CBCP Statement: “Reform Yourselves and Believe in the Gospel!” (Mark 1:15)

Beloved People of God:

Our Holy Father in his most recent letter to us reminds us of the gift of faith and hope: that when we believe, we hope; and that when we hope, we live differently (see Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi, November 30, 2007, no. 2). These convictions on faith and hope set the tone of our own letter to you in the present pastoral situation.

The Darkness of Our Situation—the Common Good Subordinated

For we live today as a people almost without hope, it would seem. We look at our landscape and see darkness everywhere. Many of us are more than aware that many problems are simply rumors, fears, suspicions, imagined wrongs. Because these are reported in the newspapers, we begin to believe that they are true. In such a pastoral situation we are being asked again for guidance on various specific problems currently bothering us. The following have been brought to our attention:

(a) the perception that corruption in government is at its worst, fraudulent projects going on unchecked despite the bad publicity given them in the media, investigations into the truth of allegations of bribery often stymied or their results unreported;

(b) the suspicion that martial law will be imposed as a response to the likelihood that destabilizing coups against the government are still being planned by disgruntled elements of the military allegedly with some civilian support;

(c) the constant talk about plans and moves for Charter change being made by politicians which to all intents and purposes appear to be nothing but a ploy for the sole purpose of their staying on in power—not the kind and method of making the right kind of change in the nation’s basic law;

(d) the “extra-judicial” killing of suspected leftists and their sympathizers, as well as media men, and the inexplicable lack of action on them despite strong suspicions about their perpetrators in the military establishment;

(e) the imminence of a law establishing a national ID system and the fear of some that this is being pushed simply for easier control of socially active elements of the general population.

The above are more or less the problems of the nation as seen from the center that is Manila. They are by no means universal as far as the entirety of our people is concerned. What emerge from the periphery—the provinces—are concerns quite different from the above. The following were brought to our attention by many of our people:

(a) the appreciation of the peso against the dollar resulting in the depreciation of OFWs’ remittances, contributing not a little to the continuance and exacerbation of the endemic poverty of the countryside;

(b) the lack of support for the improvement of the general welfare of rural folk, the slow progress especially of the land-reform program which is due to end this year unsatisfactorily funded and implemented;

(c) the bad peace and order situation obtaining in areas where the unabated fighting—or the threat of it—between the military and the NPA and the MILF/MNLF continues to cause unrest;

(d) the long-awaited and fought over reform of COMELEC which up to now has not been enacted;

(e) the pushing of mining concerns against the best interests of our people, especially of indigenous groups in disregard of the provisions in their behalf that the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act guarantees;

(f) the continuing abuse of our natural resources, of forest and marine life in particular, and the corruption in agencies that are meant to protect these resources; and

(g) the growth and proliferation of family political dynasties in many provinces and cities which only serve to institutionalize more intensely the concentration of power and unsavory economic opportunity in the hands of the few. In the two sets of problems that have been listed above, for all their apparent differences, we see nothing new. They are the same old problems, or variations of them, which have been plaguing our nation for years on end, through successive political administrations. Nothing or very little seems to have been done about them.

In them all we see the all too patent subordination of the common good to private good.

This is the basic fault in our country’s political culture that the Church in its preaching of Christ’s Gospel of social justice and charity has been bringing to our attention all these years and asking us and our communities to respond to as effectively as we can. It is the reason we make concern for the common good a crucial criterion for the choice of public officials. The persistence of that deep-seated fault pushes us to conclude in sorrow that we as a people are still devoid of a real social conscience. Today we often hear that “closure” has to be made to various issues ranging from the elections of 2004 to present charges of corruption in high places. That the political order is accused too often with moral bankruptcy with nary an exception is a sad sign of the general cynicism and frustration of our people. Most unfortunately there does not seem to be any way of achieving closure. For the process and results of standard democratic inquiries, sometimes including those by the Supreme Court, are received with skepticism and cynicism, given political interests, alliances, and allegiances. And we hear the general cry from the periphery: “Enough of the paralyzing divisions in the body politic. Bring issues to the courts and trust them to do their jobs. And help us get on with our lives, with our concern for livelihood.”

In the Darkness, Light

In such a pastoral situation of frustration, cynicism and apparent hopelessness, we need to be aware of the deep resources of our faith in the Lord for whom all things are possible. We take our faith for granted in daily life. Often we act and behave contrary to faith. We resort to faith as a last resort and not as a daily catalyst. Yet it is only from the perspective of faith and hope that we are able to see light in the darkness, liberation from darkness.

So if what we have brought to your attention seems to be only the dark side of our national situation, we should be able in the same faith and hope to see glimmers of light shining through—glimmers that must be of our own creation. But not entirely: for despite the prevailing darkness, we see everything is not thoroughly evil. There is good everywhere, even in those we often criticize, and it is our task to critically collaborate with them even as we critically oppose the not too good. This is integral to the challenge being put to us.

Journey to the Light—Start with Ourselves

If you agree with what we said above that the lack of a social conscience is, indeed, our common sin, is there anything we can do about it?

To journey to the light, we need first to realize that we have contributed not a little to the common malaise—because of decisions we have made, decisions that flowed from what we have become and because of our unconcern, inaction, apathy, often thinking only of our interests. And so with little sense of the future of our country, we vote for people we should not vote for.

