Joint Pastoral Letter
on the Sacredness of Human Life and Its Defenses
To the People of God:
Yahweh God fashioned man of dust from the soil, Then He breathed into his nostrils a breath of life, and thus man became a living thing (Gen. 2, 7).
So God made us. And He made us in His image–to be like Him. But how is it that in a nation that prides itself on its rich Christian heritage life is cheap? This is our continuing shame and sorrow as a people. We bewail the fact. We occasionally beat our breasts about it. And we quickly forget about it–until the next orgy of killing shakes our national conscience once again.
It is time we begin looking at the problem seriously. We know we can not eliminate altogether the violent taking of life. But we must ask ourselves what our part has been in the general cheapening of life and with the grace of the Lord of Life, search for ways and means of diminishing the problem in ways that will be in full accord with our faith in Him. It is time.
We, your Shepherds in the faith, bear a heavy responsibility in the process of searching. In the past we had occasion to reflect on the sacredness of life in a pastoral letter on abortion. This time we would like to propose for your consideration some further thoughts on life and its defenses–the fruit of our joint deliberations in Tagaytay these past few days on recent national events. We share our pastoral reflections with you in the hope that they will help in our common effort to arrive at some Christian and, we trust, viable answers.
We start with a review of recent events.
Next month it will be a year since the death on the tarmac of the Manila International Airport. The murder shocked us all as no other killing has in recent history, and for many of us it was the one, single event that shook us out of our lethargy and forced us to face squarely the violence that has through the years been building up and becoming practically an ordinary facet of our life as a nation.
Last month we were horrified by the easy gunning down of “common criminals” — so they were said to be — by secret marshalls . And the month before, at the time of the elections for parliament, we were numbed by the frequent press reports of murder and slaughter for “political reasons”.
It is a sad commentary on our times and nation that these killings were not at all isolated instances of “legal” and “illegal” taking of life. For years now we have been, for all intents and purposes, in a state of war.
The Muslim struggle for independence in the South is at present at a standstill. But the tens of thousands of lives that were lost in the early and mid-seventies still weigh heavily on the nation’s conscience.
The armed clashes between military and communist forces are growing in frequently once more. The “salvagings” by the one, the “liquidations” by the other, leave deep scars on our people’s memories that no amount of talk about national security or national liberation will completely erase.
In retrospect, we see that most killings are classified under the all-embracing term “political”. Many of us will probably shrug our shoulders at this assessment, dismiss it, because we accept it, as a given fact of Philippine life. But precisely because it is a “given fact”, we as Christian cannot accept it: it is not right that people be killed simply because their political beliefs differ from ours, because they support candidates for office other than those we ourselves choose, because they are in the way of our ambitions to attain or keep political power.
Prospects for the Future
The present outlook is bleak, the future even bleaker. Our current political problems, we see only too clearly, will intensify with time if they remain intransigently unacted on, unresolved.
The local elections will be on us a short two years from now. Already we fear the blood-bath that we all seem to expect as inevitable. Blood flowed freely in the past in similar elections; will blood flow again just as freely in the future as in the past?
We do not have to look back — or ahead — in time. We have enough to fear, even now . The economy is in shambles. The prices of prime commodities are spiralling impossibly higher and higher with each passing day. Something will have to give sooner or later. For the specter of hunger hovers grimly over all the land, is already ruining the wellbeing of entire families, endangering the very existence of millions of our poorer countrymen. And hunger can kill just as surely and systematically as bullets and guns.
This is the hard reality we are faced with now. It is the reality of death. Paradoxically, it is also the reality of life. And instinctively, we turn our thoughts to life, not death. We ask questions that pertain to life, not death.
We Filipinos are not alone in our high regard for life. We value life. We respect life. But if we indeed have such a high regard for life, then why is it treated so cheaply among us? Why is it not given the value and the respect that we say we put on it as a people?
This anguishing question leads to another. We are basically a people of peace. We put a high price on friendship and hospitality. But why the easy eruption into acts of violence? Why is the maiming and killing at the least, so it seems, an act of provocation?
There are, we see, many unsettling contradictions in our collective psyche as a people. Possibly we harbor in its darkest depths devils that so far have defied the exorcising force of our Christian faith. Possibly there still remains in our way of life, our culture, forms of thinking, modes of behaving, that hark back strongly to our pre-Christian past. Possibly we have failed to fully understand what the faith demands of us for the total living of the Gospel that we proudly profess.
