10/10/2014, 00.00
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As it waits for Pope Francis, the Filipino Church launches 'Year of the poor'

For the director of NASSA, the Church must "remain on the side of the poor and oppressed," particularly in case of human rights violations. The Year's official launching is on 23 November with AK 40, a fundraiser aiming at raising 40 million pesos over 40 weeks to fund micro-development and fight the culture of begging.

Manila (AsiaNews/CBCP) - The Church must always meet the challenge of "standing alongside the poor and oppressed," especially when "human rights are violated" and justice is denied "to peasants, indigenous peoples, fishing communities, workers and victims of natural disasters," said Fr Edwin Gariguez, director of Caritas Philippines, a few weeks ahead of the official launching of the year dedicated to the less fortunate and disadvantaged segments of the population.

On 6 October, in a ceremony at St Joseph Cathedral in Butuan City, the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Philippines, in collaboration with the National Secretariat for Social Action - Justice and Peace (NASSA), announced the 'Year of the poor', including a fundraising plan called 'Alay Kapwa (offer to neighbour) 40' (AK40).

Backed by NASSA, the Bishops' organisation in charge of charity and development, and the country's 85 dioceses, the 'Year of the poor' will start officially on 23 November, at the conclusion of the 'Year of the laity'.

Across the country, ceremonies and special events will mark the event, which will unfold throughout 2015 along with special projects and development initiatives, including AK 40.

The latter aims to raise 40 million pesos (just under US$ 900,000) over 40 weeks to fund charitable projects and programmes dedicated to the poorest and weakest of the Filipino population.

The money raised, which will go to micro-development projects that will also benefit the whole community, will also help address the culture of begging, which is deeply rooted in the country. In fact, the Church wants to promote a "culture of self-sufficiency" to replace dependency on government subsidies.

As Fr Gariguez noted, the AK programme, founded in 1974, follows Pope Francis' guidelines of a "Church of the poor" for those living on the "margins" of society. and 'AK 40 for the Poor' is meant to celebrate the organisation's 40 years of activity in the service of the poor. 

The Pope himself will be in the Asian country from 15 to 19 January 2015, where he will visit areas devastated by typhoon Yolanda. As Card Archbishop of Manila Card Luis Antonio Tagle recently noted, the papal visit "will make a difference in the lives of the Filipino people" and "will definitely offer great opportunities to experience grace."

Inspired by Luke 22:61, which reads, "Look at Jesus . . . And the Lord turned and looked at Peter", this upcoming "Year of the Poor" is the third of the nine-year era of New Evangelisation set to prepare the Filipino faithful for the fifth centenary of Christianity in the Philippines in 2021.

The Philippines is the only Asian nation - with the exception of tiny East Timor - to have a Catholic majority. Out of a population of 97 million people, Catholics number 76,180,000.

Two popes - Paul VI in 1970 and John Paul II in 1981 and 1995 - have already visited the country.

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