Friday, May 22, 2020

The Church’s Mission in the Time of the Pandemic and Beyond


The Church’s Mission in the Time of the Pandemic and Beyond
Fr. Amado L. Picardal, CSsR, STD
           
            We live in a period of uncertainty. We cannot predict the future. We can only take into consideration various scenarios – especially the worst-case and the best-case. What is certain is that many people all over the world are severely affected by the pandemic and we are facing a more catastrophic crisis – climate change. So how can the Church carry out her mission at present and in the decades to come? This is what every local Church and religious communities should answer based on their particular context. What follows are some general ideas and suggestions that might be helpful and can be taken into consideration. What is important is to think strategically, always assessing developments and trends – the external threats/opportunities and the internal strengths/weaknesses – being creative and coming up with fresh ideas and bold action. The Church can only survive and thrive when she is able to adapt to the changing situation.

Immediate and continuing task: caring for a wounded world
Caring for the victims of the pandemic and the consequent economic crisis is a priority for the Church in collaboration with civil society and government institutions. The Church must mobilize its resources in supporting relief and humanitarian efforts.
This requires supporting those in the frontlines – the medical workers who are engaged in caring for the sick and the dying. In concrete this will take the form of providing accommodation, food, transportation during lockdowns and quarantines.
This also means providing psycho-spiritual care for the bereaved and front-liners who may be suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. This can take the form of on-line counselling. 
Since the poor are the most vulnerable especially under lock-down and beyond, the Church (especially at the parish and grassroots level) should respond to their basic needs both material and spiritual. The most immediate is providing food assistance and encouragement.
To avoid dependency and passivity everyone must actively be involved in the process of addressing their needs and problems. This can only be sustained through the spirit of communion – of sharing and participation.
Digital information/communication technology/social media should be used for this purpose – in identifying those in need, inviting volunteers and contributions, distribution centers, networks and delivery, etc.

New forms of communion and solidarity
The continuing threat of pandemic requires physical distancing – this will be the new normal. There will be restrictions on large gathering/assemblies. International and domestic travel will be limited. The trend is towards doing things locally – including economic production.
  More time will be spent at home. Most of the face-to-face encounter takes place at home and in the community. The new mantra: work at home if you can, go to the office or workplace only if it is really necessary. The same is happening in education. There will be more on-line learning and home-schooling. This will be the opportunity for promoting the family and household as the domestic church. Parents will spend more time with their children. This is the time to experience the loving communion and sharing within the family.
However, the family should not be isolated from other families. They need to link up with other families and individuals within the immediate neighborhood and local community. Forming or revitalizing a network of small communities/Basic Ecclesial Communities (BECs), cells or family groupings becomes necessary. The parish must become truly a communion of BECs. The model of the Church as described in Acts (2:42-46, 4:32-35) must be experienced once again. The sense of belonging, sharing and the spirit of stewardship must be inculcated as the communitarian dimension is emphasized. This is the antidote to isolation and individualism.
The communion and solidarity of the parishes with the dioceses and wider levels (national, regional, universal) will take on a new form. This is also the case among religious institutes and communities.
In promoting communion and solidarity we should be aware that we are living in the digital era. We stay connected with one another. We can develop or join virtual communities and ecclesial movements that have local, national and global reach through the digital information and communication technology and social media.  Online meetings and assemblies are now possible. With the development of more advanced and cheap technologies all these can be possible even in areas that are remote and distant.
Communion always includes participation in mission. This means synodality –journeying together. Synodality involves participation in the decision-making process -- in governance. It also means participation in mission – the prophetic-evangelizing mission, the priestly mission, and the kingly-servant mission. This synodality – communion and participation in mission – must be realized not only at the universal level but at the local level -at the diocese, down to the parish, Basic Ecclesial Communities and the Christian families.
In a world that is becoming decentralized and fragmented, those in pastoral leadership must employ new ways of exercising leadership and governance. The new digital technology and social media make it possible for regular and direct communication and consultation instantly overcoming physical distance. Leaders and members can be more interconnected. Church leaders should not be isolated but should continually be in touch with each other and the people they serve. Online meetings and assemblies are possible. The clergy should continue to communicate to the faithful and listen to them. A more participative style of leadership is possible avoiding a top-down model. This can be done at all levels – at the local, national, regional, universal level. Strategic thinking and acting is required – of seeing the big picture and the long view.

