In my column last Saturday, I shared my thoughts on the national situation based on a presentation I made in the First Grand Alumni Homecoming of the University of Santo Tomas Seminary. The first part of the talk, which I summarized in my column last Saturday, focused on the reasons – I discussed six – why a Filipino might despair about the country. In the second part of my UST presentation, I shared how we can respond to the national situation. I summarize that in today’s column.
My starting point is the pastoral statement issued by Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) last Monday, January 28, entitled “Conquering evil with good’. But concretely, how do we conquer evil with good?
I propose seven ways.
First, we must always speak truth to power, with courage and frankness, but never with anger and not personally. You do not convert anyone by calling him or her names. The Church should help all of us dial down our rhetoric. An example of this is the approach of the CBCP on the war against drug.
“Like most other Filipinos we had high hopes that the government would truly flex some political will to be able to use the full force of the law in working against this terrible menace. It was when we started hearing of mostly poor people being brutally murdered on mere suspicion of being small-time drug users and peddlers while the big-time smugglers and drug lords went scot-free, that we started wondering about the direction this “drug war” was taking.
As bishops, we have no intention of interfering in the conduct of State affairs. But neither do we intend to abdicate our sacred mandate as shepherds to whom the Lord has entrusted his flock. We have a solemn duty to defend our flock, especially when they are attacked by wolves. We do not fight with arms. We fight only with the truth. Therefore, no amount of intimidation or even threat to our lives will make us give up our prophetic role, especially that of giving voice to the voiceless.”
Second, we must discern as individuals, families, and communities, indeed as people of God, on how to respond effectively to specific challenges like killings in your midst, whether because of drugs or politics or social conflict, corruption, who to vote for in the 2019 elections, and on reducing the age of criminal liability. On the latter issue, the Bishops are clear on where the Church stand: “There is no way we can call ourselves a civilized society if we hold children in conflict with the law criminally liable. Children who get involved in crimes, such as those who are used as runners by adult drug pushers, do not deserve to be treated as criminals; they are victims that need to be rescued.”
Third, we must provide sanctuary to those being targeted and to those who are taking the lead in resisting evil coming from many quarters. I especially praise those in government who do this, for example the trial court judges who have stood up and done the right thing in concrete cases like the Palparan and Trillanes cases.
Fourth, we should work with government where it is doing the right things. I support strongly the ratification of the Bangsamoro Organic Law and the rehabilitation of the Manila Bay. The latter must include disallowing all further reclamations in the area as that would threaten the historic sites of Old Manila while negating all gains from clean-up initiatives with the increase in population such reclamation would entail. Informal settlers must also be treated fairly in this undertaking. I will write soon about the importance of environmental justice and a just transition in this column.
Fifth, when there are bad developments and events in the country, we should maximize their use as teaching moments. The China policy of the Duterte administration for example is wrong and must be rejected. The way charter change has been approached also does not give us confidence that it will lead to real change. But in both instances, we can educate the people on the better choices.
Sixth, I told the UST Seminary alumni that we must keep on doing what are doing well especially to address the material and spiritual poverty of our people. I always emphasize that this historical moment for the country and the world, which is a bad one, will pass and there will be for sure an opportunity for renewal again. The saddest thing would not be not to learn from what has been happening and repeat our mistakes all over again.
Seventh, for the Catholic Church, I reiterated what Pope Francis has been saying since the start of his papacy: Let’s go back to being a missionary church and bring the Church to the people.
2019 has been declared by the CBCP as the Year of the Youth. This is part of a 9-year preparation for 2021 when the Philippine Church will celebrate the fifth centenary- 500 years – of the arrival of the Gospel in the archipelago. The preparation was launched in 2013 and each year is dedicated to a specific theme related to the faith and new evangelization. 2018 was for example dedicated to the clergy and the religious.
The Filipino youth has been described as beloved, gifted, and empowered. As a teacher in many universities from Mindanao to Manila, I can affirm this. I am sure that the future of our land is good because of them. They will do better than my generation and older ones.
This is why I have hope, I told the alumni and seminarians of UST Seminary. I pointed out that we are in a moment of special grace today. Today’s Philippines is a gift to the Catholic Church and to the people of God as we prepare for the 2021 anniversary.
We are being asked to learn again what Saint Thomas Aquinas’ described as the virtues of the Cross. According to this wisest of saints:
“Why did the Son of God have to suffer for us? There was a great need, and it can be considered in a twofold way: in the first place, as a remedy for sin, and secondly, as an example of how to act.
It is a remedy, for, in the face of all the evils which we incur on account of our sins, we have found relief through the passion of Christ. Yet, it is no less an example, for the passion of Christ completely suffices to fashion our lives. Whoever wishes to live perfectly should do nothing but disdain what Christ disdained on the cross and desire what he desired, for the cross exemplifies every virtue.
If you seek the example of love: Greater love than this no man has, than to lay down his life for his friends. Such a man was Christ on the cross. And if he gave his life for us, then it should not be difficult to bear whatever hardships arise for his sake.
If you seek patience, you will find no better example than the cross . . .
If you seek an example of humility, look upon the crucified one, for God wished to be judged by Pontius Pilate and to die.
If you seek an example of obedience, follow him who became obedient to the Father even unto death. For just as by the disobedience of one man, namely, Adam, many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one man, many were made righteous.”
The Cross is not the end. There is always resurrection and we can begin by conquering evil with good.
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