God created man in the image of himself,

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.

“Take your wrong-doing out of my sight.

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.


“I  have seen the miserable state of my people…  I have heard of their appeal to be free of their slave drivers.  Yes, I am well aware of their sufferings…”  (Ex. 3:7)

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.


“As  for  Mary,  she  treasured  all  these  things  and pondered them in her heart”  (Lk. 2:19)

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


“And  when he saw the crowds he had compassion on them because they were harassed and dejected…”  (Mt. 9:36)

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):

of  working,  not  for (the poor) merely, in a paternalistic sense, but   with  them, to  learn  from  them…  their  real  needs  and aspirations,  as they  are  enabled  to   identify   and  articulate these, and to strive for their fulfillment, by transforming those structures  and  situations  which keep them in …  deprivation and powerlessness (to effect necessary changes).23

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:

1. At the center of her concern is the human person, his/her human dignity,25 and the rights which derive from that human dignity.26 When the Church “takes the itinerary of mankind,” it is precisely because of her regard for the God-given dignity of every man, woman and child, made to the image and likeness of God, destined to be collaborator of God’s work in history, destined for the eternal life which is the blessed vision of God.  All this flows from the creation of man in the image of God; all this is more wonderfully confirmed in the renewal which is the incarnation and redemption wrought in Jesus Christ.27

2. Since the Church’s concern is with real, living men and women she must walk the way of men and women who are sinners, following the footsteps of the merciful God, in Jesus Christ.28 She must walk  the way of men and women who are suffering for Christ shared in their suffering and made it his own–as the compassionate God.29 She must share the burdens of poverty and injustice suffered by the vast majority of mankind.  And with the poor and oppressed she too must struggle for the justice, the equality and participation, which is God’s will for man and human society. 30 In this she is faithful to the image of God revealed to us in Jesus and his Gospel, the liberating and transforming God.

3. Thus the “enabling” of men and women to be agents and shapers of their own history and of their own destiny is a key element in the participation of the Church in the task of human development and liberation.  In Populorum Progressio, and in Octogesima Adveniens again and again, Pope Paul VI insists on this basic insight.  He recalls the truth that it is not possible for others “from outside” (as it were) to develop human persons and human communities; this is something people have to do for themselves.  Thus, in Populorum progressio he says: …  every programme, made to increase production, has, in  the last  analysis, no other raison d’etre   but the service of man.  Such   programmes  should   reduce  inequalities,  fight descrimination, free man from various types of servitude and enable  him  to  be  the instrument of his own material betterment, of his moral progress and of his spiritual growth.
…  Economics and technology have no meaning except from  man  whom  they should serve.  And man is only truly man  in  so far  as, master  of  his own acts and judge of their worth, he is author of his own advancement, in keeping with the nature which was given to him by his Creator and whose possibilities and exigencies he himself freely assumes.31
Our present Holy Father, John Paul II, makes this doctrine his own:
A  world  of  justice  and  peace  cannot  be created by words  alone and  it  cannot be imposed by outside forces:  it must be desired  and  must  come  about through the contribution of all.  It is essential for every human being to have a sense  of  participating, of  being a part of the decisions  and endeavors that shape the destiny of the world.32

4. From this it follows that the Church must place herself “on the side of the poor” so that she may, with them, seek the change and transformation of unjust social structures.  “Through a process of ‘conscientization’ the poor, deprived and oppressed acquire effective responsibility and participation, in the decisions which make up their lives, and thus are enabled to free themselves.”33

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:

a. a commitment to the common good of the majority of our people (in this case, the poor sectors of our people)  above narrow personal and family interest;36

b. for those engaged in various areas of public service, a deep sense of public service as a sacred trust, a commitment to honesty and integrity in the exercise of duty (in public or private life) on every level;

c. the understanding of private property, deeply rooted in Christian belief, as having first of all an orientation to the common welfare of society, and thus necessarily informed by a social dimension and a sense of sharing;37

d. a rejection of the consumerist mentality, destructive of a Christian sense of evangelical poverty;

e. a profound understanding of the value of human work, as crative of both the Christian humanism of the worker and a Christian society which is built on solidarity, justice and brotherhood.38

We may be allowed to reflect very briefly on each of these points:

1. We have a word in our culture for the attitude of individualism pursued so often amongst us, kanya-kanya , “each one for himself.”  How destructive this is we do not need to develop.  Is not this priority given to the individual interest the root of the massive flight of money from our country, of cronyism, of the sacrifice even of human lives on the altar of selfish gain?