Evangelization and Christian education in the pandemic and the ecological crises
How can the Good News and the Christian message be proclaimed in the time of the pandemic and the ecological crises?
The central message:  God’s love for the world – for humanity and all living creatures. We are called to be in communion with the Triune God – the Father, Son and Holy Spirit – and with one another and the rest of creation. We are all interconnected. We all have the responsibility to love, share, care for each one and for all things. We are called to conversion – this means rooting out selfishness, greed, hatred and violence. This requires responding to the cry of the poor and the cry of the earth and promote justice, peace and integral ecology. We are also called to live a simple and sustainable lifestyle. The social teachings of the Church as well as the papal documents (e.g. Evangelii Gaudium, Laudato Si) should be studied and propagated.
Christian formation and education should emphasize servant-leadership, participative ethos, creativity rather than submissiveness.  Evangelization requires being prophetic – to speak out against social evils and proclaim the coming of a new world, a new reality. The local Church has to monitor, denounce and resist human rights violations and abuses – including totalitarian state control that diminishes freedom in the guise of containing the pandemic.
Since physical distancing is the new normal and large gathering is restricted, we have to use digital information and communication technology/social media for evangelization, catechesis and education. This means online evangelization seminars and catechesis (webinars). Bible-study/bible-sharing groups can meet online. Mass media communication should go digital and linked with social media. Each diocese and parish must develop their capabilities and come up with quality video-material that can be shared through social media in line with their respective evangelization and catechetical programs.
Face-to-face interaction should still be used but in a smaller scale observing physical distancing and appropriate safety measures. BEC/family-groupings can be the setting for evangelization and catechesis as well as Gospel-sharing.  All these require a dialogical process as well as emphasizing story-telling.
Even with less face-to-face encounter, spiritual counselling and direction can be carried out using digital technology and social media (WhatsApp, FB Messenger, Zoom, etc).
Theologians should address the theological questions arising from the pandemic and the ecological crisis. They can share the fruits of their reflection online and engage in dialogue with other theologians, Church leaders and the faithful. They can also give on-line lectures or webinars.

