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The glory that is Rome


It always feels good to visit the Vatican when I am in Rome. I need to be constantly reminded that the causes that are precious in my life come from God especially at times when the waves get rough. The sacrifice I put into Gawad Kalinga is meaningless if it is not anchored on a firm belief that it is not God’s plan for my country to be poor and I have a sacred responsibility to help make it un-poor.

The Vatican is holy ground where sacred oaths are made by serious Catholics like me who mean to keep them.

I am here in Europe again after barely four months since my last visit in October in my relentless pursuit of a better life for our people as my highest aspiration, my greatest legacy to my heirs and the best exit strategy of a grace filled life.

I try to remain focused by not allowing myself to be distracted by enticing global events around me like the people power struggle in Egypt or the local drama ushering the painful birth of honor and courage in our country as we purge corruption out of our complex system of patronage politics and misplaced loyalties. I pray for Heidi Mendoza and those with guts and balls like her. I feel a deep spiritual connection with people who just want things to be better for their country whatever path they take.

Mine is clear: Gawad Kalinga – building sustainable intentional communities, protecting the environment, educating and raising healthy children and creating wealth at the bottom of the pyramid.

Nation-building is my brand of kingdom-building; being my brother’s keeper is my peaceful strategy of bridging social inequity and creating heaven on earth. The thriving GK communities, with all their struggles and challenges, are my proof of concept of effective Christian stewardship, the visible and massive evidence of the power of ‘loving neighbor’ when practiced against all odds.

At this stage of my life, all I want is to be faithful to my vows, to do what is good for my people and to follow what is right for my country. No equivocation, with passion bordering on insanity when what is considered sane works against the best interest of the least and the oppressed.

Standing at St Peter’s square without a soul in sight on this cold starry night somehow it felt right to seize this solemn moment of grace. I reiterated my vow not to accept the crime of poverty in my resource blessed country and not tolerate the sin of hypocrisy that justifies it. There is a scent of hope in our country with an honest President and many concerned citizens who are finally sick and tired of our stupidity and are determined to end our spiritual and material poverty.