2. Public service, another name for political life, is to be most highly valued; the Christian faith values political activity as of great importance for the common good.39 But public service is, as an exercise of human power, fraught with great danger.  Sin and selfishness so often corrupt the use of power, making it an instrument of domination by a person or group.  How many abuses have we had only too painful an experience of, in the exercise of political power?  Those in government and power must be reminded that if they have any authority, it comes from God (Rom. 13:1 and John 19:11) and must be exercised as a service, a humble service, a true servanthood towards people.  All those to whom the people have confided the exercise of power must in its exercise follow the pattern of Christ who washed his disciples’ feet at the Last Supper and seek to serve rather than be served.40 As to dishonesty and corruption in public service, which some have said is the rot which perhaps more than anything else reveals the destruction of our society from within, need we say anything more than it must be eradicated from every level of our social life, both private and public?

3. Private property must be collocated within the horizon of the universal good and progress which is the purpose of all created goods.  Each and every human person does have the right to share in the use of all created things, insofar as this is necessary to meet the needs and fulfillment of the human person.  All other rights, including the right to private property and free trade, are subordinate to the primary and fundamental right which derives from the fact that God made the world and everything in it for the good of every individual human being and people.41 In the words of Pope John Paul II: There   is  a  social  mortgage on  all  private  property.  To  be compatible  with   primordial   human   rights,   the  right   of ownership must be primarily a right  of  use  and  administration, and though this does not rule out ownership and control, it  does   not  make  these  absolute  or  unlimited.  Ownership should  be  the  source  of  freedom for  all,  never  a  source  of special privilege or domination.  We have a grave and pressing duty to restore this right to its original and primary aim.42 The sum of all this is that all private ownership of the goods of the earth is stewardship.  And no one, in possessing and using the goods of this world may do so with only his self-interest in mind to the neglect of the good of others.Those who selfishly hoard or use only for their own profit property (even lawfully acquired) to the neglect of others in need may well earn the reproach of St. John:  “If a man who was rich enough in this world’s goods saw that one of his brothers was in need but closed his heart to him, how could the love of God be living in him?” (I Jn. 3:17)

4. Consumerism is, as “Evangeli Nuntiandi ” has pointed out, rooted in secularism, which  places human beings at the service of production and consumption, disregarding all values of the spirit, turning to the search for pleasure and power over others as idolatries dominating human life.43 To people tempted to equate having with being, possession with greatness, the Lord’s words are pointedly true:  “A man’s life is not made secure by what he owns, even when he has more than he needs.”  (Lk. 12:15)  “No man can be the slave of two masters…  You cannot be the slave both of God and of money.”  (Mt. 6:24)  “What then, will a man gain if he wins the whole world and ruins his life?” (Mt. 16:26).

5. In a Christian understanding of the worker as the center and the meaning of the world of labor (cf. “Laborem Exercens “) work is meant to actualize the potentialities of human persons; to transform the worker and the world in which he lives; to unfold the powers and possibilities of human beings as co-creators with God of human history.  Hence the priority of labor over capital:  capital exists to serve the joint endeavor of capital and labor; capital must serve the whole working society.  Whenever this role is violated, the economic system will generate injustices and exclude certain sections of the people from the wealth produced by them, thus creating hardships among the great majority and destabilizing society.44 The restoration of these attitudes in our national life and practice can be creative once again of a sense of solidarity among our people on all levels of society.  They provide us with objectives of common concern and endeavor, as patriotic citizens.  They can be seen as points of a program of restoration of solidarity and unity among our people in the present crisis.

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:

• “Solidarity  is the foundation of a community in which the  common good conditions  and liberates participation, and participation serves  the common good, supports it and implements it.  Solidarity means the continuous readiness to accept and perform that part of a task which  is imposed on us due to our participation as a member of our community…”49

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. 52In 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.”


“I  set before you life or death…Choose life, then, so that you and your descendants may live…”  (Deut. 30:19)

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:

“Finally, it is for the parents to decide, with full knowledge  of  the matter, on the number of their children, taking into account  their  responsibilities  towards God, themselves, the children they have already brought  into  the  world,  and the community to which they belong.  In  all  this  they  must follow  the  demands of  their  own conscience enlightened by God’s   law  authentically   interpreted,   and   sustained   by confidence in Him.”53

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.

