The Biblical Apostolate – A Joint Pastoral Letter of the Philippine Hierarchy
“God’s word is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword…” (Heb. IV:12)
All over the country, we notice today a growing hunger and enthusiasm for the word of God. Interest has been generated in reading and reflecting on the message of salvation as found in Scriptures. While we welcome this new development with joy and satisfaction, there is however the accompanying anxiety as to how to cope with the ever-growing demand for a deeper scriptural knowledge. There is also the added concern as to the way and manner with which the Sacred Book is handled and propagated.
Conscious of our duty as Bishops and custodians of the authentic word of God, we direct this joint pastoral letter to our beloved people on the vital role of the Bible in Christian life, and on the much needed participation of all in the Catholic Biblical Apostolate in our country.
Recalling Vatican II
When Vatican II opened the windows of the Church to allow the fresh air of change to come in, the Church opened itself to a new Pentecost. With the issuance of the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (DEI VERBUM), it provided the basis for a true and genuine biblical renewal in the Church. The Conciliar document became, too, the Magna Carta of the Biblical Apostolate in our present times.
This epochal move taken by the Fathers of the Council is an open invitation to all men of faith and good will to keep close to God by knowing Him more and better through Jesus Christ. The Conciliar document stressed the fact that God is a personal God who has spoken to men. With them, He has initiated a dialogue, in which they are invited to listen to His words – and to respond. In this scheme of evangelization, God’s words are revelation and man’s response is faith (D.V. n. 5).
God’s revelation is the life-blood of Scriptures. It is a communication and manifestation of Himself in His saving plan for men, through the prophets and writers of the Old Testament and in the fullness of time, through His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ (Heb. 1:1). In God’s divine plan “Sacred Scripture is the speech of God, as it is put down in writing under the breath of the Holy Spirit. And tradition transmits in its entirety the word of God which was entrusted to the Apostles by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit… Thus it comes about that the Church does not draw her certainty about all revealed truths from the Holy Scriptures alone. “Hence, both Scripture and Tradition, as entrusted to the Magisterium of the Church, must be accepted and honored with equal feeling of devotion and reverence” (D.V. n. 9).
The Church holds in veneration the Sacred Scriptures, as the word of God, just as she venerates the Holy Eucharist as the Body of Christ (cf. D.V. 21). She invites the faithful to partake of the Bread of Life from the one table of the word of God and the Body of Christ. Needless to say, all the preachings of the Church are nourished and ruled by Sacred Scriptures (ibid.).
A true mother that she is to her children, the Church seeks ways and means to provide easy access to the Bible to all the Christian faithful (D.V. n. 22), so that its saving message may animate their daily lives. This is the timely and timeless apostolate that brings the Sacred Scriptures closer to the people of God.
The Biblical Apostolate in the Philippines
The official organization of the Biblical Apostolate in the country began with the formation for the Bishops’ Bible Committee in 1968. Tasked with the work of propagating the Sacred Scriptures, the Committee entered into a cooperative venture with the Philippine Bible Society for common translations in the different dialects of the country (cf. D.V. n. 22).
The event was an auspicious beginning which preceded equally momentous biblical developments, to wit:
a) establishment of the Catholic Bible Center in 1971, which later developed into the National Catholic Bible Center (NCBC);
b) formation of the Episcopal Commission for the Biblical Apostolate in 1978;
c) launching of activities via the mass-media, like the Bibliya at Buhay Radio Program, the “Bibliarasal”, “Scripture Venture” and Basic Bible Seminars, and the publication of the Good News Magazine, “Binhi”, Word-Alive, and other biblical bulletins, all aimed at making the people Bible conscious and Bible-oriented;
d) celebration of the Annual Bible Week and Bible Festivals;
e) publication of the Daily Bible Reading Guide;
f) organization of the Catholic Bible Ministry School and the Youth Bible Apostolate;
g) undertaking a ten-year Bible project known as “A Bible for Every Family” (BEF) Project, directed towards the distribution and enthronement of the Bible Communities, and the formation of Lay Bible Ministers;
h) attendance at the first, second, and third Plenary Assemblies of the World Catholic Federation of the Bible Apostolate (WCFBA), which inspired and spurred the promotion of the Biblical apostolate all over the country.
The Bible in the Life of the Faithful
All these developments and efforts aim at satisfying the ever-growing hunger for the word of God on the part of the faithful. When Vatican II called for the renewal of the Christian life, it realized that the task is not easy. There are many forces militating against a complete renewal of life in persons and in society. For one, there is the spirit of secularism and materialism which has slowly crept in, and men value their religion exclusively for what they can draw out of it, and not for what they can render in service to God and their fellowmen. For another, the inertia of sinful social structures is a massive obstacle to change. Personal renewal and societal change will come about only when there is a change of heart, a change of attitudes, a change of values and priorities, a change in relationships and life-style. A regeneration of the national character can come about only with the regeneration of each one of us as individuals and as community.
How do we realize this? One effective means is by going back to the word of God as found in Sacred Scriptures. A biblically-based spirituality is imperative. Bible reading and reflection help bring about, not only a deeper intimacy with God and a more serious commitment to His truths, but also a deeper relationship with one another, and deeper awareness of world events in concrete situations, in all aspects of human life and in all periods of history, especially the present. The Holy Bible, indeed, is man’s companion in his search for “the Way, the Truth and the Life”.
Moreover, the Sacred Book is also the source of spiritual nourishment, strength and consolation. “Everything written before our time was written for our instruction that we might derive hope from the lessons of patience and the words of encouragement in the scriptures” (Rom. 15:4). And as St. Jerome said: “If there is anything in this life which sustains a wise man and induces him to maintain his serenity amidst the tribulations and adversities of the world, it is in the first place, I consider the meditation and knowledge of Scriptures.”
Our Biblical Thrusts and Priorities
Mindful of the important role that the Scriptures play in the life of Christians, as they grow more as persons in the grace and knowledge of the Lord, and relate themselves to one another in the spirit of brotherhood under the Fatherhood of God, we solicitously focus our attention on major specific areas of concern from which the faithful can draw growth and guidance in making the Holy Bible a way of life, nay a Christian life. Towards this objectives, we invite our faithful to the following concerns:
The liturgy is the summit and font of the life of the Church. The People of God must be made to experience the richness of a liturgical life based on the word of God. As Vatican II puts it: “Scared Scripture is of the greatest importance in the celebration of the liturgy… In order to achieve the restoration, progress and adaptation of the sacred liturgy, it is essential to promote that sweet and living love for Sacred Scriptures to which the venerable tradition of Eastern and Western rites give testimony…” (Const. on the Sacred Liturgy, S.C., n. 25).
Care and devotion must be observed in the reading of the word in the liturgy. We disapprove the practise of substituting the words of men (writings of contemporary, even secular authors) for the holy word of God. It will be very helpful to institute the Ministry of Lay Lectors, who after a proper training, will be officially deputized to undertake the devout and clear reading of the word in the Mass and other liturgical services.
Clerics and seminarians, preparing for the priesthood, should take great interest in deepening their knowledge of Scriptures. By meditating on the Scriptures, they shall develop in themselves the same love and concern that God has for all and especially the poor. Seminaries should provide their students with a deeply biblically-centered faith-experience and in-service training regarding different forms of communicating and living the Gospel message.
Religious, “men and women who set out to follow Christ with greater liberty, and to imitate Him more closely, by practising the evangelical counsels” (P.C., n. 1), should promote a renewal of spirit, and bring about the solidity and vitality of the religious life. This is chiefly done by going back to the very source, which is the Bible.
Therefore, “let them have the Sacred Scriptures at hand daily, so that they might learn ‘the surpassing worth of knowing Jesus Christ’ (Phil. 3:8) by reading and meditation on the divine Scriptures…” (P.C. n. 6).
Catechists and Lay Leaders
Catechists and lay leaders play an important role in the apostolate of the Church. Being animators of our Christian communities, they should have an adequate training in Scriptures. They should make the Bible, the source of their spirituality and prayer-life. “All Scripture is inspired by God, and is useful for teaching… for reproof, correction, and training in holiness, so that the man of God may be fully competent and equipped with every good work” (2 Tim 3:16-17).