Worship and Liturgy
Due to physical distancing, large gathering for liturgies and worship will not be possible for quite some time. Dioceses and parishes will have to think of how regular Sunday Masses in parish churches can be celebrated with these restrictions. It could mean limiting attendance for each Mass and adding more scheduled Masses. It could also mean celebrating small group Masses – BEC/neighborhood/family groupings, etc. This type of can be celebrated once every two or more months for each small group – depending on the availability of priests and the size of the parish. A Mass for a particular a family/small-groupings/cells can be broadcasted live so that other groups who are not physical present can still virtually participate and make spiritual communion.
Family liturgy/worship should be developed and promoted. The Christian family as domestic church is a worshipping and praying community. Following the Jewish practice, family-centered rituals around the table can be adopted. Family rosary, bible-service and sharing can also be practiced by each household.
Celebration of Sunday “priest-less liturgies” or liturgies in the absence of the priest with or without communion services should be promoted in BECs, cells and family groupings for communities that cannot have regular Sunday celebration of the Eucharist. These are usually led by lay liturgical leaders. The proliferation of permanent deacons to serve these communities should be considered especially for those who are already exercising leadership in these small communities. This can be the context for the ongoing study and consideration about the possibility of including women in the diaconal ministry by the commission created by Pope Francis.
We have to emphasize the Vatican II teaching on the priesthood of the faithful. This means not only active participation in the liturgy but also living a life of prayer and self-sacrifice, and active charity. We have to accept that there are situations when it is not possible to participate regularly in Sunday Eucharist. We must de-emphasize the mentality that it is mortal sin to miss Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation which unnecessarily create a sense of guilt and anxiety for those unable to do so due to unavoidable circumstances. There is more to sharing in Christ’s priesthood than attending Mass.
While the Mass is the summit and fount of Christian life, its daily/weekly celebration is not the only expression of the priestly character of the Christian community. The real presence of Christ is not exclusively manifested in the Eucharist but also in other community prayer and worship when the faithful gather in Jesus’ name and in the Word that is proclaimed and shared. What matters most is not the frequency of the celebration of the Eucharist but how it is celebrated with a community that truly lives a life of communion with Christ and with one another in their day to day life.
The role of the ordained minister is to lead and enable active participation of the lay faithful in the Church’s priestly mission. But we have to avoid clericalism that posits that only the ordained minister alone can make the Church a truly priestly/worshipping community and that the Eucharist is the only form of prayer and worship. The Church will continue to survive without frequent/regular Sunday Mass in communities due to the shortage of priests or restrictions imposed by circumstance (e.g. pandemic, persecutions, etc.). A life of holiness among the members as well as the capacity for self-sacrifice and martyrdom that accompany participation in communal liturgy characterize the fullness of priesthood of the faithful.
Social Action
The Church continues her mission as a servant community in a situation where the majority suffer due to the effects of the pandemic and the creeping ecological crisis. How this is to be carried out concretely depends on the local situation where the Church is situated. The See-Judge-Act method is recommended. Concrete action should flow from analysis of the situation (the specific problems and issues that the local Church/community is facing), and the moral judgment.
The priority continues to be the promotion of integral development – working for justice, peace and the integrity of creation.  In face of economic recession or depression, each local Church should address the problem of increasing poverty, unemployment and lack of food security which can lead to hunger and even starvation. Many will be driven to indebtedness.
Since government efforts to address these problems may not be enough, the Church in collaboration with civil society organizations has to promote sustainable development and initiate or support poverty-alleviation programs. Credit unions/cooperatives as well as micro-finance programs should be introduced or promoted to avoid loan-sharks.
During the pandemic “Kindness Centers” with feeding programs and food banks have proliferated in many parishes. This should be multiplied and expanded. This is difficult to sustain in most parishes with dwindling incomes and resources. Parishioners should be encouraged to share their time, talent and treasure.  Besides giving food, what is more important is to promote local food production such as gardening and communal farms. Families and communities should be taught to engage in natural/organic farming or sustainable agriculture and link up with consumers through social media and e-commerce which bypass middle-men. Parishes and Basic Ecclesial Communities within dioceses with livelihood projects and income-generating programs can engage in alternative trade, organizing networks of production and marketing.
With the radical restructuring of the world economic order that is becoming de-globalized, a more localized and self-sufficient economic system is emerging. This is the effect of the decentralization and localization of supply chains in the aftermath of the pandemic crisis as well as the acceleration of the 4th industrial revolution with the proliferation of digital-based manufacturing, 3-D printing, robotics, e-commerce, artificial intelligence, etc. The trend is towards local manufacturing and production for domestic consumption rather than for exports. New skills and competencies will be required with new enterprises and jobs generated.
The social action program of the Church should be geared towards promoting and supporting the growth of cooperatives and of medium/small scale/cottage industries which are community-based or at the grassroots (parish and BEC levels). It should also focus on skills training, capability building and local capitalization. It should address the problem of unemployment and labor displacement due to the economic crisis as well as disruptive technologies brought about by the 4th industrial revolution. A program for enterprise building and job-placement can be initiated. There are parishes with pious wealthy members who are engaged in business or industries that can be tapped. The principles and best practices of the Economy of Communion (initiated by the Focolare movement) can be adopted and further developed.  It should be an economy motivated not primarily by profit but by sharing with the needy and promoting a culture of giving while ensuring business to grow in a free market economy. It should be an economy based on solidarity and the principle of stewardship, living in practice the ecclesiology of communion and in particular the communion of goods where the members are of one heart and mind and no one in need (cf. Acts 4:32-35). It should emphasize sustainability and respect for the environment. This requires the advice and technical assistance of grassroots-oriented technocrats and entrepreneurs as well schools of business and management in Catholic Universities.
We should continue to promote integral ecology according to the spirit of Laudato Si. As a response to ecological crisis, emphasis should be given to the reduction of carbon foot-prints. This involves participation in the Greening movement, tree-planting, micro-gardening (family-community levels), adoption and promotion of alternative sources of energy (solar, wind), waste-management, biking, walking, etc. We should promote a healthy and simple lifestyle which besides reducing carbon footprints can strengthen the immune system against diseases and viruses (plant-based diet, caloric restrictions, intermittent fasting).
While acting locally we need to link-up with each other at various levels – national, regional, global. The Vatican Dicastery for the Promotion of Integral Development in collaboration with Global Catholic Climate Movement (GCCM) as well as the Sowing Hope for the Planet Campaign are promoting a roll out plan for the years to come as a concrete response to Laudato Si.
To carry out our mission of promoting justice, peace and integrity of creation we need to make full use of digital technology and social media. This is a means for letting us see what is happening all around us – the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor, the effects of the pandemic and the ecological crisis, the injustices and inequality, the violence. This allows us to analyze, reflect and make judgment on what is happening from the perspective of the Christian faith and the Church’s moral and social teaching. This enables us to share our stories – of what we are doing and should be doing – and support each other and express solidarity as we act together to transform and heal the world.

