by REV. FR. ELIAS L. AYUBAN, JR., CMF
After the rhetorical question: “Where is the Catholic Church in these times of crisis?”, another query in some FB posts follows: “Why not the Catholic Church share her billions to the poor?”
This curiosity may be relevant in the past when the institutional Church was still both immensely powerful and opulent. It is no longer the case now and so, we ask in return: “Where are the billions?”
The Holy See gets its income mainly from the entrance fees to the museum, dome and gardens; sales from the pharmacy, department and grocery stores and souvenir shops inside the 44-hectare Vatican City; and, from the voluntary donations of the faithful.
It is not true that the Vatican receives a share of our parish collections. On the contrary, it is the Holy See that helps the poor local churches in mission territories (Africa and largely Asia) though the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples (popularly known as Propaganda Fide), which our own Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle now heads.
Despite the limited resources of the universal Church, though, there is a department in the Holy See charged of offering charitable assistance to the poor in the name of the Holy Father called the Office of Papal Charities. To date, the Catholic Church remains the biggest charitable institution in the world.
Moreover, every diocese is autonomous, including in its finances, in the same way that every religious congregation is. Although, the Holy See oversees the administration of all ecclesiastical goods to ascertain that they serve the mission of the Church, every Catholic institution administers its own patrimony with utmost freedom and discretion.
But it is true that the Church is very rich: in arts, churches, history, liturgy, music, etc. However, these treasures are not for sale and we do not glory in them either. We glory in the cross of Christ Jesus. Indeed, the true riches of the Church does not lie in the structures, but in her members.
Particular churches may not have billions, but through private donations, Caritas Manilla was able to allocate P1-billion worth of gift certificates to urban poor residents in 10 dioceses in Metro Manila (GMA News Online, April 8, 2020).
The De La Salle Brothers house 79 homeless individuals for the duration of Luzon quarantine at DLSU; the Redemptorists shelter Albay residents in their Baclaran church; and, the Claretian Missionaries have offered the basement of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in U.P. Diliman for the use of the frontliners (ABS-CBN News March 22, April 3, April 7, 2020, respectively). All these, and many more other initiatives, the Church does without cameras and press releases.
When St. Lawrence, who was appointed by Pope Sixtus II to be the caretaker of the treasures of the Church, was told by Emperor Valerian to surrender her wealth (258 A.D.), the Archdeacon gestured back to the door where, streaming in behind him, poured crowds of poor, crippled, blind, and suffering people. Then he proclaimed: “These are the true treasures of the Church!”
Rev. Fr. Elias L. Ayuban, Jr., CMF, a canon lawyer, is also the Provincial Superior of the Claretian Missionaries in the Philippines.