We all know the many profound and rapid changes the beset our families today, changes that have affected our society and culture in general. We invite our Christian families to nourish themselves with the word of God as found in Sacred Scriptures, in order to adequately meet the various needs of present-day life and life-situations.
Let the Bible be enthroned in every home, and be the source of inspiration to all the members of the family, as they gather in a communal reading and meditation on the Word of life.
Schools and the Youth
We find in our youth a rich potential for building up of the Body of Christ, which is the Church. If we can provide them fulfillment in their search for the truth and the good, they can be expected to make a valuable contribution to the spread of God’s kingdom on earth. Toward this end, we urge our Catholic schools to provide a biblical formation for the young, in order that they may attain the right vision and adopt the proper values and priorities that can come only through God’s word.
Basic Ecclesial Communities
Basic ecclesial communities are one of the current phenomena of our times, a clear sign of the movement of the Spirit in the Church today. We trust that they will contribute immensely to the spiritual renewal and social change in our parishes and communities today. A careful preparation of the sacred text for the group reflection must be made, and a proper formation provided on the use of the word of God.
Catholic Charismatic Groups
Charismatic groups are sprouting all over the country. They hunger for the word of God, for their spiritual nourishment and growth (cf. I Pet 2:2). Every effort must be had to form them in the proper reading and correct interpretation of Scriptures. Care must be had that they do not fall into the error of Fundamentalism – a too literal interpretation of Scriptures, nor into a false sense of Illuminism – a claim to be enlightened and directed from on high by the Holy Spirit, so that they become free to give their private interpretation to the word of God. Firm pastoral authority and proper guidance are needed to counteract such aberrations.
Our efforts to promote ecumenism with our separated brethren, must take into consideration the provisions of Vatican II, regarding the restoration of unity among all Christians. Catholic guidelines and methods toward this end must be fully observed. As regard Sacred Scriptures, we must be careful that in our desire to promote understanding and harmony with our separated brethren, we do not sacrifice the official teaching of the Church’s Magisterium.
In regard however to translations, production and distribution of Bibles, we endorse the cooperation with the Philippine Bible Society, in the spirit of Vatican II (cf. D.V. n. 22), taking into consideration the guidelines issued by the Pontifical Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity in 1968.
Efforts have to be made to bring the word of God to our cultural communities, better known as Tribal Filipinos. They too, are entitled to the message of salvation. We commend the work of the Summer Institute of Linguistic (SIL), for their initiative and efforts in translating the New Testament into the different languages of our cultural communities, the most recent of which is the Ivatan New Testament for the Batanes area.
Justice and Peace Movement
The justice and peace movement is a part of the social apostolate of the church. It calls for the establishment of a more humane, just and participatory society toward a fullness of life for all. It promotes a process of liberation based on a double change – a change of heart in the human person, and a change of meaningless and unjust structures in the community.
Any movement however for justice and peace, will succeed only when it is solidly based on the word of God. The Holy Scriptures reveal to us a God of love, of mercy, of justice and fullness of life, a God who showed preference for the poor and the oppressed (Mt. 20:28; Mk. 9:36). But the evangelical meaning of the “preferential option for the poor” must be clearly understood. It cannot and should not lead to the use of violence, nor should it move us to promote class struggle. An analysis therefore of the social reality in the light of Scriptures, can be a rich source of inspiration in man’s struggle for justice and peace, and for the unity of our people. “The gospel of Jesus Christ is a message of freedom and a force for liberation” (Instruction on Certain Aspects of the “Theology of Liberation”).
We call on all workers for justice and peace to refrain from manipulating the Sacred Book to support totalitarian and atheistic ideologies and movements. On the other hand we commend all those who exert their efforts to promote the authentic message of the word of God.
We cannot in any way underestimate the role of the means of social communication in our contemporary world. Through them, we reach and influence, not only single individuals, but the very masses and even the whole of human society. “It is the birthright of the Church to use and own any of these media which are necessary or useful for the formation of Christians and for pastoral activity…” (Decree on the Means for Social Communications, I.M., n. 3).
As regard the Bible Apostolate, every effort must be made to present the message of Scriptures via the mass media.
We, Bishops “designated by the Holy Spirit to take the place of the Apostles as pastors of souls” (C.D., n. 2) commit to personally nourish ourselves with the word of God, and to faithfully promote the love for it among the people. We commit ourselves to give priority to the Scriptures as basis of our pastoral programs, to nourish our ecclesial communities with the word of God, and to encourage our faithful to a greater interest in reading and reflecting on the Scriptures. We further commit ourselves to the organization of Diocesan Centers for the Biblical Apostolate, convinced “that the ministry of the word – pastoral preaching, catechetics and all forms of Christian instruction, among which the liturgical homily should hold pride of place is nourished and thrives in holiness through the word of Scriptures…” (D.V. n. 21).
We entrust to our Episcopal Commission for the Biblical Apostolate, in conjunction with our national, regional and diocesan Bible Centers:
a) the formation of lay readers at Mass, lay Bible ministers and lay Bible promoters;
b) the training of people in mass media (press, radio & TV), for the proper promotion of the word of God from the Catholic point of view;
c) the material distribution (if possible, for free) of the copies of the Bible to the poor and the needy, so as to provide their homes with a text of the Sacred Book;
d) the preparation of texts and articles for the proper understanding and interpretation of Scriptures;
We call on our priests and religious, our helpers and cooperators in the pastoral ministry to “immerse themselves in the Scriptures by constant sacred reading and diligent study,” mindful that “anyone becomes an empty preacher of the word of God to others, not being a hearer of the word in his own heart…” (D.V., n. 25). We ask them to be the principal animators and promoters of the Bible Apostolate in their respective communities, at the same time that we ask them to respect other people’s beliefs like our Muslim brothers in the South, who also have their own sacred book.
In closing, as we celebrate the two-thousandth anniversary of Mary’s birth in this MARIAN YEAR ‘85, we humbly commend ourselves and our people to the Blessed Virgin. She is the “Seat of Wisdom” who shared in the homage given by the Wise Men to the Infant Savior (Mt. 2:11). She is also the Mother and Model of the Church who, more than any of us, received the blessing of those who hear the word of God and keep it” (Lk. 11:28).
For the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines:
(Sgd.)+ANTONIO Ll. MABUTAS, D.D.
Archbishop of Davao
February 24, 1985
MAN, OUR WAY
DRAFT OF THE CBCP PASTORAL LETTER ON SOCIAL TRANSFORMATION
in the image of God he created him… (Gen. 1:27)
Reflecting on the above text of Holy Scripture, against the background of Philippine society as we know it today, we find our imaginations assailed by a host of shocking pictures: the lifeless body of Senator Aquino sprawled on the tarmac; the brutalized corpse of Father Favali; starving children in Negros; young soldiers lying dead after an NPA attack; the bloodied heads of demonstrators beaten with truncheons. And we ask ourselves, “What is happening to the image of God among us? Why is it being so desecrated, and what can we as pastors say or do to uphold the dignity of man against the forces that are daily trampling it in the mud?”
We speak to the Filipino people as pastors , not as politicians, nor as economists or social scientists, although we have attempted to familiarize ourselves with the thinking of these specialists. As pastors in the present circumstances we must recall the double message of the prophets of Israel: on the one hand, the divine outrage at human brutality and injustice, and on the other the promise of divine forgiveness if men will repent.
Cease to do evil, learn to do good,
search for justice, help the oppressed,
be just to the orphan, plead for the widow. “Come now, let us talk this over, says Yahweh.
Though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be white as snow;
though they are red as crimson,
they shall be like wool. (Isaiah 1:16b-18)
As pastors we must also attempt to provide guidelines, based on our Christian faith, for a way out of the present impasse. We can not and should not provide technical formulas, but we hope to show that a Christian vision of man, does have consequences in the real world and may help us to avoid “solutions” to the present crisis which are neither Christian nor truly human.
The optic which we have chosen, namely what is happening to the poor majority in our society, is, we believe, the most relevant one for us as pastors and for a Church which, in the words of our present Holy Father, sees solidarity with the poor to be “its mission, its service, a proof of its fidelity to Christ…”1
As a final prenote to our reflections, it may be well to recall that this is not the first occasion on which the Philippine Bishops have written on the subject of development. We would call attention particularly to the “Pastoral Letter on Evangelization and Development,” issued in July of 1973; much of the analysis and reflection contained in that letter remains valid and will serve as background for our discussion.