Final Thoughts
Through the centuries the Church has found herself facing numerous crisis worst than we have now. This is not the time to be afraid and to panic. Our Lord Jesus Christ has promised us that He is always with us and will not abandon us. The Spirit-filled Christian Community has survived and thrived even in the worst situation and continued to fulfil her mission. What matters most is to believe and trust in the Triune God, to be filled with hope and give hope to others, and to be filled with love and express this concretely to others as we strive to heal this world.

Thursday, May 07, 2020

Summary Strategic Assessment of the Global Situation: Threats & Opportunities/Future Scenarios


The current global situation brought about by the pandemic is characterized as volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA). There is fear, panic and uncertainty in face of an invisible enemy. The virus which started in Wuhan in December 2019 has spread rapidly all over the world and has created an unprecedented global crisis. It is not just a health crisis but an economic, political and social crises.
Compared to the last devastating pandemic - the 1918 Spanish flu -- the rate of infection and fatality of COVID-19 is relatively low. But the reaction and impact are unprecedented.  Everything has shut down – whole countries and states are on lockdown or quarantine. The damage and changes that follow will depend on how long this pandemic last and the direction those in leadership will make.
There is uncertainty when the lockdown will completely be lifted and when the health crisis be over. It could take years to contain and totally defeat this virus. Like in the past, the virus with its various mutations will continue to be a threat.  A second or third wave cannot be ruled out unless the vaccine and cure is found and made available. Thus, there will be a gradual and calibrated lessening of the lock-down and community quarantine. Social/physical distancing will have to be observed. Large gatherings will be avoided. This could become the new normal.
We are facing a great uncertainty. We cannot be sure what will happen next. This is a global crisis. The longer this crisis persists, the worst the repercussions and the more radical changes can be expected. We hope for the best and prepare for the worst. Everybody hopes that the pandemic will end soon.  Even if the health crisis subsides the global economic crisis will continue to exacerbate. The shutdown of the economy has led to economic recession and could lead to a global economic depression if the trend continues. Many companies and businesses are going bankrupt and closing down.  Millions have lost their jobs and do not have enough to eat. According to IMF, 260 million people are facing starvation especially in Africa, Latin America and Asia. Trillions of dollars have been lost in the stock-market. The global neo-liberal capitalist system is collapsing.  There is disruption of the global supply chain and less demand and consumption which makes economic recovery difficult. The so-called V-shaped recovery where the economy can quickly bounce back to normal has been ruled out.
Thus, an economic crisis and a political crisis can be the consequence of the health and humanitarian crisis. How governments and civil society respond to this crisis will determine what kind of world will emerge. For better or for worst, the political and economic crisis could lead to new economic and political systems and configurations accompanied by cultural and social changes. As the saying goes, a crisis is not only a time of danger – it is also a time of opportunity. The greater and deeper the crisis, the greater the opportunity for radical and long-lasting change. This is what happened in Europe after the Black Death in the 14th century. This could happen once again in our lifetime.
Times like this requires strategic thinking and acting on the part of those in leadership position in various institutions whether government, ecclesiastical, religious, etc. This means looking at the big picture and the long view. One the most important things that needs to be done is to assess the present situation – the threats and opportunities, the strengths and weaknesses. Since it is difficult to predict or forecast what will happen, building scenarios could be helpful. These can be the basis for strategic directions and plans. No planning can be done without going through this process. It is not enough to dream of what kind of world we want to have after this pandemic. We also have to look at what is happening and what could happen. This should be done at both the global and local levels. This paper is an initial or preliminary attempt to do this from a global perspective. Hopefully, this can spur further efforts to understand the situation and the possibilities for the future.

