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Darwin Ramos: Seeing God's face in suffering, smiling teen.

Darwin Ramos was a disturbing sight when a street educator of Tulay ng Kabataan (TNK) Foundation brought him to a drop-in center in July 2006.

'Darwin was very thin, malnourished. He was in a very pitiful state,' said Gloria Recio, TNK assistant executive director. He was also unable to walk.

The boy was 11 years old then and was forced by his father to beg at the foot of an LRT station in Pasay City.

Six years earlier, Darwin was still able to scour garbage sites for recyclable trash. Then he developed Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a degenerative disease that caused muscle deterioration. He stumbled while walking. At 7, Darwin could no longer stand.

While his mother did the neighbors' laundry, his father saw Darwin's condition as a money-making opportunity. Every morning, he dropped Darwin off the LRT station to ask for alms until the TNK worker rescued the boy.

Not pain but a big smile

'I was expecting a child in pain because of his illness,' said Fr. Matthieu Dauchez, TNK executive director and author of 'Stronger Than Darkness,' that gives a tender narration of Darwin's short but inspiring life.

'But what I saw was a child with a big smile and a positive disposition. He was very friendly with everybody. He profusely thanked us for welcoming him to the foundation,' Dauchez said.

The priest initially thought Darwin would eventually tire of his joyful act. 'What was impressive was that it was not only on the first day he was like that. His jolly personality despite his difficulties was consistent in all the years he was with us.'

Dauchez's manuscript was written in 2015. Darwin was recently declared 'Servant of God' by the Vatican.

First step to sainthood

Declaring someone 'Servant of God' is the first step toward recognition as a saint. The Vatican has given the Diocese of Cubao the green light to start the process for Darwin's beatification, a step required before canonization when a person is finally declared a saint.

Cubao Bishop Honesto Ongtioco has issued an edict urging the faithful to provide testimony about Darwin's life and faith.

Darwin's hard life began on Dec. 17, 1994. The eldest among eight children, he learned early that survival meant roaming the streets with sister Marimar to look for trash to resell.

Despite their poverty, his mother Erlinda made time to teach Darwin to pray. Dauchez's book talked of how Erlinda urged her children to 'make a large space for God in their life.'

Habit of talking to Jesus

'His mother talked to him about Jesus who was condemned, beaten and killed, even if he had not sinned (and) not only did Darwin believe it, he experienced and encountered the Risen One,' Dauchez said.

His book said Darwin 'had a secret he did not tell anyone: he was not alone, he felt a presence, even stronger when praying.'

'So Darwin was in the habit of talking to Jesus, a very simple way of praying. A natural discussion with someone he did not see but whose presence he felt next to him,' he said.

The priest remembers Darwin asking for healing in prayers 'because he ... wanted to be able to move again like the other children. But he also said that if it would not happen, it's OK.'

TNK's Recio said she often saw Darwin 'alone inside the chapel, his hands clasped together, his eyes closed while praying' and that the sight of the child who prays despite his suffering inspired her and others to embrace their own miseries.

'I realized that if this boy with such a condition could afford to smile and have a positive outlook, what excuse do I have not to do the same,' she asked.

Darwin, despite growing up in the streets, was a polite kid who always had kind words 'even to those he had just met,' Recio said.

'Sometimes he helped in distributing gifts the foundation received for the kids. Every time I gave him his gift, he would tell me, 'It's OK, Nanay, give it to them first. Just give me whatever is left if there's any,'' she added.

Darwin attended TNK classes similar to those offered in a formal school. His teacher Anna Lee Singh talked of a youngster who 'was very smart, competitive and focused. Never did he go to class without doing his assignment.'

Leadership skills

Math and arts were Darwin's favorite subjects. He had difficulty writing because of his disability.

Despite his frailty, Darwin manifested good leadership skills. 'There was something about him ... (other children) listened to him. He sounded mature and they really looked up to him as their big brother,' Singh recalled.

There was one time, however, when she saw Darwin lose his cool. The boy got hurt as someone tried to lift him up. Singh said Darwin complained of discomfort but was not rude.

The teacher also remembered how Darwin thought about his family often, especially Marimar.

Whenever his mother visited, Singh said the boy urged Erlinda to pray. 'We will get through this, I will be healed,'' the teacher heard Darwin say.

Singh said Vatican's declaration of Ramos as Servant of God did not surprise her.

'His faith in God was truly amazing. He once told me that maybe God placed him in such condition to strengthen his faith ... I feel I am the luckiest teacher in the world,' she said.

Dauchez said Darwin explained that when he suffered, 'he knows that Jesus is bearing beautiful fruit somewhere in the world.'

Darwin's degenerative condition eventually took its toll on Sept. 23, 2012. He died at the age of 17.

Spiritual battle

Days before that, Darwin experienced what Dauchez described as a spiritual battle. The priest recalled seeing Darwin looking 'tormented' and 'terrified' in the hospital as the boy said they should pray because 'I am fighting against the devil.'

'I never saw him like that ... He usually had sparkling eyes, but at that moment they expressed anxiety which was very unusual,' the priest said.

Eventually, Darwin 'looked so calm and seemed filled with inner peace, a sign of a battle won,' he added.

Darwin wrote him notes saying, 'Maraming salamat po (Thank you very much)' and 'Masayang-masaya ako (I'm so happy)' after that.

Dauchez said he is '400-percent sure' Darwin will be canonized. 'Anyway, for me he's already a saint; he's already in the heart of Jesus.'

Many people, he said, have given testimony of how they are drawing strength and inspiration from Darwin's life and suffering. 'I've not heard yet of a miracle associated with him. But I'm confident it will come at the right time,' he said.
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Publication:Philippines Daily Inquirer (Makati City, Philippines)
Date:Jul 21, 2019
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