A Pastoral Exhortation for the Year of Social Concerns

Beloved People of God:

Last January we, your Bishops, declared this year 2006, Year of Social Concerns.” We pay special attention this year to the teaching, appropriation, and implementation of the social doctrine of the

Church as contained in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church.

We are called to build a “society more human, more worthy of the human person,” (Compendium, 582). This is a mission that we your Bishops have frequently urged all the faithful to do. Even now we continue to urge everyone to study, pray over, and apply the four Pastoral Exhortations – on Philippine Politics (1997), economics (1998), culture (1999), and spirituality (2000) – that we wrote for the Year of the Great Jubilee 2000.

Two new factors make the focus on social concern this year more urgent. First, the whole Church is powerfully reminded by the first encyclical of Pope Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est, that the social concern “is as essential to her mission as the ministry of the sacraments and the preaching of the Gospel. The Church cannot neglect the service of charity any more than she can neglect the Sacraments and the Word.” (DCE, 22). Secondly, our present Philippine situation calls us to be more actively committed to living out the social teaching of the Church. Political turmoil, moral corruption, and environmental degradation have worsened massive poverty and scandalous social inequality.  We are today especially concerned about a pervasive sense of weariness, cynicism, and hopelessness among many of our people.

What can we, must we, as Church do to heal this terrible malaise of spirit?  What more can we do to help our people, especially the poor, believe that there is hope?

Our Commitment as Church

We believe that today the Lord’s commandment of love, the social teaching of the Church, and the urgent needs of our people are calling us to intensify our commitment to build in our land “a civilization of love” (see, e,g. Centesimus Annus, 10). “Love builds up,” St. Paul teaches (1 Cor. 8:1). With love the Church builds up by prophetically critiquing and denouncing injustice and by prompting “positive activity” that will “promote a society befitting mankind because it befits Christ” (Compendium, 8, 63).

How shall we do this? We commit ourselves to a three-fold program of pastoral action:

  • The Church will continue to build character. Through the ministry of the Word and the Sacraments, through the ministry of Catholic education, through programs of formation and spirituality, we shall seek, with the help of God’s grace to build persons of faith and virtue. To build the future, we need to deepen our sense of honesty and integrity, service and responsibility, stewardship and solidarity. Corruption is rooted in a fundamental self-centeredness or selfishness, an evil that contravenes the human responsibility to exist “with” others and “for” others (see Compendium, 165). Transforming persons from this self-centeredness to the life of virtue and social responsibility remains our primary task and contribution to nation building.
  • The Church must build capacity. Poverty is not only about “not having” but also of “not being able.” Poverty is also a question of capability.  We have to empower those who are needy to construct a better future.  Our social action programs, training programs and institutions, research centers, schools, charitable agencies and organizations, religious orders and congregations, lay organizations and movements, Basic Ecclesial Communities, need to help people grow in capacities, such as the capacity to govern themselves, the capacity to develop their abilities, the capacity to find meaningful and fruitful employment and work, the capacity to care for our environment, the capacity to make leadership accountable. We, therefore, commend our charitable institutions that are at the service of the most vulnerable in our society. We commend programs such as Pondo ng Pinoy, Gawad Kalinga and Tabang Mindanaw for empowering people to participate in their own development and in continuing work of creation.
  • 3. The Church must build community. Fifteen years ago we pointed out that the ruinous divisiveness in our country is rooted in a culture “too focused on the good of small social groups” (Acts and Decrees of Second Plenary Council, 21), on the good of those we identify with, our families, our town-mates, our province-mates, etc.  Through formation and education, through various means including the use of the media of social communications, we need to promote, at every level of society and Church, aspirituality of citizenship, which is a concrete way of living out in our country the ” fundamental social virtue”: solidarity (see Compendium, 193). This spirituality of citizenship fosters a sense of patriotism and of being responsible for our country.  It develops Filipinos into becoming active and constructive participants in social and political life.  It enables the laity to take their rightful leadership role in the social transformation of our country.

To build community in a country battered by various kinds of conflict is to promote peace. This “requires the establishment of an order based on justice and charity” (Compendium, 494).

Concretely we need to foster dialogue among Christians, between Filipinos of different faiths, and among different sectors of society.  For this reason we commend the efforts of many peace advocates, parishes, NGOs, religious groups, the Bishops-Ulama Conference, and others that actively dialogue for peace.

A Call to Action.

We end our reflection with a call to decisive action.  The late Pope John Paul II reminded us that “the social message of the Gospel must not be considered a theory, but above all a basis and a motivation for action” (Centesimus Annus, 57). Our action must not be merely seasonal or ad hoc or crisis driven. It has to be action that is a sustained “ministry of charity exercised in a communitarian, orderly way” (DCF, 21).

In particular, we reiterate the call to action from a moral standpoint expressed in our CBCP statements last January and April. We need to restore trust in our political institutions “which are perceived by many to be corrupted”:

  • We commend the Supreme Court as an independent institution of government for clarifying the constitutional parameters for E.O. 464 and P.P. 1017.
  • We continue to view with alarm the signature campaign for the People’s Initiative which many of our Social Action Centers have reported as being deceptive, lacking in adequate information and discussion, and not initiated by the people.
  • We continue to call for a thorough reform of the Commission on Elections to restore trust in our electoral process.  In particular, the Ombudsman’s investigation of COMELEC officials involved in anomalous contracts worth P2.3 billion should be completed as soon as possible, as directed by the Supreme Court.
  • Other investigations conducted by other institutions of government should be followed up in the proper forum and fully reported to the public.  We refer to the Senate hearings on the fertilizer fund appropriations which concluded that hundreds of millions of pesos remain unaccounted for. With other citizens’ groups, we also ask for the full disclosure of the Mayuga Report on the conduct of certain military officers in the last elections.

We urge the faithful and all our institutions: first, to evaluate what they are presently doing to build character, capacity and community; and secondly, to pray and discern over what more we can do to promote a “civilization of love”.  We offer a few possible concrete steps:

  • Family associations for justice and peace;
  • Education and formation sessions and study weeks on Catholic Social Teachings;
  • Bantay-dagat, bantay-kalikasan movements
  • Anti-corruption programs;
  • Livelihood programs;
  • Training programs for good governance;
  • Formation programs for good citizenship;
  • Election monitoring, voters’ education
  • Research-based social and political advocacies.

Such tasks are some of the steps to build a civilization of love.  They may seem small and insignificant, but without doubt they build hope. And the ripple effect of hope is incalculable. “Christian hope generates confidence in the possibility of building a better world” (Compendium, 579).

Conclusion

Beloved People of God, we have declared this “Year of Social Concerns” “under the auspices of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the Sacred Heart of Jesus.” We are commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (instituted in 1856 by Pope Pius IX) and the 50th anniversary of Pope Pius XII’s encyclical on devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus (Haurietis Aquas). Ultimately all Christian social concern and social action flow from and participate in the boundless love of the Heart of Jesus.  We thank God that so many individuals and groups in the Church witness by their life and work to the socially transforming love of Jesus.

May the Blessed Mother bring us all closer to the Heart of Jesus.  We fervently pray that through our service of love the Heart of Jesus might rekindle our hope, heal and transform our society into a civilization of love.

For the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines.

(SGD) +ANGEL N. LAGDAMEO, D.D.
Archbishop of Jaro
President, CBCP
May 11, 2006

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