Threats and Weaknesses

The coronavirus continues to spread all over the world as the number of cases and fatalities increase. Even with an apparent containment and decreasing rates of infection, a second and third wave cannot be ruled out unless a cure or vaccine is found and made available.
The situation worsens as many governments with inept leadership are incapable of dealing effectively with the health crisis as well as the consequent economic crisis. This paves the way for increasing authoritarian rule from the national to the local levels. A virtual martial law is imposed to enforce the lock-down or quarantine. Abuse of authority and violation of human rights are prevalent.
The economic recession and possible depression can result in the breakdown or collapse of neo-liberal globalized capitalist economic system. De-globalization is underway. The disruption of supply-chain and the slow-down or stoppage of production as well as the decline of consumption and demand makes it difficult to recover. This leads to bankruptcy, shut-down of businesses, rise of unemployment, increasing poverty, and food scarcity. The pandemic manifests the widening gap between the haves and the have-nots.
The developing economies in Latin American, Asia and Africa will suffer the most even if the rate of infection and fatality is lower than the developed countries. East Africa is facing not just the pandemic but also the locust plague.  Europe which has been on a long-term recession before the pandemic is not spared from the economic crisis. Italy, Spain, France and Great Britain are being hit hard. While the German economy appears to be stable it cannot be sustained in the long run since it is 50% export-oriented. The collapse of the oil industry is affecting not just Saudi Arabia, Iran and Russia but also Nigeria and Venezuela. China, which is touted as the second largest economy is not spared from the economic crisis as production slows down and the demand for its products decline. With capital flight, rising unemployment, and inability to take care of a billion citizens who remain poor the ruling Communist Party tries to tighten its hold on power as anti-China sentiments spread globally.
All over the world, there is growing apathy and feeling of helplessness and hopelessness of so many people, on one hand and a growing anger and social unrest especially from the lower class on the other.
The ecological crisis continues and more zoonotic viral diseases (e.g. the coronavirus which has been traced to bats and pangolins) are expected to appear due to the continuing destruction of the eco-systems and the wildlife-human contact.
The realization of the lethal impact of viruses can lead to their development and future utilization as biological weapon more destructive than nuclear arms. If this comes to the hands of rogue states like North Korea and extremist groups like ISIS and Al-Qaeda could make use of this.
There is an absence of a coordinated, global response to the health and economic crises. The United States which has the status of the sole global superpower maintains an isolationist (America-first) stance, unwilling to exercise leadership at the global stage. It sees NATO as irrelevant after the dissolution of Soviet Union and is only interested in keeping the threat of Russian expansion in check by propping up Ukraine and Poland economically and militarily. The European Union fails to maintain a united approach to the crisis leaving each nation-state to fend for itself and resurrecting national borders. G7 is history and G20 does not function. The United Nations, the Security Council and the World Health Organizations cannot address the crisis and thus the absence of international coordination and solidarity. The dream of an interconnected global political and economic order is threatened by fragmentation and the resurgence of nationalism and protectionism.
A spiritual crisis could accompany the health, economic and political crisis. As people make sense of the tragedy and grieve over the countless suffering, death and devastation of the pandemic, theological questions will emerge: Where is God in all of this? How could God allow this to happen? Is this God’s punishment? Does God really answer our prayers?

Opportunities and Strengths

Several countries in the European Union led by Germany has pledged to raise $8 billion for the development and distribution of vaccines.
Each nation-states/government are acting to contain the spread of the virus and address the immediate needs of the people and the economy (e.g. release of state funds, aid, stimulus rescue package, etc.). Inept and authoritarian political leaders and systems responsible for the spread of the virus are unmasked and will be held accountable.  Effective and democratic leaders and political systems are emerging. Countries like Taiwan and Sweden are successful in containing the virus without draconian measures and resorting to authoritarian rule. In the long run, the citizens will be more discerning in choosing competent and compassionate servant leaders with clear strategy for addressing crisis that society face (health, economic, ecological, etc).
Church and civil society groups are mobilized to give aid to the poor who are mostly affected and to front-liners. This crisis in bringing out compassionate response. Big business corporations are engaged in charitable contribution.  International Financial Institutions like Asian Development Bank, World Bank and IMF have expressed willingness to write off debts of developing countries.
There is maximization the use of digital communication and information technology (remote work, online meetings, online masses, etc.). The digital-based commerce and industry survives and thrives. This can lead to the acceleration of the 4th industrial revolution.
The UN and the pope’s global appeal for ceasefire has been heeded in some areas as warring parties are unable to carry out offensive in places where the virus has spread.
There is less GHG emission due to the shut-down of factories and less use of vehicles – a temporary reprieve for global warming with less demand for fossil fuel and the collapse of the oil industry.
Since the situation is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous, it is very difficult to forecast what is going to happen in a post-pandemic world. It is better to build scenarios which may or may not happen. Seeing worst-case and best-case scenarios can be helpful in helping develop flexible strategies and responses.

