Friday, March 27, 2020

At the center of Catholicism and the epicenter of the Corona-Virus

Just a year ago I was in Brazil after living as an exile in the desert of Arizona. I could only stay in the US for a maximum of six months so I moved to Fortaleza. I could only stay in Brazil for three months so I came back to the Philippines at the end of June and resumed my life as a hermit in Lipa. I could only stay for six months there because my superiors were concerned that the death squad would find me. Our superior general recommended me for the vacant position of executive co-secretary of the Commission for Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation of the Union of Superiors General in Rome. I arrived here in Rome before Christmas and started my work in January. I didn't expect that after over two months I would find myself at the epicenter of Wuhan Corona-Virus also known as COVID-19 which started in China in December and has spread all over the world.
As of today, the number of cases in Italy has reached 80,589 cases and 8,215 dead (including 60 priests and 1 bishop). Italy is now considered as the epicenter of this pandemic. The virus has spread to 190 out of 195 countries. This is the worst pandemic since the Spanish flu in 1918. It is going to get worst. Italy is on total lock down as so many countries all over the world - including the Philippines. I haven't been to the office for two weeks but I continue to do some work in my room. I don't know how long this will take but things are getting worst and I have to prepare for the long haul.

Saturday, May 04, 2019

Elections 2019: Can My Vote Make a Difference?

Can my vote make a difference? This is the question that those who will  be voting this coming elections often ask. The answer is: yes, of course. It may be one vote but when added together will either plunge this nation deeper into a crisis or shed light amidst the darkness.
What is really at stake? At the national level – a senate that can either be the rubber stamp of a president wants to continue his phony war on drugs through extrajudicial killings, a pro-China policy, tolerance of corruption and rabid anti-Church stance or a senate that can function as an independent branch of government capable of checking total control and abuse of power. This is no longer a matter of making a political choice but rather a moral choice – between good and evil.
            The victory of the administration’s candidates will lead this nation to a bottomless pit that will have long term consequences long after this president will be gone. This will mean the persistence of self-serving, incompetent and corrupt political leaders incapable of bringing about progress, peace and justice in the land. This will mean condemning this nation to perpetual poverty and subservience to the Chinese empire. This could ultimately lead to the growing radicalization of a people who have lost hope in the political and economic system and who will come to the realization that the only way out is a bloody revolution that will liquidate the ruling class and dynasties as a means of social transformation.
            Many Filipino voters are easily influenced by the popularity of candidates who are entertainers or members of political dynasties, who are easily manipulated by trolls in social media and by poll surveys, and who can be bought for a few hundred pesos, cans of sardines and kilos of rice. Voters are easily fooled by candidates with messianic complex who promise change in a matter of months. It is easier to run for office than to apply for employment that requires college degrees, NBI clearance, civil service eligibility, etc. Thus, democracy becomes a farce that populist demagogues can exploit to get into power and perpetuate themselves in power.
To be able to make a difference for the good of all, we need to change the way we vote and influence other to do the same.
            This will require much discernment. We should know the candidates – what they stand for, their track record, their competence. This requires listening to our conscience – to discern between those who are good and those who are evil or instruments of evil. This also means listening to our Church leaders who have time and time again provided guidelines on how to vote without dictating who we should vote for.
            We should reject candidates who are incompetent, dishonest, immoral, corrupt, greedy, who support the phony war on drugs, extra-judicial killings, the violation of human rights, martial law, all-out war, the pro-China policies, anti-God and anti-Church stance of this administration and efforts to impose a dictatorial rule.
            We have to vote for those who are competent, pro-life, pro-poor, pro-labor, pro-environment, pro-independent foreign policy, pro-God and who defend democracy, the faith and the Church. We should vote for those who genuinely love our country and have the vision and strategy to bring about genuine progress, justice and peace.
We are voting for the future of our nation. Each good vote is a lighted candle in the dark. For those who made a mistake in the last elections by unwittingly supporting a pseudo-messiah, this is the time to redeem yourself.  If we fail once again to vote intelligently and morally, we will be blamed for being complicit to evil and perpetuating this darkness for decades and decades to come.
            The Filipino is like a carabao – who can patiently suffer much abuse but will finally reach a breaking point, go amok and go after its masters. A time will come when those oppressed for a long time will rise. Those responsible for the people’s suffering will pay. Change will ultimately come – whether it will be peaceful or violent will defend on us and how we vote at this moment of history.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Holy Week Reflection

