ideas. Every book written by him was there. Moreover, the library had a regular subscription of the national daily and all the other magazines, international and local, that we might need in that long, arduous journey to priesthood.
The seminary had a little hospital, too, for aging and sick priests. (I used to visit my Latin teacher there, my first priest-idol. He was very good at teaching us Latin. Of course, I may be biased with that because I placed No. 1 in his class.) And a little ambulance. And since it was a small hospital, there were nurses to take care of the priests. And, of course, cooks to make sure manna for the body was served three times a day.
Now that we’re talking of food, let me go straight to what I really want to say here.
The food in the seminary was superb. Of all the things about the place, it was the food that I liked most. We had eggs, sausage, chorizo on mornings; fish, vegetables, chicken, pork for lunch and dinner. Rice? We had plenty of rice there. Like the abundant supply of water in the seminary, we never run out of it. And for this, I’d like to thank all the good priests who provided us all those physical needs.
I called that place Canaan because milk and honey literally flowed in abundance there. Having been out of there for some time, I wonder if it’s still as abundant now as it was when I was there. Whenever I look at the collection baskets being passed around (twice in many Sunday Masses) these days, or at the envelope that contains the stipend for the priest, and then see the lifestyle of some priests, or the cars they drive, the restaurants they frequent, and the gadgets they’re so busy with—Jesus, forgive me!—I can’t help but ask: Where does all the collection money go? Do the collections still go where they’re supposed to go? To the seminary? To the poor?
The Church is supposed to be for the poor. Whatever amount is collected during the offertory, this is apportioned to bankroll the projects of the parish and the maintenance of its facilities; provide for the needs of the parish priest and his assistants and staff; support seminaries; and, of course, help the poor.
Is the Church too rich now to care for the poor? If you haven’t seen yet the “gap” between the lifestyle of many priests and the poor, well maybe you’ve got to touch the fabric of the clothes they’re wearing. There you will see the difference. No need to mention the food on the priest’s table and the poor man’s.
For centuries, the relationship between the Church and the poor, the parish priest and the poor parishioner, still follows the “above and below, superior-inferior” model: The priest looks down on the poor and the poor look up to the priest. Isn’t this true until now? Priests preach about equality, but they look down on those who are deprived of what they are enjoying now; they say they empathize with the poor and how they promise to help them in whatever way they can in their sermons. But have they helped a bit?
Of course, I admire secular and missionary priests who are really true to their mission. They are the ones who really help the poor in many ways. But the proud priests who think of nothing but self-gain, fame and recognition, and even wealth? The poor themselves know a bad priest from a good one.
Lest you have forgotten, let me quote Pope Francis’ admonition to the students of Jesuit schools he met in 2013: “The times talk to us of so much poverty in the world and this is a scandal. Poverty in the world is a scandal. In a world where there is so much wealth, so many resources to feed everyone, it is unfathomable that there are so many hungry children, that there are so many children without an education, so many poor persons. Poverty today is a cry.”
And lest you have forgotten as well, let me cite Mark 6:37, where we are told about Jesus’ command to his apostles: “You yourselves give them something to eat!”
Jhufel M. Querikiol, a high school teacher of Christian Life Formation since 2000, has been publishing a number of short stories and lifestyle articles for children and adults since 1998.