As we cross the threshold of the third millennium at the beginning of this Jubilee Year, it is well for us to briefly look back at the life of the Filipino nation and the Catholic Church in the Philippines in the past hundred years. We discern some lights and shadows coming to the fore.
First is our intense aspiration for life and its fullness, in stark contrast to the waste of lives lost in wars, criminality, and chronic poverty. Second is our unflagging struggle for independence and human rights against colonial powers and authoritarian regimes, as exemplified by the EDSA People Power Revolution. And third is our continuing search for lasting peace and development in the face of the fragmentation of our society along ethnic and class lines and its exacerbation by armed groups.
It is in this context that we enter the third millennium with a call to all Filipinos to help build what the Holy Father has called a Culture of Life, a Culture of Human Rights, and a Culture of Peace.1
I. Building a Culture of Life
“See, today I set before you life and prosperity, death and disaster…. I set before you life or death, blessing or curse. Choose life, then, so that you and your descendants may live, in the love of Yahweh your God…” (Deut. 30:15-16, 19)
Moses’ final discourse to the Chosen People presents the alternatives between a Culture of Life and a Culture of Death. It is addressed not only to the world of the ancient Hebrews but also to ours in these modern times—where abortions are silently counted in the millions, mercy-killing is being tested out in courts, and capital punishment is still resorted to as the “final solution.”
It is in this regard that Pope John Paul II has pleaded again and again on the “Gospel of Life.” He does so once more in the Asian context. “The life of every person, whether of the child in the womb, or of someone who is sick, handicapped or elderly, is a gift for all,” stresses the Holy Father. And he concludes: “We are therefore guardians of life, not its proprietors.” 2
The Culture of Death and Violence extends to the spread of drugs and the AIDS epidemic, the commercialization of sex, the proliferation of pornographic materials, and the growing permissiveness of a society that no longer heeds the love nor ways of Yahweh.
All forms of violence are an attack on the integrity and fullness of life. “To choose life,” states the Holy Father, “involves rejecting every form of violence: the violence of poverty and hunger, which affects so many human beings; the violence of armed conflict; the violence of criminal trafficking in drugs and arms; the violence of mindless damage to the natural environment.” 3 A more insidious form of violence is the widespread corruption in public office that compounds the other forms of violence in our society today.
Who then are the victims of violence in our society today? They are the street children and child laborers we see around us. They are the small farmers and tribal communities driven away from the lands they till. They are the refugees fleeing areas of armed conflict and the urban poor in dire need of decent living space. They are the drug addicts, the victims of rape and kidnapping, the countless young and old preyed upon by petty and big-time gambling syndicates.
Instead of moving us on a course towards the fullness of life, our laws and public institutions seem to be doing the opposite in their ineffectiveness before the various forms of individual or structural violence that demean the very meaning and quality of life. It is in this light that the value of human life and the dignity of the human person have to be protected by the recognition of rights and responsibilities.
II. Forging a Culture of Human Rights
Through her Social Teachings, the Church has been in the forefront of the struggle for Social Justice. She bases her stand on the intrinsic dignity of every human person and the demands of the common good. She has promoted the rights of workers as well as of property holders. More recently she has spoken out on the right of communities to a clean environment and the right of indigenous peoples to their own culture. And she has also upheld the right of freedom of conscience and of religious belief for all peoples.
The world has rapidly become much more complex and interdependent; the globalization in communications and in the world’s market economy is now a virtual reality. Because of this, there is all the more reason for governments as well as for the Church to articulate the rights of the most vulnerable groups, such as children, women, and indigenous peoples.
In the spirit of the Great Jubilee, we are ready to work with other religious groups in promoting a biblically-based agenda for human rights promotion in the Philippine context today, summarized in five R’s:
- Release of prisoners, and all those in contemporary slave-like conditions;
- Return of the land, and other means of production to their original or rightful owners;
- Recall of debts unjustly imposed upon the poor;
- Rest for the earth and conservation of the natural environment; and
- Restoration of harmony among women and men, based on their respective roles, rights, and equal dignity.
Moreover, over the past three years in preparation for the Jubilee Year, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) has issued pastoral exhortations on Philippine Politics, Economy, Culture, and Spirituality, highlighting the rights and responsibilities of Filipinos in the conduct of our political, economic, and cultural-spiritual institutions.4 In particular as regards a Culture of Human Rights, they have stressed the principles of democracy as well as the rights of the economically vulnerable sectors of our society to their basic needs.
The ultimate basis for this preferential option for the poor is pointed out by Pope John Paul II and the Synod of Bishops for Asia: “The poor of Asia and of the world will always find their best reason for hope in the Gospel command to love one another as Christ has loved us (cf. Jn 13:34).” With this in mind, the Church herself is challenged to “become a Church of the poor and for the poor.”5
III. Creating a Culture of Peace
Like concentric circles spreading out from the core value of Human Dignity, a Culture of Life gives rise to a Culture of Human Rights, which in turn brings forth a Culture of Peace. There can be no true peace without respect for life itself and the human rights of every person. Opus Justitiae Pax, (Is. 32:17) the motto of Pope Pius XII, highlights this intimate relationship: Peace is the fruit of Justice.
