We are a people of dialogue. As such we have the moral obligation to search for the truth in freedom, the truth about God, about life, about ourselves, our country, our society, our world and the events around us.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Reopening the Spirit to Hope in the Face of 'Disunity' in the Church

Many people who rely heavily on news media to be informed tend to take superficial news items as gospel truth. Perhaps they are too busy to investigate further, and so they take the news at face value, without realizing that once this practice becomes a habit, it could lead to disastrous results in one’s thinking. Having the habit of watching only the surface of things, one can be misled to making wrong conclusions and going further and further away from the truth. As an example we can look at some reactions (from the kind of people I am referring to) to the news items about the Church in the Philippines that various media have of late been focusing on.

Whatever their reasons may be, media perceive bishops and priests to be newsworthy; they like to ask us always about our “reactions” to issues. Many of us would prefer to stay out of the limelight, but some of us grant occasional interviews to media people, particularly when we have causes to champion or when we feel that what we know may contribute towards enlightening or improving things for our people. Unfortunately, we are often quoted out of context, or at times, casual remarks are blown out of proportion and find their way into headlines. Worse, when the resulting news stories make bishops and priests appear as though they are in conflict with one another. I learned that the word for this is “pinagsasabong”; and “sabong” as you may know is the Tagalog word for cockfighting. And so we are thrown into a pit and made to appear as though we were fighting when in fact we are not; it is of course ludicrous, like producing smoke where there is no fire.

One can not really say whether this is intentional on the part of media practitioners or is but the result of miscommunication and differences in ways of thinking and perception, but it certainly causes a certain amount of damage in that it somehow soils the face of Mother Church: it gives the erroneous impression that the Philippine Church has lost its moral leadership because its leaders can not agree on issues. As the news stories depict, ours has become a disunited Church.

Whether we like it or not, this is the confusing picture being formed by media reporting that is way below the ideal. It is saddening to be asked, even by devoted Church people themselves, “What’s happening in the Church? Why can’t you bishops have a definite stand on (for example) Ligtas Buntis?” The dark picture is both untrue and unfair but what can we do as victims of iniquitous talks? The situation is more often than not like being in quicksand—the more you move, the deeper you sink. In this case, the more we say, the more misunderstood (or misquoted) we get. Is there a way for the true picture to surface?

We can begin by using a different standpoint in viewing this apparent “disunity” in the Church which threatens to rob its members of peace—and that is the standpoint of prayer. By this picture of disunity, might it not be that God is inviting us to a more intimate personal union with Him through an intensified prayer life? If our days are filled with so much activity that we can hardly see beneath the surface of things, or seek the truth underlying the flawed coverage of Church thought or teachings, surely it would do us some good to give more time to listening to God in silence. It is in the silence that God speaks His wisest words; it is in the darkness of confusion that God shows us His beautiful face.

A revitalized personal prayer life might just be the answer to this seeming disunity in the Church for it leads us to a renewed acquaintance with the Risen Lord, which in turn allows us to see that in Him the Church cannot but be a unified Church. The forces of darkness and falsehood cannot annihilate the Body of Christ whose members are linked one to the other by the thread of deep personal union with the Risen Lord. As John Paul II wrote in his message for Divine Mercy Sunday, “To humanity, which at times seems to be lost and dominated by the power of evil, egoism and fear, the Risen Lord offers as a gift His love that forgives, reconciles and reopens the spirit to hope.”

We continue to hope and trust, in union with the Risen Lord (as branches that cling to the vine), that God is at work in and through each and every one of us even in the most confusing of times.

Archbishop of Davao
President, Catholic Bishops’ Conference

May 29, 2005

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Looking at the Balanced Picture

To the outside world the Philippines is pictured as Abu Sayaff country where Moro kidnappers roam around freely; it is the most corrupt country in Asia; it is a country where journalists are being murdered; it is a country where a simmering discontent is claimed by a group of anti-government rallyists which include even religious leaders.

Is this picture true? Are the ragtag groups of kidnappers really swarming all over the cities and the countryside? Are embassy advisories correct when they warn tourists that they are not safe here? Are journalists really being gunned down everywhere? Is it true that the present government cannot do anything for the people especially the poor? Is this anti-government sentiment really brewing throughout the archipelago?

