PEACE BE WITH YOU!

Our greeting is not simply a ritual formula, but a blessing, a prayer, a hope that the peace of Christ may indeed become a reality for all of us.  For today in the Philippines, we live in deep conflicts — in the all too glaring absence of peace.

In recent months, the daily press and other media have been feeding us with instance after instance of difficulties between government and Church.  The difficulties and the conflicts they have raised, are most real, and despite sincere attempts at resolution, they persist.  And the reason simply is that they are tied in, in most stringent fashion, with all manner of problems and issues that, unless met head-on, and seriously worked on by all of us, will continue to plague the nation and make peace impossible in our day.

We, pastors and flock – the whole Church, have the sacred trust from Christ of preaching His peace, of striving to effect His peace, in the world we live in – in the concrete world of our day-to-day life.  But what does the peace of Christ mean for the conflictive issues that today threaten to ruin us as a people?  What should we be doing as bearers and does of the Gospel of Christ, as effective agents of His peace?

OUR MISSION

Our basic mission as Church is to proclaim in word and deed, the good news of salvation in Christ, in season and out of season.  And it is most fitting that we remind ourselves of this fact in this Jubilee Year, the 1950th anniversary of our Lord’s redeeming death and resurrection.

In the fulfillment of our mission, we need no reminder of the truth that Christ, as Vatican II puts it, “gave His Church no proper mission in the political, economic or social order”  (GS, no 42).  Hence it cannot and should not be “identified with any political community, nor bound by ties to any political system”, but is “the sign and the safeguard of the transcendental dimension  of the human person” (GS, no. 70).

The purpose Christ has set before His Church is a religious one.  But “out of this religious mission itself come a function, a light, and an energy which can serve to structure and consolidate the human community according to the divine law”  (GS, n. 42).

It is this structuring, this consolidating of our society according to the divine law that is our concern here.  For it is precisely this aspect of our mission that is at the root of our current problems with government.

OUR PRESENT SITUATION

At our annual Bishops’ conference in Baguio last month, we, your pastors, took a hard look at our difficulties with government, at the reasons behind them, both the immediate and the underlying ones.  It is not our intent to detail them all here.  But in our reflecting together, we came to the clear conclusion that we should speak our minds out on our present problems; firstly, on the arrest and detention of priests and religious and Church workers in our social action programs, and secondly, on the deeper issues that undergird the action of the military against the Church.

  1. Arrests and Detentions .  Over the past half year, a number of priests, sisters and lay workers have been arrested or put on an arrest list, on charges of rebellion and subversion.  We make no judgment whether these church people are indeed guilty or innocent of the charges against them. But this much we can say:
    1. If they are guilty of the crimes of which they are accused, let them suffer the cosequences of their acts.  We do not excempt them from the ordinary demands of law, merely because they work for the Church.
    2. But we do ask that due process be fully observed in their case – as in any other.  Let them be charged and tried in open court, not declared guilty, treated as guilty, from mere suspicion.
    3. We also ask that all their rights, human and civil, be respected at all times; that they should not be tortured or maltreated while under detention.
    4. And finally, we ask that the government give a more legally precise and satisfactory definition of “subversion”, and a more importantly, strictly adhere to it in practice.
  2. The Deeper Issues .  The action of the military in recent months against church people and social action programs, is directed against what the government conceives of as “political activity” on the part of the Church.  This activity is “subversive” according to the current use of the term by the military and government.  But subversive or not, it hinger on two general issues that touch closely both government and Church:  the issue of poverty and development and the issue of dissent from unjust laws.
    1. Poverty .  Poverty is the economic condition of life in which the vast majority of our people live.  It is a poverty that so for has resisted all attempts at alleviation, much less elimination.  The in-built injustices of our social system is at the root of this recalcitrance to change.

The government has initiated a massive program of economic development, aimed at these injustices.  Whatever we can say in defense of the developmental priorities of the government — its heavy reliance, for instance, on multi-nationals and its favoring of their needs over those of the people; its attention to tourist facilities over the services it can and should provide to rural areas — we cannot escape the fact that the number of our poor is growing daily and their destitution  more acute.

    1. Dissent .  In the government we have, legitimate dissent is often lumped with rebellion and treason, with subversion in its conveniently amorphous definition.  Yet, there are many aspects of the current political system that invite the dissent of the ordinary citizen.  Thus, for one, the injustices and the corruption we noted above in the developmental policies of the government; for another, the increasing militarization of the country, either for national security purposes or for enforcing laws, which sometimes are questionable and doubtful of their constitutionality.

Insurgency-counter militarization is the response of segments of Philippine society that despair of any possibility of righting such wrongs as we have just described.  Other groups feel that they cannot obtain the reins of power for themselves save through violence.

Questions .  Are the issues we speak above, purely of a political nature, so that we can say, as the government claims, that they are beyond the scope of the Church’s concerns?  Or do they fall under our stated task of structuring and consolidating our society according to the divine law?

