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Philippines/2 – The poor as family

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See the first part of this interview here.

Did Couples for Christ accept such an approach?

Many members of the Couples for Christ (CFC) didnít understand or they didnít believe in what I was doing. But since I was a member of the council and I was in charge of the familiesí ministries, particularly Youth and Singles, I was able to bring quite a number of young people with me. For many of them, it was just another outreach, it was just a ministry. I came to realize that caring for Godís people is not only caring for people who come from the same religion or from the same community. I realized that societal renewal should be inclusive, not exclusive ñ it should include the Muslims, the non-Catholics, even the unbelievers. I was also growing in my faith understanding that my Christianity should be anchored on love and caring following the example of Jesus. He even cared for the Samaritan woman and didnít discriminate against the tax collectors. He was not exclusionary.

How is GK financed?
       At the beginning, it was financed by Couples for Christ and other people. There was a foundation called Living for Christ Foundation ñ made mostly by Filipino-Chinese people ñ that also helped us. Most of our volunteers belonged to CFC who saw it as a tool for evangelization and a fishing pool to recruit members for the movement. But when we started going to communities, where there was religious and cultural diversity ñ for instance, when we started working with Muslims ñ we could not impose that on them. Tension arose among the Couples for Christ.

Thereís a lot of corruption, but you do not take political stands, do you?
       No. I donít judge. The same way Jesus did not judge tax collectors, I do not judge politicians. Even the most corrupt politicians may have at least 10% of good in them. I will connect with that 10%. Even if I am surrounded by dishonest people, Iíll keep being honest and try to inspire them to be honest. Then, we can slowly transform this country. Why should we judge people? The problem is when we become self-righteous: the whole concept of evangelization is lost. Our role is not to judge, but to engage people and remain honest to give them the example that we can do a lot by remaining honest. I work with 400 mayors because I didnít judge them, and not even one has ever tried to corrupt me. Why should we always see the glass as half empty while it is half full? I am a radical optimist because I believe in Jesus as the Good News. And I believe in the greatness of the Filipino spirit.

Are you hopeful for the future?
    I am definitely very hopeful that poverty will end in my country by 2024. Nobody imagined that GK would be this big by now. We have about 250 employees and about 20,000 regular volunteers. They come from all over the world. Even Manny Pacquiao declared before his last boxing fight in Las Vegas that the greatest fight of his life is to end poverty in the Philippines and that he was joining GK ñ to build homes and to provide livelihood for the poor. When he endorses a product, he gets 100 million pesos for that. Why would he even endorse us and not global foundations and humanitarian organizations? It is a matter of trust and credibility. We have more than 500 major corporations collaborating with us. They are after investing in development. There are many charities, but they see that we go beyond charity toward authentic Christian stewardship; they see that we are here not to make the poor more dependent, but to give them justice and healing, self-respect and confidence to help themselves and one another. We are moving towards empowerment of the poor in all the communities who are around 2,000. We now help groups to build houses because not everything has to be done through us. We have shown people that it can be done in the GK way. Thatís why legislation is being crafted to build five million homes. Now, Congress is legislating on nation-building, following GK model. If it becomes a bill, any organization will build following the GK way through public-private partnership, through convergence/synergy. If the aim is nation-building, you make everyone a nation-builder and you make every Catholic practice his/her Christianity.

Is Gkís organization still on your shoulders?
    I donít even hold office. I am no longer involved in the operations of GK. I donít sign checks and I am not in the management team. I am only the chairman of the board. We meet once a month for the board meeting that includes the Ateneo president, Fr. Bienvenido Nebres, and the heads of Globe, Smart and Shell Philippines. I spend my time in the farm where I am building the Center for Social Innovation for countryside development. I am building village universities and countryside outlets for the products of GK communities. We are moving now from the justice phase to the empowerment phase. I am training young people: graduates from top universities to become social entrepreneurs and care for those at the bottom of the pyramid. They are the missing element.
    We have a lot of generous and successful people who and corporations that want to help the poor, but if we deprive them of education, they cannot do business plans, development research or market developmentÖ How can we expect them to fare well? We need young people to stop leaving the country seeking jobs abroad and make them wealth creators and job generators here. We keep losing the brightest and the best of our people to make rich countries richer. We have to educate youth to become patriots, because nation-building is about sacrifice. My dream is to see our predominantly Christian Philippines rise from poverty. I will be 74 in 2024, when this country will be out of poverty. I live with that certainty.

JosÈ AntÛnio M. Rebelo

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