Poverty and Suffering
The most evident reality in Philippine society today is that very many, particularly among the masses of the poor and the weak, are suffering. This is true despite the generous efforts of many individuals and organized groups at all levels: government officials and civil servants, members of the military, church-related and private charitable and civic organizations, social workers and community and labor organizers, and self-sacrificing doctors and health workers who are dedicating their lives to the urban and rural poor. Despite their efforts, suffering may indeed be more widespread and severe today than at any time since the days of the Japanese Occupation. The early termination of the milling season in Negros, for example, has meant unemployment, partial or total, for hundreds of thousands who have no means of staying alive other than their daily wage. The seasonal hunger and malnutrition which have long been the lot of plantation workers whose labor produced a large part of the nation’s foreign exchange, have given way to the threat of actual starvation. Statistics on the extent of the problem raise the specter of a whole generation of brain-damaged children on the plantations who, if they survive at all, may in time become a generation of feeble-minded adults.
Negros may be the most catastrophic case at the moment, but we are all aware that inadequate employment and the suffering which accompanies it is a national problem, and one which is growing worse over time. Statistics here only confirm our own observations: in the last quarter of 1978, 14.7% of the Philippine labor force was either unemployed or working but seeking more work 2. In the same quarter of last year the percentage was 32.53. Nor do these figures reflect the total reality even of the employment situation: the thousands who can find no work in established business or industry and have joined the ranks of the “self-employed” as cigarette-vendors and peddlars; the mothers of families and the children who have entered the labor force because of the inadequacy of the wages received by the father, or been driven into prostitution by the same necessity; the hundreds of thousands who have been obliged to seek employment abroad because they could not find it in the land of their birth.
But even for many of those who have work, life is very hard. For a long time, prices have been rising faster than wages and the living standards of the poor have consequently been declining. By 1980 (when the government ceased publishing the figures) the wages of a skilled worker in Manila would buy only 63.7% of what the wages of a similar worker would have bought in 1972, and those of an unskilled worker would buy only 53.4% of what his 1972 wage would have purchased4. Poverty studies have uniformly demonstrated the inadequacy of the legal minimum wage to provide the basic necessities for the average Philippine family5.
In agriculture, despite the improvements in irrigation, the introduction of high-yielding varieties of rice, the Masagana 99 and other government programs which have undoubtedly contributed to the increase of productivity, the situation of the small farmer is in many cases no better than it was ten or twenty years ago.
The increased cost of fertilizer and other agricultural inputs, rising faster than the price which the farmer receives for his produce, has caught him in a “cost-price squeeze” while the real beneficiaries of the “Green Revolution” have been the urban consumers and the suppliers of credit and technology. Land reform itself, although it has provided greater security of tenure which is important, has not produced significantly greater equity in the rural areas; the number of landless workers has increased as a consequence of population growth and the expansion of commercial farming, and real wages have gone down in agriculture as elsewhere6.
It would require far more space than we can devote to the subject if we were to try to discuss the other groups which are suffering economically in our society today, for example tribal Filipinos whose ancestral lands are being invaded by logging and mining firms or are being taken over for development projects, or small fishermen whose livelihoods are being threatened by commercial trawlers. Here we wish only to call attention to the spiral of conflict, criminality and violence which stems in many cases from economic hardship and which in turn brings further suffering to the poor and the weak. There is conflict in the form of strikes by workers, too often met with violent repression on the part of management and the police. And an upsurge of street crime, met it seems by policemen with “licenses to kill.” Many rural areas and some urban areas have fallen under the control of armed gangs, whether sheer criminal elements, “lost commands” or CHDF, NPA or MNLF. Terrorism and murder as strategies for imposing compliance on a reluctant population are becoming common even in some urban areas, as are acts of vengeance under the guise of ideological conflict. Thus there appears to be a breakdown of law and order, together with the reappearance in some provinces of local “warlords” with their private armies. But however one analyses the situation, it is the poor and the weak who suffer; and indeed, in the armed clashes that occur, it is the “little people” on both sides who are killed and leave behind young widows and fatherless children. Correspondingly, it is the poor and the weak who suffer more from the prevailing climate of fear and uncertainty.
The future does not offer much assurance of early relief. The more “optimistic” of two scenarios prepared by the World Bank, scenarios which focus on measures judged necessary for overcoming our present economic crisis, sees personal consumption expenditures dropping behind the 2.4% rate of population growth for the next several years, new employment possibilities insufficient to absorb the 700,000 job-seekers that enter the labor force annually, and per capita income 9% lower in 1990 than in 1983. The other scenario is indeed frightening: per-capita consumption 21% below the 1983 level by 1990 with “growing under–and unemployment in the economy and significant declines in the living standards for the majority of the population, declining real wages and increasing proportions of people living below the poverty line”7. Nor is the prospect made any brighter by the divisions within the political opposition, by the activities of those who see armed struggle as the only alternative to the existing situation, or of those who are building private armies in order to maintain it.
Lest we be accused of painting too black a picture of the future and contributing to the very demoralization of which we shall speak below, we should note that economists of various schools are seeking and proposing strategies whereby the recovery time might be shortened . But the solutions proposed are not without their own difficulties in the judgment of the experts, who in many cases differ strongly among themselves.
Moreover, the long-term future lies under the shadow of our wanton destruction of the environment and waste of the nation’s patrimony of natural resources. We are polluting our inland waters and the sea around us with household waste, industrial waste, mine tailings and agricultural chemicals8. Even the air-pollution indicators in Manila seem to have been asphyxiated, and no longer function. The long lines of logging trucks which clog the roads in various parts of the country testify to the continuing destruction of our forests, and with them, in many cases, of the farmlands ruined by floods and erosion.9
A second tragic feature of our society today we shall call demoralization, in the sense of a loss of hope. Many thousands, often highly capable and idealistic individuals who could under other circumstances have made a major contribution to the welfare of their fellow citizens, have emigrated abroad; and thousands of others are seeking to do so, despite the loneliness and exploitation which may await them, because they see no possibility for a better life for themselves or their children, if they simply remain here in their own land.
Parallel to the emigration abroad of our skilled manpower, but far less justifiable, is the flight of capital: a consequence of the demoralization of which we are speaking but also a cause of further discouragement, joblessness, and suffering.
There is widespread doubt too about the prospects for seeing justice done in the case of the Aquino murder, and no hope at all in countless other and less publicized cases. The intimidation and even murder of witnesses is frequent enough that few dare to testify in court against powerful individuals. One takes it for granted that, though petty criminals may be dealt with harshly or even hunted down on the streets, those with powerful connections will never see the inside of a prison though they may be responsible for the misappropriation of hundreds of millions of pesos or the torture and “salvaging” of scores of individuals.
The frequent changes in the Constitution, and the subordination of the Supreme Court to the Executive during the period of martial law have cost these institutions much of their credibility as instruments for the defense of the people’s rights. Nor has the Batasan been able to establish its own credibility as an instrument of the popular will. There is little confidence in the integrity of the electoral process or of the COMELEC, and a prospect of further disillusionment if the forthcoming elections are not conducted with fairness. The police, the military and particularly the paramilitary CHDF are seen as threats, together with the NPA, to the democratic process and the people’s freedom.
Massive corruption in high places, misreporting of economic data to international agencies and the manipulation of the economy for election purposes, as well as mismanagement of other people’s money (public funds, the savings of individuals, payments made to our war veterans), by those responsible for safeguarding it, have weakened confidence both in government and in the banking system.
People no longer believe much of what they receive through the mass media, or what is told them by government officials, politicians, or by groups which are attempting to promote their economic interests or ideological points of view. “Truth” has become, not a value in itself but simply an instrument for the promotion of economic and political strategies.
And finally, disunity, personal ambitions and manipulation within the political opposition groups seem to leave little hope for constructive change coming from that direction. All of which helps to explain the growing attraction of counsels of desperation such as armed struggle and revolution.
The Heart of the Problem
Having experienced as pastors the suffering and demoralization of our people, we note that the most fundamental problem is that in the organization of our national life The human person has not been accorded the centrality which he has in God’s plan , and which has been time and again insisted upon in the teaching of the Popes. We have failed to recognize, as a people, that “individual human beings are the foundation, the cause and the end of every social institution”10. We have failed also to “adopt man as the criterion of all social activity”11. As a consequence, the moral principles of justice, truth, charity, concern for the poor and the weak, principles which should promote the common good and the basic rights of individuals, are not effective in the face of individual and group self-interest. In this special sense too, we are a “de-moralized” society.