• 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:

• You  must  then  decide  what values you want to build society  upon.  Your  choices  now  will  decide  whether  in the future  you will  suffer the tyranny of ideological systems that reduce  the  dynamics  of  society to the logic of class struggle.  The  values  that   you   choose   today   will   decide   whether relations  between  nations  will  continue to be overshadowed by tragic tensions that are the product of undeclared or openly touted  designs  to  subdue  all  peoples  to regimes where God does not count, and where the dignity of the human person is  sacrificed  to  the demands for an ideology that attempts to deify the collectivity.  The  values that you commit yourselves to  in  your youth will determine whether you will be satisfied with  the  heritage  of   a  past  in  which  hatred  and  violence suffocate  love  and  reconciliation.  Upon  the  choices  of each one  of  you  today will depend the future of your brothers and sisters.55

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:

• You  must  then  decide  what values you want to build society  upon.  Your  choices  now  will  decide  whether  in the future  you will  suffer the tyranny of ideological systems that reduce  the  dynamics  of  society to the logic of class struggle.  The  values  that   you   choose   today   will   decide   whether relations  between  nations  will  continue to be overshadowed by tragic tensions that are the product of undeclared or openly touted  designs  to  subdue  all  peoples  to regimes where God does not count, and where the dignity of the human person is  sacrificed  to  the demands for an ideology that attempts to deify the collectivity.  The  values that you commit yourselves to  in  your youth will determine whether you will be satisfied with  the  heritage  of   a  past  in  which  hatred  and  violence suffocate  love  and  reconciliation.  Upon  the  choices  of each one  of  you  today will depend the future of your brothers and sisters.55

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

Mary, Mother and Model of us all:

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.




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):

• Like Christ…  the Church  encompasses with  love  all those who are afflicted  with human weakness.  Indeed,  she recognizes in the poor  and  suffering the  likeness of  her  poor and suffering Founder.  She does all she can to relieve their need and in them she strives to serve Christ.

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:

• The  Pope, the Church,  and  her hierarchy,  want to  continue  to act on  Behalf of the poor, their dignity, their upliftment, their rights as persons, and their aspirations  to social  justice that can no longer be denied.

