By Daniel Franklin E. Pilario, CM

Reflection on Divine Mercy Sunday

While the whole world is cramming for rice, noodles and sardines, a group of friends asked me if we are willing to distribute pandesal among the families in Payatas. We asked the mothers and BEC leaders what they think about it. They would have preferred rice. But pandesal is not a bad idea.

So, we started giving pandesal from March 29, 2020 – almost two weeks into the community quarantine. People then were feeling the consequences of the lock down. With no work, hunger is in the air.These group of friends whom I have not even met until today (except for one) donated money to buy pandesal for 300 families every day. When people read the "pandesal project" on social networking sites, some began to call us and volunteered to donate sacks of flour, yeasts, and more cash to augment the initial amount.Day by day, the bread has been multiplied. There was no bombastic “miraculous” event that happened. What we saw was a contribution of ordinary people, simple people, mostly women, who went out of their way to feed the multitude.First was a small group of women-friends (not one big corporation) who brought out their “five barley loves and two fish”. They contributed out of their own pockets and asked their friends to join them.

The poor mothers, leaders of their own small communities, who also had their own families to take care of, risked going out early morning, to bring the bread to their neighbors. They wake up at 5 or 6 in the morning, to buy the bread from the bakery at the corner, divide it into small bags, and distribute them to their neighbors’ homes just around sunrise. They know that they need to “stay at home” to be safe – so they take precautions and follow protocols. But the hunger of their neighbors is enough challenge to take this risk.Some bakery owners also started to give their share. Because of the flour donation from generous donors, these small bakeries at the corner sell their pandesal at one peso instead of two – thus doubling the number to be able to reach more families daily. Some of them donated extra bread to add to what the mothers can buy for the day.We have not really counted how many families have been fed since March 29 until today. I can calculate up to 7500 – 8000 families all together in different areas of Payatas.

But it is not only bread that is multiplied; it is also the joyful suprise in people’s faces to be waken up for a breakfast one does not expect. “Kape na lang ang kulang, agahan na!” When the night has been spent in anxiety where to get food the next day, the simple pandesal is the answer to one’s prayer at least for today. Then the rice can be saved for the next meal or the next day.Together with the joyful surprise is also healing and friendship. One mother said: “Nakakatuwa naman. Ang tagal ko nang hindi kinakausap ng kapitbahay ko. Nang dahil sa pagbabahay-bahay, magkaibigan na ulit kami.” (We haven’t talked with this neighbour for a long time. Now, we are friends again.).The miracle also overflows into other religions and faiths. When handed the pandesal, one mother hesitated to accept because she is not Catholic. The Catholic leader said: “Wala pong kinikilalang relihiyon ang tiyan natin. Para po sa ating lahat ito.” (Our stomachs do not recognize religion. This is for all of us.)As I was thinking about all these, what came to mind is a familiar passage from the Gospel of John. “One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, said to him, ‘There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?’ Jesus said, ‘Make the people sit down.’ Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted” (John 6: 8-10).

Today is Divine Mercy Sunday. What a way for God to show mercy to a people who are hungry. His heart goes out with compassion to a people in dire need for food and healing who, as the bible says, “are like sheep without a shepherd”.But the miracle is far from over. Unlike the gospels, there are no leftovers to gather. People are still getting more anxious and hungrier by the day. And pandesal is not enough to fill us. But the time for leftovers will come. When each one contributes his/her "five loaves and two fish".

We shall overcome!

Daniel Franklin E. Pilario, C.M. 
St Vincent SchoolofTheology - Adamson University