This is not to deny that countless individuals hold to the values which we have just mentioned. Our Christian faith only reinforces our daily experience that many persons do remain open to God and the neighbor, however powerful the predator-instinct of our fallen nature to seek only ourselves and to blind ourselves to the needs and even rights of others. What we are suggesting rather, is that the social arrangements which are expected to support our better instincts and protect the rights of the community as a whole and of its weaker members, are not effective. The group pressure and other techniques for enforcing the community’s values, which worked well enough in the barrio and local community, are not sufficient in the wider society. And the more impersonal mechanisms (elections, a literate citizenry, separation of powers, a free press, labor and peasant organizations, government agencies responsible for protecting the poor, etc.) have either been subverted or simply have not proven strong enough in the face of the greed and self-interest of individuals and groups.
Thus power rather than human dignity or the common good has become the determining factor in our national life. And power, whether economic power or political power or the sheer power of the gun, used skillfully and unscrupulously and unrestrained by either community values or social structures, generates more power. Thus power has shaped public policy and the allocation of the nation’s resources in such a way as to permit the accumulation of vast fortunes by a few, and the enjoyment by a minority of a standard of living modeled on that of the wealthy nations but totally inaccessible to the majority of their brother Filipinos. The danger is that the same power may be used to perpetuate this disparity in the face of the desperation of the poor during the hard and painful years that lie ahead.
What we have described on the national scene is closely related to international economic and political realities, in which self-interest rather than any concern for our common humanity appears to be the decisive factor. The locus of decision making in matters affecting the lives of our people has moved, with the centralization and then internationalization of economic and political activity, from the barrio to the poblacion and Manila, and thence to New York, Washington, the headquarters of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the transnational corporations. And if the mechanisms for maintaining society’s control over the use of power within our own borders have proven ineffective, it is clear that on the international level and particularly with regard to the tremendous and anonymous power of the transnational corporations, such mechanisms hardly exist at all.
As a consequence we are not only subject to the vagaries of international markets for our products, such as sugar for example, but the use of our natural resources and the direction of our economic development have been decided by men whose highest priorities are not the welfare of our people.
Here it would be well to recall, however, that the suffering of the masses in the Philippines is not due entirely to the fact that we are a poor nation, and in many ways dependent on forces operating outside our borders. It is true that our low level of economic development imposes severe constraints on the possibility of providing an adequate standard of living for our growing population. But we see a danger here of seeking outside “villains” to distract us from the reality of injustice also within our society. The suffering is due in large part also to the increasingly lopsided distribution of our national income. More than ten years ago a team of economists pointed out that if one wished to double the income of the poorest 20% of Philippine households by taking income from the wealthiest 20%, this would require a less than 7% reduction in the average income of the latter12. Yet rather than a redistribution in favor of the poor, the last decade has seen a further concentration of income in the hands of the more well-to-do.
Nor should we imagine that the whole problem stems from recent events or the machinations of some small and evil clique in our society. The problem is of long standing and pertains to the society as a whole. For decades before martial law was declared in 1972, the institutions of a modern democracy were legally in place; yet they failed in great part to control the use of power, to reduce income disparities, and bring the average Filipino into the mainstream of national life. Moreover, the abuse of power for personal gain is found throughout our society, also among the poor themselves. And the redistribution of income of which we spoke above would mean a reduction not only in that of the very wealthy but also in that of many who consider themselves members of a struggling middle class. Thus the problem touches us all: we are all a part of it and bear some responsibility for it.
However one may analyze the situation, the photographs of the body of Senator Aquino on the tarmac, of the body of Father Tullio Favali, and of starving children in Negros, which have shocked the nation and disgraced us before the world, are dramatic evidence of the extent to which power has come to prevail over the respect due the human person, in our society. And one must remember that Sen. Aquino and Fr. Favali, and Fr. Alberto Romero, all of them men of peace, were only three of many thousands who have suffered similar fates in recent years. Most of the others were poor men and women, and nameless except to those who knew and loved them. But in death they too cry out for an end to violence and a return to a society founded on justice and respect for human dignity.
REFLECTION IN FAITH
As pastors of our people, we wish, with you, to reflect, in the light of faith, on our country’s situation as we have described it. It is not our competence or obligation to propose technical solutions to the difficult social and economic problems which confront our people at this time. But it is part of our mission to urge you to face our present crisis as Christians, in the light of the teachings of our faith, so that even these difficulties “may work unto our good”.13
In the face of the widespread suffering which so many of our people are undergoing, we are challenged first of all by evangelical compassion.14 We know that the word “compassion” will be met, on the part of those who perhaps no longer resonate with the Gospel, with discomfort and perhaps even derision. And yet for the Christian, “compassion” is an encompassing attitude deeply rooted in the practice and teaching of Jesus.15 And both in Christian history and in our own experience, how often compassion–understood in the biblical sense–has been the beginning of deep conversion and the birth of a sense of solidarity so necessary for every one of us.
“Compassion” is the fundamental attitude of God toward us. His compassion lead him to become one of us, “Emmanuel,” in order to be with us and to share our lot. “Compassion” explains the whole adventure of Jesus as fellow-sharer with us in our daily life and struggles, our poverty and suffering and death–as well as in our everyday joys and moments of peace. Hence, the Church and every Christian, moved in his deepest soul to “compassion” should develop a sense of solidarity with those who suffer, a sense of servanthood and service in their regard, and an attitude of obedience to God in the exercise of that compassionate service.16 Compassion will oblige us to inform ourselves of the suffering of our brothers and sisters. We cannot be like those in the parable of the Good Samaritan who pass by the assaulted and wounded traveller and pay no heed to his condition.17 Such feigned ignorance and indifference would be inexcusable in us today.
In some measure we must allow this suffering to enter into our minds and hearts; this is the very meaning of “compassion.” In some measure the suffering of others must become our own: not to benumb us, not to paralyze us, but precisely to awaken and challenge us to some response. We must ask ourselves, in the face of all this suffering, what we can do: to relieve or at least to lessen it. Prayer, sincere and heartfelt, to begin with, is not an unworthy response; would there were more of it, on our part.18 But prayer, for the majority of us, is not enough. From sincere compassion deepened in prayer, deeds will follow, deeds must follow.19
We speak of solidarity with the suffering; this is one of the deepest dimensions of Christian discipleship. If Christ was indeed God-with-us, if indeed in him God became man to share the human condition in a world of sin, suffering and death, then our task as Christians–the task of the Church–is to follow the pattern of his life in this. To be disciples is to be “not above” the Master.20 In fact this is the burden of so much of the writing of Pope John Paul II: Man, he said in Redemptor Hominis, his first encyclical letter, “is the way that the Church must go.”21 The itinerary of the Church is the itinerary of man. And man, not in the abstract, but concrete men and women in our own neighborhood and nation, in the very real, very varied situations in which they live, relate to one another, rejoice, suffer, die.22 The Church must “be with” the men and women of our time to share their lives with them, to accompany them to their destiny, with the Word of Christ and the Spirit of Christ.
The Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, in this regard making his own and echoing the pastoral discernment made by Episcopal Conferences all over the world, has solemnly proclaimed, over and over again, the Church’s and his own “preferential option for the poor” (cf. Appendix). This “preferential option” is a commitment (in the words of the Asian bishops):
What are some aspects of the Church’s social teaching, renewed in recent years, which underlie this preferential option or commitment?24 We might sum it up in a few brief statements:
Thus the Church’s “walking with mankind” is preferentially a sharing of the lot and struggles of the poor and oppressed in order to seek with them true freedom and social justice in their country. This “option for the poor” is an evangelical option:34 it is a discipleship and following of Christ whose kingdom was preached to the poor, first of all, as the Good News of God’s salvation and love.35
Compassion–a suffering with our people’s suffering, a compassion which is generative of solidarity in deed, translating into action a “preferential option for the poor”: such is the response called for from us by the present crisis.
We have spoken of the demoralization of our people, and that on two levels: first, on the level of a generalized discouragement and loss of hope; secondly, on a deeper level, of an erosion of those values which constitute the basis of a truly moral and Christian Philippine society. How should we respond to this twofold crisis?