During the Holy Week we will once again be reflecting on Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection. Our thoughts often focus primarily on how he suffered and died. It was a painful death. It showed how he was falsely accused, unjustly condemned, betrayed and meted capital punishment and abandoned by his disciples. Why did he suffer and die? It is not enough to say: “because of our sins.” His passion was the consequence of his prophetic mission – of announcing the Good News of the reign of God – a good news of liberation, of justice, of peace. This mission also involved speaking out against evil in all its manifestation. For this, those in power reacted violently. His crucifixion symbolized the reign of sin and evil manifested in the culture of death. It was an apparent victory of darkness – of evil. Yet ultimately the cross became the symbol of self-sacrificing love that overcomes sin and darkness. Good Friday was not the end of the story. It was followed by Easter Sunday – his rising from the dead, the triumph of light over darkness, of good over evil. His resurrection was the inauguration of the reign of God that grows steadily through the centuries in spite the apparent persistence of evil. His resurrection is an assurance that evil will not reign for ever and ever. This what we believe, this is the source of our hope. This is what we celebrate this Holy Week.
We Filipinos can easily identify with the suffering and death of Jesus. This is why we continue to observe Holy Week at a time when darkness and evil seem to reign, when the poor continue to suffer because of poverty, when thousands of people have been murdered extrajudicially, when those in power perpetuate the culture of death and mock God and religion, with the support of a multitude lacking in conscience and ignorant of what they are doing.
In face of these, when we feel helpless and hopeless, full of despair and anguish, let us always remember the message of Holy Week. There is an end to evil. Light overcomes darkness. Let us continue to hope and to struggle against evil and darkness. We will overcome.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

EDSA - an Unfinished Revolution?

Thirty-three years ago, a corrupt dictator – Ferdinand Marcos- was deposed in a matter of four days without bloodshed. It was an event that was totally unexpected. It happened three years after the assassination of Ninoy Aquino which consequently heightened the resistance against the dictatorial regime. It happened two weeks after a snap election which was denounced by the CBCP as fraudulent. It was triggered by bungled coup attempt and the call of Cardinal Sin for the people to come to EDSA to prevent loyalist troops from going after the coup plotters holed up in Camp Crame and Camp Aguinaldo. It came to be known as the People Power revolution which installed as president Cory Aquino – the widow of Ninoy Aquino.
For many, it was indeed a miraculous event. It was our Exodus. It was a manifestation of God’s intervention in our country’s history. God was revealed as liberator, on side of the poor, who “cast the mighty from their thrones and lifted up the lowly.” It was time when we were proud to be Filipinos. EDSA was touted as our gift to the world, a proof that it was possible to peacefully end despotic regimes. Thus, it became an inspiration for non-violent resistance all over the world. Several years later, we witnessed the collapse of the Iron Curtain, the emergence of democratic regimes in Eastern Europe, in Latin America and in South Africa.
Yet, over three decades later, we look at our country and ask, was it really a revolution? Did EDSA change and transform our country?
The Marcoses are still around around. Ferdinand Marcos, Sr. has received a hero’s burial. Imelda Marcos is still scot-free in spite of being convicted by the Sandigan Bayan. It is believed that the Marcos billions financed the vice-presidential candidacy of Bongbong Marcos and the senatorial candidacy of Imee Marcos who is being endorsed by Rodrigo Duterte out of gratitude for having  supported his presidential candidacy.
We have a president who idolizes the former dictator and has followed his example by exercising hegemony and total control not just over the executive branch but also the legislative and judiciary branches of government. He has imposed perpetual Martial Law in Mindanao. He acts as if he is above the law and can say anything he likes. The extrajudicial killings already claimed that lives of over 30,000 people in less than three years – casualties on the so-called War on Drugs and the counter-insurgency war. This has surpassed the EJK that took place in 14 years of the Marcos dictatorial rule. Peace remains an elusive dream in spite of the peace agreement with the MILF and the BOL. The peace negotiations with the NDF/CPP/NPA which started 32 years ago have not prospered and have once again collapsed and this has led to the escalation of the armed hostilities. We continue to be led by corrupt and incompetent politicians whose only concern is to enrich themselves and their families and perpetuate themselves in power, making a mockery of the anti-dynasty law in the constitution. The opposition has been intimidated and emasculated. Those who dared to stand up to the president – like Leila DeLima and Antonio Trillanes III have been harassed and arrested by false charges. The media is constantly under attack while false news proliferate in the cyberspace. The clergy – including bishops - continue to receive death threats and three priests have already been assassinated. Meanwhile, majority of the  people remain poor. The prices of goods continue to rise. The poor are victims of violence, injustice, violation of human rights. They are the most vulnerable to calamities due to the destruction of the environment and climate change.
Looking back over the years after EDSA, we realize that there was no genuine revolution. There was a restoration of democracy – but only in form but not in substance. What was restored was elitist democracy – with a self-serving political class motivated by wealth, power and privilege – perpetuated by an electorate most of whom lack conscience and intelligence, easily fooled by empty promises, that can easily be bought and that can be captivated by candidates who are popular (boxers, entertainers, actors) even if they are incompetent. Fifteen years after EDSA, there was another EDSA II which ousted a corrupt and incompetent president. But things remain the same. Why is this?
We lack genuine selfless leaders who have integrity, principles and competence. We lack compassionate and courageous servant-leaders, with vision and wisdom, capable of inspiring everyone to work for the common good and with a program of transforming our political and economic system and structures and bringing about genuine justice, peace and progress. But we cannot blame everything on the kind of leaders that we have. We deserve the leaders we have elected. They reflect who we are – the worst version of ourselves. Change and revolution begins in each one of us. What is required is a moral revolution. To be able to recognize good and evil within and outside ourselves, to overcome our selfishness and greed, to undergo a process of conversion, to reject all forms and manifestation of evil, to become more honest and compassionate. We need to undergo a process of purification.
I believe that EDSA was our Exodus – it was a moment in our history that we as a people experienced God’s liberating intervention. But as the biblical story reminds us, the people of God had to journey across the desert for forty years before reaching the promised land. Why did it have to take that long? Because liberation from Pharaoh’s oppressive rule was the easy part. The inner liberation – the spiritual-moral liberation takes time. Structural revolution or transformation has to be accompanied by moral, inner revolution and transformation. The present authoritarian regime that came to power with the promise of change – pagbabago - will not last, it will surely come to an end. But unless we undergo inner change as a people, we will have more of the same.
There was a time when we were proud to be Filipinos. Now many of us are ashamed to be Filipinos. I hope that someday, we will be proud once again of who we are.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

