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The children and mothers of San Agustin de Baseco: The Gospel incarnated in the biggest slum of Manila

Among the 80,000 souls that crowd around the Port of Manila, the Augustinians continue to make their mark on the daily life of this immense and labyrinthine slum almost five centuries later. Founded on wooden dykes exposed to the oily surf and tabernacles covered to insulate the Lord from the humidity, Baseco stands in the great plastic bay of the Philippines, a space of marginalisation and neglect where the Augustinians serve their neighbours through a parish church and more than 30 chapels distributed among its bare concrete towers and wiring.

These chapels are attended by the mothers of families and their children.

We learn part of their history from Father Randolf Celso Dayandayan, postulant master of the Province of the Most Holy Name of Jesus in the Philippines, who has been visiting these communities week after week for the past 15 years.

The parish of Santo Niño de Baseco is the head of 32 chapels.

From there, three priests and a lively community of lay people support this apostolate. They are mobilised to attend to the various pastoral, welfare and medical needs in the area.

The women affiliated to the Parish of St. Augustine are mainly responsible for the day to day running of the chapels, their maintenance and ensuring that everything is ready and prepared for the ordinary activities and the celebration of the Eucharist on Sundays.

‘Without the Augustinians none of this would be possible’, they tell us from the chapel of San Roque. ‘We are very grateful for their presence, the accompaniment and affection of Father Randolf’.

Hope in a shared future

‘Every Saturday and Sunday, we have been coming here to give catechism classes to children and adults for the last fifteen years’, Father Celso Dayandan tells us as we walk through the narrow and suffocating - due to the humidity, the heat and the mosquitoes - arteries of the Port.

The number of schoolchildren who roam freely during school hours is surprising, trying to make a living to support their family's depleted economy.

‘We want to help this community to look to the future with hope, to know that they are not alone. ‘Those who make it out of Baseco remain deeply connected to their families and homes. They leave to look for opportunity.

Approximately a quarter of Manila's 12 million inhabitants are considered ‘informal squatters’. For the authorities, a large part of this population lives on the margins of society and are not considered in the census and access to basic services. ‘They are the forgotten ones’.

All the chapels coordinated for the celebration of the Feast of the Santo Niño, calling for the prayer of the novena and participation in the liturgical acts during those days. ‘Prayer keeps us strong, united and happy for our faith’.

The permanent flooding in the area due to the lack of a drainage and canalisation system has closed this chapel for months.

The next generations have to take up the challenge of sustaining the Catholic faith in Baseco", says Father Randolf when talking to the community of the Santa Rosa chapel. ‘They have the commitment to welcome those who are to come’.



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