In 2015, during the Year of the Poor, the Dasal Retreat Team, a group of lay people who have worked with me to organize the “Silent Bible Retreats” twice a year for the past five years, reflected on what program we could do for the poor.

“Since our group has come together to organize retreats, why don’t we organize a retreat for the poor?” we thought. Further reflection led us to the words of Pope Francis: “The worst discrimination which the poor suffer is the lack of spiritual care. The great majority of the poor have a special openness to the faith; they need God and we must not fail to offer them his friendship, his blessing, his word, the celebration of the sacraments and a journey of growth and maturity in the faith…. Our preferential option         for the poor must mainly translate into a privileged and preferential religious care.” (Evangelii Gaudium 200)

The poor are not only poor materially. They also do not have the opportunities that the non-poor have to grow in the faith. For instance, they cannot attend retreats because of the cost. So we decided to do something. Since we cannot just get anyone, we decided to target the poor who are leaders in their communities. Hopefully they could cascade what they have learned to their community members.

There are many groups who organize the poor, and for various reasons. Some to fight for their homes, others to defend their jobs, still others to form their Basic Ecclesial Communities (BECs). Trainings are given to the leaders of these groups, like negotiation, holding meetings, drafting proposals, learning the compelling issues of society, etc.

Rarely however, do they have trainings to grow spiritually and to have the resilience and the energy that come from deep faith and trust in God. Yet we believe what Pope Benedict XVI said: “Development of individuals and peoples depends partly on the resolution of problems of a spiritual nature. Development must include not just material growth but also spiritual growth, since the human person is a unity of body and soul, born of God’s creative love and destined for eternal life. (Caritas in Veritate 76)

Indeed, “awareness of God’s undying love sustains us in our laborious and stimulating work for justice and the development of peoples.” (Caritas in Veritate 79)

So we embarked on a program to offer “Malaynilay” to leaders of the poor. Malaynilay comes from two words: malay, which means awareness and nilay, which comes from pagninilay, that is, reflection. One comes to new awareness through reflection and prayer. In this retreat we give reflections on basic spiritual truths, like the great love of God for each one, the call to holiness for all, motivation offered by love and faith, the true meaning of progress, the encounter with God through the sacraments of the Eucharist and Penance, the dignity and sanctifying effect of daily work, and ecological conversion.

The participants are grouped into smaller groups of six. A facilitator leads them in their reflections and sharing of experiences. All are given a chance to confess to a priest and Mass is celebrated for them every day. Some are taught how to pray.

To finance this three-day retreat in Tagaytay, we ask donations from friends and look for sponsors. We also give free Bibles to each participant, a Malaynilay t-shirt, a prayer book, a rosary, and some toiletries. We provide free transportation to Tagaytay. So they may have their own contribution, we ask 200 pesos as registration fee from each one.

That all started in 2015. The experience was so fulfilling and enriching to the participants and the organizers and facilitators that we have been doing it yearly, with 60 to more than a hundred participants per batch. We get the participants from nongovernment organizations (NGOs), people’s organizations (POs) and BECs.

We have found out that Malaynilay answers a great need among the poor. For most this was their first, and maybe only, experience of a spiritual retreat. It is a great awakening for many of an important aspect of their life which they did not pay attention to before. Hopefully we always have the resources to offer this “privileged and preferential religious care” for the poor.