A Great Catholic Nation?

For over a month, we have once again witnessed  apparent display of faith which has led many, including Pope Francis, to conclude that the Philippines is a great Catholic Nation.
For nine days leading to Christmas, the churches were overflowing with the faithful for the Misa de Gallo or Simbang Gabi. A couple of weeks later, millions of devotees attended the procession of the statue of Jesus Nazareno – black Nazarene – which lasted for over 20 hours. On the third Sunday of January, millions again attended the procession of the child Jesus – the Sto. Nino – in Cebu and other parts of the country. We should not forget that around this time four years ago, an estimated seven million faithful attended the Mass presided by Pope Francis  in Luneta – a world record that remains unsurpassed. We are also impressed by the devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary - especially to the Mother of Perpetual Help whose novena is held every Wednesday in Baclaran and in most of the churches all over the country.
Is the Philippines really a great Catholic nation? What is the quality of the faith of the Filipino Catholics?

Let us remember that the Catholic majority – including many priests and religious – voted into office and continue to support a president who cursed the pope, who is trying to destroy the Church, who calls God stupid, who regards the doctrine of the Trinity and the crucified Christ silly, who tells his audience not to go to church and build their own chapel, who encourages them to rob and kill bishops, who is disrespectful of women, and who is waging a war on drugs and on “enemies of the state” which has resulted in over 30,000 extrajudicial killings. This is the same Catholic majority who elected senators and representatives who are crafting laws that lower the age of criminal liability to nine years old and wants to bring back the death penalty. Majority of our politicians, government bureaucrats, police officers and military personnel are Catholics (many of them are products of Catholic schools and universities)  yet many are complicit to the corruption, injustices, violence and criminality that continue to spread like cancer in our society.
So, what kind of faith do majority of Filipinos really have that gives an impression that we are a Catholic nation? The kind faith that is most prevalent is the faith that is expressed in participation in the liturgy, in novenas, in processions, in devotions to the saints, in fiestas. This is associated with popular religiosity which is often seasonal and occasional – it comes out during the advent and Christmas season, the Lenten and Easter season, and the feasts of the patron saints. This is an important manifestation of faith - the faith that is celebrated and that expresses a deep trust in the Triune God, in Mary and the saints who can intervene miraculously and make their lives better. This is the kind faith that enables them to believe and hope that God will never abandon them. In its extreme, this is the kind of faith that makes them passively wait for miracles to happen. But this can be a one-sided kind of faith unless is it accompanied by knowledge and adherence to the truths of the faith – not just the dogmas, but the moral and social teachings grounded on the Word of God as interpreted and taught by the Church. This faith has also to be lived daily and shown in one’s behavior and action – expressed in love, service, compassion, respect for the rights of others, truthfulness, honesty, etc. Without this, faith is dead. This is the kind of faith that is often absent in majority of the faithful. This explains why the so-called great Catholic nation is a nation where evil continues to reign - a nation governed by corrupt, greedy and incompetent politicians, a nation where there is so much injustice, poverty and violence, where the culture of death reigns. 
While respecting and appreciating popular piety and religiosity, we should not romanticize it nor should we be satisfied with it. It is a faith that needs to grow and mature. It should not remain superficial, nominal or seasonal. There is still much to be done in terms of evangelization and integral faith formation, in doctrinal and moral catechesis, and in awakening the conscience of the faithful. Above all, our processions should symbolize our journey and march for freedom and liberation, for life, for justice and peace. We have done this before and we can do this again.
Meanwhile, we should stop calling the Philippines a great Catholic nation. We do not deserve it. Besides, there are also Christians of other denominations, Muslims and other religious groups.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Lamentation from the Land of the Mourning

With tears in my eyes and a heavy heart
I look at my land with despair.
The streets, shanties and farms have become killing fields
as widows and orphans multiply.
The ruler promised to wage war on drugs,
on poverty and on corruption - in 3-6 months!
But the casualties were the poor-- users, lumads, farmers and their defenders
murdered by death squads with or without uniform
killed by bullets or hunger and they could not even afford
to bury their dead and feed those left behind.