Therefore, in the much needed regeneration of our politics and social life, this is where we have to start: with ourselves, as individuals, families, communities.

We have always put the blame on people we have chosen to govern us. Today we have become more aware that despite efforts, successful or not, to remove the incompetent or corrupt, our problems have remained. We have looked at the enemy as only outside of us.

But now we ask: In the face of the many persistent and unresolved crises of today can we together make a determined start, by making a conscious effort at changing our mind-sets towards a greater and more efficacious concern for the good of the nation?

Personal and Communal Conversion towards a Social Conscience

We are asking you, our beloved people, to be with us in the moral-spiritual reform of our nation by beginning with ourselves. This is what we need—conversion, real conversion, to put it in terms of our faith, for all of us to deliberately, consciously develop that social conscience that we say we sorely lack and to begin subordinating our private interests to the common good. This conversion is for all of us: laity, religious, priests, bishops.

But we have to go about it not only as individuals but just as importantly as whole communities. We have to face a common problem and map out deliberately and communally how to go about the work of self-reform. It is nothing less than what St. Paul speaks about: “Do not conform yourselves to the standards of this world, but let God transform you inwardly by a complete change of your mind. Then you will be able to know the will of God—what is good and pleasing to him and is perfect” (Rom. 12: 2).

Renewal of Faith-Communities, Civil Society, Political Leaders

We have to come together then as communities of faith, as we your Bishops said back in 1986 after the Snap Elections of that year, to “pray together, reason together, decide together, act together,” form groups of thinking and praying people—in our schools, seminaries, parishes, mandated organizations, lay movements, social action groups, most especially in basic ecclesial communities which the Rural Congress we will be holding this year looks to as a crucial instrument in the forbidding task of rural development.

We zero in on what we say is the basic fault in our communities’ political and social life: the subordinating of the common good to private good. We see how this flaw in our national character evinces itself in our community life. We need to seek ways and mean of correcting it in whatever way we can—but always according to the principles of active-non violence—together, creatively and imaginatively, as we bishops exhorted in 1986. We have to form ourselves into real communities of faith-discernment and -action.

We ask this of explicitly Church groups. But we will ask it too of all citizens who have a concern for the nation’s good, especially those who hold the reins of power, from Malacañang on to Congress, provincial and municipal governments, all the way down to barangay councils. People in government—and as well as all other civic and business groupings—can they too reflect together in all manner of associations and look into themselves to see if, in all their actuations, the demands of the common good are in fact captive to merely personal and selfish interests? And if they are, can they rise up to the challenge and decide themselves to contribute to the general effort?

This must sound like a preposterous request, but we make it anyway for we believe that what it seeks is the critical need of the moment. Already it is being responded to here and there by various concerned groups such as those that have been organized and trained to fight corruption. So we seek a wider response from all our faithful towards a more vigorous work for good governance and a more active promotion of responsible citizenship in our society in the light of the Gospel and the social teachings of the Church.

If in your minds, corruption—the worst offender against our common good—is rampant today, sparing no level of social and political life, and most glaringly and reportedly so in the various corridors of power, we have to confess that corruption is in truth our greatest shame as a people. But if it goes on unhindered, it is because, as we have had occasion to point out in the past, we all too often condone it as part of the perquisites of power and public office.

Lent—the Time to Journey Together toward Transformation

Lent will soon be upon us, a time of penance, of sorrow for sin, of self-reform. Soon we shall hear again the clarion call of the Lord Jesus: “Reform your lives and believe in the Gospel!” (Mk 1: 15). This season is the appropriate beginning for profound reform and conversion. It is the time for a spiritual combat against the enemy within, our pride and greed, our lust for power and wealth, etc.

And so we exhort you, our beloved people: As a special project for this year’s Lenten observance and in the spirit of penance, let us come together in little groups of reflection and discernment. In these groups we look seriously at our part in the many evils of our day—as individuals, as families, as communities—and discern what action we can do together.

Alay Kapwa is our traditional Lenten Program of sharing time, treasure and talent for evangelization. This Lent, without forgetting the treasure part, we zero in, in a very special way, on time and talent, asking what we can offer of these for the common effort towards the correction of our social ills. These would be evangelization of the most authentic kind. For it means a real acceptance of the Lord’s mandate to us as Christians to be concerned about one another, to go beyond ourselves and reach out to others. This attitude in the pattern of Christ himself is at the heart of Christian identity.

Hence other already existing movements and efforts (like the Pondo ng Pinoy) aimed at the transformation of Filipino culture through little acts of kindness for the neighbor and motivated only by the love of God—these too must be intensified as essential to our Lenten program of reform. In our coming together, in our exchanging of ideas and discerning on them, in our praying and acting together, we bring hope to our despairing land—the hope that our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, says in his most recent encyclical is the great need of our modern world.

With Mary, Mother of Hope, on the Journey of Renewal

We beg Mary to intercede for us with her Son Jesus. In the midst of the disciples who hoped for the renewal of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, she stood as their Mother, our Mother, of hope. Mary, Star of the Sea, guide us on our journey of renewal that we may more faithfully follow your Son Jesus in his loving care of all our brothers and sisters.

For the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines,

Archbishop of Jaro
CBCP President
January 27, 2008