New evangelization of Catholic Church
Hardly noticed by the media was the Third Philippine Conference on New Evangelization (PCNE III) held at the University of Santo Tomas Quadricentennial Pavilion last weekend (July 15-17). It was a huge gathering, attended by over 5,000 faithful from all over. Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle invited me to speak on how Catholics can evangelize in governance and public service.
Separation of church and state. Initially, I clarified that the doctrine of separation of church and state does not prohibit the clergy and the laity from advocating pro-Christian tenets and opposing anti-Christian policies and actions.
The most basic concept of church-state separation merely requires the government to be neutral in the “competition,” as it were, among different religious denominations. Hence, Congress cannot appropriate and the president cannot spend public funds to build a basilica for the exclusive use of one religious group; neither can it promote the tenets or dogma of another to the detriment of the rest; nor can it pay the salaries of priests or imams for performing strictly religious duties.
Furthermore, it cannot use religion as a condition for the exercise of any civil or political right or privilege. While there is separation of church from state, there is no separation of the state from God.
The Philippines is theist, not atheist, not even agnostic. In fact, it is monotheist; it worships one God. That is why our Constitution begins with this significant first phrase: “We, the sovereign Filipino people, imploring the aid of Almighty God x x x.” That is why both chambers of Congress and the Cabinet preface their meetings with prayers. That is why the Supreme Court (and other courts) also prays, usually with the “Centennial Prayer for the Courts,” before starting its sessions.
Our Constitution and our laws do not prohibit priests and nuns from being elected or appointed to public offices. In fact, it is Canon Law and the Church that sometimes limit their political participation.
Church’s teaching. As Catholics, we take our bearings from Pope Francis in Evangelii Gaudium (No. 182), thus: “… The Church’s pastors, taking into account the contributions of the different sciences, have the right to offer opinions on all that affects people’s lives, since the task of evangelization implies and demands the integral promotion of each human being. It is no longer possible to claim that religion should be restricted to the private sphere and that it exists only to prepare souls for heaven. We know that God wants his children to be happy in this world too, even though they are called to fulfillment in eternity…”
This exhortation affirms the traditional teaching that Catholics must bear witness to our faith not only in our internal life but also in the political and social spheres. The Catechism of the Catholic Church and Vatican II urge us to bring Gospel values into our public and private life.
Temporal matters. At present, the most crucial topic in governance and public service is the proposal of our new President to replace our centuries-old unitary form of government with the federal system.
To do this, the Constitution will have to be overhauled, not just amended. The first challenge is the method of overhauling the Charter. Is it by constituent assembly (Con-ass) whereby Congress itself proposes directly the constitutional revisions, or by a constitutional convention (Con-con) elected separately by the people?
The second challenge is how to make the new Constitution as pro-God, pro-faith, pro-life, pro-prayer, pro-family and pro-human rights as possible. We must face these challenges from their inception when the method of amendment is taken up in Congress, to the election of pro-Christ Con-con delegates, to the deliberations on the new constitutional revisions, and to the plebiscite campaign on the new Constitution.
Apart from Charter change, there are new directions that we, as workers in the vineyard of the Lord, must be vigilant about, like the proposal to revive the death penalty by hanging or by musketry and the summary execution of alleged criminals without due process. For we know that the end never justifies the means.
On a more positive note, we should support, without violating fundamental rights, the government’s drive against criminality, drugs and corruption; assist in relief and rehabilitation during calamities; foster free education for the poor; promote job creation that comes with just wages and decent working conditions; push for the peace process; and encourage credible elections.
And always, we should unceasingly pray for continuing enlightenment by the Holy Spirit. Sometimes, we need to use our freedom of speech to assert, to argue and to denounce. Sometimes, as civil servants, we must uphold our Christian values at the risk of ridicule, censure, or even of losing our jobs.
Due to limited time and space, I cannot take up all the civil and political issues that face us. Neither can I discuss all the possible arguments, strategies and tactics.
But let us always remember that in all our trials and triumphs, defeats and victories, frustrations and exaltations, pains and gains, crucifixions and resurrections, God will never abandon us. He will always be with us: above us to inspire us, behind us to strengthen us, before us to lead us, and within us to transform us to be another Christ—humble, loving, and sacrificing.
For the complete text of my speech, visit cjpanganiban.com.
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