Yesterday morning I attended Mass at 5:45 at a beautiful church about a mile from my hotel. I walked there, as it is not that far and the weather is quite decently cool in the twilight before the sun comes up. The church was not only beautiful, but quite huge as well. The congregation seemed little disposed to sitting close to each other, but instead were scattered fairly evenly throughout the whole church, with only a slightly higher concentration near the pulpit. There might have been a hundred and fifty people or so, but in the vast hall that seemed like a tiny number, barely a handful. There is always room for more in the Kingdom.
That same church has to hold six Masses every Sunday to accommodate all the worshippers. I have seen the 5:00 PM English Mass filled to overflowing, every stone bench and plastic chair in the courtyard likewise filled, and only room to stand, with a crowd waiting outside the gate for the Tagalog Mass to start.
This particular morning there was a young fellow in a white cassock behind me. It was the same cassock as the priest wore, but he looked too young to be a priest. Then again, you never can tell with Filipinos, and he was praying the Divine Office from a very shiny and new looking breviary. So I asked him, “Are you a priest?”
His face lit up in such a smile. He replied, “No, not yet. I am just a brother,” but he was tickled pink to be asked. There was something childlike about his excitement. It was obvious, shining from his face, that he wanted with all his heart to be a priest and that he will, God willing, continue on attending Mass and praying his Office and studying and working until he receives that great gift.
Leaving from the church I started to walk home. The sun was already excruciatingly bright (I had not brought sunglasses) and the temperature was in the upper 80’s, on its way up. I stopped at a bakery shop where a little beggar girl with a baby appealed to me for some coins. I bought two bibingkas from the shop, thereby providing free entertainment for the two girls watching the register. They thought I was quite funny for some reason. I ate one of the bibingka, and gave the other one with a few pesos worth of coins to the beggar. She looked like she could use it. I usually avoid giving coins to the children, because most of them are handled by professional beggars who take all of the profits and the kids get the scraps, but in this case I saw a woman across the street that had been talking to the girl, and I took her to be the girl’s mother. Not because women cannot be pimps or exploiters, but because she was not dressed any better than the little girl. At any rate she got the coins and the bibingka, and a few prayers.
I did not give any coins to the three little boys who hailed me at the next stop because they were obviously hale and hearty and well fed, and were just curious to see a big bald white guy on their street and thought they might get some free pocket change.
I hailed one of the little motorbike side-car taxis and caught a ride back to the hotel, because it was getting hotter and sunnier out. The taxi driver asked where I was from and practiced his English, which, while not good, was way better than my Tagalog. When I got there I asked him how much I owed him, and I could see him hesitate. The real rate is 8 pesos for anywhere in the city, but I was white, and he knew I could afford more. He didn’t know whether or not I knew what the rate should be. Perhaps he wanted to make up a higher number and couldn’t think of one, or perhaps he was just too honest. At any rate I just asked, with my most “innocents abroad” white guy look, if 20 pesos would be okay. His eyes lit up and he thanked me profusely and wished me a happy New Year.
The guys like to laugh at me for doing stuff like that. They pride themselves on knowing the going rates and not letting the locals get over on them. I, on the other hand, get fleeced pretty regularly. I hate bargaining and I am not good at it. It just seems like a waste of time to me.
20 pesos is less than 50 cents. I don’t even carry loose change in America. I toss that kind of money into a jar for years and never miss it, and then eventually I give the jar away rather than go through the bother of counting and banking it. Here I can give some driver 50 cents and a friendly smile and conversation and totally make his day. That seems worth it to me.