"Where else can we find God's light today?" asked Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, on January 3, during his first Sunday Mass of the year with Manila's urban poor in the slums of Tondo district.
In his homily for the Feast of the Three Kings, Cardinal Tagle likened parents to the Star of Bethlehem, "the shining light of children." As guiding stars, parents should make sure their children tread the right path, to help them fulfill their dreams, and raise them as good Christians, the prelate said.
Cardinal Tagle pointed to a "parol," a Filipino traditional Christmas lantern, and asked the congregation what it is. "Star," the children replied.
One boy shouted in Tagalog, "A star without luster" — the title of a popular Filipino song that was adapted into a movie. Everybody laughed, including Cardinal Tagle who quipped "A shining star." He explained to the child that the "parol" symbolizes the star that guided the three kings to the birthplace of Jesus. "It's also the star that symbolizes hope," he said.
Many Filipinos believe stardom is a way out of poverty, with many celebrities coming from humble beginnings. In a celebrity-crazy country, the many narratives of rags-to-riches stories have spawned millions of hopes of making it big in the entertainment industry.
When the Mass ended, Cardinal Tagle again walked through the same muddy path, but with a bunch of children in tow.
Perhaps awed by the popularity of the prelate, one of the children asked, "Are you a star?" "I'm not a star. I'm just a priest," Cardinal Tagle replied.
"As you can see, amidst their poverty, they know how to celebrate life. Here, hope is very much alive," the prelate told ucanews.com after celebrating Mass with residents of Helping Land, an urban poor hamlet.
Cardinal Tagle described the aspirations of the poor as the "proverbial light in the dark, of dreams that don't die." "That is epiphany in action," he said. The hamlet of Helping Land, along with Happy Land and Aroma, was once a relocation site for Manila's poor until it became a dump.
The cardinal walked through the alleys of Helping Land in his black rain boots. The stench of the garbage permeates the air in the densely populated neighborhood. The muddy earth smells of filth. (UCAN)