Appeal to AMRSP for prophetic presence
Today I give space to a letter of appeal from Brother Karl Gaspar, a Redemptorist alternately based in the Visayas and Mindanao. Karl is known in the religious sector as one who does theology in the grassroots, among the masa, the disenfranchised and the indigenous groups.
Before he joined religious life, Karl was a church activist, organizer and political detainee. He has a doctorate in Philippine studies, is a teacher and the author of seven books, among them “To be Poor and Obscure” and “The Masses are Messiah: Contemplating the Filipino Soul,” which I have reviewed in this space.
Karl’s letter of appeal is addressed to the Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines (AMRSP). Here are excerpts:
“The Lord commanded me to tell the people about my sorrow and to say: May I never stop weeping, for my people are deeply wounded and are badly hurt. (Jeremiah 14:17)
“If Jeremiah were a citizen of post-‘Yolanda’ Tacloban City—as he was in Judah of the ancient days as chronicled in the Old Testament—he would speak the same words. A prophet is very much needed by God’s devastated people in Tacloban City and the rest of Leyte-Samar. I do not discount that there are prophetic voices that have risen from this landscape, but my hunch is that their voices are not strong enough to be heard.
“Thus my stand for a stronger prophetic voice in this land where lamentations continue to echo through the coastal communities hit by the horrific storm surge, as well as the plains and uplands ravaged by Yolanda’s mighty winds that howled across these tragic islands…
“I do not intend to minimize the importance of the challenge for the bishops and the clergy of these islands to rise up with a prophetic voice for, indeed, they, too, are afforded the rare chance to do a Jeremiah. But since I am a religious, I would rather write to my fellow religious. And since I have a message that the Major Superiors might want to hear, this letter of appeal is for them. It is very presumptuous of me to even draft this letter, but I am convinced that I need to have the audacity to just go ahead and write it…
“On 16 February—a few days from now—it will be the 100th day since Yolanda struck. But as one goes around the city and the adjacent coastal areas, one is confronted with the desperation affecting the people…
“The heroic efforts of the local church and a number of religious congregations have truly witnessed to God’s compassion among the survivors. The initiative of those who set up the outreach of religious and lay partners from Mindanao—coordinated by Balsa—was mainly through the efforts of religious, mainly women religious. But even as we commend them for their courageous efforts and quick responses, there is need for us to humbly accept that these efforts leave much to be desired in terms of long-term impact and sustainability.
“When I was a young lay church worker in the early days of martial rule, what attracted me to the religious life—which I eventually joined—was the witnessing of those who pioneered the ministry of presence among the poor, deprived and oppressed. That presence was made possible because of the collective efforts of the AMRSP as led by the icons of prophetic witnessing whose memory we keep in deep reverence until today—the likes of Sisters Christine Tan RGS and Mariani Dimaranan SFIC, and Fathers Benny Mayo SJ and Louie Hechanova CSsR and their many partners in the AMRSP.
“In the Philippines today, we religious have Aha! moments because of the series of devastating calamities such as ‘Ondoy,’ ‘Sendong,’ ‘Pablo,’ the Zamboanga siege, the Bohol earthquake and now, Yolanda. I dare say these have a parallel with the country’s situation when martial rule gave rise to the dictatorship. During that historical period, the AMRSP did a carpe diem; they seized the moment and contemporary Church reality in the Philippines was never the same again. Today Pope Francis speaks the very same prophetic words uttered by the religious who, at that time, held in a kapitbisig-style the arms of the lowly victims who refused to lose hope in the midst of oppression and misery.
“It may not be fair to demand from the present AMRSP leadership a replication of this prophetic model. But who can we call on to lead the way? Who else can we turn to when the demand for close collaborative efforts stare us in the face as we also watch how the poor are made poorer by calamities? We are not keen about asserting a messianic role for the religious; all we wish for is their prophetic, empowering presence among the survivors, so that it is their voices that are heard by those who are sleeping on their jobs and are benefiting from the people’s miseries. But where our prophetic voices need to be heard, we should also do our part!
“Lead us, please. Gather us together so we can strengthen one another as we literally pitch our tents among those who are forced to live in tents. Inspire us so we can summon the grace to be present among the survivors. Help us to minimize our differences and optimize our shared vocation so that we can truly be a sign of hope to the deeply wounded and badly hurt. For our refusal to be a sign of hope is the final betrayal of the people we seek to serve. Lead the way and we are there to follow you.
“The 100th day is soon here. Is it possible to have a symbolic action on this day that will show our collective solidarity with the Yolanda survivors?—Karl Gaspar CSsR, Tacloban City, February 2014”
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