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‘Community pantries’ rooted in Christianity

“All the believers were together (in one heart and mind). No one claimed that any of their possessions were their own. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.” (Acts 2 44-45 32)Man does not live by bread alone, but he must have bread. The first human right is the right to live. And to live, one must have bread (and water).

The overall failure of the government in this pandemic drove Patricia Non, 26—no doubt enlightened by the Holy Spirit—to set up the first “community pantry” in the country in Maginhawa, Quezon City. The idea was for people to donate what they could, and those “wanting” to take what they needed (no more, no less), of food, hygienic products, and other basic necessities.

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This was pure Filipino “bayanihan” solidarity, and one rooted in the Christian gospel. No one can ever “kill an idea” whose time has come, even if they kill the people who volunteer to serve in these pantries.

Once again this sense of “people power,” inspired by desperation and compassion, has rung bells around the world. The Washington Post (America) and the Vatican (Rome) have noticed. The German ambassador to the Philippines, Anke Reiffenstuel, was so impressed that she donated to Patricia’s project.

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The message has global charisma; Filipinos in Dili, East Timor, started their own community pantries, too. Every barangay in the Philippines should start theirs and prove to the government that we can take care of ourselves, if it cannot.

There are now talks of library pantries (the exchange or donation of books and reading materials) and dog pantries (food for man’s best friend).

No amount of red-tagging and hissing by misguided men in the military can ever shoot down this humanitarian movement that has escalated to 358 community pantries from northern Cagayan to south of Zamboanga City. Even some military men were moved to donate to the Maginhawa pantry of Patricia, who was unfazed by the state harassment, saying, “I have nothing to explain.” But “those who are not doing their jobs,” she said, have a lot of explaining to do to the people.

No less than Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra defended the community volunteers. “Checking the profiles of community pantry organizers violates privacy law,” he warned. That being so, cases should be filed against the violators.

The movement arose amid a million cases of COVID-19 in the country, some 17,000 deaths, and so far only less than 5 percent of the 70 million herd population vaccinated, plus a health care system bursting at the seams with patients. So inept is the government that it could not even do a good job of distributing fully the $475-million cash aid to the poor, according to the Washington Post. The project was extended to May 15 instead of ending on May 1.

No, the community pantry is not an advocacy to revert to Christian Socialism—where all people work to produce and to share all the fruits for the common good, as was the case centuries ago.

In the SVD seminary, since we were trained to become eventual missionaries, we all ate the same common food. Whenever visitors would bring food to individual seminarians, those seminarians were expected not to keep the goods but to share them with everyone. It was not always followed, of course, as there are violators for every rule made. But the idea was to get used to living in a community where everything was shared by everyone.

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In fact, this was the root of early Christian communities. Wrote the learned Seneca about such golden-era communities: “What race of man could be luckier? They pay for each other’s requirements for survival like a parent. What it all amounted to was undisturbed possession of resources owned by the community. I can surely call that race of men one of unparalleled riches, it being impossible to find a single pauper.”

Christianity has evolved since then with the evolution of socialism and capitalism.

The Church has concluded that poverty itself is not enough to establish an apostolic life, otherwise every beggar would be an Apostle. The Christianity of today merely calls for “a revolution of the heart”: Those who have more in life should give up some of the resources they do not need (or do not need badly) and share them with those who have less in life.

After all, to whom much is given, much is being asked. It has been written “that the sign of the Cross is stamped on everything we own.” For in Calvary, Jesus gave up His most precious possession (His life) for the sake of others—sinners like all of us.

One cannot contemplate on this fact without developing some reflection on the true Christian view of worldly possessions—whether they really are just ours, or ours and others’.

The community pantry movement should rekindle our belief once more in a basic Christian truth: Are we human beings for ourselves alone, or are we human beings for others? Shalom!

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Bingo P. Dejaresco III ([email protected]), a former banker, is a financial consultant, media practitioner, and book author. He is a life and media member of Finex. His views here are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of Finex.

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TAGS: Christianity, Commentary, community pantry, Dejaresco
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