The prices of everything continue to rise.

Rice, vegetable, fish, meat, medicine, tuition fee, oil & fare.

Except the price of shabu - they have gone down, thanks to the drug lords,
the Bureau of Customs and the president and his friends.
The phony war on drugs have successfully killed over 20 thousand
 yet tons of drug continue to flood the streets.
Meanwhile,  the Department of Justice is busy filing false charges
against the enemies of the president abetted by congress and 

and the supreme court while plunderers are set free.

We are governed by incompetent politicians
whose qualification is their fame and wealth -
political dynasties, actors, boxers, drug lords
whose only concern is to multiply their wealth
and perpetuate themselves in power.
They craft laws to benefit only themselves and their families.
Those who maintain law and order are criminals
they lie, steal, murder, peddle drugs, kidnap.

With tears in my heart and a heavy heart
I grieve for friends I lost – some of them priests, nuns, parishioners,
and even relatives- who supported this cruel dictator
and allowed this slaughter to happen.
As a people our collective IQ is so low that we allowed
an incompetent corrupt criminal to lead this nation.
He mocks our beliefs, calling our God stupid
Telling us to stop going to church and kill our bishops.
In spite of all this, so many continue to put their trust in him.
How stupid can we be?

What happened to the heroic people
who deposed a mighty, corrupt and brutal dictator?
What happened to the courageous people
who deposed an immoral & corrupt president
What can this generation be proud of?
No, God has not abandoned us.
Rather, this stupid generation put its trust on the false messiah.
 With tears in my eyes and a heavy heart
full of despair grasping for hope,
I long for the day when we will rise up again
and put an end to this reign of evil.

