Suffering of the poor more serious than attacks to Church — bishops

Suffering of the poor more serious than attacks to Church — bishops

Davao Archbishop Romulo Valles, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, is flanked by CBCP Vice President Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of Kalookan and Bishop Mylo Hubert Vergara of Pasig, chairman of the Episcopal Commission on Social Communications, at a press conference held after their plenary assembly in Manila, July 9, 2018. RICHARD DE LEON

By Roy Lagarde

July 11, 2018

Manila, Philippines

Amid President Rodrigo Duterte’s relentless tirades against the Catholic Church, bishops said that church people are called to stand their ground, saying that their sufferings “are nothing” compared to the ordeals of the poor.

After a three-day plenary assembly, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) issued a letter on July 9 expressing concern over a host of problems faced tbyFilipinos.

“We have a saying ‘the pain of one part of the body is felt by the whole body’. Alas, this is not always true! There is no way we can feel each other’s pains when some parts of the body are numbed by sheer indifference,” the CBCP said.

Signed by its president, Archbishop Romulo Valles of Davao, the strongly-worded pastoral exhortation lists a litany of abuses “in these times of darkness” such as the drug-war killings and slum dwellers being jailed for “loitering”.

In particular, the bishops lashed out at people who agree that drug users are not part of humanity and seeming apathy and indifference of the public in the face drug-related killings.

“Do we not feel the sufferings of drug addicts who are labeled as ‘non-humans’, and are stigmatized as criminals when their names end up in the dreaded ‘drug watch lists’?” the CBCP said.

Noting the suffering of those victimized by substance abuse, the bishops called on the people to also see them as “sick people who are struggling with a disease”.

“Should we not rather look at them also as victims who are crying out for help? Are we to remain as bystanders when we hear of people being killed in cold blood by ruthless murderers who dispose of human lives like trash?”

The church leaders stressed that for every drug suspect killed, there is widowed wife and there are orphaned children left behind “who could hardly even afford a decent burial for their loved ones”.

“Do we not care about the misery of people charged of drug-related offenses and packed like sardines in extremely congested jails? Can we even bear the thought of seeing most of them languishing in jail, knowing that rehabilitation is what many of them need?” they said.

The bishops also noted the hardships and difficulties faced by the country’s indigenous peoples, especially those displaced by mining operations and conflicts.

“Do we not hear of the sufferings of indigenous peoples who are displaced from their ancestral lands in order to give way to mining companies and dams? And how do we feel about communities that are forced to leave their homes for fear of being caught in the crossfire of conflicts between government troops and insurgents?” the CBCP said.

“How are we affected when our own troops die because of unceasing hostilities that have not been adequately addressed through peaceful dialogue?” it said.

Saying they are “no strangers to ridicule and persecution,” the bishop admonished the faithful to “be not afraid” and to remain steadfast “in our common vocation and mission to actively work for peace”.

Not out to topple gov’t 

The bishops also alluded to another statement made by Duterte, when he criticized the Church “creeping influence” over the country which “sometimes run counter to what the government believes to be good for the people”.

The Catholic hierarchy assured that they are not out to destabilize the government, much less to takeover.

“There are those who accuse us of getting involved in political moves to destabilize the government. Nothing can be farthest from the truth,” said the bishops.

The prelates, though, stressed that this does not mean that they will just stay quiet whenever they see issues concerning morality and social justice.

“The Church respects the political authority, especially of democratically-elected government officials, as long as they do not contradict the basic spiritual and moral principles we hold dear, such as respect for the sacredness of life, the integrity of creation, and the inherent dignity of the human person,” said the CBCP.

“When we speak out on certain issues, it is always from the perspective of faith and morals, especially the principles of social justice, never with any political or ideological agenda in mind.”

Prayer, fasting

The bishops also called for days of prayer and penance to call for justice on those who have blasphemed God.
Without naming Duterte, who attacked several teachings of the Catholic faith and even called God as “stupid”, they admonished those “who arrogantly regard themselves as wise”.

“…St. Paul’s words are to the point: ‘For the stupidity of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength’,” the letter read.

Archbishop Valles said that even in Davao, where Duterte come from, many people were hurt by the president’s words and actions.

“I would say that from my take in the area of Davao that a good number of people are pained by this,” Valles told reporters.

The days of prayer and fasting are scheduled to take place July 17-19 that will precede a day of prayer on the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, to atone for the sins of blasphemy, slander, and murder.

“We invite you to join us, your bishops, in 3 days of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving,” the bishops added.