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Dear Bishops Villegas and Pabillo

On Ash Wednesday, Bishop Broderick Pabillo’s “It seems okay for us” (Inquirer, 2/15/18) tolled like a dirge. EJKs abound (4,000+); the President keeps topping his foul mouth (“part of his appeal”); political predators rattling the Constitution are the very people from which the 1987 Charter is protecting us (what cruel irony). And yet: “We just keep mum; we don’t do anything …. Nobody’s talking, nobody’s opposing.”

On the first Sunday of Lent, Archbishop Socrates Villegas made me feel worse. “There are some of us who are beginning to feel a fatigue for loving our country” (Inquirer, 2/18/18). Sen. Leila de Lima’s accusers would have her fade away and die in jail, “the biggest symbol of what is wrong with our country.” (“Happy anniversary,” said Harry Roque. For shame.)

What malaise is draining us dry like scarecrows? Not really indifference, is it a stupor that can no longer be roused or aroused?

Sister Mary John Mananzan spares no words: “We are seeing an erosion of our moral fiber as a people …. What is happening to us Filipinos? Are we losing our dignity …? (Inquirer, 2/25/18). “More power to the people,” a friend texted. But where, oh, where, are the people?

Dear Bishops, much lies in your hands. Scores may have grown away from the Catholic Church, but it still holds the greatest network in the country, captive to you and to whom you talk to every week. (As you see, the homily must improve.)

Times have changed, absolutely. It’s a “field hospital,” no longer grand cathedral grounds. It’s the “peripheries,” no longer royalty. It’s a borderless world and people have stepped out of their boxes. The priest must get out of the sacristy and parishioners must get out of the parish. Justice works are the call of the hour. How, if we’re just “political” but not politicized?

Shrill campaigners and intriguers, we are quiet as mice on justice issues, (mis)conduct of leaders, structural evils. Do we have an abiding consciousness of being responsible for the state of the nation, of watching the news other than for spectacle? Do we engage in some form of political action? Are our sense of nation and love of country in hibernation?

Subjects like “church and state,” “church and politics,” “the evangelization of politics,” “justice in/and governance,” and “the separation principle” must get into seminary training and into the very purview of priesthood, so that priests can: counter “bawal ang politics,” use the pulpit to announce and denounce without fear, join civic movements, not worry about being reprimanded or reined in, never feel like “God bless, you’re on your own.” (Have any of your priests felt this way?)

In his homily, a young priest said, “I’d like to tell you: I have decided to go to the rally.” That’s as far as he dared go—no sharing of his feelings, of the cause behind the rally, certainly no invitation to join him.

Parishioners in symbiotic mission-vision with the priest readily funnel their time-treasure-talent to church work. They’re satellites in orbit around “Commissions” on: Liturgy and Folk Religiosity, Family Life, Education (I’m told religious ed.), Human Development (charity works, etc.), Finance Council. No stretch of imagination is needed to figure out the year-round activities in a typical parish. BEC (basic ecclesial communities) as umbrella structure would have been dynamic; alas, it has been diminished into just another organization.

Back in 2008, to fill the vacuum for sociocultural change with focus on justice increasingly violated, I suggested the addition of a Ministry (now Commission) of Justice or Politics and Governance. I was a voice in the wilderness.

For those who always wait for orders from above, the mandate for the laity “to take part in public life” is crystal clear in Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s “Deus Caritas Est” and clear enough for the priest as well.

Yes, dear Bishops, much depends on you. Expect resistance as Pope Francis gets from conservatives who have done to Vatican II what we have done to Edsa. You’d know if the Church is again “pre-Vatican,” as our country is again pre-Edsa. We the people are really the last card. Let the transformation begin.

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Asuncion David Maramba is a retired professor, book editor and occasional journalist.

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