Whatever the source or reason of those painful contradictions, we must go back to the fullness of that same Gospel and in its light, with its help, try resolving them in the way Christ would.
Let us begin with some very simple ideas — Gospel ideas.
Firstly, Jesus the Lord became man to save all men — all without exception, without distinction as to race or color, social class or personal worth. This means that every human being, born with the sin of Adam and hence prone to evil, is eminently redeemable, no matter how depraved, how oppressive or sinful. And he is redeemable because he is made to the image of God Himself. To Christ then, as to us now, the human person was the measure of His work because he imaged for the Father. If Christ could say, “The Sabbath was made for man not man for the Sabbath” (Mk 2, 27), it was because of man’s unique dignity stemming from his creation in God’s image.
Secondly, by becoming incarnate, Christ further ennobled man. This ennobling is such that He identifies Himself with the very least among men–the poor, the powerless, the outcast: “If you did it to the least of my brethren, you did it to me” (Mt. 25, 40). And He shows His love for them, for everyone else, to the extreme point of giving His own life for them in order precisely for them “to have life and to have it to the full” (Jn. 10, 10).
Thirdly, everyone of us, by baptism, in baptism, takes upon himself the burden of furthering Christ’s redemptive task, in the doing of which he is himself redeemed. In carrying out his share in the great work of redemption, he–man–must act in the same spirit and with the same outlook as Christ had in redeeming him. It is a spirit and outlook of being totally men and women for others –even to the giving of life itself for them. “Greater love than this no man has than that one who lay down his life for his friends” (Jn. 15, 13).
Fourthly, Christ’s and our redemptive task is unto life, not death. Hence it is inconceivable for us–as it was for Christ–to destroy people in any way, to violate their dignity, to deny them life and the means of life in the pursuit of human fulfillment and redemption. Thus Christ himself refused to condemn to death the woman caught in adultery even if by law she was deemed worthy of death (cf. Jn. 8, 1-11). This is the pattern Christ has set for us, and it is only in faith that we can fathom its meaning, accept it and attempt living its implications to the full.
Fifthly, from all this we conclude, as Vatican II has concluded, that God has given man the obligation of regarding his neighbor “as another self, bearing in mind above all his life and the means necessary for living it in a dignified way” (GS, 27). Our concern thus is not only for physical life, pure and simple, but for life as human. It is a concern that extends beyond the mere act of killing to all other acts of violence that degrade man as man whether in the political or economic order, in his personal or social relationships, and looks to the protection of all rights that we call human.
In summation we quote the words of the Holy Father himself, Pope John Paul II: “Do not kill! Do not prepare destruction and extermination for men! Think of your brothers and sisters who are suffering hunger and misery! Respect each one’s dignity and freedom ! (Redemptor Hominis, no. 16).
The points we made above do not by any means exhaust what our Gospel faith tells us should be our perspective on human life and our task in its regard, on Christ’s redeeming work and our part in it. But we highlight them here because they point in directions that we feel must begin to go as a people if we are to work out our salvation as a nation in these troubled times.
Applications for Today
In the light of the points just made, we turn to current developments in the Philippines today which we see have much to do with the further eroding of the sanctity of life and of our valuation of it. We select only three: the Secret Marshalls, Amendment 6, and the Economic Crisis.
- Secret Marshalls. We cannot but be disturbed and apprehensive at the idea of appointing officers of law, unrecognizable as such to the general public, with full authorization –if they indeed have such authorization–to hunt people down and summarily dispose of them. This goes against our Christian concept of man and the value we put on human life. “Criminals,” no matter how base, do not become by the fact of their crime (unproven in any case) brute animals, losing all claims to rights, to bodily integrity, due process and the like.
Last year we had occasion to deplore military “salvagings” and NPA “liquidations” in a pastoral letter on “A Dialogue for Peace” (Feb. 1983). These acts of murder still go on. Citizens are being “salvaged” or “liquidated”, in the first instances because they are suspected of being “subversives”; in the second, because they are considered “enemies of the people”. In both instances, as in the killings by secret marshalls, people are deprived of life without a chance to justify themselves. This is a sign against life, but even more so, a sin against human dignity.
- Amendment 6. This peculiar provision of the 1973 Constitution is causing great anxiety among a growing majority of our people. We share their anxiety. For, like them, we fear that the power granted by the Amendment, in the troubled situation of our country, is all too open to gross abuses, even to the destructions of life, simply for the fact that there are no adequate guarantees against its misuse. The experience of the recent past amply supports the anxiety of our people. Their opposition is not just a political ploy but a real fear of a real threat to their well-being and life. For it is Amendment 6 which makes possible the PCO — now the PDA — and the “salvaging” operations we have already frequently referred to above.