Thursday, December 06, 2018

Duterte's War Against the Church

"Kill your bishops, they are useless fools. All they do is criticize." This is what President Duterte told his audience in a speech in Malacañang on Dec. 5, 2018. He also said that 90 percent of priests are gay and the Church should therefore not moralize. Earlier on, he falsely accused Bishop Pablo David of stealing from the church's offerings and suspected him of being an addict. He threatened that if he catches him involved in drugs, he will behead him. In another speech, Duterte told Catholics to stop going to church and build their own chapels at home.  Statements like these are unprecedented which no previous president in the Philippines or elsewhere in the world have ever done. These are statements that one does not expect from any sane government leader, not even in non-Christian countries, how much more in a great Catholic nation. No amount of spinning can justify this statement as just a joke. After inspiring the police and death squads to commit extrajudicial killings, Duterte is inciting people to murder bishops. This deserves condemnation and should be added to the complaint against him in the International Criminal Court. 
It appears that Duterte has stepped up his war on the Catholic Church in the Philippines which he regards as the enemy.  He already started doing this before being elected when he called Pope Francis son of a whore for the traffic caused during the papal visit in 2015. As president he continued his tirade against the Church calling her the most hypocritical institution that is full of shit. He vowed to destroy the Church by exposing the abuses of the clergy. At one time he falsely accused Bishop Teodoro Bacani of having two wives. He declared that the Church will be irrelevant within thirty years. In several speeches he declared that he doesn't believe in the God of the Catholics - whom he called a stupid God due to the creation story in the bible which he considered ridiculous. He has been distributing copies of the book "Altar of Secrets."  His attack on the Church appeared to take a violent turn when three priests were killed one after another and while one was wounded. Another priest was able to evade an assassination attempt. The president's latest statement against Bishop David and other bishops indicate that the leaders of the Church, especially those critical against him are fair targets for assassination. Being a priest or bishop will not keep one safe from the death squads. 
What has become obvious is that Duterte is waging a war against the Church. The question is why is he doing this?  Many people believe that his controversial statements are simply a way of diverting the people's attention from the real issues raised against him: the failed war on drugs - in spite of the extrajudicial killings that has reached of over 27,000 victims, the unchecked entry of tons of drugs into the country and the suspicion of the involvement of his own family, the worsening poverty, rising prices, rampant corruption, the sell-out to China, the collapse of the peace process with the NDF, etc. His failure to address these problems has revealed his gross incompetence, greed and brutality. Others would see his behavior and statements as signs of physical and mental sickness worsened by drug abuse. He has admitted to using fentanyl – an opioid more addictive and powerful than heroin - and marijuana. Others would say that he is just joking. Others believe that his hatred for the Church stem from adverse childhood experiences:  of allegedly being molested by a priest and of being physically abused by his mother (who was very pious and close to priests and nuns). 
Duterte's war on the Church may also be traced to a mixture of fear and anger vis-a-vis the Church which he believes has a capacity to resist him and bring him down. This is based on his awareness that the Catholic Church had a vital role in bringing down the Marcos dictatorship and also the Estrada presidency. Since becoming president, the Church - through the CBCP and various religious groups – has criticized the culture of death, documented EJK, provided assistance to families of victims, given sanctuary to witnesses and assisted in the filing of complaints to the International Criminal Court. The CBCP came out with several statements critical of the extrajudicial killings and upholding the value of life. The latest CBCP statement of concern in support of Bishop David could have led him to urge Catholics to kill their bishops. Instead of just venting his ire on Bishop David he has widened his target. The threat of violence is meant to intimidate the leaders of the Church, to instill fear in their hearts so that they will remain silent and will not be a threat to his authoritarian rule.
How should the Church leaders and the vast majority of the faithful respond to the attacks against the Church?
There is no need to be afraid. The Lord has promised that no power on earth can destroy the Church. For the last two thousand years the Church has survived crisis and persecutions and outlived kings and emperors who tried to destroy her.
In no way should this be seen as a struggle between the Church and State. The Church should not be seen as an institution defending its interest or asserting its power. It is not a question of which one is more powerful. The Church must be prepared to become a powerless, persecuted Church. It is time for Catholics to make a choice: to remain members of the Church or obey the president (stop going to church, build your own chapel, kill your bishops) - in other words, join the Iglesia ni Duterte. The time for appeasing Duterte is over. Dialogue with someone who intends to destroy the Church is futile. 
When it comes to cases of clerical abuse, the Church should not be defensive or engage in cover up. Those who are guilty of sexual abuse, financial anomalies and corruption should be held accountable. The prosecution of these cases will not weaken the Church but rather purify and strengthen her. The Church should continue her mission as prophet and humble servant - speaking truth to power, promoting the gospel values of the sacredness of life, of justice and peace and of compassion. The clergy should inspire the lay faithful to be actively involved in the defense of life and human rights, in the peaceful struggle against corruption and injustice, in the work for the common good and the transformation of society. The leaders of the Church, especially the bishops and priests, should be prepared to act as compassionate and courageous good shepherds, ready to offer their life as they prevent the slaughter of the flock especially the poor. They must be ready to embrace martyrdom if necessary. 
Meanwhile, instead of engaging in a word war, the Church should just continue praying for Rodrigo Duterte – that he will repent and undergo conversion after finally listening to his conscience, that he will experience inner healing, that he will reconcile with the Church into which he was baptized, that he will become compassionate, that he will fulfill his promises, that he will make amends for whatever wrongs he has committed, that he will be ready to face judgment from either the International Criminal Court or the Divine Judge whom he called stupid. And when the time comes, let him rest in peace. Amen.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

