Each year, St. John’s University organizes a program around the Vincentian Chair of Social Justice (VCSJ). The University engages a lecturer who will speak during the semesters on a matter that touches the lives of those who are poor and that needs deeper understanding. During the past years, that has included race and voting rights, homeless youth, and the experiences of women of color.
As the 2021-2022 Chair, the Vincentian Center for Church and Society (VCCS) chose Fr. Danny Pilario, CM, a Vincentian priest from Adamson University in the Philippines. A well-known author, lecturer, and teacher, Fr. Danny maintains a particular following in the Asian community. As his topic, he selected “The Summons of Social Justice: Perspectives from Asian Christianities.” All his presentations involved insights on this theme and this part of our world. The lessons, however, apply everywhere.
Fr. Danny made each lecture special by opening with original10 minute videos on Payatas and the people who live there. He describes the situation in this way:
Payatas has been the garbage dump of the whole of Manila since the late 1980s. When they started dumping garbage, they also started relocating people from slum communities. The Vincentians started working with this relocated community until it has become a parish today. I was still a young priest when we had our first mission here: no toilet or water facilities, small shanties where people live, polluted smell of the burning garbage 24/7, gang war, children dying from simple respiratory diseases, etc. In the beginning, most people live as waste-pickers. Since the government does not provide recycling machines, they work to sort out garbage and sell them at the end of the day. On a good day, someone will earn 8 dollars with which he will buy food for the rest of the family. On bad days, he brings home the throw-away food. You can just imagine the social problems in this place when people were just “dumped” together with the garbage—violence, sanitation, food.
The words that Fr. Danny spoke after each video rang true for the lives of these people.
In one lecture, Fr. Danny considered Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’ as he addressed Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, apocalyptic spirituality, and the effects of the ecological crisis upon the poor. On another evening, he spoke about the pandemic and the suffering that it brought/brings into the lives of the most marginalized, yet how they manage to feed their children and teach solidarity. He introduced us to families who suffer from institutional violence and to the harrowing experiences of widows and orphans. Yet, their narratives of resistance point to an unmistakable hope. The videos with which he began each lecture presented 10 minutes of introductions that gave flesh and blood to the stories that he told and to the application of the Gospel message that he advocated. His presence in some of the videos enabled us to see how his hands and heart reach out to his “parish.”
The lectures can be found here: https://www.stjohns.edu/about/faith-and-mission/vincentian-center-church-and-society/vincentian-chair-social-justice-2021-22.
To tell the tales of Fr. Danny is to describe a Vincentian heart. Compassion mixed with practical service and familiarity with those served allow us to recognize our charism in this good man and his ministry. We believe and pray that he is not unique in this living of our founding focus. As we celebrate the gift of Pentecost, we ask that God’s Holy Spirit may help us in developing our own Vincentian hearts.