‘Do you love me, Simon, son of John?’
Jesus Christ asked Simon Peter the question three times. He answered yes each time. And Jesus ordered three times, too: “Then, feed my sheep” (John 21:17). One interpretation states: “If Peter truly loves his Master, he is to shepherd and care for those who belong to Christ….” I believe Jesus asks His representatives on earth today the same question, regarding the environment.
However, we discovered how disconnected from their flock are certain Catholic priests, including a bishop whom our group invited to help us protect the environment.
Shortly after the passage of Republic Act No. 9003, or the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000, we wrote twice to an influential priest, now a bishop, asking him to help us pursue the objectives of the law. Twice we got no answer. After 2011 we wrote another influential one to support our advocacy through the media. No reply.
When we were invited to deliver an ecological orientation for parish priests of a diocese, throughout our presentation two of them (one enjoys media exposure) kept texting or talking with one another. (But two others asked us more questions after our talk, and we later learned that one of them had introduced composting of biodegradable waste in his parish.) The other year, a priest volunteered to help a community living near a major dump to get rid of it. They thought they were in good company, but when push came to shove, he was the first to try to convince the residents to accept the garbage contractor’s offer of “housing” in the same area while dumping continued. The garbage contractor rewarded him for his efforts. But he won over only two residents; the rest did not listen to him.
Recently, a bishop made a “pastoral visit” to a parish. He delighted the audience after dinner with one joke after another. Later, as parishioners presented their concerns, I lined up, too. He seemed to listen to what I was saying about the critical situation in a major dump greatly affecting the residents in the area. On his way to his luxury van with a driver waiting for him, I asked when we could meet to discuss our urgent concern. Annoyed, he raised both hands to his bald head, scratched it, turned his back to me, and climbed into his van. This reminded me of good Pope Francis who rides in a small car, lives in a minor apartment at the Vatican, and does not wear designer shoes.
When the Pope issued his “Laudato Si” urging us to care for the environment, our common home, everyone, including priests and bishops, started quoting his message like a mantra. It was as though every day was June, the environment month.
Then President Duterte came into the scene, waging a war on drugs which immediately claimed victims, many allegedly innocent. Priests and bishops and the public raised a howl of protest. The President hit back, accusing the Church of having done little to arrest the drug problem. Without justifying the extrajudicial killings and violations of human rights in this campaign against drugs, I, too, and others I know, cannot help thinking that if the Church through its parishes had been more focused on very critical concerns like drug addiction among their flock—who are part of the environment—perhaps the problem would not be as serious as it is today. I am aware of the good initiatives of people in the Church, priests and bishops alike, regarding the environment, but not of the Church as its policy direction.
Fazenda da Esperanza in Masbate and a smaller one in Naga are very good examples of how to address the drug problem. The Church could replicate this model, with its vast lands and financial resources, tax-free. It can mobilize parishioners to extend help in a well-synchronized manner, nationwide, while several activities of parishes that may not be as urgent could be set aside for now.
I am hoping that the people of God in the Church will finally get together immediately to fully address the problems of the environment and the victims of drug addiction.
Joey C. Papa is a baptized Catholic and president of Bangon Kalikasan Movement ([email protected]).
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