The fact is that these issues are not merely and narrowly political problems.  They do fall under the religious mission of the Church, for the simple reason that there is a way of working for development, there is a way of dissenting from unjust laws, a way that is either in accordance with or, on the contrary, in contravention of the law of the Gospel.  As the Bishops’ Synod of 1971 so succintly put it:  “Action for justice appears to us, as a constitutive element of the preaching of the Gospel”.

We are only too aware that the specifics of working for development and justice according to the Gospel way, will always be a problem in any Church community, and hence a matter of continual and constant faith-discernment.  But whatever those specifics are, they have to be worked out within the general parameters set by our faith of truth and charity; of respect for human dignity and rights; of sharing and concern for the common good.

Hence, we will have to reprobate any action or program that runs counter to the primary values of the Gospel:  torture and murder of citizens simply because they are of a different political persuasion from that of power-holders; the silencing of people, the suppression of media, merely because they speak the truth of our national situation; the increasing use of arms and violence, both by forces on the right and on the left, in the pursuit of their ends of power; and closer to whom, the use of Church funds, the manipulation of Church programs, for the political purpose of ideological groups.

OUR APPEAL

In the light of the salvific mission of the Church, our Mother and Teacher,it bcomes necessary to address ourselves to all who are concerned with the problems that threaten the very foundation of our peace and security which Christ solicitously desires that we all share and enjoy.

  1. We call on our people in general .  You are partners in the perfection of the society in which we live.  No society will long stand and succeed,without the sincere and earnest cooperation of all those who compose it.  By the teaching of Christ, you are mandated to obey the laws of the land, in so far as they are truly just and conducive to the attainment of peace and order in the community.  You must believe and live the gospel truths, thus permeating and perfecting the secular order.  You must be ever vigilant in safeguarding your God-given rights, and not allow anyone to trample upon them, as these rights contribute immensely to the development of your dignity as human beings and as children of God.
  2. We call on our priest and religious .  You must be exemplars in christian leadership, charity and service, drawing strength and direction from the spirituality of our ministry, as we give expression to our social apostolate.

In our task in behalf of our people, you must take into consideration the official social teachings of the Church.  It is evident that every pasrtoral effort must lead the people to Christ; every pastoral action must be truly ecclesial, that is, in consonance with the official doctrine of the Church.

As we give preferential option for the poor, we must fortify defenses, the more so, if their human rights and dignity are trampled upon by those individuals and groups who regard power as might.  Let your action and dissent however, be in line with the christian spirit of the gospel, that is, within the dimension of our holy calling and in the spirit of christian love.

All our enthusiasm must be conscious and directed towards the victory of the good.  To this end, you must not allow any infiltration in our institution; much less, in the words of the late Pope Paul VI, “to adhere to the Marxist ideology, to its atheistic materialism, to its dialectic of violence, and to the way it absorbs individual freedom in the collectivity, and at the same time denying all transcendence to man and his personal and collective history…”  (Octogesima Adveniens, n. 26).

And finally, making the words of Pope John Paul II at Puebla, Mexico, our own, we remind you:  “You are priests and religious; you are not social or political leaders or officials of a temporal power…  Let us not be under the illusion that we are serving the gospel if we dilute our charism through an exaggerated interest in the wide field of temporal problems”.

  1. We call on our government officials and the military .  We look to you as guardians of peace and order, as the citadel of justice, and as the personification of service.  In the interest of the People, whom we must all serve, it becomes necessary to look objectively into the root causes of the social unrest taking place in our time.  Like a good doctor, you must out with genuine remedies, and not mere promises and palliative of empty propaganda.

In such complex society like ours, dissent should be treated as a healthy indicator of the people’s readiness to get involved in nation-building, and should, therefore, not be classified as subversive tendencies on the part of those who freely express their constitutional freedom.  In the spirit of brotherhood, we ask you to accept a certain pluralism of positions on people’s action for justice, according to their faith.  In the free market of ideas, let us respect public opinion, by exercising proper retraint in the use of power and authority.

In the interest of peace, justice and prosperity, let us work together for true human development, which in the words of Pope Paul VI, “in order to be authentic, must be complete and integral, that is, it has to promote the good of every man and of the whole man”  (Populorum Progressio, n. 14).

  1. Finally, we wish to address a reminder to ourselves, Bishops of the Church , founded by Christ.  We reiterate our constant need for conversion, which re-echoes the maternal concern of Our Lady of Fatima for us all, her children – laypeople, religious, priests and bishops; and our desire to put ourselves more intently at the service of our people.  Act we must in the strong faith that out of darkness, we will, with God’s help, generate light that will lead us to the tasks of peace.  Through our word and example, may we guide our people along the path of peace and prosperity, which are given to all men of good will.

To all of you, we impart our pastoral blessing.

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