- The Economic Crisis. For most of us the bad economic situation we are in now means hunger, widespread hunger, promising and ushering in all kinds of social ills and civil disturbances. These dire results, we know with a certainty that admits of no doubt, will not be conducive to respect for life, to the preservation of life. A sure way out of the crisis is for the return of confidence in the government, and towards this return of confidence, the repeal of Amendment 6, and the restoration of a more just system of government are obviously necessary conditions. Equally necessary is the pushing of economic development that will be just in its execution and just in its effects. An upright political system, needless to say, is a prerequisite for this kind of development. Failing these, we will have to look for other ways, other means, of meeting the immediate threat that they present.
Great acts of self-sacrifice are called for in today’s crisis. And evil as the times are, they may well be, in God’s Providence, the moment of grace for us as a Church and as a nation, precisely because they require steadfast and heroic consistency in the living of our faith, in our responding to its pressing demands, at this particular juncture of our history.
The problems we have been considering here are quite mundane in nature — the exercise of political power, the use of economic wealth, two problems that will not go away nor be resolved overnight, no matter what we do about them today. They are problems that will continue to test our faith because they are problems that are intimately bound up with life itself and the dignity that gives its meaning. So we make another start towards the response in faith that we talk of here.
Our response will certainly differ according to the variant readings of the problem as it manifests itself in our particular region of the country. But whatever form the problem assumes, we ask that our responses take into careful consideration these last three points with which we now conclude this letter.
- We need to revamp our entire economic and political structure to make it more responsive than it presently is to the ends of life. The revamping is admittedly a long term process–one that will entail great pain and sacrifice from all of us. But we have to take a first step now. If a bloody revolution is unacceptable–and it is–another way of bringing about drastic change must be sought for. The non-violence of Christ presents itself to us as the only acceptable answer. It is a way of working constantly, strenously for justice that refuses adamantly to destroy life for the cause of justice itself. It is a mode of striving persistently for peace that at the same time will not compromise essential principles of our Christian faith for the sake of peace. It is a manner of striving for revolutionary change which is patterned after Christ’s own way of redeeming people from death unto life.
- We also need to evince a greater and more effective Christian self-sacrifice. All around us people are feeling hunger, are beginning to suffer the first diminishings of physical life. Could we in every barrio and parish, in every province and diocese, mobilize ourselves in the spirit of self-sacrifice to succor those of our people who need help most? Would we all begin to give not only of our surplus but of our very need, the well-off simplifying their needs for the sake of the poor, the poor sharing with other poor, all concerned with the life and the dignity of the other in imitation of Him who gave His all for us? How is this to be done — on a grand scale? in little ways? –we leave to the measure of imagination each person, each community has, and to the faith and love that brings that imagination into play.
- Lastly, we call for a national day of prayer and fasting on September 14, the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. The day is of great symbolic significance; for through the Cross, through the death of Christ, we were redeemed. And our prayerful fasting will itself be a symbolic act of love that is meant to appeal to the hearts of those who inflict violence — an act therefore that we hope will help break the cycle of hate. Our fast — which is different from hunger strikes that aim to embarass others — is a declaration of our renunciation, in the spirit of the Cross, of all death-dealing violence. We are ready to suffer pain ourselves rather than inflict it on others. But let us make our gesture be more than merely a symbolic act. We propose that the money we would ordinarily be spending for food on that day be given to feed the hungry poor. Through this token act of sacrifice, made in deep faith and hope in Jesus Christ, we express our continuing intent to be for life, to work strongly for its deliverance from present evils, always through the non-violence of the Cross.
We end this letter recalling another symbol — this time of Philippine Christianity — Blessed Lorenzo Ruiz. He made the ultimate act of self-sacrifice for the faith through martyrdom (the very antithesis of the violence we have been talking of here) and he is an example to us of strength in the faith. We are all in need of that strength in these trying times as we strive mightily to bring about a tremendous miracle of grace — the overcoming of the many violences in our society today. We hope for that miracle by the interceding of Blessed Lorenzo Ruiz.
May Mary, Mother of Life, be with us in our commitment to the task of keeping life ever sacred.
For the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines:
(Sgd.)+ANTONIO Ll. MABUTAS, D.D.
Archbishop of Davao
July 11, 1984
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