Indeed, peace itself is seen as one of the rights a community can lay moral claims on. In his latest message for the World Day of Peace, the Holy Father calls our attention to “two indivisible and interdependent rights: the right to peace and the right to an integral development born of solidarity.”6 Thus, a Culture of Peace includes the development imperative as well as a sense of solidarity among communities, nations, and peoples of one world.
In a pluralistic society with diverse cultures and religious traditions, this sense of solidarity can only come about through dialogue – the kind that leads to mutual understanding and respect.
In Mindanao, over the past three years, Catholic and Protestant bishops have entered into dialogue with their religious counterparts, the Muslim ulama , to reinforce the peace process, based on the spiritual traditions of both religions. They are also starting to include leaders of the indigenous peoples’ communities in this dialogue of life, of common action, and of religious experience. Last November, the Bishops-Ulama Forum sponsored a Mindanao-wide Week of Peace to highlight the common aspirations of all cultural communities to put an end to the fighting.
There are other initiatives for peace being worked at by other peace advocates – NGOs and POs – that over the years have been persistently hammering away at the deep-seated obstacles to peace among our people. The campaigners for a gunless society are one such group. So too are those dedicated men and women thanklessly working with our basic sectors to lessen government’s neglect of them.
Ten years ago, the CBCP had already issued a pastoral letter to “Seek Peace; Pursue It.” Today we ask our government officials to resume or continue peace talks with armed groups to arrive at a comprehensive and honorable peace for all. We are ready to collaborate in this noble effort.
Peace-making and rejecting all forms of violence are some of the building-blocks for a Culture of Peace. This work for peace starts with the individual, the family, and the local community and reaches out to include inter-cultural solidarity and care of the environment. It is with these sentiments that Pope John Paul II challenges the young of today: “peace within you and peace around you, peace always, peace with everyone, peace for everyone.”7
The Church’s “mission of dialogue,” according to the Synod Fathers of Asia, is “grounded in the logic of the Incarnation” and partakes of “the Father’s loving dialogue of salvation with humanity.”8 Through this ongoing dialogue, Christians help bring about “a culture where openness to the Transcendent, the promotion of the human person and respect for the world of nature are shared by all.”9 All this is what we mean by a Culture of Peace.
IV. Looking Back and Looking Beyond
As we recall the five R’s for observing the Year of Jubilee, we can preface these with another set of R’s – Renewal and reconciliation. In the spirit of the Jubilee Year, we must first start with a process of self-examination and renewal with an eye to reconciling with those we have sinned against by asking forgiveness. 10
For we cannot close our eyes to the shortcomings that we of the faith have been guilty of in the past. The name “Christian” or “Catholic” has at various historical periods been invoked to foment wars against minority groups, or to acquire landholdings and other forms of wealth, or even to justify the continuation of unjust regimes. Both as an institution and as a community of believers, we acknowledge with deep sorrow these failings, for they are a betrayal of authentic Gospel values that manifest the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
In terms of reconciliation, the Holy Father spells out what this means: “For the Catholic faithful, the commitment to build peace and justice is not secondary but essential. It is to be undertaken in openness towards their brothers and sisters of other Churches and Ecclesial Communities, towards the followers of other religions… with whom they share the same concern for peace and brotherhood.” 11
A threefold Culture of Life, Human Rights, and Peace thus provides us with a common agenda for collaborative action among Christians, other faith communities, governments and secular institutions as we enter the third millennium. Let this too be our dream and our hope in the spirit of the Jubilee Year for a shared future with all men and women of good will so that together we may add a final R at the end of our pilgrimage on earth: Return to our Father’s house.
May the spirit of the Risen Lord enable us to share with everyone his resurrection greeting, “Peace be with you.” (Jn. 20:19) And may Mary, our Mother of Life and Queen of Peace, be the guiding star in our journey through this new millennium.
For the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines:
+ORLANDO B. QUEVEDO, OMI, D.D.
Archbishop of Cotabato
January 26, 2000
1 Cf. Message for World Day of Peace, 1 January 1999.
2 Ecclesia in Asia, (EA), no. 35. Vatican City, 1999.
3 Message for World Day of Peace, 1 January 1999.
4 CBCP, Pastoral Letters on Politics, 1997; Economy, 1998; Culture, 1999; Spirituality, 1999.
5 EA, no. 34.
6 Message for World Day of Peace, 1 January 2000, no. 13.
7 Ibid., no. 22.
8 EA, no. 29.
9 Message for World Day of Peace, 1 January 2000, no. 2.
10 Pope John Paul II, Tertio Millennio Adveniente, no. 33, Vatican City, 1994.
11 Message for World Day of Peace, 1 January 2000, no. 20.
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