02/26/2023, 14.30
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Manuben's street catechism in Manila

by Santosh Digal

For 13 years a lay Franciscan, together with some other young people and adults, has been goes around with a cart in the big city’s poorest areas to bring the light of faith. “When I was a child, I was like them, broken family, experienced being a drug addict, but God changed me through the help of a catechist," he said. They carry with them a Marian image that they have called Our Lady of the Peripheries.

Manila, Philippines – For 13 years, a lay Catholic missionary in the Philippines has been teaching catechism to the poor on the street, reaching them in the peripheries.

Artemio B. Manuben Jr, a member of the Secular Franciscan Order, began on 31 August 2009, together with other Franciscan catechists from the parish of Nuestra Señora Dela Soledad, in Binondo, Manila.

"Our group is composed of Third Order Franciscans, full-time catechists of the Archdiocese of Manila, and volunteer catechists," Manuben told AsiaNews.

Inspired by Pope Francis' call to "go to the peripheries," the group promotes street catechesis in Manila’s Tondo, Binondo and Port Area Delpan areas, using a kariton (cart) and a method designed specifically to reach families living on the streets.

“We formed a Franciscan Catechists Band and composed our songs, which we sang during Musikatekesis in jail and to street dwellers," Manuben explained.

The initiative began in 2009 with 23 children and adults, on the streets of Tondo, one of the largest slums in the country's capital.

The main work involves teaching the faith in the streets through various outreach activities, prayers, storytelling, puppetry, games, readings ...

The catechesis uses audio-visual tools, but also colouring materials, Bibles, images of Our Lady of Fatima, the Cross of St Damian and St Francis of Assisi and small gifts for participants.

Manuben, 47, teaches religion at the Benigno Aquino Elementary School, in Port Area Baseco, Manila. The reason that led him to go to reach out to the marginalised is that he saw a rotten cart at the school where he works that was no longer usable for teaching.

"I was inspired to make it a catechetical cart. From that inspiration, I aimed to build a new one. On the feast day of Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta, I was able to bless the cart on September 5, 2012," he said. 

Since then, every Wednesday, after catechesis at the Almario Elementary School, he pushes the cart with food, audio-visual aid, the Bible, the St Damian cross and the image of Our Lady of Fatima to the place where many street kids come to listen to him.

“What drives me to love catechising at the peripheries is to bring Jesus to the hopeless. When I was a child, I was like them, broken family, experienced being a drug addict, but God changed me through the help of a catechist," he explained.

“Since then, I have also helped people who experienced being lost to find their way back to God. and now I want to repay God's salvation on me by bringing the lost to him and those who are on the streets who have different vices. Being a witness to them has a big impact on them; if God changed me, so can they, by the grace of God," said Manuben.

Speaking of the impact of his ministry, he noted that after several years of street catechesis, his work has started to bear some fruits.

Some families have struggled to get a job and rent a house; some gave up their vices and went back to school; others are no longer in prison and are trying to start a new life.

He and his team face multiple challenges though: health, poverty, poor weather.

“We are planning to upgrade our kariton, or catechetical cart. From a kariton to a catechetical tricycle, we could easily move and carry more materials for the catechesis," he said.

Eventually, the team would like to open a house to train young catechists, to be involved in this ministry.

"Every time we do the street catechesis, we bring the image of Mama Mary, so we adopted the name ’Our Lady of Peripheries’ as a response to the call of Pope Francis to go to the peripheries. We made a painting of her presence," Manuben said.

The painting accompanying the catechists depicts them in their mission to the most marginalised people. As Mary is always present in evangelisation, she is a sign of Christ's presence.

“His mission was not to end poverty but to save sinners,” which is what the catechetical cart does.


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