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Church of the Poor

By Fr. Roberto P. Reyes
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 01:36:00 02/10/2008

Filed Under: Churches (organisations), Religions, Poverty

MANILA, Philippines -- Where is the ?Church of the poor??

It is now 40 years since the winds of change and new life swept through the Church. In 1965 the great ecumenical council, called Vatican II, came to a close. Today, we look back and wonder. Where is the new life? Where are the winds of change?

Seventeen years ago, something similar -- although of smaller scale -- took place in the Philippines. Bishops, priests, religious and lay leaders gathered at San Carlos Seminary in Makati to collectively study, pray, discern the ?signs of the times.? Together they declared to strive to become a ?Church of the Poor.? That was the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines (PCP II).

Seven years ago, the Filipino people moved by a deep sense of right and wrong, peacefully gathered into a peaceful moral force that led to the resignation of a corrupt and inept president. That was Edsa II which deposed President Joseph Estrada and installed his vice president, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in his place. Seven years later, we are appalled by a situation worse than that which led to Edsa II.

Almost three years ago, on July 10, 2005, the people waited in earnest for a statement from the Catholic Bishops? Conference of the Philippines (CBCP). We waited for guidance and strength to believe that change and new life were possible in the Philippines. Then the statement was read and its core message came across, ?We are not asking you (President Arroyo) to resign!?

Extrajudicial killings, corruption at all levels -- from Malacaang down to the smallest barangay; scams galore from ZTE-NBN to the unreceipted distribution of P500,000 in paper bags to lawmakers and local executives; repression and creeping martial law in the form of arbitrary arrests and detention and many more tell us in no uncertain terms that things are not well in our country.

Lately, the Philippine ambassador to the Vatican, Leonida Vera, was replaced by Cristina Ponce Enrile. A few days before this development, columnist Rina Jimenez-David wrote in her column that ?the moves to replace Vera stem from Malacaang?s displeasure over her failure to convince the Vatican to come down hard on the bishops critical of government.? (?A pattern of intimidation,? Inquirer, 1/22/08)

What does this make of the Church and her leaders? While government has often accused us of breaking the Church-State separation principle for reasons that do not violate the essence of the law (which is to protect churches and religious groups against the States? encroachment on religious freedom and expression), what now is the government doing?

Does the present government wish to control not only the Philippine Catholic bishops but also the Vatican?

What is disturbing is for the state of affairs to reach the current level where compromise and pressure are used to neutralize, manipulate, appropriate and undermine the Church?s moral role. Who is Cristina Ponce Enrile? Who is her husband? Who is her son? Who is behind and with them?

It has been the sad fate of the Church to be overcome by the lure of wealth and power in the past. Is the Church that free of the lure of wealth and power today?

When the Philippine Church declared its vision to become the ?Church of the Poor,? how willing were her leaders not only to work with and for the poor but to become poor themselves? The present government seems to know all too well our weakness and vulnerability to wealth and power. How often have we received donations from Malacaang, from Pagcor and PCSO?

The poor do donate money but not in the shocking millions that come from big sources. Sadly the poor have become the very excuse for our mendicancy. We gladly accept donations for the projects declared as beneficial to the poor.

In the last two years, I have journeyed with overseas Filipino workers. Many of them are the poor who have chosen to survive outside our country. They have only one dream?to return to a country that is peaceful, progressive and governed by honest (not corrupt) and competent leaders. Many have paid the costly price of broken homes and problematic children. They want to be with their husbands, wives and children but they know that their meager remittances could spell either survival or starvation for their loved ones.

Compromising with those who hold wealth and power leads to the death of morality. The death of morality leads to blindness and indifference especially to the suffering of others, most of all, the poor.

Dear bishops, do you still honestly believe in PCP II? Is there still hope for the vision you declared in 1991, of becoming a ?Church of the Poor?? Or should we just forget declarations and principles and just similarly resign ourselves to creeping martial law and to the Church?s creeping degradation into the ?Church of the Rich??

I was recently arrested for my alleged involvement in the Peninsula Manila caper. While I deny having anything to do with any group that planned the incident, I do not apologize for what I held then and even earlier. On July 10, 2005, I was convinced that for the good of our people, President Arroyo should resign. I continue to uphold this conviction.

Is this rebellion? Is this a crime against the state and the people? So many OFWs think and feel the same way. The only difference is that they are unable to express this freely without fear of reprisal.

Please do listen to the Spirit and in so doing, listen to the cries of the poor and not to the lucrative, tempting offers of the rich and powerful who wish to use and manipulate you.

Please be the prophets that God has ordained you to be and not mere mouthpieces of human institutions which expect you to protect interests that pass, fade and die.

Please listen to your consciences and hear the muffled cries of the hungry, jobless, homeless, exiled, imprisoned, sick and increasingly hopeless poor. Listen honestly and speak courageously and uncompromisingly.

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