St. Oscar Romero: Bishop and Martyr

On March 24, 1980, Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador was shot to death by a right-wing death squad while celebrating the Eucharist.  Since then, the people of El Salvador and many others from various parts of the world have revered him as a martyr. After more than three decades, Rome has finally officially recognized his martyrdom. He was beatified on May 23, 2015 and will be canonized on October 14, 2018. Why is Oscar Romero honored as a saint? What is the meaning of his martyrdom?
 Traditionally, the recognition of martyrdom was reserved for those put to death in “odium fidei” or in hatred of the faith during times of persecution. There were times in the past when Christians were hated on account of their faith. They were persecuted for being Christians. Many were given the choice of renouncing their faith and thus save their life or hold on to the faith and lose their life. The focus of martyrdom was their suffering and death which was seen as the consequence of confessing and holding on to their faith. Those who persecuted them were mostly non-Christian rulers who rejected the faith and who were filled with hatred for the Christian faith and those propagating it. This was the case during the first three centuries of Christianity and during the period of missionary expansion in Asia.
The circumstances of Romero’s death was different. El Salvador was governed by a repressive regime made up of Christian Democrats who were controlled by the military. Many believe that Romero was assassinated for defending the rights of the poor and for denouncing the injustices and repression carried out by the regime. There were doubts whether he was really murdered in odium fidei. This was one of the reasons for the slow progress of his cause. In 2014, when asked about Romero’s martyrdom, Pope Francis commented:
“What I would like is a clarification about martyrdom in odium fidei, whether it can occur either for having confessed the Creed or for having done the works which Jesus commands with regard to one’s neighbor. And this is a task for theologians.”
Thus, in Feb 2015, when asking Pope Francis to recognize Romero’s martyrdom, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints affirmed:
“He was killed at the altar. Through him, they wanted to strike the church that flowed from the Second Vatican Council. His assassination was not caused by motives that were simply political, but by hatred for a faith that, imbued with charity, would not be silent in the face of the injustices that relentless and cruelly slaughtered the poor and their defenders.”
While the congregation broadened the understanding of odium fidei to justify Romero’s martyrdom, there is a need to explore further the meaning of his martyrdom. This is necessary so that the martyrdom of many others – clergy, religious, lay faithful, members of Basic Ecclesial Communities - who were murdered in El Salvador and in other places in Latin America and the Philippines may be recognized. 
I propose that in looking at martyrdom there is a need to clarify and deepen the understanding of the faith. Faith is not simply a set of divine truths or Church doctrines that we profess, affirm or hold on to. This faith is not only expressed through the celebration of the sacraments and devotion to the saints. It is also shown by giving witness to the faith through acts of love, justice, mercy and compassion. The love of one’s neighbor especially the poor and the oppressed is a concrete expression of this faith.  This is the faith that does justice. This is the faith expressed in liberating praxis. This is the kind of faith  that Archbishop Oscar Romero and the Church of El Salvador tried to live. This kind of faith was considered subversive – a threat to National Security. The persecution in El Salvador and the martyrdom of Oscar Romero and others can be seen from this perspective – in hatred of a faith that is integral and liberating.
There is another framework for understanding Romero’s martyrdom that goes beyond odium fidei.  We can use the framework of Vatican II – the so-called Triplex Munus. The prophetic, kingly/pastoral and priestly mission of Christ, the Church, the clergy and the lay-faithful. Like Jesus, the cross – martyrdom – is the consequence and expression of faithfully carrying out the three-fold mission within a hostile environment.

The martyrdom of Romero may be seen as the consequence of exercising his prophetic mission. Romero denounced the sinful situation in his country perpetuated by those who monopolized wealth and power. He became the voice of the voiceless. He denounced the oppression of the people especially the poor, the injustices, the poverty, inequality, the spiral of violence, the idolatry of the National Security ideology. He called people to conversion – especially those who were responsible for the social evils. He also preached the Good News of the kingdom – of liberation, of justice and peace to all especially to the poor. Romero gave hope to those who found themselves in a helpless and intolerable situation.
The martyrdom of Romero can also be regarded as the consequence and  the ultimate expression of his loving service as  the pastor, the good shepherd of the flock, who came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as ransom for many. He was the shepherd who had the smell of the sheep. He ministered to them – especially to the poor who were the majority. He did not run away upon seeing his flock being attacked by wolves – the forces of the repressive regime.
His martyrdom at the hands of the death squads while celebrating the Eucharist can be regarded as the ultimate expression of his priesthood. He did not only offer the body and blood of the risen Christ on the altar, he also offered his own body and blood in memory of Him who died on the cross and rose from the dead. He sacrificed his own life following the example of Christ. This is what priesthood ultimately means.
Thus, Oscar Romero lived to the full what it means to be a follower of Christ. Like Christ he suffered and died to fulfill his mission as prophet, pastor and priest. He walked the way Jesus – the way of the cross. He embraced his own cross – the cost of discipleship. Shortly before he gave up his life, Archbishop Oscar Romero said:
“As a pastor, I am obligated by divine commandment to give my life for those I love… For that reason I offer to God my blood for the redemption and resurrection of El Salvador… Martyrdom is a grace that I don’t believe I merit. But if God accepts the sacrifice of my life, may my death, if it is accepted by God, be for the liberation of my people and a testimony of hope in the future.”

