At the conclusion of our Retreat at the Betania Retreat House in Tagaytay, and at the start of our 63rd Plenary Assembly, we, the Catholic Bishops of the Philippines, wish to thank with all our hearts the forces within the ranks of the Catholic Church who have worked so hard for the victims of Mt. Pinatubo. We want to thank the non-Catholics who have helped our people. We join hands, in a national effort, in time of disaster.
The eruption has caused great loss of life, dislocation of people, and the destruction of a vast amount of property. The devastation is unparalled in our history. Coming on the heels of many other natural calamities, it has crippled our nation. As pastors, we are deeply moved by all these loss and suffering. We have prayed for the victims, and even the Holy Father has granted them substantial aid.
Bishops from all over the country have reported intense activity in the parishes, in the schools, among the religious congregations of men and of women, to bring aid directly to those who are suffering. We wish to thank especially the laity, for their generosity and their personal sacrifice as volunteer workers. The physical evil of the eruption has caused many heroic demonstration of Christian charity. Here, we see God drawing good out of evil.
The suffering has been aggravated by the insinuations of some that these calamities are punishments from God for personal and social sins. While it is true that God can use natural calamities to punish sin, people should reflect carefully before making accusations like these. Many of the sufferers are certainly no more sinful than their accusers. And they are no more sinful than many who have not been harmed by the eruption.
The Bishops will continue to labor not only for the immediate relief of the victims, but for the long-term rehabilitation of the people. As a Conference, we have accepted the plan that each diocese adopt a parish in the stricken area. This will insure constant, continuing help to the places which have been devastated, and to the people who are destitute. We realize that it is not enough to meet the immediate emergency. We must plan and execute long-term assistance, until the people of these parishes are able to return to normal living.
This all-out effort to practice the Gospel of Christ by reaching out to the poor must extend to other areas. We must make an effort to lower the price of fuel, to lower the price of basic commodities, to lower the price of things which the poor need to live.
But this is not enough. Our mission demands that we lift our people out of their dehumanizing poverty. We must make it possible for the poor to live in dignity, and in honor, as the children of God. To become the Church of the Poor is our vision.
The eruption of Mt. Pinatubo has driven the Church into action on all levels, and on all fronts–in the schools, in the parishes, in the dioceses, in the National Conference of Bishops. It has united us in one common effort to help those who are in need. This is exactly what the Second Plenary Council wanted us to do.
Together with people of other faiths, we must become one with the poor–one people, one nation, one Filipino family.
For the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines:
(Sgd.)+LEONARDO Z. LEGASPI, OP, D.D.
Archbishop of Caceres
21 July 1991
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