If the picture were true and factual, this country would have been destroyed a long time ago. Law and order would have broken down. Anarchy and chaos would have gripped the populace. In other words the process of fragmentation in this picture has accelerated and has slowed down the process of unification—good has been overcome by evil.

One does not need to be a political expert to know this picture is not complete, is not true at all. The picture is false. For one thing, what is happening in the capital region is made to appear as happening everywhere else as though it is the microcosm of the entire country; what is regional is very often claimed to be national in scope. The fault of some government officials is made to appear as the fault of everyone in the administration. It seems the Philippines is being deliberately likened to Sodom and Gomorra, ready to be destroyed because there is not one individual who fears God.

There is no doubt about the presence of kidnappers, terrorists, criminals, corrupt officials, summary killings, drug addicts, gunrunners, et al in our midst. There is no doubt about the existence of injustice, corruption, crimes and immoral behavior as well as violence around the country. All that is part of the present reality which everyone must be aware of and must be concerned about.

There is another reality seldom talked about and mentioned in media, a reality that could complete the picture. This is the good that is being done everywhere in our country by millions of good people, good institutions, good groups, good associations, good government officials and personnel, and good young people who take the future of this country seriously. They are the answer to the depressing picture presented by the doomsayers of this country, people who think hopelessness and despair prevail nationwide.
I believe that if the picture is presented in a balanced way—that is, if the total reality of the social, political, economic, cultural and religious situation of our country is made to appear clearly—there are many things that we can be happy and grateful about. We can then see that many good and positive things are being undertaken; that the development and progress both of the body and spirit of the human community is going on; that the processes of unification out number and surpass the processes of fragmentation; that evil is being overcome by good.

The bright side of the total reality constitutes, to my mind, the seeds of hope which “springs eternal in the human breast.” Presenting this side of the total reality will generate interest in many sectors and individuals to unite and set in motion the process of eradicating the dark side. This is one of the objectives of the Church’s ministry of Social Communications. If an incomplete and false picture of our country has been painted worldwide through the use of modern information technology, we followers of Jesus Christ can use the same technology to serve the Truth. As John Paul II says in his message for World Communications Day entitled The Communications Media: At the Service of Understanding Among Peoples— “Modern technology places at our disposal unprecedented possibilities for good, for spreading the truth of our salvation in Jesus Christ and for fostering harmony and reconciliation… Indeed, the media have enormous potential for promoting peace and building bridges between peoples, breaking the fatal cycle of violence, reprisal, and fresh violence…”

In our struggle for peace and unity through forgiveness, healing and reconciliation, let us be strengthened by our faith in God’s justice and mercy, taking to heart the words of St. Paul: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Rom 12:21)

Archbishop of Davao
President, Catholic Bishops’ Conference

May 15, 2005

Sunday, May 01, 2005

John Paul II and Benedict XVI: The Medium is the Message

It was his personality that attracted people to him. Heads of State, rich and poor, listened to him and respected the values he taught with authority and courage though they did not agree with him. That was John Paul II. And that I believe will be Benedict XVI.

He had special preference for the poor, the abandoned, the sick, the handicapped, even his assailant. In General Audiences, his visits in many countries, his advocacy and letters, were testimonies to his special love for those who have less in life. That was John Paul II. And I believe that will be Benedict XVI.

He allowed the young and children to come near and touch him, kiss him, sing with him and dance with him. He was not afraid to call them to holiness, to self-discipline, to value their dignity as persons loved by God. Never have we seen a man—already old and sickly as he was—yet so full of fire for the young! That was John Paul II. And I believe that will be Benedict XVI although in a different way.

He was a man of peace and reconciliation. A great believer in ecumenism and inter-religious dialogue, he called and gathered religious leaders of many and varied faiths to the Vatican and to Assisi to pray for peace. I had the privilege to be with them. He opposed war and capital punishment and other anti-life movements—ever consistent with his pro-life stance. Even those who do the opposite in their countries came to his funeral. That was John Paul II. And I believe that will be Benedict XVI.

The main reason for the attraction is their person, the medium, not their message or teaching. Benedict XVI is a theological giant but very humble, gentle and unassuming. Those who denigrate him do not know the person, only his message. But to me the medium is the message.

Archbishop of Davao
President, Catholic Bishops’ Conference

May 1, 2005