With happiness and courage
Dear Reader (with the request that this be contextualized in the experience of other faiths):
May you experience the happiness that liberates. In my case, I was drawn to Jesus who was born in a manger to live amid the poor. I am thus committed to the marginalized and to the protection of the Sierra Madre mountain range despite meager resources and in spite of threats.
Such happiness overflows into my passion for the country. I do give positive points to the Duterte administration for its campaign against illegal drugs, the ceasefire between the government and the rebels, its initial compassion for the urban poor, and the pro-environment and pro-poor directions of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. In fact I have helped organize summits in Regions 2, 3 and 4A to institutionalize cooperation between the DENR and civil society organizations. But I am unsure how long this would last because vested interests are consolidating to exploit the environment for profit.
It has been my hope that under this “pro-poor” administration, the Dumagat mothers—Marites Marquez and Rosario Loreto—who were falsely accused of kidnapping by the military, would be set free. It is torture for these mothers and their children to be separated from one another for 27 months now.
A terribly negative point for the Duterte administration that I personally know of is the pointblank killing in our neighborhood of an unarmed drug addict. When I asked the grieving mother, a balut vendor, if the family would seek justice, her answer was that they would just pray for justice to avoid more harassment.
I am disappointed that this administration which I supported would assume the role of prosecutor, policeman, judge and executioner rolled into one. Pope Francis says: “To believe in the Father who loves all men and women with an infinite love means realizing that He confers upon them an infinite dignity” (Evangelii Gaudium, 178). Even criminals have infinite dignity.
The atmosphere of fear is spreading because anyone can be picked up and killed; not even jail is a safe place. According to a neighbor, the situation is worse than Marcos’ martial rule. I, too, am scared, but the experience of Jesus transforms. The courage of the 103 Korean martyrs is infectious. And the growth of the Korean church is just amazing.
Happiness is leaving one’s comfort zone as thousands have been killed and millions are silent. The call for the Church is to be a witness to Jesus’ Crucifixion. There is urgent need for a strategic plan to implement the paradigm shift from the traditional Church toward a Church of the Poor. The evangelization and empowerment of people through basic ecclesial communities should become a priority over the multiplication of Masses and novenas, pompous liturgy, and building buildings.
In Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis articulates practical insights of justice, peace, harmony and freedom. The desired outcome is for parishes to be transformed into sanctuaries of mercy for those jailed, innocent or otherwise, and also for families orphaned by extrajudicial killings.
Dear Reader, with the Crucifixion there is Resurrection. Soon the infinite dignity of every person will be attained. This new year is another step toward that goal. Courage!
Fr. Pete Montallana of the diocese of Infanta works with the indigenous people, the environment and the urban poor through the Save Sierra Madre Network Alliance Inc. and Sikap-Laya Inc.
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