We see here, we believe, a crisis in our national life which is even more serious than our current economic and political crisis: a growing loss of a sense of oneness as a people with common meanings and common values, a growing loss of a sense of identity as a people deeply united in and motivated by our religious faith. (For the large majority of us are a believing people joined in our Christian faith.)
Hence we must give urgent attention to a profound renewal of our sense of solidarity as a people, and of our sense of solidarity as a people of religious faith. The sense of solidarity as a people is rooted in our common beliefs and values as a nation: a placing–in life and practice–of the common good of our nation and people above our personal, or group, or family interest; a revitalizing of that patriotism which Christian teaching has always held as a human virtue. And the sense of solidarity as a Christian people is rooted in those common convictions and attitudes of life which derive from and are powered by our religious faith and convictions. These two interlocking solidarities must be renewed in our national life. And we call on all of our people, in Church and in civil society, to reflect on this, and to move towards concerted action in this regard.
Needed change of attitudes for national solidarity
In the renewal of our sense of solidarity as a people, we see some orientations and values to which we must give special attention and emphasis:
We may be allowed to reflect very briefly on each of these points:
Solidarity through renewal in faith
Finally, we must turn to the need of that solidarity which is born of a renewal and interiorization of our faith and life as a believing and faithful people. We address ourselves first of all, of course, to our Catholic faithful and their communities. We would like to believe that what we say will be listened to by all who follow Christ and his Gospel, and by others too who believe in God as our common Father.
We speak of the Church as a community of the holy people of God, and the Second Vatican Council calls the Church “a sort of sacrament of the oneness of all mankind.” 45
Using the great Pauline images we speak of the Church as Body of Christ, all of whose members live by the one life Christ has given us, through his Spirit.46 In Christ we are no longer strangers to one another; through Baptism and the Eucharist we are made one in the Lord’s death and ressurection. We are but one creation, the new creation in the Spirit.47 Christ from the Cross has broken down enmities and divisions, and asks us to receive that reconciliation and oneness into ourselves and into our communities.48 Is not all this the truest foundation of that solidarity which must unite us? Most of us in this country are Catholics and Christians; most of us believe in the God who is Father. Should we not make this faith the basis in practice of a unity deeper than that created even by the common bonds of one history and one nation? Should not our “being Christian” be taken with all seriousness as the pattern for our endeavor to create one people under God?
Have we not, for too long, kept in separate compartments in our lives what our faith tells us we should be, and what we in fact “actualize” in the secular spheres of our existence? We have too long tended, it seems, to communicate our faith without giving adequate attention to its relevance for the renewal of our human society. We have accented the teaching of truths of faith (orthodoxy) without paying due attention also to the witness of life and praxis (orthopraxy) which must accompany all authentic religious belief.
We must strengthen the conviction that the Christian life and spirituality which religious instruction gives birth to must be a truly integrated one, with beliefs and values bound closely together, worship never divorced from praxis. If we had always kept this in mind, if we had always insisted on this unity of belief and practise, would we perhaps have avoided, or at least greatly lessened the laceration, or even the disintegration of the social fabric which we are witnessing today?
Perhaps once again, the central focus to which our teaching and practice of faith must point to is that of our solidarity as brothers and sisters in the community that is our nation, and the community that is shaped by our faith. Some years ago Pope John Paull II wrote:
The Churches of Latin America summed up the task of the Church in that continent as constructing a Church and Church communities of “communion and participation”, which together is only another way of naming solidarity.50 Without a sense of communion and participation, of unity and sharing in solidarity, we cannot renew our nation and our people. And for us as Christians, this solidarity must be built on our common Gospel beliefs and values.
We have in earlier paragraphs of this reflection in faith recalled some points found in recent formulations of the teaching of the Church: the recognition of the dignity and rights of the human person as foundational; the Church’s vocation “to walk the way of mankind”–to become a Church which travels with men and women of today the same itinerary of history; the need to participate in the “enabling” of men and women and their communities toward being under God and in accordance with his will, shapers of their own histories and co-creators with God of their own societies. We have seen how these convictions, inserted into the realities of the contemporary situation in countries like our own, lead us to the “preferential–but not exclusive and not excluding–option or commitment to the poor.”51
In most countries where the Church sees this process as shaping in large measure the programs and objectives of her own presence and action in society, her attention and energies have been directed increasingly to the building of ecclesial communities at the grassroots level, communities where it is possible to make the faith of those who form these communities the true bond of their life together, communities where communion and participation can begin to be realities and not mere aspirations. 52 In these communities, Christians have so often found that they can truly share and grow in the beliefs and values of the Gospel, in prayer that is intertwined with daily living, in the common hopes and aspirations which are born of the energies of the Spirit.
These communities have in so many places become the setting of the conversion of Christians and of the Church to the effort to “realize the Gospel” in the midst of the poor, the suffering and the oppressed. Here, so often, the “preferential option for the poor” has been transformed from verbal formula to life-experience, witness, even martyrdom–in the defense of the poor, in the defense of human rights. The Church in the Philippines has not been without its martyrs, lay Christians as well as religious and ordained. (The names of three priests come more readily to mind, Fr. Godofredo Alingal in Bukidnon, Fr. Tullio Favali in Cotabato, Fr. Alberto Romero in Zamboanga). We think of them as witnesses unto blood of this solidarity, especially with the poor and with victims of injustice.
In these communities a true Christian solidarity can be shaped, deepened, purified, witnessed to: they can become schools of authentic solidarity. In the unity that the poor are able to forge among themselves, they find a common mind and a common voice. In their solidarity they are enabled to forge a power, the non-violent power of the powerless, which is nonetheless the power of freedom. It is a power based on the truth of the Gospel, a prophetic power whose purpose is the realization of that truth in striving for justice and love, a power which, founded on the appropriation of God’s love for the poor, enables the poor to consolidate their hope.
It is the vocation and duty of the Church, we have said, to accompany the work of our people, especially the poor and “little ones” among our people, to construct that solidarity which in turn can alone reconstruct our nation in the present crisis. How urgent and necessary this vocation and duty are, the experiences of the last few years make clear to us. To fulfill this mission of participating in the creation of solidarity in our nation, the Church herself must build–once again primarily through ecclesial communities–the ecclesial solidarity which is only a human and societal translation of the vision of what the Church is and is meant to “say” before the world. Primarily in her laypeople, the Church community must pursue the task of trying to make present and operative in our country those human and social meanings and values which are inspired by the Gospel and the social teaching which derives from that Gospel. To do otherwise, especially in this time of crisis, is for the Church to renounce the most specific element of her mission, “to pronounce the name of Jesus within history.”
THE ROAD AHEAD
Our Insistence: Man the Center
During the period of martial law, we witnessed one attempt to reorganize society on the basis of power. We are witnessing another attempt now in the Communist-led insurgency. Such attempts, to the extent that they ignore the moral basis of society, can produce only a police state. And the claim that only through violent revolution can the lot of the poor be improved, flies in the face of a mass of historical evidence.
The need today is for the conversion of individuals and the reconstruction of society on the basis of a set of moral values. As Bishops who have examined the situation and reflected on the Gospel message and the social doctrine of the Church we reiterate that the fundamental value which must guide the thinking and action of our people as they work for change is the human person himself, body and soul, living in community, struggling on earth but destined to eternal life with God. Hence the guiding concern in social reconstruction cannot be the economy alone, lest the individual become only a means to an end, a “hand”. Nor can it be “the nation”, or an idealized “people”, to which man can just as easily be sacrificed, as happens in totalitarian regimes of both the right and the left. Our guiding concern must be man in his entirety: body and soul; man created in the image of God, fallen through sin but also redeemed in Christ and capable of rising from his sinfulness and being transformed into the likeness of the Lord Jesus through union with his sufferings, death, and resurrection; man free and responsible for his own development, yet a member of a community to which he has definite obligations and before which he has specific rights–a citizen. Thus, quite simply, our objective must be to restore the divine image that is the human person to its rightful place at the center of society. Hence our concern must be with every man and in particular the masses of the poor who have until now have been marginalized and excluded in our society.