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

Cancer Treatment: A Holistic Approach

Cancer is one of the most difficult disease to cure or heal. So far, no effective treatment for cancer has been found – especially when it has metastasized or spread to other vital organs. Standard medical treatment such as chemotherapy, surgery and radio-therapy does not always work. They are very expensive and there is no guarantee of a cure. These can only extend the life of a patient for a few months or years. That is why for many, being diagnosed with cancer is like being handed the death sentence.
Why is a cure for cancer so elusive? The problem comes from lack of understanding of what cancer truly is and what causes it. The dominant paradigm is that cancer is purely a physiological ailment that requires medical treatment. It is the invasion and spread of malignant cells in the body. These cells may come from the food and substances that are considered carcinogenic -- including smoking. Thus, it is necessary to wage war on these cells – search and destroy – using whatever means necessary: chemical/laser warfare, surgical strikes, etc. Only doctors (especially oncologists & surgeons), nurses and medical technicians can be relied on in this war against cancer. The patient must have the will to fight cancer. Oftentimes it ends in death which is considered a defeat.
To regard cancer as purely a physiological and medical problem is most likely one of the main reasons why it is difficult to cure cancer. It is based on a dichotomy between the body and the mind.  A more revolutionary approach to cancer treatment promoted by oncologists such as Drs. Carl Simonton and Bernie Siegel is to regard cancer as a psycho-somatic disease that requires a more holistic approach to healing. Instead of looking at a particular part of the body or an organ that is affected by cancer, it is helpful to understand the person as whole - the joyful and sorrowful mystery of his/her life, the frustrations, anger, grief, alienation, shattered dreams, failed relationship, etc. It is important to know his/her story. The body is affected by the state of the mind and the soul. Thus, the question that should be asked is: what has been happening to this person before the onset of cancer. One of the findings in studies conducted among patients is that stress caused by sense of loss, anger, guilt and anxiety, a feeling of helplessness and hopelessness can lower the body’s natural defense or immune system and contribute to the growth of malignant tumors and cells.
The question that also needs to be asked is: what are the benefits of having cancer?
For some, it is experiencing the loving care and concern which is lacking in one’s life.
It could also be a means of escape from an intolerable situation, the inner pain or hurt that one has been carrying. It can be an honorable exit, a subconscious suicide. The mind has a powerful effect on the body – it can contribute to sickness as well as to wellness or healing.
Thus, in dealing with cancer patients, there are three dimensions of healing that we should look at:  physical (body), psychological (mind) and spiritual (soul). All these are connected and they influence each other. That is why healing must be holistic.  A more holistic approach can mobilize the power of the mind and of belief. That is why psycho-therapy, counseling, meditation, visualization, prayer and other eastern modalities can be helpful in this.
The healing of cancer patients can no longer be left just to medical practitioners - the doctors and nurses -- and drug companies. Psychologists, priests, spiritual healers and other practitioners of alternative medicine should also be involved. This requires humility on the part of those in the medical profession and openness to collaboration with others in the healing process.
The physical disease may be a symptom for the need for inner healing. Forgiveness and reconciliation form part of the healing process. The healing of the mind and soul may lead to the healing of the body. But even if it does not lead to physical healing, the inner healing itself can already be considered as an achievement. Death, if it comes, will no longer be seen as a defeat.

Monday, September 24, 2018


The theme of the Year of the Clergy and Consecrated Life focuses on “Servant-Leadership.”  This theme is based on Vatican II  emphasis that the clergy should “exercise leadership and authority in the spirit of service following the example of Christ who came not to be served but to serve and lay down his life for his sheep.” (Lumen Gentium 27)
There are several texts in the Gospels where Jesus’ teaching on leadership can be found. The first is from the Gospel of Matthew (20:25-28) which has parallels in other Gospels:
 “But Jesus summoned them and said, you know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and the great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave. Just so, the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life for the ransom of many.”
In this text, Jesus criticizes the usual way of exercising leadership which is the use of authority motivated by the drive for power, prestige and privilege.  Jesus offers another way of exercising leadership that he prescribed to his disciples -- humble service. He refers himself as the model: “the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve.”  At the heart of Jesus’ teaching of leadership is servanthood – servant-leadership. This is manifested in a symbolic way at the last supper when he washed that feet of his disciples. After doing this he says:
“If I, therefore, the master and teacher have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow so that as I have done for you, you should also do.” (John 13:14-15)
This text sums up what Jesus’ life signify and what his death on the cross the following day mean. Jesus’ washing the feet of the disciples must have been a shocking and confusing act for the disciples. It is a demeaning act. Only servants do this.  Jesus’ washing of the feet is a symbolic act to dramatize his view of leadership – humble and loving service. This should be the underlying motivation in the exercise of leadership. Jesus presents himself as the model and asks his disciples to follow his example. St. Paul in the letter to the Philippians also highlights this:
“If there is encouragement in Christ, any solace in love, any participation in the Spirit, any compassion and mercy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart, thinking one thing. Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking not for his own interests, but everyone for those of others. Have among you the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself taking the form of a servant, coming in human likeness and found human appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on the cross.” (Phil 2:1-8)
Society tends to regard leadership as a high position. The leader is placed on a pedestal. He looks down on his followers who look up to him. He looks at those below him as his subordinates who should obey him. He occupies the top position and is served by those below him. Thus, leadership is viewed from a vertical perspective – top to bottom – like a pyramid. This is not how Jesus regards authority and leadership. Christ the King is Jesus the servant. He came to serve and not to be served. The ultimate symbol is the washing of the feet. He lowered himself and knelt to wash the feet of his disciples. To be a humble servant. This is what servant-leadership is all about. A leader should not look at himself as above the rest, occupying the dizzy heights and feeling lonely at the top. To occupy a leadership role is not to ascend to a high, exalted position but to be humble and lower oneself. It is a descent, not an ascent, for a servant is not higher than those he serves. Thus, like Jesus this requires kenosis: self-emptying. This requires emptying oneself of pride and superiority complex -- of thinking of oneself as god-like. This also requires emptying oneself of the drive to dominate and hold on to the trappings of power, pomp and privilege, of selfishness and self-centeredness. Humble and loving service – this is what is required of a servant-leader. This is what is means to be a good shepherd.
The emphasis on servant-leadership does away with the sense of entitlement, privilege and prestige that is often associated with the position of leadership and authority. The leader should not expect or demand special treatment. The leader must always remember that, like Christ, he is sent to serve and not to be served. As servant, he is not greater or higher than those he serves. Leadership is not a position of honor or glory but of humble service – a position of responsibility. There is no room for vain-glory or pomposity.
Servant-leadership is carried out vis-à-vis the Christian community – the Church – whether at the parish or the diocesan level. The pastor is called to be the shepherd and servant of the flock. His responsibility is to gather and lead the Christian community and to lead it in the spirit of service. Community building and formation is essential that is why it is necessary to form Basic Ecclesial Communities that makes up the parish. The goal is to lead a community whose members live in communion and participate in Christ’s mission as a prophetic, priestly and servant community. In doing so it becomes a community of missionary disciples and an expression of the Church of the Poor. Thus, leadership is always service to the community of God’s people, for the good of the community. The focus of the leader’s attention is the community and not oneself or one’s personal gain. The poor in a special way are the objects of the servant-leader’s loving concern. The shepherd loves and serves the flock more than himself and is willing to give up his life for his flock.