By Tony Meloto

Corruption, dirty politics and injustice that cause poverty are a scandal to my religion and a shame to my citizenship. They simply must end …or at least I should die trying to end it… otherwise it is a shame to call myself a Christian or a Filipino.
I must show to the world that by following the path of Jesus who did not seek power for himself that I can gain the trust and work with the most powerful leaders to do the most good to the weak and the powerless.
The square was still that night – no multitudes that pushed and shoved like the last time I was there when the charismatic one reigned. I was told by my hosts and tour guide, great couple Michael and Linda Stockmann, that my present shepherd was probably still awake as the light was still on in his room. I simply had to pay homage to the Holy Father as a matter of respect and tradition as a Catholic, even from a distance and late as it was. One does not take chances on a serious matter as going to heaven.
The flight to Rome from Paris took two hours where I slept most of the way from sheer exhaustion after a whole day session with French business and engineering students – 37 as of the last count – who were eager to do a two month internship in GK communities in the Philippines July to August this year. I also met with the President of AISEC France who wants to add a hundred more.
Gawad Kalinga is an attractive proposition to young Europeans who are discovering our pearl of the orient seas as the exciting gateway to Asia. The east is no longer just an exotic destination for them but a continent of vast business and career opportunities with the rise of Asian economies. The Philippines is particularly appealing to students of top business schools in Europe and Singapore interested in our emerging model of social entrepreneurship using the GK communes as a massive platform for productivity to help rebuild the economy from the bottom-up with a new bottom-line – social investment in people and planet.
Air France KLM, my home in the sky, is facilitating travel and solidarity between Europe and Asia by building a Dutch village for the homeless north of Manila where Europeans can do humanitarian service.
Social tourism is exciting to those who are out to discover the world with the heart as their compass. Gk villages are particularly appealing to those who not only want to experience poverty but to learn what can be done to end it and experience in the process the happiness of residents who see hope after knowing so much suffering.
My first night in Rome was deep slumber in an old monastery, oblivious to the company of nuns from centuries past hovering around my dead tired body. Anyway, nuns are like guardian angels to me, whether dead or alive. I have the deepest appreciation for many of them because of their nature and calling to serve the least and the lost. They practice to me what many of us Catholics keep hidden, have forgotten or afraid to follow – the beautiful teachings of our church on social justice and peace.
I woke up peaceful and refreshed early morning to a bright sunshine and cool weather to face a hectic day in Rome before flying out to London in the evening for my session in Oxford. The sleep did me a lot of good to start me off hale for a backbreaking schedule of speaking engagements and meetings in 5 European countries in 10 days that would tire others half my age, depriving myself of simple joys like valentine with my wife and birthday with my son the following day. Again the energy is from a deep faith that I am doing God’s work. My peaceful acceptance of the pain of separation from my family to pursue my mission is for me an act of gratitude to God for the gift of loved ones who have found grace themselves in sharing me with others.
I was in Italy briefly to be with grade school children and teenagers at the Deutch Schull Rom who raised funds for homes and scholarships for the poor in the Fiat village in Silay City, Negros Occidental. In this amazing German school where the children of elite Italians and expatriates study, they are taught compassion and stewardship early.
My whole day spent with them was one of my most refreshing experiences in my recent foreign travels. It was not just the 4500 euros that the kids raised from their allowance and various fund raising activities and the moment when all 150 of them proudly went on stage to present to me the huge mock up check. I was deeply moved when they kept still with avid interest while I spoke and nearly half of them lined up to ask me the most endearing and spontaneous questions coming from the purest and most innocent of hearts during the extended Q & A. One blonde boy asked me in German what a kid like him can do to help more poor children in the Philippines go to school. A small Italian girl with an arm in a sling was nearly in tears when the interpreter could hardly hear her faint voice, when all she wanted to know was if I was born in a hospital or in a home. What do the children in the village eat? What happens to them when it rains? Are they happy with their new home? They kept asking and went back to the long line to ask more after I answered their questions.
The session in the morning with the grade school reinforced my faith in the power of inclusive and universal love that Gawad Kalinga draws out in people all over the world.
Love has no language barrier.
It was expressed in German, Italian and English and the heart understood.
Love has no age limit. From the nine year olds who expressed their concern for others so poignantly to our interpreter Alliana, the President of the parents association, who could not hold back her tears while watching expressions of overflowing generosity and profound wisdom from children so young.
Love makes us one. We are one global family building a better, kinder and safer world together. Watching them, I was reminded of my grandchildren that I missed terribly. Somehow the impact of our cause on these foreign children made the pain of being separated from them worth it. After all this is about their future too. My six grandchildren are global Filipinos — three of them British cappuccinos, one brown American, two attractive native hybrid; all of them will grow up loving the Philippines and caring for our people like their parents.
The afternoon session with high school teenagers was no less spirited or inspiring. They showed me great respect and deep concern for others in their quest for answers, convinced perhaps that my cause is noble and honest. I learned later on that many of them took a deep personal interest in our effort because of their affection for their Filipino domestic workers and know about their struggles with poverty at home. They were visibly touched when they realized that the work of Gawad Kalinga is urgent and aims to grow in scale to stop poor parents from leaving their children to seek work abroad. Three of them approached me after the session to say that they now understand my kind of evangelization as an act of love and justice relevant to them as Catholics in a suffering world.
Hearing them I realized that we have an attractive brand in GK to speak about faith with patriotism in a post-religious Europe to a mainstream non-Filipino crowd of various ages without being seen as leftist, ethnic or cultic. Faith is best expressed in loving without borders, in dining with landlords and squatters, with harlots and zealots to build a better world that includes everyone.
It felt reassuring to have the presence of our envoy to the Vatican, good friend and GK builder Mercy Tuazon and our amiable ambassador to Italy, Romy Manalo. They kept me company the whole afternoon and honored our gracious hosts, from the headmaster and his deputy to the members of the board and the leaders of the parents association, the faculty and the students. Somehow their presence left no doubt in our hosts’ minds that our government and church support our cause.
I left the place to catch my flight to London after a sumptuous Italian meal in a nearby restaurant full of pasta and hope. I just tasted the glory of Rome in the company of my new GK family in Italy who wish to share la dolce vita with my people.
It was simply awesome.

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