Listen to Our Shepherds
DURING the Plenary Assembly of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (“CBCP”), our bishops deliberated on issues affecting the Church and the State in order to come up with the much awaited Pastoral Statement which will serve as guide and encouragement to the flock. Entitled Conquering Evil With Good, it was inspired by Romans 12:21 “Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good.” Fr. Tim Ofrasio, SJ translated in Pilipino the Pastoral Statement and, although unofficial, has been posted in social media and had reached not only Catholics but every citizens of the world. It was read in all Sunday Masses so that many people would better understand what our Shepherds say and what they want us to know.
It discussed different topics: Responding With Silence. Our bishops are aware of the culture of violence in the country that destroys “the moral fabric of our country.” The President of the Philippines himself hurled cruel words against our faith and our shepherds, even telling the “tambays” (street goon) to rob and kill the bishops, and decapitate them. Our bishops said they noted all of them in silence and it is piecing “into the soul of the Catholic Church like sharp daggers”. They follow instead Pope Francis who says: “the best response is silence and prayer.”
Faith: Our People’s Source Of Strength—Our bishops said they respect the freedom of conscience and religion of people of other faiths and the freedom of expression. But “freedom of expression does not include a license to insult other people’s faith, especially our core beliefs. We know that this cuts deeply into the souls of our people—especially the poor, because faith is the only thing they have to hold on to… It sustains them when they feel alone and defenseless in foreign lands where they work.” Admitting Our Shortcomings—“We bow in shame when we hear of abuses committed by some of (us)… we hold ourselves accountable for their actions, and accept our duty to correct them.”
Not Against Fighting Illegal Drugs—The bishops are not against the government’s efforts to fight illegal drugs, it means maintaining law and order, and protecting the citizens from lawless elements. They know that illegal drugs are a menace to society and their victims are the poor people. However, when they heard that mostly poor people “are brutally murdered on mere suspicion of being small-time drug users and peddlers while the big-time smugglers and drug lords went scot-free, they started wondering about the direction this “drug war” was taking.” They said that they do not want to interfere in State affairs. “But neither do we intend to abdicate our sacred mandate as shepherds to whom the Lord has entrusted his flock. We have a solemn duty to defend our flock, especially when they are attacked by wolves(!) We do not fight with arms. We fight only with the truth. Therefore, no amount of intimidation or even threat to our lives will make us give up our prophetic role, especially that of giving voice to the voiceless. As Paul once said, “Woe to me if I don’t preach the Gospel!” (1 Cor 9:16)”
God’s Image And Likeness—The bishops reiterated the right to life even of the unborn because human beings are created by God in His image and likeness. They stressed that those who are brutally murdered by mere suspicion that they are opponents of government had the right to life; so are those who are summarily executed by armed groups. Even those who may have committed criminal offenses should also be treated in a humane way, even as justice demands that they be held accountable for their actions.
Save The Children—The bishops appealed to the lawmakers the harm that may be caused on the children (in conflict with the law) by the bills making them criminally liable. Most of those children “come from very poor families and were born and raised in an environment of abuse.” They do not deserve to be treated as criminals, they should be rescued. They encouraged that Bahay-Pag-asa shelters, for the care of children in conflict with the law, should be improved. The Perspective Of Mercy – Being civilized is “being more humane to the poor, the weak, the disadvantaged, the elderly, the children, those with special needs and all those who tend to be left out in society… The law of retaliation “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” has long been repudiated in Christian tradition. As Christians, we have to learn the way of Jesus who says, “Be merciful, just as [also] your Father is merciful.”
Conquering Evil With Good is the challenge of our Shepherds. Our strength lies in keeping our communities of faith intact. The faithful must “use conscience in the choice of leaders, in the exercise of their vocation as citizens, in the raising of families, in their work and chosen professions, in the efforts to care for the environment, etc. Let conscience speaks its wisdom consistently in every aspect of our life.”
“The battles that we fight are spiritual.” (Ephesians 6:10-17). St. Peter admonishes us to “be sober and alert” especially when the enemy attacks “like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8) As members of God’s flock, we must learn to be brave, to stick together, and look after one another. Let this moment be a time to pray, to be strong, wise, and committed. Let this be also a teaching moment for us all – a moment for relearning the core beliefs, principles and values of our faith, and what it means to be a Catholic Christian at this time.” Thus, in this very trying time in the Catholic Church history, we need to defend, encourage and inspire our shepherds when they themselves are the persecuted in our country.
Allow me to greet the February Birthday celebrators in our family: my nephew Romarico Santiago, my niece and new doctor in the family Ria Edeliza Imperial, and my sister-in-law Leonisa Santiago.