'Give them some food yourselves'

Al Cariño, OMI
Editor: Mindanao Cross
Reproduced with Permission

Corpus Christi

I have a priest-confrere who practically spent all his time attending not only to the spiritual but also the material needs of his people. He acted thus because he believed that when people spent most of their time making both ends meet, they have little time left for their spiritual needs.

He saw them hungry. Discovering that its cause was the barren and infertile soil, he introduced an upland farm technology which allowed the land not only to rebuild itself thus eliminating the need for chemical fertilizers but also brought about reforestation.

He saw some of them get sick with their families too poor to bring them to a hospital. He built a clinic for them. If there were serious cases, he himself brought them to a hospital in the city.

He saw some members of his flock affected with all kinds of intestinal diseases caused by drinking dirty water. He had artesian wells dug for them.

I am talking about Fr. Yves Caroff, OMI, a French priest who once worked in Timanan, South Upi, Maguindanao. The same priest who got national attention when he was kidnapped in 1991 on his way back to his mission. After his release and because of the danger to continue working in the same mission, he was assigned in Antipas, North Cotabato in 1993.

There he replicated his work in Timanan. And because the farm was upland, he introduced a non–electrical pumping system that used air pressure generated by the water–flow to bring water to higher levels which then irrigated the fields. Finally, he brought in high–breed live stocks to upgrade the peoples'. Now, he has a blooming 9.5 has. farm.

Already, some of the people in the vicinity are applying the technology in their own farms. Others have upgraded their goat herds and pigs. Their children are now healthier from drinking goat's milk. People near and far, specially students and those belonging to farmers' organizations have gone to his farm to observe, learn and replicate the technology.

The inspiration behind this priests's life and work is Jesus, Teacher and Giver of life. More specifically, he discovered his mission from the story of the miraculous feeding of the multitude (Lk. 9:11-17) — the gospel reading for today's feast — the Body and Blood of Christ, the Eucharist.

The miracle was occasioned by the request of the Twelve to dismiss the crowd so that they could look for shelter and food. But Jesus insisted that they fed the crowd themselves: “Give them some food yourselves.” Taking the five loaves and two fish they had, Jesus “looked up to heaven, said the blessing over them, broke them, and gave them to the disciples” for distribution to the crowd — the same words Jesus used in the institution of the Eucharist later. In a true sense, the feeding of the crowd was a Eucharistic feeding.

In our faith life, we must not consider the Eucharist as merely static, as just there for us to receive and adore and then do nothing more. No, the Eucharist is dynamic; our participation and reception of the Eucharist should impel us to bring Jesus to people and make His presence felt by personally being involved in their life situation, for example, share our resources with those in need. Moreover, merely satisfying their material needs is not a Christian virtue — even Communism does this. It becomes so only when it is related to and is motivated by the spirit of the Eucharist. Finally, the sharing must be done in the manner of the Eucharist: a breaking of our bread, that is, the making of a part of us die, and not just an act that we do because we have a surplus.

This is what we commit ourselves to do when at communion we answer “Amen” as the priest gives us the Eucharist with the words, “The Body of Christ!”

At the multiplication of the loaves, Jesus gave His disciples a specific role: to distribute the bread and fish. In other words, the Eucharist was Jesus' gift but the disciples had to bring it to the people. Fr. Caroff saw his mission in this “distributing” role. In farming as in all things, everything ultimately comes from God — the soil in which the seed is planted, the sun, water and air that makes the seed grow. But we have to cultivate the soil, plant the seed and nourish it to maturity. Seeing how the degradation of the environment has made the soil unproductive, Fr. Caroff spent his time "distributing" the appropriate technology to his people — his way of making his faith in the Eucharist live among his people.

We can not all be another Fr. Caroff. Nor are we asked to be. But there are things we can do to others in our own little way through our God–given time, talents and treasures. When we do so motivated by the spirit of the Eucharist, then we are “distributing” Jesus to others, that is, we are making His presence touch their lives.