Statement of Solidarity to Missionaries Under Attack
The recent years have seen unprecedented attacks not only on those who speak on behalf of the poor but also on those who provide practical relief to their suffering. Missionaries, both religious and lay people, compelled only by love which comes from Christian conviction of solidarity are not spared from the malicious attacks both in legal and extra-legal fronts. Bishops, priests, religious women and men, all who made their consecration a solemn offering to serve Him who is hungry and thirsty, stranger, naked, and imprisoned are maligned and treated as enemies of the state. We know full well even at the start of our religious formation that our consecrated life comes with the cross of persecution and our preferential option for the poor will confuse many but with clearest conscience we declare to be everything to everyone except in sharing the communist ideals.
We remember Fr. Tito Paez of the Diocese of San Jose, Fr. Richmond Nilo of the Diocese of Cabanatuan, and Fr. Mark Ventura of the Archdiocese of Tuguegarao whose deaths until this day have seen no justice. We remember our bishops who received death threats and slanderous accusations for their work in upholding the rights of the casualties of the war on drugs and their families. We remember the Australian Sr. Patricia Fox, SND, more Filipino in words and deeds, who faced legal attacks which led to her deportation. In particular, our very own Sr. Elenita Belardo, RGS is one of the many consecrated persons who are subjected to malicious attacks. Her participation in filing petitions for judicial remedies has escalated to a legal fight to discredit her. At eighty years old, she now faces a perjury case and is about to attend arraignment on February 20.
We also see the trend of a shrinking civil society space which is vital in any democratic society. Non-profit organizations and institutions that support civil society’s exercise of freedom to association and expression are being scrutinized and harassed in many forms. Recently, the bank account of Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP) was frozen after claims that RMP participates in financing terrorist activities. Sr. Elen served as national coordinator of RMP for many years. RMP has been involved in various ministries with support from various donors through competitive proposal selection processes. The quality and effectiveness of RMP’s programs are founded on upholding the rights of the rural poor and indigenous people, including their right to self-determination.
All these measures to shame the Church, to defame her, and to remove the sanctity of her actions towards justice and peace are all geared towards silencing her and restraining her from participating in the redemptive and prophetic actions specially in forgotten places where the most basic social services are not given, where the cry of the poor is the loudest and most pressing. Our religious life, our reality that is shared with the lay people who serve with us, will always yearn and work wherever there are persons to serve – in the rural areas, in indigenous communities, among the fisherfolks, among the urban poor whom the image of God is most obscured.
Thus we express our solidarity with all Church workers, consecrated and lay, who are experiencing persecution and threats to their lives because of their work for justice and peace. Our solidarity extends to all human rights defenders and everyone who is persecuted for the sake of the poor and we join our voices in urging our government to uphold the dignity of every person.
Speak the truth
To this we emphasize that everyone is accountable to the truth. In matters of differing opinions, we call on the authorities and all those in power to respect the role of civil society and promote intellectual discussions. Dissent is not a crime but a necessary element in a democratic society. Civil society organizations should not be met with hostile red-tagging. We must all abandon the dichotomy and distinctions between political colors. To us Christians, truth is not a relative term that will switch definition depending on who is more powerful but truth is found in the person of Jesus who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. We call on Christian leaders and authorities to remember this fundamental reality.
We call on the independence of our justice system to be devoid of political pressure and influence. While the prevailing culture we see today is that of impunity, of bending and interpreting the rules for the elite, and of making exceptions to benefit the few, we put our trust in the rule of law and in our courts to safeguard human rights, to respect due process, and to be truthful to its policies and procedures. We pray for our judges, prosecutors, and all who work in the justice system that they may always practice fairness and will not compromise their integrity.
As missionaries, we see our role in society as collaborators to realize a more just world where everyone enjoys their rights and exercise their duties. We are not enemies of the state and our contributions to nation building in the spirit of solidarity and subsidiarity are proof of deep love for our nation and fellow human beings. Missionaries, along with civil society as a whole, must be protected from all forms of attacks that aim to cripple its vital contribution in improving basic social services, in maintaining check and balance, and in keeping the government accountable. Hence the necessity for the Church and her missionaries to take an active role in ensuring that civil society works for the benefit and upliftment of the condition of the poor. We all need help, we need to make our society a better place for everyone to thrive, not just for the few, where there is no fear of speaking the truth and abiding by the law, and where our children will finally know peace and fullness of life.
HANDS-OFF SR. ELEN AND ALL THOSE WHOSE MISSION IS TO BRING THE LIGHT OF CHRIST TO THE POOR!
(Religious of the Good Shepherd)