1  Laborem Exercens, no. 8.
2  Ministry of Labor and Employment, “Current Labor Statistics (as of March 1984).”
3  Ministry of Labor and Employment, “Comparative Labor Participation Rate:  First, Third and Fourth Quarters, 1984.”
4  University of the Philippines, An Analysis of the Philippine Economic Crisis:  A Workshop Report, p. 40 and Table 5.
5  Ibid., pp.  43-45 and Table 7.
6  See Antonio J. Ledesma, SJ, Perla Q. Makil, and Virginia A. Miralao (eds.), Second View from the Paddy:  More Empirical Studies on Philippine Rice Farming and Tenancy.  Quezon City, Institute of Philippine Culture, Ateneo de Manila, 1983.
7  Bernardo M. Villegas, “The Economic Crisis,” ms p., 39.
8  Veritas, 10 March 1985, p. 19.
9  For some of the dimensions of the problem, see the results of a Bureau of Forest Development survey conducted in 1981 and reported in Bulletin Today of 25 March 1985, p. 35.
10  Pope John XIII, Mater et Magistra, no. 219.
11  Pope John Paul II, Address at Bacolod, Philippines, no. 8.
12  International Labour Office, Sharing in Development, Geneva, 1974, p. 13.
13  Cf. Rom. 8:28
14  Compassion Cf Mt 14, 14; Mt 9, 36 cp. Mk 6, 34; Lk 7, 13; Mk 1, 41; Mt 20, 34; Mk 8, 2 par.; Mk 12, 41-44; Mk 5, 42-40, etc. Cf. also Albert Nolan, OP, Jesus Before Christianity, Orbis, Maryknoll NY, 1978 (cf. index, s.v. “Compassion)
15  Cf. Pope John Paul II, Dives in misericordia, and Nolan, fn. 2, above.
16  Henri J. M. Nouwen, Compassion:  A Reflection On the Christian Life, Garden City, N.Y., 1982, Doubleday, pp. 11 ff.
17  Lk 10, 25-37.
18  Cf.  Nouwen, op. cit., fn 4, above, pp. 103-115
19  Ibid., pp. 116-129
20  John, 13, 5 ff; Lk 6, 40
21  John Paul II, Redemptor hominis, no. 14 and throughout the encyclical letter.
22  Cf. John Paul II, Redemptor hominis, Dives in misericordia, Salvifici doloris.
23  Cf. For All the Peoples of Asia.  The Church in Asia:  Asian Bishops’ Statements on Mission, Community and Ministry, 1970-1983, IMC Publications, Manila, 1984, “Statement of the FABC I Assembly,” pp. 31-32.
24  Cf. III General Conference of Latin American Bishops, Puebla, Evangelization at present and in the future of Latin America, Washington, NCCB, 1979, cf. index, s.v. “poor”.  Also, Donal Dorr, Option for the Poor:  A Hundred Years of Vatican Social Teaching, Gill and Macmillan, Dublin, Orbis, Maryknoll, N.Y., 1983 (available in Philippine edition)
25  Cf. John Paul II, Redemptor hominis ; no. 12, et alibi.  This theme of human dignity (as fundamental basis for human rights) as rooted in man the image of God, is already developed in Gaudium et Spes and other conciliar texts, cf. M.A. Molina Diccionario del Vaticano II, B.A.C., Madrid, 1969, s.v. Dignidad humana, pp. 171-173, Hombre, pp. 276 ff.
26  On “The Church and Human Rights”, cf. Pontifical Commission Justitia et pax , Working papers no. 1, Vatican City, 1974 and no. 7, 1981.  Pius XII, Christmas, 1944:  “The dignity of man is the dignity of the image of God.”  “Synod of 1971, “Justice in the World,” and the address of John Paul II at Puebla, 28 January 1979, III.  1 ff. “human dignity (is) a gospel value.”
27  Cf. Human Rights:  Texts of John Paul II (October 1978-December 1979) Pontifical Commission, Justitia et Pax, Vatican City, 1981, pp. 2 ff.
28  Pope John Paul II, Dives in misericordia, 30 November 1980
29  Pope John Paul II, Salvific doloris, Lent, 1984
30  Cf. Paul VI, Octogesima adveniens, no. 22
31  Paul VI, Populorum progressio, no. 35 et alibi.
32  John Paul II, “Peace and youth go forward together,”  Message for the celebration of the World Day of Peace, 1 January 1985, no. 9
33  “Statement of the FABC I Assembly,” par. 21, cf. footnote 12, above.
34  Cf. John Paul II, “To the people of Tondo:  the poor and the industrial workers,” address given at Manila, 18 February 1981.  Cf. also “Statement of FABC III Assembly,” par. 17.1, in For All the Peoples of Asia, cf. fn. 12, above., p. 100
35  Cf. Mt. 5, 45; James 2, 5; Lk 4, 18-21; Lk 7, 21-23. Cf. Puebla, fn. 13, above, pp. 178-180.
36  Cf. this passage, no 316, from the Puebla document (cf. fn. 13 above): “…all human life together must be grounded on the common good, which lies in the ever more fraternal realization of the common dignity of all.  And this requires that none be used as instruments for the benefit of others, and that all be willing even to sacrifice private benefits.”
37  Cf. John Paul II, Addresses in Mexico, Acta Apostolicae Sedis, 209, p. 96.
38 John Paul II, Laborem exercens, 14 September 1981
39  Cf. Puebla document, fn. 13 above, paragraphs 513-520
40  John 13, 5 ff.
41  Cf. Vatican II, “Pastoral Constitutionon the Church in the Modern World,” no. 69.
42  Puebla, Opening Address of Pope John Paul II, III, section 4 (paragraphs 975, 1224, 1281, 492, 542). Cf Populorum progressio, 26.
43  Cf. Evangelii nuntiandi, section 55.
44  John Paul II, Laborem exercens , 14 September 1981, Cf. Donal Dorr, Option for the Poor, fn. 13 above Chapter 11, “A New Encyclical:  Poverty and Solidarity,” pp 233 ff.
45  Vatican Council II, Lumen Gentium, no. 1
46  For Pauline texts on the Body of Christ:  cf. Lumen Gentium , no. 7; eg 1 Cor 12, 13; Rom 6, 4-5; 1 Cor 10, 17; 1 Cor 12, 27; Rom 12, 5; 1 Cor 12, 1-12, 26; Col. 1, 15-18; Eph 1, 18-23, Gal 4, 19; Eph 2, 6 and 5, 11-16, 25-28; Col 2, 9, etc.
47  “The new creation” cf Gal 6, 15; 2 Cor 5, 17
48  Reconciliation, in Paul: 2 Cor 5, 18 ff; Eph 2, 16; Col 1, 20 ff.
49  Karol Cardinal Wojtila, Osoba I Czyn (The Self and the Act), cited by Donal Dorr, Option for the Poor, pp. 245-246.
50  Cf. Puebla (fn. 13, above) Part III, pp. 117 ff. in the edition indicated above.
51  Cf. Donal Dorr, op. cit. pp 207-217 and Appendix from John Paul II, below.
52  E.g., the Latin American Bishops’ reflections on Base-level ecclesial communitites, in the Puebla document, cf. index, s.v., Base-level ecclesial community.  Cf. also Evangelii nuntiandi, paragraph 58.
53  Pope Paul VI, Populorum Progressio, No. 37
54  Ethical Reflections on the Economic Crisis , cited in Gregory Baum, Class Struggle, Human Development Research and Documentation, pg. 7, reprinted from Theological Studies, 45 (1984).
55  John Paul II, Peace and Youth Go Forward Together, No. 6
56  Cf. John Paul II, Homily at the Marian Sanctuary of Suryapa, Honduras, L’Osservatore Romano (Apr. 25, 1983), 8-9.