Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Role of the Church in Political Governance

I WOULD like to start with two simple definitions. First, by “Church” I mean here both the individual catholic believer and the institutional entity, which includes the Pope, the cardinals and bishops, the clergy, religious and the big group of lay faithful. Oftentimes, Church means the teaching authority or the magisterium, represented by the bishops, in our country, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP). By politics or political governance I mean all activities relating to governing, guiding or building civil society.

I am using for my reference The Second Plenary Council of the Philippines, which has spoken about our subject under the title “The Church and the Political Community” (nos. 330-359). What did it say? “In the Philippines today, given the general perception that politics has become an obstacle to integral development, the urgent necessity is for the lay faithful to participate more actively, with singular competence and integrity, in political affairs. It is through the laity that the Church is directly involved” (PCP-II 348).

This is what the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, says in his first Encyclical, “Deus Caritas Est”: The direct duty to work for a just ordering of society is proper to the lay faithful. As citizens of the state, they are called to take part in public life in a personal capacity. So they cannot relinquish their participation ‘in the many different economic, social, legislative, administrative and cultural areas, which are intended to promote organically and institutionally the common good’” (Deus Caritas Est, 29; John Paul II, Christifideles Laici, 42). Such involvement is not optional; it flows from the very core of Christian faith.

Does that mean that bishops and priests have no role in political activity? “The Church’s competence in passing moral judgment even in matters political has been traditionally interpreted as pertaining to the clergy. Negatively put, the clergy can teach moral doctrines covering politics but cannot actively involve themselves in partisan politics” (PCP-II 340). The principle is simply that politics, like all human activities, must be exercised always in the light of faith in the Gospel. The Council states that “the common good cannot be sacrificed on the flimsy pretext that ‘the Church does not engage in politics’. Concretely this means both clergy and laity must be involved in the area of politics when moral and Gospel values are at stake” (344). Because, today we understand salvation in a comprehensive way, the Church’s mission includes also the temporal order.

To change Philippine society, we have to change Philippine politics; in one sense, it may mean politicians must change; in another sense, we must change the politicians. It does not mean change in the form of government, but change in the ones running the government. To do this we need the concerted participation and struggle of all Filipinos of goodwill in political activity. In the language of faith and morality, it is a participation in the battle against human sinfulness, lodged deeply in Philippine politics. It is a struggle to make God’s grace and ethical principle victorious in the Philippines. As one theologian has said: the politics of guns, goons and gold must be converted into the politics of gospel, grace and God.

What about “the separation of Church and State” enshrined in our Constitution and commonly invoked. How can we understand this? The basic purpose of this provision is that Church and State should enjoy and respect each other’s mutual autonomy. By this we understand that they should not interfere in each other’s affairs, should not seek to control each other, or allow themselves to be simply the instrument of each other. However, considering what we said earlier, this separation of Church and State cannot be used as an argument against the participation and involvement of the Church in shaping the politics of our country.

Pope Benedict XVI in “Deus Caritas Est” states: “The Church wishes to help form consciences in political life and to stimulate greater insight into the authentic requirements of justice as well as greater readiness to act accordingly, even when this might involve conflict with situations of personal interest. Building a just social and civil order, wherein each person receives what is his or her due, is an essential task which every generation must take up anew. As a political task, this cannot be the Church’s immediate responsibility. Yet, since it is a most important human responsibility, the Church is duty-bound to offer, through the purification of reason and through ethical formation, her own specific contribution towards understanding the requirements of justice and achieving them politically” (no. 28).

Thursday, June 14, 2007

The Social Significance of the Devotion to the Sacred Heart

The Social Significance of the Devotion to the Sacred Heart

In the distress and crises which our people are experiencing at this time, more than and in addition to turning to government and to one another, let us turn to the great icon of social charity, which is the Sacred Heart of Jesus that we are celebrating today. For compassion and acts of mercy we need not a political or social symbol that is imperfect or even corrupted, but a spiritual symbol like Jesus Christ who allowed his Sacred Heart to be pierced out of love for mankind, and who gave Himself as Eucharist to be the symbol of the love of the Trinity for us.