Scenario 1: Short-term Pandemic followed by Rapid Recovery

The pandemic ends before the new year 2021, with the rapid discovery and production of vaccines as well as coming up with effective cures. The cases and fatality rates are kept to a minimum. The lock-down and quarantine is lifted all over the world. There is a short-term economic recession and a U-shaped economic recovery is on the way by the first or 2nd quarter of 2021 due to successful government-led recovery program. Full economic recovery is achieved in three years.
There is rapid growth of digital-based commerce, communication, etc. (Amazon, Zoom, etc). China’s status as global hub of manufacturing is reduced as anti-China sentiments grow with effort to hold it accountable for the spread of the coronavirus. The process of decentralization of supply chain starts with the withdrawal factories and investments from China and transfer to Vietnam, Thailand, Philippines, India and Mexico.
The transfer of the manufacturing hub to Mexico is beneficial to North America and prevents future disruption of the supply chain.
The election of a new US president who is more competent and compassionate can pave the way for the US to exercise global leadership in coordinated international response to the health and economic crisis. This will benefit the developing countries and preserve stability in the various regions.
Tensions arise as China continues to expand and consolidate its influence in the South-China Sea by ongoing military build-up in the disputed islands. However, it is unable to attain regional hegemony as it fails to fully recover economically.
The release of GHG as fossil-fuelled industries and vehicles goes back to normal and even doubled to make up for loses. Climate change and ecological crisis continues as the governments are unable implement the Paris agreement regarding the reduction of GHG emission.
With the containment and disappearance of the virus, the authoritarian/totalitarian control is eased in many countries while it remaining entrenched in other countries.

Scenario 2: Long-Term Pandemic (Economic-Political Depression)

The pandemic continues to spread, no effective cure and vaccines have been discovered and developed. The virus keeps coming in waves for several years, number of cases and fatalities continue to rise. The pandemic continues to be a threat for the next 4 to ten years or even longer with intermittent quarantine or lock-down and disruption of economic activities. More zoonotic pandemics are expected due to the destruction of eco-systems.
The global recession turns into economic depression. Bankruptcy, unemployment, growing poverty and widespread hunger. Collapse of various the following industries: oil, airline, tourism, hotel, restaurants, malls, small-business. Economic depression is accompanied by political depression as US is unwilling and unable to exercise global leadership and the major powers fail to get their act together. The European Union fails to address the economic crisis collectively and European unity unravels as each nation-state assert self-determination. Italy, Spain and France are hard hit by the depression with the ranks of the unemployed and poor grows. Germany’s economy is heavily affected as the lack of demand and consumption from its European neighbors weaken its export-oriented economy.
Russia continues to decline due to the collapse of the oil industry, ongoing corruption and aging population. Tensions in the South China Sea continues as China asserts its dominance and hegemony in the region and US Naval forces conduct freedom of navigation exercises. This could trigger skirmishes with neighboring countries (e.g. Japan, Vietnam and Indonesia) or war if China try to occupy Taiwan. At the same time, power struggle erupts within Chinese Communist Party due to ineptitude of preventing the pandemic as various countries strive to hold China accountable. China loses its role as the global manufacturing hub and fails to recover economically as US, Europe, Japan and other countries distance themselves and isolate China. Dissent and social unrest grow that threaten the collapse of Chinese autocratic regime and the consequent fragmentation into regions. China’s aging population, inequality, and export-oriented economy prevents it from attaining its ambition to be a superpower.
Justifying the continuing threat of the virus, authoritarian and totalitarian regimes all over the world continue to rise and consolidate to enforce social order. Surveillance and control of all aspects of life is maintained. Human rights and civil rights – including religious rights – are violated to justify the defence of the populace against the virus. The spiral of violence continues as resistance grows. This can lead to rebellions and civil disobedience as the government fails to address the health as well as the economic crisis and starvation effectively.
Greater government intervention can lead to either a fascist/state capitalist model or a social-democratic model. Inept authoritarian regimes fail to address the multiple-crisis and collapses. This can lead to the emergence of more competent, compassionate leaders and political systems.
Meanwhile, there is acceleration of the 4th industrial revolution (digital-based economy, e-commerce, 3-D printing, local manufacturing, remote work, etc.). New normal: online-education, meetings, conferences.
The long-term threat of the pandemic and intermittent lockdown and lessened GHG emission gives a chance for the environment to rest, slowing down climate change. There is change in lifestyle and patterns of consumption due to frugal living.