This conversion of individuals and reconstruction of our society cannot be accomplished without the paschal mystery. “For it is only by putting to death that which is old that we can come to newness of life. Now although this refers primarily to people, it is also true of various worldly goods which bear the mark both of man’s sin and the blessing of God… (Decree on Missions, no. 8). Each one of us is being asked by God to say “No!” to his selfish self, and to carry the daily cross (cf. Lk. 9:23) that living according to justice and charity entails. Each one of us is asked to participate according to his situation and opportunities in the painful struggle for justice and peace in society. “Unless the grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies it remains only a grain of wheat. But if it dies, it bears abundant fruit.” (Jn. 12). The bearers of true social transformation are not those who sacrifice others, but those who make the necessary sacrifices, and are ready to sacrifice themselves for God and their brother.
We now wish to address ourselves to the different sectors in our society.
To the People Themselves
Appeals to those who have–or hope to have–the power of state are an exercise in futility unless the people back up these appeals and are ready with other alternatives in case they should fail. Hence the need for organizations (labor and peasant unions, organizations of the urban poor, Basic Christian Communities, etc.) in which they can form their values, articulate their needs, and apply pressure as needed in defense of their interests. For the human person must still be the architect and instrument of his own development. It is our belief that the overall political and economic structures of the nation will remain fragile until they become rooted in and responsive to truly autonomous organizations of citizens at the level of the barrio, the workplace, and the local urban community.
It is time the ordinary man and woman asserted his rights. For too long we have been unaware and indifferent. We can no longer simply say “Bahala na!” to all that is happening. And since each alone is easy prey to oppressive powers, people have to learn to organize, not because of sheer outrage, but because of concern (born of faith) that power which is God’s gift for the building up of persons and of the nation be used precisely to that purpose and not to our detriment.
It is not for us bishops to determine the economic and political forms which will eventually take shape in our nation. But we would note the following. Historical experience seems to demonstrate the need both for individual self-interest as an incentive to work and be creative, and for social control over man’s selfishness lest it become exploitative of others. Thus in societies there is a continual tension between the values of freedom and equality: neither of these can be maximized without destroying the other; but different societies have established different balances between them. In our nation the emphasis has been, in theory at least, on freedom; but this freedom has permitted some to accumulate power and wealth, often without making any commensurate contribution to society. Hence it would seem that for the immediate future the balance should be struck more on the side of equality. Hopefully the mechanisms for producing this equality will spring from the experience and discernment of the people themselves in their communities and workplaces, and not be imposed in the name of any ideology.
We have noted above the impact of population growth upon the welfare of our people, now and in the future. Without wishing to overemphasize the role of population–it is one factor among many–we would nevertheless call to the attention of our people the need to take their destiny in their own hands in this matter also, not leaving such an important matter to sheer chance or to the decisions of government. Here we would quote the words of Pope Paul VI:
To Policy-Makers and Those in Authority
Commitment to the poor in their concrete reality means, in our present circumstances, insisting that economic planning, no matter what the crisis we face or the pressure from foreign creditors, view the basic economic needs of the poor (and the most basic, of course, is food) as our first priority. In the words of our Canadian brothers in the hierarchy, the “needs of the poor have priority over the wants of the rich; the rights of workers are more important than the maximization of profits; the participation of marginalized groups has precedence over a system that excludes them.”54 It is for those whose standard of living is well above the subsistence level to bear more of the burden of the economic crisis, rather than those who are already below that level.
In all of their efforts and plans, officials and policy makers must keep in mind that it is the role of government to promote the common good, that is, the whole network of conditions necessary for the development of the people. They should remember that one indispensable condition for development in societies such as ours is the participation of the people themselves through their organizations and through the free and untrammeled expression of their will in the election process.
To the Police, the Military, and the Courts
Another imperative for a government concerned about the welfare of the poor and the weak in our society is the reestablishment of an atmosphere of security of life and property in our barrios, towns and cities. This will require, in our estimation, not more secret marshals, but efficiency and above all discipline among the police and the military, strong action against the “lost commands” and other paramilitary groups operating outside the law, and either a reorganization of the CHDF with improved selection, training and discipline, or the abolition of these units. At the same time the law-courts must be made more effective both for the prosecution of criminals and the protection of the innocent and should never let themselves be used as instruments of oppression. Military action against diehard elements of the NPA and other groups which would impose their will on society by armed force may be necessary as well; but it is our belief that real concern for the people’s rights, their economic situation and the security of their lives and property would do much to cut the ground from under the appeal of insurgent groups.
We commend highly those of the military establishment who are serious about cleaning up their own ranks, instituting reforms and working to restore the lost honor of the military; such judges of court too as strive to give just decisions despite heavy political pressure on them to influence their verdicts. We have only praise for such men of integrity, and we pray that their kind will increase through the hard times ahead.
To Those Who have Taken Up Arms against the Government
Not all who have joined the NPA have done so because they believe in the Communist cause and ideology; many are simply seeking an end to the injustices with which our people have been burdened for so long. To such as these, we say that the original inspiration of their rebellion–the struggle for justice–is thoroughly Christian. But we would like to see this struggle remaining Christian from beginning to end. We would like to see greater justice resulting from it, not further injustice, not sheer vengeance, not an escalation of killings.
And here is our difficulty: meeting the violence of injustice with the violence of the armed struggle will mean not only the deaths of combatants but the deaths of thousands of others of our countrymen as well, the very people who are to be liberated. The price is too high in the inevitable loss of innocent lives and in the entrenching of the spirit of vengeance and hatred which that loss will bring in its wake. The wounds will be deep; they are deep even now. And the tendency which we observe, to counter terror and oppression from one side with terror and oppression from the other, shows how quickly “the Revolution” can become another idol–like “the economy” or “national security”–to which the human person is sacrificed.
The address of the Holy father for the celebration of this year’s World Day of Peace was directed specifically to youth, and one passage in particular is most relevant in this context:
To Businessmen, the Rich
The wide disparity of wealth between the very rich and the very poor in our country is a scandal of monumental proportions. It is one that shames us before the rest of non-Christian Asia. And together with the inability of our political system to guarantee justice to every citizen, this hugely unequal distribution of wealth is the one powerful enticement to the revolution which promises to bring all, the many poor in particular, to a great future of economic equity.
There is no question we must all aim for that equity. And the wealthy must not wait for the day when they will be forced to it and be divested of all riches for the sake of the “classless society”. We work for economic equity because we believe we must–as Christians.
When we call ourselves a Church of compassion, a Church in solidarity with the poor, this means we must be ready to give the poor their due not only in Christian charity but also and more fundamentally in Christian justice. The economic crisis in which our nation is mired today must be turned into the Kairos, the moment of grace, for the wealthy of the land. Can they unbidden begin to come up with practical schemes of sharing their wealth, not only by dole-outs, but by imaginative job-creating projects that will allow the poor to earn their bread in dignity?
To Teachers, Educators
If what we have said about demoralization in its twofold sense is true, our educational system, the molder of citizens and (in the case of our Catholic schools) Christians of the future, must be brought to act in a concerted way on the crisis. Teachers of our youth will have to be more conscious of their crucial role in imparting to the young such values as safeguard the dignity of the human person, in educating them to the spirit of real patriotism and self-sacrifice for the common good that we see are in short supply today.
We make a special appeal to our heavily burdened public school teachers, in view of projected elections and their traditional role in them, to steel themselves for the coming ordeal. Will they be able to withstand the threats and pressure on them to become party to dishonesty and cheating at the polls? We commend and support all such teachers as have in the past shown remarkable strength of character in helping to keep the electoral process clean. We trust that all will show that same strength in the future. Their courage will be one important factor, we know, in helping the rest of the country to rise from the morass of demoralization that has been slowly sapping our life-force.
To The Youth
We are a nation of the young and it is in the hands of the young that the future of the nation lies. We trust that the “demoralization” of which we have spoken will be for them of briefer duration than with the rest of us, and that with the buoyancy and optimism of youth, they will begin to dream dreams their elders are not so capable of, muster all their enthusiasm towards the realizing of their dreams even in the seemingly impossible conditions of life that are now our lot in the Philippines. We are happy that many of the young are already participating in the struggle for a renewed and just society. It is necessary that they do so. But will the participation of the youth be for the up-building of people–and not for their destruction, for the creation of a society in which human dignity under God is the central value? Will their actions be rooted in the faith, guided by the faith, not by self- or class-interest, not by purely ideological or emotional motivations? The impetuosity of youth, their impatience with the slow pace of change, their eagerness to destroy what is harmful in society–all this can lead to good, but only when accompanied and tempered by a spirit of discerning faith. Without this kind of faith, there can be no adequate answers.