On this occasion, we invite the Parish Priests leading the people’s devotion to the Sacred Heart in this month of June to consecrate his people and the leaders of the people to the Sacred Heart towards an “inventive charity,” a charity that distributes the bread which God is causing even now to be multiplied. If we are ready to distribute the bread, God is more than willing to multiply them. Our selfishness, our desire to simply hoard the treasures of this earth, is one cause why the bread is not multiplied and why it does not reach the table of the poor. When the Sacred Heart said to the twelve “Give them food yourselves,” he is telling them when you are ready to distribute even the little resources that you have—five loaves and two fish—then I will multiply them for the thousands to eat.

Pope Benedict XVI writing in 1981 as Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, challenges us to nothing less: “In the Heart of Jesus, the center of Christianity is set before us. It expresses everything, all that is genuinely new and revolutionary in the new covenant. This Heart calls to our heart. It invites us to step forth out of this futile attempt of self-preservation and, by joining in the task of love, by handing ourselves to him and with him, to discover the fullness of love which alone is eternity and which alone sustains the world.

When will the bread of economic development so popularly professed reach the table of the millions of poor in the Philippines?

Archbishop of Jaro
CBCP President

June 15, 2007

Friday, June 01, 2007

Prayer on Behalf of Jonas Burgos

Heroism in Small Doses?

The celebration of the 109th Anniversary of the Proclamation of Philippine Independence comes with the theme “Kalayaan 2007: Bayan, Bayani, Bayanihan.” Thanks to the Department of Tourism.

In the attempt to showcase some great mighty and popular personalities as icons of the bayani, let us not lose sight of the innumerable and unnamed bayani of our country’s history, in particular the many volunteers of the PPCRV and NAMFREL and the Teachers who despite odds, difficulties, obstacles, frustrations, and threats defended the sacredness of the ballots against those desecrating groups. In the midst of rampant and wholesale “buy and sale” of votes, there were still those who refused to be controlled by the dictatorship of money. Their small stories are worth noting down on “Kalayaan Day.”

We are shamed and saddened by comments that our country ranks among those with most records of graft and corruption, unresolved cases of heinous crimes and mysterious disappearances and unabated extra-judicial killings. There is so much demand for restitution to helpless and voiceless victims. May we not consider the uncompensated victims also “bayani ng bayan”? Specially that their appeals are apparently falling on deaf ears!

On “Kalayaan Day” we join the clamor for the restoration or return of the victims of disappearances. Our prayer is that they will be allowed to return safe and sound to their grieving and anxious families, to enjoy basic freedom.

Both agents and victims, especially the victims of graft and corruption, are negative notes to the celebration of Kalayaan Day: that while we have been liberated from the control of foreign invaders, we are victims of the abuses and exploitation of fellow Filipinos.

In a few days, on June 10, two days before Independence Day, will be the 19th anniversary of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP). It was a program to reduce rural poverty by giving freedom to rural folks through access to land. According to statistics, three-fourth of the poor in the country belongs to the rural poor. Numbers alone make the program of agrarian reform still necessary and urgent. The land reform has both its encouraging and discouraging aspects, naturally its pros and cons. This is where discussion is needed. The campaign for agrarian reform is still relevant and must be made to succeed.

Because of the extent of rural poverty and the necessity of “freedom from bondage to land” through genuine legal agrarian reform and war against rural landlessness, the Church likewise joins the aspirations, hopes and dreams of the rural farmers. According to the Social Teachings of the Church: “An equitable distribution of land remains ever critical, especially in developing countries… In rural areas, the possibility of acquiring land through opportunities opened by labor and credit market is a necessary condition for access to other goods and services” (Compendium No. 180). It means that the distribution of land, supported by law, must also be accompanied by other supports and services to make the reform truly meaningful and beneficial.

Again, the Social Teachings of the Church has it: “Agrarian reform (is) a moral obligation more than a political necessity, since the failure to enact such reform is hindrance in these countries to the benefits arising from the opening of markets and, generally, from the abundant growth opportunities offered by the current process of globalization” (Compendium, No. 300).

We need more than prayers and preaching. But these two, prayer and preaching, will help support the efforts of people working for agrarian reform. We encourage that on June 10, a Sunday, the Prayer of the Faithful shall include this aspiration for genuine agrarian reform and that the homilies will make mention of the same: that our rural people, the farmers who are bound to the land they till for life and support, may receive the true freedom envisioned by the principle of agrarian reform.

Archbishop of Jaro
CBCP President
June 1, 2007