THE Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines began its 113th plenary assembly on Saturday at the Pope Pius XII Catholic Center, in Manila, with a stirring opening address by CBCP President Archbishop Socrates Villegas. The assembly ends today.
Directed mainly to the more than 100 bishops in attendance, the address should also apply to all the Filipino Catholic faithful, who comprised 80 percent of our country’s population. For the address contains exhortations that ought to apply to every Filipino, not only Catholics, for it dwells on the social ills of our society.
Bishop Villegas reiterated the Catholic Church’s vow “to resist the moral wrong” and the bishops’ vow and duty to stand up against what is wrong and express the teachings of the Church even if in a “hostile wilderness.”
He reminded the bishops of the importance of the Church’s critical collaboration and dialogue with the secular world, so the bishops should always courageously express the Church’s teachings even in the face of hostility because, after all, “our call is not to be successful but to be faithful.”
“We will teach, even if it seems like ours is a voice in a hostile wilderness, till the day we die, that right is right and wrong is wrong and we will not withdraw from the mission of the Lord,” Villegas said.
He urged his fellow prelates to be more active than they are now in defense of what is morally right and combating the morally wrong.
He reaffirmed the Catholic bishops’ vows: “We will stand and defend every person’s life and dignity. We will shield the weak from harm. We will protect the confused from error.”
He warned the bishops that “the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine but, following their own desires and insatiable curiosity, will accumulate wrong teachings and stop listening to the truth and be diverted to myths.” This is why the bishops should constantly be steadfast in their eagerness to proclaim the Church’s true doctrines.
Villegas at one point recalled how, when the people needed to be supported in insisting on justice against the will of the “Marcos dictatorship…We were consulted as bishops; we were heard and respected. Our recommendations were mostly heeded.”
But then after the 1986 People Power revolution, when the focus was on socio-economic concerns, the people largely ignored the voice of the Church. This led to an even more dramatic twist in the path the people (and government) were following, the passage against the Church’s (and of course the bishops’) objections to the passage of the Reproductive Health Law, which has boosted the will of those in authority to promote artificial birth control methods and will surely lead to the acceptance of abortion as in Western countries.
“It felt like we were voices in the wilderness proclaiming a teaching that our people could not identify with. Our pastoral letters were unheeded, mocked and ignored,” he said.
“We were speaking a language that our flock could not understand. When we appealed for morality, our people laughed at vulgarity. When we challenged indecency, we were despised and ridiculed as archaic.
“When we preached about marriage and family life, we were dismissed as uninformed bachelors. We are called shameless hypocrite children of whores.”
Villegas reminded his fellow bishops that the wilderness is also for purification and prayer. “The wilderness beckons us to stay with the Lord and return to the essentials. The wilderness tests our readiness for martyrdom,” the CBCP president said.
“While the Church’s may be a voice gone hoarse proclaiming Christ in the wilderness with only a handful listening,” it is in the wilderness, he said, that “the best in us shines forth.”
“I charge you proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient, to convince, reprimand, encourage.”