The address of the Holy father for the celebration of this year’s World Day of Peace was directed specifically to youth, and one passage in particular is most relevant in this context:
To Priests and Religious
A small minority of our priests and religious believe that the only kind of development that can change our country’s poor economic and political situation is to join with the NDF and bring a restructuring of society through the armed struggle. The far greater number are against violence as a strategy for change; but many of these latter are reluctant to engage in any action which might be interpreted as political–in effect denying the option for the poor and the solidarity with them that should mark the modern Church. For as we have tried to show above, it is by the structures of society also, and not only by individual malice that the image of God in man is debased today, and the reform of structures is in some sense a “political” task.
We have on a number of occasions in the past addressed ourselves to the role of priests and religious in socio-political matters, each time stressing the point that it is not their role to engage in partisan politics, to espouse specific political ideologies and programs, to indoctrinate the laity along definite party lines. But saying this does not mean that they are to be uninvolved in the problems–political ones too–that bedevil our people today. Priests and religious do have a right and a duty to insist on the moral principles that must guide our public and our private lives. And they can promote and defend the type of organizations of which we spoke above and which will hopefully be the underpinning of a more just and participative society.
There is a thin line between party politics and the kind of involvement of which we are speaking here, but our priests and religious must learn to recognize it in prayer and in community. There is no question that they must throw in their lot with the poor, accompany them in their struggle for justice,help them defend their rights and work for their economic betterment. But there is no question either that they must do this always in the spirit of Christ. That spirit calls for dedication and commitment to the work of justice, yes, but it has no room in it for the violence that kills, nor for the apathy and unconcern that also kills.
To Our Non-Catholic and Non-Christian Brothers
We have written this letter from the standpoint of our faith, and have addressed it primarily to our fellow Catholics. But we are well aware that many of the ideals which we have proposed, many of the values to which we have referred, are shared also by our Filipino brethren of other faiths–as they share our hopes for a Filipino nation in which the dignity and rights of man are central. To these brethren we extend the hand of fellowship, and we offer our fullest collaboration in making our common dream a reality.
To Ourselves, the Bishops
Even as we propose these ideas for consideration and make our appeal to various sectors of society, we are deeply aware that we too–the Catholic Bishops of the Philippines–have to address our own words to ourselves. And we see clearly that if we are indeed to be the Church of the poor, and be in total solidarity with the poor, we must begin to disengage ourselves from whatever ties have developed in our history that link us to power structures–political, economic, social–that are oppressive of our people. This will require much discernment and, even more, courage; but this is the only direction which we can take if we are to be truly Church in the Philippines today.
The challenges facing this generation of Filipinos are formidable indeed, and the problems of our society are serious. But not all of the vital signs are negative. The very moral outrage which we feel in the face of violence, injustice and untruth is a sign that the values of individuals are still sound. Many are painfully aware that Philippine society as we see it today is not the society for which they and their fathers fought and bled. Many sectors of society have awakened to the gravity of the situation and are seeking remedies: the urban and the rural poor, business and labor groups, the academic and professional worlds, members of the military.
There is also the tremendous amount of energy and of personal resources which have been expended and continue to be expended by many in social development projects, in helping the poor to survive and to assert their rights, in building Basic Christian Communities, in studying and seeking solutions to the economic and political problems of the nation, in protecting the integrity of the ballot, in seeking justice for those whose rights have been violated, and for political detainees. Nor can one ignore the many dedicated men and women in public service who are spending their time and energy, sometimes at great personal cost and risk, to combat the evils which we have been discussing. We would like to pay tribute to all of these, and particularly to those who have paid the price of their commitment in personal suffering, imprisonment, or even death.
And finally we have the resources of our faith, resources which have sustained many in dark moments of the past. The Paschal Mystery, the reality of Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection, assures us that at the deepest heart of the universe is a God who is goodness, love and justice; that the Mystery of Goodness is ultimately more powerful than the mystery evil; and that man too, blinded as he can be by self-interest, is open to conversion and to God’s grace.
In this spirit then, we make our prayer to Mary, Mother of the Church, inspired by the sentiments and words of the Holy Father himself:56
Help us to achieve in a peaceful way the end of so many injustices, to be fully committed on behalf of those who suffer most, to respect and promote the human and spiritual dignity of all your children.
You who are the Mother of Peace:
Grant that struggles cease, that hatreds end forever, that violent deaths be halted.
You who are Mother:
Dry the tears of those who weep, of those who are far from home in search of work, of those who have lost loved ones in armed violence. Grant that those who are able can produce their daily bread in work worthy of their dignity
You who are Model:
Lead us on the way of the human person, for only in unconditional love of him will we overcome the cruel divisions that dishonor mankind; only in making him central to our aspirations for peace and justice will we prevail over the many violences that destroy us.
Mother and Model:
We renew our gift of ourselves to you. We commit ourselves as you committed yourself with God to be faithful to the Word that gives life. We want to pass from sin to grace, from hatred to love; from slavery to true freedom in Christ; from insensibility to the poor to solidarity with them; from injustice which alienates to the justice that dignifies; from fratricidal war which has sown so much destruction to a fraternal peace which renews us and our land. We want to grow unto the living image of the Father. Help us to live and to heed the Word, your Son, Who lives and reigns with the Father and the Spirit forever and ever.Amen.
OPTION FOR THE POOR: POPE JOHN PAUL II
L’Osservatore Romano, 21 January 1985 pages 7-8.
(21 December 1984 to the Members of the Pontifical Household and the Curia)
*The Church has solemnly proclaimed during the Second Vatican Council that she makes this “preferential option for the poor,” hers, declaring (Lumen Gentium, No. 8):
This “option” which today is stressed with particular strength by the Episcopates of Latin America, has been repeatedly confirmed by me, following the example, for that matter, of my unforgettable predecessor, Pope Paul VI. I gladly take this opportunity to repeat that the commitment to the poor constitutes a dominant theme of my pastoral activity, the constant concern which accompanies my daily service to the People of God.
I have made and continue to make this “option” mine. I identify with it. And I feel that it could not be otherwise, since this is the Gospel’s eternal message: this is what Christ did, this is what Christ’s Apostles did, this is what the Church has done throughout her two-millenium history.
Before today’s forms of exploitation of the poor, the Church cannot remain silent. She also reminds the rich of their precise duties. Strong with the Word of God (cf. Is 5, 8; Jer 5, 25-28; Jas 5, 1, 3-4), she condemns the many injustices which, unfortunately, even today are committed to the detriment of the poor.
Yes the Church makes her own “the preferential option for the poor.” A preferential option, note carefully; therefore not an exclusive or excluding option, because the message is meant for everyone.
An option, in addition, which is based essentially on the Word of God, and not on criteria offered by human sciences or by opposing ideologies, which often reduce the poor to abstract socio-political or economic categories. An option, nevertheless, unwavering and irrevocable. As I said recently in Santo Domingo:
JOINT PASTORAL LETTER ON THE MARIAN YEAR
Who can look at our world today and deny our need for God’s help? Who can see the fragmented families, the civil strife, the threat of nuclear holocaust, and not understand that there can be no adequate answer without God? How can we not turn to God? How can we not talk to Him?
Such questions have become foremost in our minds. As Bishops of the Philippines, we have joined together to consider these and other most urgent questions. We have come to consider these and other most urgent questions. We have come to the conclusion that without neglecting all the human effort asked of us by God for the transformation of our personal lives and society — now more than ever is the time to call upon God in a special way to bring all of our families together in a great reawakening to prayer. This year commemorating the 2000th anniversary of the birth of our Blessed Mother is the fitting time to ask Jesus through His Mother Mary to save our families, our country and our world.