The Church for a long time has been plagued by clericalism. This is the view of the clergy as a privileged elite class in the Church that is placed on a pedestal and wields control and power. This is often accompanied by careerism – of constantly striving for higher position in the Church. The emphasis on servant-leadership can overcome clericalism and careerism in the Church.
Servant leadership – this is what the Church needs, this is what society also needs. Emphasis on this can overcome the dark side of leadership.

Monday, September 10, 2018

The Silence of the Shepherds

As the death toll of the government’s war on drugs reach over twenty-five thousand after two years, one of the questions frequently asked is: “why are many priests silent?” Day after day, the mass media report and show images of extra-judicial killings of suspected users and pushers perpetrated by police and by death squads. Yet, many if not most of the members of the clergy – with a few exceptions - remain silent even as the CBCP  came out with several pastoral letters the one of which was supposed to be read in churches all over the Philippines. So, how can the silence of many priests be explained?
Based on my own personal observation and from what I have heard, there are many reasons for this. For many priests who view their priesthood  exclusively in sacramental or cultic terms, speaking out or denouncing evil perpetrated by those in power is not part of the priestly ministry. They think their sole duty is to say Mass and administer the sacraments. They regard their ministry as purely spiritual and reject any involvement in the temporal sphere – especially on issues that they think are political in nature. So the extra-judicial killings, the abuses, corruption and criminality within the government and the police are not their concern. After all, there is separation between Church and State.
There are priests who are not aware of these killings, the abuse of power and the injustices. They live in their own world of comfort and luxury -- within the ambit of the church and the rectory. They do not know and do not care about what’s happening around them. They are far from their poor flock. They are blind and deaf to the suffering and evil around them.  So naturally they are dumb – they cannot and do not speak out.

There are priests who support these killings or turn a blind eye. They think that this is acceptable for the common good. This is the only way to solve the problem of drug addiction. Our country needs a strong leader who can save our country. They believe that he has the political will to bring about change in our land – to bring peace, to eradicate poverty, eliminate corruption and protect the environment. That is why they campaigned and voted for the president and continue to support him. They were even proud to show pictures of their iron fist salute (complete with baller) on Facebook. These priests are often annoyed and angry when the CBCP comes up with pastoral letters that they judge as critical of the present government. They believe in the official reports that those killed fought back and the government has nothing to do with the death squads. 

There are priests who are afraid that if they speak out, the president will hit back - below the belt - and expose the sexual abuses of the clergy and be called hypocrites. Others are afraid that they could be in the hit list of the death squads and martyred if they speak out.

So there many reasons why many priests – even many bishops -- are silent. Perhaps, these could be the same reasons why many religious and lay-faithful are also silent.
If this continues, the bodies will continue to pile up and reach over 70,000 victims by the end of Duterte’s term. The other problems – such as poverty and corruption will not be addressed. As the CBCP letter reminds us: “to consent and keep silent in front of evil is to be an accomplice to it.”
Let us pray that someday the priests who are silent will be able to see the evil around them, find their voice and have the courage to exercise their prophetic ministry – to form the moral conscience of their flock so that they may recognize and denounce the manifestation of evil and the culture of death and to announce the Gospel of life and freedom. Let us pray they may become good shepherds, ready to offer their lives for the flock.