Dialogue will be a good start
It was with joy that I read about President Duterte’s offer to have a dialogue with the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP). It will be a great step in underlining that church and state are not at odds with each other, but are working for the same goals for the good of the country and our people in general. It will help clear the air of certain preconceived notions, misinformation and judgments that have hurt not just institutions but also our people.
Dialogue is considered essential to the work of evangelization in Asia, and to achieve peace in the region. In our country, there are issues on which the government and the Church are of different, even contrary, views. In his message for the World Day of Prayer for Peace last Jan. 1, Pope Francis mentioned dialogue more than once as necessary to promote a culture of nonviolence. Indeed, violence is going on between the Church and the government, not with weapons, but with words, feelings and thoughts.
One engages in dialogue to learn, to be humble, and to accept and realize one’s limitations. If God is everywhere, so are truth, love and compassion.
Dialogue will help clarify statements, presuppositions, and conclusions from pronouncements. If it will push through—and I pray it will—an initial understanding of basic ideas about dialogue is important so that it will not be an exercise in futility, but one of mutual understanding, respect and acceptance. Both parties must be on an equal footing. The church and state are servants of the people. There are specific rules and areas for each one in order to achieve that service. Therefore, mutual suspicions, prejudices, preconceived ideas and the like shall have been at least partly clarified and settled before the dialogue. Otherwise, the parties would come in a fighting mood, and only to defend their particular position or points of view. They must first listen to each other, not only materially, but also with the mind and heart open, with the real effort and attitude to understand each other, and know the reasons behind words and actions.
The preparation for the dialogue must definitely include prayer. It must be inspired by God, who wants his children to live and work together in harmony. When a date has been set, perhaps some days of prayer can be held for the Lord to bless the exercise. There should be no fixed agenda, because both parties will come to listen to, understand and get acquainted with each other. One meeting might not be enough. Since the venues will be significant, the meetings should be held on neutral ground, and always end with a common meal. If this can be done as soon as possible, both sides will be able to work toward the same goal, but each within its area of competence.
Dialogue is give and take. If it will come to the point that the Church must suffer, so be it. Perhaps this is the time that the Church is challenged to give authentic testimony of being truly a servant, and even suffer persecution and defeat, and yet go through them with the faith that the Lord will always be with her.
I join those who pray for this and who humbly but firmly believe that it is this kind of testimony of service and sacrifice, not power and dominance, that our country needs from our Church today for us to experience rebirth and renewal. It’s not just the number of members that makes a church; it’s also the fidelity to and consistency in living the example and teachings of Jesus Christ, who said, “Unless the seed falls to the ground and dies … you will be persecuted, but have no fear … I am with you always.”
May the Lord give us peace.
Antonio Maria Rosales (email@example.com) has been a priest since 1968. He served some 40 years in the Archdiocese of Manila, 18 of them in the Santuario de San Antonio in Forbes Park, 10 as parish priest (1997-2007). He is now based in St. Francis Friary in Cebu City, and is a visiting professor in St. Alphonsus Theological and Mission Institute in Davao City.
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