President Duterte and the Immaculate Conception
The news that President Duterte signed Republic Act No. 10966 declaring Dec. 8 as a special nonworking holiday in the entire country to commemorate the Immaculate Conception of Mary, the principal patroness of the Philippines (Inquirer.net, 12/29/17), made me suspect fake news. I waited for the press secretary to make a disclaimer on TV but none was made. As a Catholic priest, I was delighted; but since we have been celebrating the feast without the need for a law, was it necessary to make it a nonworking holiday with the consequences for the poor, as well as for business in general?
I thought of the millions who do not get a salary on days they don’t work unlike the wealthy persons responsible for RA 10966. This would make the no work-no pay people, Catholics or not, to think bad of the Church, another proof of Catholics dominating our national life, and that the Church cares little for the poor, as this decree proves.
They would not remember that the first schools, hospitals, infrastructure were built by members of Catholic religious orders but see only the consequence for the millions who will not get a salary on that day. Would Mary prefer being honored to having her children fed? Can the “nonworking” aspect of the holiday be rescinded for the benefit of the poor and the millions of workers who will be affected?
I was asking whether this action would be harmful to the image of the Church in the long run, seen as a provocation for non-Catholics and even the millions of nonpracticing Catholics who are poor and receive a daily wage to think bad of the Church. I also perceive an insensitivity to the multicultural nature of our society, where all groups are to be treated the same, regardless of their belief systems or other factors.
That the Catholic Church receives special treatment from the state is not good for the Church. Even if it would feel elated at first, it would later realize it is the victim, not the privileged party. The logo of the 2018 Year of the Clergy and Consecrated Persons portrays a figure washing the feet of another. That is what the Church is supposed to be, a servant washing the feet of others as Jesus did at the Last Supper. That would be the testimony of loving service. We spread the Good News not through power and influence, but through the faithful living of the life and example of Jesus Christ.
The implications of what the Immaculate Conception is, however, will surprise us. First, it was declared a dogma only in 1854, and Our Lady later identified herself to Bernadette in Lourdes as the Immaculate Conception in 1858. St. John Paul II proclaimed Feb. 11, the first of the apparitions in Lourdes, as World Day of the Sick. It is a day for healing, and our country certainly needs it amidst drug-related killings, the destruction in Marawi and victims of the war, recent typhoons, fires, violations against human rights, the environment and so on. We need our loving Mother to help us heal as a nation, but most of all to heal us of sin.
The other implication is the traditional image of the Immaculate Conception as the woman who crushed the head of the serpent, representing evil (cf. Gen 3: 14-15 and Rev. 12), mentioned in the preceding paragraph as ailments from which we seek healing as well. We are indirectly imploring her to crush the serpent that is present in extrajudicial killings, the violation of human rights by the police and military, graft and corruption, destabilization moves, human trafficking, movements against the sanctity of marriage and human life, and so on.
RA 10966 has more implications than we can see at first reading: It is the Pandora’s box that will liberate the motherly love of Mary, and awaken our local Church to a life of faithful testimony of our faith to make us deserving of the graces and blessings of the coming 500th celebration of the arrival of Christianity in our country in 2021. So be it. May the Lord give us peace.
ANTONIO MARIA ROSALES, OFM, firstname.lastname@example.org
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