Scenario 3: Utopian/Best-Case Scenario: Emergence of a New World

The pandemic and its long-term impact accelerate the collapse of the global neo-liberal capitalist economic order. Vaccines and effective cure to the virus are produced and distributed world-wide. A new multi-polar political-economic order capable of responding to the pandemic and ecological crises emerges. As the de-globalization of the economic system continues, new forms of interconnections and international cooperation emerges. No nation exercises global hegemony, each one focusing its primary efforts in rebuilding its economic-political and social institutions and systems. Developed nations who are first to recover from the crisis provide humanitarian and economic aid to less fortunate nations who are hard hit.
 Nation-states adopt a system of mixed-economy accompanied by strong government intervention to promote social justice following the social democratic model.  Incompetent and corrupt politicians who have been unmasked during the crisis are replaced by new leaders who are more competent and who are more concerned about the common good. There is state intervention to jump-start the economy, address poverty and hunger, and ensure universal health-care, food security, creation of new jobs with job-security, support for small-scale industries, actively engaged in planning for rebuilding the economy and redistribution of wealth.
 With the break-down of the supply-chain dependent on China as manufacturing hub of the global neo-capitalist economic system, nationalist and self-sufficient policies are adopted. The acceleration of the 4th industrial revolution with the development of 5G, robotics, 3-D printing, enhanced digital communication and e-commerce radically change the economic system. There will be no need for off-shore manufacturing hubs and centralized/ distant supply chains. Domestic manufacturing for local markets and consumption will flourish. Decentralized, small-scale, community-based industries will be promoted.  Universal health-care system will be instituted. The economy will be geared towards preparation for the next pandemic crisis as well as the ecological crisis.  Instead of a centralized, globalized economic system, it will be an interconnected, net-worked based system using latest digital information and communication technology brought about by the 4th industrial revolution.
The oil industry which has collapsed during the pandemic fails to recover fully with the lessened demand for fossil-fuels and rapid development of renewable sources of energy and new methods of manufacturing. This means that large scale distribution of energy is replaced by new community-based power grid.
 An economy of communion will be promoted concerned not only with growth and profits but also sharing with one another and with the poor and the needy.
As physical distancing and avoidance of large gathering become the new norm, new patterns of social interaction develop (local/small communities, online/virtual communities).

What I have attempted to do in this paper is to provide an initial assessment of the global situation and prospects for the future based on my research, monitoring the news and scouring YouTube Webinars and interviews by experts during the lock-down. This is by no means exhaustive will continue to be developed and deepened. Making an ongoing assessment of the global and local situation is the task of every institution including the Church and religious institutes at various levels. This as the basis for setting strategic directions and plans.

Background Readings:
Frank Snowden, Epidemics and Society, Yale University Press: London, 2019
Joshua Loomis, Epidemics: Impact of Germs & Their Power over Humanity, ABC-CLIO: CA, 2018
Joshua Gans, Economics in the Age of Covid-19, MIT Press: London, 2020
George Friedman, Flashpoints: The Emerging Crisi in Europe, Anchor: New York, 206
George Friedman, The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century, Doubleday: NY,
Ian Bremmer, Every Nation for Itself: Winners and Losers in a G-Zero World, Penguin: NY 2012
Peter Zeihan, DisUnited Nations:The Scramble for Power in an Ungoverned World
George Magnus, Red Flags: Why Xi’s China is in Jeopardy,
Klaus Schwab, The Fourth Industrial Revolution, World Economic Forum: Geneva, 2016
Christiana Figueres et al., The Future We Choose: Surviving the Climate Crisis, Knopf: NY, 2020
Luigino Bruni (ed). The Economy of Communion, New City Press: NY, 2002

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.