This conviction is immeasurably strengthened and enhanced by the statements of Vatican II and the Synod 1980 on the Family. One of the recommendations of the Council Fathers to help solve the problem of family disintegration is — to restore Family Prayer. The Synod on the Family added a more explicit recommendation that is reflected in the Synodal document of our Holy Father:
These endorsements by the Second Vatican Council, by Pope Paul VI’s Marialis Cultus , and by the Synod on the Family, give us the impetus, the courage and the obligation to do all in our power to restore the Family Rosary and to strengthen and maintain it, as it has been for centuries the time-honored prayer of our Philippine families. During the Marian Year we commit ourselves to a full-scale Family Rosary Crusade.
We have invited Father Patrick Peyton, well known to you and to the world as the rosary priest, to be with us as we undertake this gigantic task.
We shall spare no effort in prayer, work and sacrifice to realize our goal. And what do we ask of you–that you listen, that you pray and that, like Mary, you ponder all these things in your hearts. Then your response will make all the difference. The success of this Family Rosary Crusade is in your hands!
For the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines:
(Sgd.)+ANTONIO Ll. MABUTAS, D.D.
August 6, 1985
WE HEAR THE LORD’S CRY: AN APPEAL
Beloved People of God:
Three hundred fifty thousand sugar cane workers in Negros have no work. Sixty-six percent of the children are malnourished. Nineteen sugar mills no longer function.
Statistics such as these are devoid of emotion and feeling–until they become flesh and blood figures of men and women despairing for today’s bread, spiritless figures of small children, thin and famished, crying for any morsel of food that their parents can provide. They are frustrated and desperate. They are brothers and sisters.
We hear the Lord’s cry through them. For it is through people like those on the verge of starvation in Negros that the Lord Jesus speaks to us: “I was hungry and you fed me, thirsty and you gave me a drink… sick and you took care of me … whatever you do to the least of my brethren, you do it to me.” (Mt. 25: 35-40).
Beloved People of God, we, as your pastors, appeal to you to be with us in reaching out to the poor and suffering of Negros.
We know that many of us are likewise suffering. But the Lord loves even more deeply those who share generously from their poverty and suffering.
All donations from you will be forwarded to our sister-Church in Negros for distribution to those in need.
Before God we thank you for your generosity and love to the “least of my brethren.” With our blessings,
In the Lord,
For the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines:
(Sgd.)+ANTONIO Ll. MABUTAS, D.D.
July 9, 1985
MESSAGE TO THE PEOPLE OF GOD ON TERRORISM
Beloved People of God:
We greet you with the peace and love of the Lord.
Gathered at our July 1985 General Assembly, we your pastors, the Bishops of the Philippines, prayerfully reflected on the situation of our people today. We are deeply saddened by certain developments.
In our Pastoral Letter of 1984 entitled “Let There Be Life ” we directed your attention specifically to the utter disregard of human life now apparently a part of our national reality. And now a new wave of criminality against life is attempting to crush our sense of human dignity and worth.
We forthrightly call this wave of inhumanity as terrorism . We refer to various acts inimical to persons and designed to terminate dissenting opinion, impose control, or subjugate the human will by overt or implied application of blatant power for one cause or another. By whatever name it is called, salvaging or liquidation, kidnapping or extortion, intimidation or harassment, the increasing use of force to dominate people is a frightening reality which we as pastors cannot ignore.
On the basis of moral teachings and guidelines we have already pointed out in our Pastoral Letter “Let There Be Life,” we therefore take the following stand:
Beloved People of God, we bring you these four points as the fruit of our pastoral reflection. It is our hope that in your own communities you, too, may reflect in the light of your faith upon the social realities that deeply affect the living of your Christian life.
As a collegial body, we realize with sorrow that we do not always respond as expeditiously and speedily as we would want to various historical events that quickly occur. Nevertheless we assure you that our position as your pastors will remain unalterably that of the Lord Jesus who suffers in His people.
With His love we commend you to Almighty God and remember you in our prayers before Him.
In the Lord,
(Sgd.)+ANTONIO Ll. MABUTAS, D.D.
July 8, 1985
THE CATHOLIC BISHOPS’ CONFERENCE OF THE PHILIPPINES ON THE APOSTOLATE
It is in obedience to this injunction that we remind the faithful, and especially those engaged in the apostolate of Christian education, of the message of Vatican II. We likewise categorically reaffirm the teaching function of the Church as the voice of God, particularly in these times of crisis and of change.
Today, we address ourselves to the question of Christian education.
The Church affirms the inalienable right of each person to “…education corresponding to his proper destiny and suited to his native talents, his sex, his cultural background, and his ancestral heritage…”3
As a distinctive means to help Christians “… grow into manhood according to the mature measure of Christ…”4 the Church charges the pastors of souls with the “… most serious obligation…” to provide a Christian education to all the faithful.
The Church has taken upon herself the responsibility to give her children “… the kind of education through which their entire lives can be penetrated with the spirit of Christ, while at the same time she offers her services to all peoples by way of promoting the full development of the human person, for the welfare of earthly society and the building of a world fashioned more humanly…”5 Education for the Christian is an instrument to share values and a culture which transcend the temporal constraints of both the political demands and the socio-economic conditions of a country or a locale. For the Christians community “education” is a means to permeate human cultures with Christ’s values and vivify them from within. These cultures, in our times specially, are to be shaped in the atmosphere of education “with Christ” as its focal point. From this follows that in a Catholic school environment, education is the means of sharing the Good News of Christ. Through education the Christian community deepens its perceptions of what its faith means, shares it with those whose good will disposes them to listen to this message, and by its efforts to live this faith, the community through its schools slowly transforms the social milieu to the image desired by Christ.
Or as Vatican II has expressed it, the proper functions of the Catholic school are to “… create for the school community an atmosphere enlivened by the gospel spirit of freedom and charity … to relate all human culture eventually to the news of salvation, so that the light of faith will illumine the knowledge which students gradually gain of the world, of life and of mankind…”6 It is for this reason that the same Council “… earnestly entreats pastors of the Church and all the faithful to spare no sacrifice in helping Catholic schools to achieve their purpose in an increasingly adequate way…”7
And we regard the school and the family as the important agencies to carry out this objective.
Just as importantly;
It is particularly the Catholic school which the Church recognizes as a means for evangelization and as such “…retains its immense importance in the circumstances of our times…”11
Looking back at the message of the Council, we must now find its meaning for our country today.
For the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines:
(Sgd.)+JULIO R. CARDINAL ROSALES, D.D.
THE MARIAN YEAR 1985: A PILGRIMAGE OF HOPE
Pastoral Exhortation on the Marian Year, 1985
To all the faithful People of God in the Philippines, and in a special way to our Priests, their associates in diocesan and parish ministry, to Religious Men and Women, and to members of all Marian organizations, on the Marian Year in the Philippines, 8 December 1984 to 8 December 1985.1
II. 1985: Marian Year in the Philippines
III. Objectives of the Marian Year: Conversion, Life-Offering, Reparation (C-O-R)
IV. …With the Blessed Mother
More specifically, the message of Fatima asks for:
19. At this point we must add a practical note . This enumeration of objectives for the Marian Year necessarily remains rather generic. In all probability each of our dioceses will determine how these purposes can be pursued in actual practice, for each parish and community. Under the guidance of our pastors, let each community spell out the concrete ways this agenda can be realized, discern what must be done by every person and every group. What conversion is required of us? How may we effectively offer our daily lives in a spirit of consecration to the Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, so that we bring forth fruits of repentance? In what concrete ways can we make reparation for our sins and the sins of others? There is a challenge here, which the Marian Year objectives pose to us, as individuals and communities.
20. In sum, then, we ask our Catholic faithful to bend every effort to make this year “a pilgrimage of hope with our Blessed Mother” –a pilgrimage of prayer and penance, as well as of commitment to those deeds which shall promote justice, reconciliation and peace among our people. This pilgrimage in heart and spirit will also be accompanied, we trust, by pilgrimages to and gatherings at the places in our dioceses of provinces where Our Lady is especially honored. The “journey of heart and spirit” with the Mother of the Lord through the days and months of 1985, will be the most important one, for sure, but our assemblies in our churches and shrines can be valuable outward expressions too, of our praying together as a community of faith, of our sharing as one in our common hope and commitment to service.12 It will be, even in the midst of our present sea of troubles, a rejoicing together, because our confidence in our Blessed Mother’s intercession is as sure as it is strong.
V. Renewal In Our Marian Devotion
For the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines:
(Sgd.)+ANTONIO Ll. MABUTAS, D.D.
2 February 1985