Are Filipinos stingy? You be the judge!
By Mila Glodava
During a talk I gave on stewardship recently to a group of Filipinos, the subject of why Filipinos have a reputation of not being the most generous donors at church came out. They said it's true everywhere -- in Colorado, New York or California. I've heard this before from various parishes where Filipinos, or other ethnic minorities, for that matter, are the majority worshipers at particular Masses. They say, in this case, the collection is noticeably lower than at Masses where the majority worshipers are whites.
Donna LaVigne, who is involved in medical missions in the Philippines, commented that more Americans volunteer to the missions than the Filipino nurses and doctors in Colorado. Marlene Perez, a Couples for Christ and Gawad Kalinga leader, laments that donations have decreased drastically lately.
Are Filipinos stingy? You be the judge!
According to a recent article by Jeremiah Opiniano in "Offshore Giving," single-year cash donations from citizens abroad to individual projects are bigger than three-decades-old accumulated donations by a network of corporate donors." Indeed, giving $218 million in remittances to the Philippines ranks at number four after India, Mexico and China. That's a lot of money from "stingy" Filipinos.
Of course, most of the funds remitted went to families of overseas Filipinos. The adage that "charity begins at home" is their motto, and who can fault them for that. Indeed, there's a strong distrust of organizations that collect funds to address issues in particular towns or provinces. There are many unsung charitable organizations, though, that truly help address the issues in their respective towns or provinces with selfless dedication and donations.
Still, we must face the fact that parishes have a common experience about the poor giving habits of Filipinos and other minorities. The Philippine Church too experiences the same problem, or so it seems. Is there any hope for change?
I remember the first time I told some Filipinos about our mission to promote stewardship as a way of life in the Philippines, their first reaction was, “How can you ask the Filipinos to give? They are already so poor.” But they are missing the point, because stewardship is not just about money.
Stewardship is a way of life. Stewardship is living a life of thanksgiving for all of God’s blessings. It's about doing rather than just thinking about a particular action. It is about giving God the first and the best of our time, talent and treasure.
At the heart of Christian stewardship is faith –– a devout and demonstrative faith which is such an inherent part of Filipino life. Faith-filled Filipinos already live stewardship though they may not think of it along those lines. It is part of our heritage and tradition.
One tradition which is very Filipino is the pasalubong. Filipinos know how wonderful it feels to give gifts -- even small gifts like candy or cookies -- to our loved ones. Giving is borne out of a loving relationship, and is part of our culture. Just look at the balikbayan boxes that come through the baggage claim tracks at the airport. Even foreigners are amazed and in awe of this beautiful tradition.
I still remember David Tschumper, St. Thomas More youth director who came with me for World Youth Day in 1995, asking me, “What’s with all the boxes?” When I told him about the pasalubong, he was very impressed that Filipinos would make such an effort to please their loved ones. I also remember my niece, Sheila, when we went to Cebu a few years ago. Even before we landed on Mactan Island, all she was thinking of was what pasalubong she could get for Jason, her youngest brother.
Couldn’t we give that same excitement and generosity when we visit God who has given us everything?
Our challenge is to redirect our tradition and get excited about giving a pasalubong to God. We need to get excited about giving God the first and the best in thanksgiving for all His blessings. Our relationship with God -- our creator, redeemer and sanctifier -- must be a strong motivation for gift-giving. We have a need to give, rather than simply giving to a need. With the latter, when the need is addressed the giving ends. Whereas when there is a need to give, giving is on-going.
Since planting the seed of stewardship in 2002, I have seen the seeds growing and actually bearing fruits. Several parishes which can be described as among the poorest of the poor are showing how stewardship is helping them renew and enliven their parish life. Stewardship is changing how they view the church. While in the past, the church is there to help them in their daily struggles, now, the church is them. They are the church. With this new mindset, giving comes as part of their ownership of the church.
I saw this message of stewardship lived at Holy Family Church in West Solana, Tuguegarao. Its parish priest, Father Manny Catral, attended our 2005 stewardship conference at Pius XII Center in Manila, and immediately implemented teaching the spirituality of stewardship to his brand new parish. Composed of 16 chapels in farflung barangays, Holy Family Parish does not even have a parish church. A bahay kubo houses his rectory and parish office and it is surrounded by livelihood projects such as a fishpond, organic gardening, soapmaking and piggery. His parish also has a cooperative pharmacy. How did he do that? Not by asking the bishop or politicians for funds. His parishioners, most of whom are farmers and fishermen, not only provide the funds through the offertory, they also give of their time and talent to buildup their parish. In addition, he was able to save enough money -- about two million pesos -- to start building his new parish church. Now, that's stewardship!
If the Filipinos back home can be taught to give because they love God and because they are thankful for His blessings, then I have no doubt Filipinos abroad can be generous givers to their church and to other causes too.