Mercy and compassion, for whom?


papa“Mercy and compassion” was the theme of Pope Francis’ visit to the Philippines. It was a mantra of sorts displayed in print and banners so much that one nun-like columnist was worried there wasn’t a precise translation of “compassion” into Pilipino, and therefore, the great unwashed of non-English-speaking Filipinos would miss the Pope’s message.

But mercy and compassion for whom, by whom?
The papal visit’s official website referred to “Christ’s compassion for our suffering people still struggling to rise from the devastation wrought by the earthquake and the typhoon that hit Visayas last year.”

So, we’re told we should take the papal visit as an opportunity to be merciful and compassionate to the victims of natural disasters, obviously mainly of Super Typhoon Yolanda that killed probably 10,000. Sympathetic as we are to the survivors, though, that the papal visit is just about this seems to be too narrow a theme.

The website also referred to Matthew 9:36: “But when he (Jesus) saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion for them because they were distressed and scattered, as sheep not having a shepherd.”

That passage, for some biblical scholars who see Jesus as one among many Jewish prophet-revolutionaries that attempted, unsuccessfully, to overthrow Roman rule, clearly meant one thing. This was Jesus’ pity for his people, that at that time, they still hadn’t been united by a God-anointed one (“Messiah” in Aramaic) who would deliver them from the Evil Empire of that period.

Subsequent passages (Matthew 9:37-38) are enigmatic, however “Then saith he unto his disciples, the harvest indeed is plenteous, but the laborers are few. Pray ye therefore, (to) the Lord of the harvest, that he send forth laborers into his harvest.”

That passage has been taken by scholars as a metaphorical follow-up to Matthew 9:36 – that the revolution is ripe but few are joining.

For anthropologists, though, it refers to episodes in the era of primitive agriculture, in which because of a particularly good season, the crops become bountiful, but there are few laborers to harvest them, so that the wheat gets spoiled and rots.

Such episodes have been even interpreted as the reason why wars of conquest were continuous, why slavery and feudalism arose: A warrior elite needed a stable number of warm bodies – slaves or serfs prevented from leaving the manor – to ensure that the crops were harvested. So Jesus felt compassion – as, indeed, he would be in such a situation – for his people that there was a bountiful crop, yet which would become rotten as there were too few workers to harvest it.

What’s the point?
First, we – or the Catholic hierarchy who thought of the theme – don’t really know what they were talking about when they decided on that slogan.

Second, and more important, that theme points to what is wrong with Catholicism and religions in general: They delight in abstract, noble notions – often referring to past situations during biblical times – yet shirk the social reality of the present.

Roman rule
The compassion Jesus was talking about referred to that for people suffering the oppression of a ruthless Roman rule and for those helpless in harvesting a bountiful crop.

At this period of human civilization and in this country, who should we have logically mercy and compassion for?

It is the vast poor, in our country, to be precise, the 30 million Filipinos who can’t get work or decent salaries, who will die earlier than the rich because they can’t afford the best health care and medicines civilization has developed, who will spend their old age and die alone in some dirty slum, whose children’s children and the succeeding generations of their offspring will be exactly in the same situation they are in today – if the structures of capitalism and the rule of the oligarchs are not changed.

These are the people on whom we should pour out all our mercy and compassion.

I’m not a sloganeering communist cadre (not anymore, at least). Just read the rigorously-researched and argued scholarly works of Gregory Clark in “The Son Also Rises: Surnames in the History of Social Mobility, which shows how the rich has always been rich, and the poor, poor, and Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century, which explains the mechanisms why this is so.

Mercy and compassion, by whom? By the economic and ruling class, the oligarchs of our country, the only people who have the power to change social structures in our country. But Pope Francis didn’t admonish them to do so.

I probably would have, in the words of this paper’s Publisher/Editor “cried and laughed” listening to Pope Francis – if he had scolded our oligarchs for being so selfish and taunted them because they wouldn’t be able to bring their billions to the grave, or if he announced that he would sell some Renaissance paintings and ancient artifacts gathering dust in some Vatican room to set up a Bill and Melinda Gates-type of foundation with a $42 billion endowment devoted to the poor in this bastion of Catholicism in Asia.

Or if he declared that he would exempt the Philippines from the Church’s rigid anti-contraceptive dogma that prevents poor Filipinos from using even the cheapest condoms or IUDs, or if he promised that to atone for the sins of rape and child-abuse committed by hundreds of Catholic priests, he would match the $3 billion the Church spent to silence the complainants to fund a feeding program for the country’s homeless.

Or if he addressed the millions who thought just seeing him would cure their physical illnesses or those of their loved ones, or grant them some boon, like winning the Grand Lotto, and told them: “There are no miracles. The miracle is in the heart of man. In the hearts of us all!”*

(*Translation of the famous lines by Nora Aunor in the award-winning Philippine movie “Ang Himala,” written by Ricardo Lee.)
FB: Rigoberto Tiglao


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  1. So far your best article on the subject Mr Tiglao.

    This is the irony in our country. We Filipinos have been so inured to the poverty around us – both the physical & spiritual aspect that we lived day to day in a dream/nightmare that no one wants to wake up out of.

    Medicancy, thievery, callousness and arrogance from all levels of society has become the norm.

    All “real” forms of compassion has been lost.

    Reality has taken a backseat.

    Even the President himself is not immune to this make-believe world.

    Alas, that’s the fate of nations run by hypocrites.

  2. Mr. Tiglao, I admire you as a columnist. In fact it’s your column I read first whenever I go to the Manila Times website but if you will touch on religion next time criticizing the catholics and downgrading the Pope’s visit, then I may stop reading your columns altogether.

  3. jose b taganahan on

    Mercy and compassion, for the Filipinos robbed by corrupt politicians, including your benefactor!

  4. by the way Mr. Tiglao, your statement, saying, “Jesus’ unsuccessful attempt to overthrow the Roman Rule”, seems to be wanting of historical basis. Jesus never attempted to overthrow the Roman Rule, in fact He even said “give unto Ceasar what is due to Ceasar, but to God what is due to God”. Even the Roman governor Pilate did not saw Jesus as sowing rebellion against Rome, but Jesus was against the sins of his time being committed not just by Roman Leaders but even the very leaders of the Jews.

    Finally, isn’t it a victory having the Roman emperor convert to Christianity and even declaring Christianity as the official religion of the empire?

  5. Korek!
    It’s frustrating and shameful what’s happening to the catholic church. The ‘establishment’ (or, hierarchy) is taking advantage of the poor people who’re swimming in the mythological mindset that religions promote. Hence, their propensity or, preference if you will, to “delight in abstract, noble notions…” that somehow reinforce the believers’ cloudy understanding of what their religious loyalty is really about.
    On this issue, you are spot on Mr. Tiglao.
    Understanding the bible this way is based on its historical context, which is anyway consistent with Jesus being a “tekton” (greek for ‘builder’, ‘bricklayer’, ‘craftsman’ or, one of those lowly fellas involved in construction works).
    But, I know, the ‘regular catholics’ will be offended by this ‘revelation’ (understanding which is a product of research!). That’s what fanaticism does to an individual.
    What a sorry state (of mind)…:(

  6. You know very well that the Church is a pillar of the ruling establishment, and therefore will only go through the motions of working to fight poverty without really being a threat to it, which explains why it always sounds incoherent in its teachings. It is the religious of the three pillars of the Western Civilization today, the other two being financial London (the real Boss) and the military Washington (the attack dog). The premise of their teaching is this: if you meekly accept your miserable, suffering life today, there is heaven waiting for you in the afterlife. If you don’t, you will go to hell. To borrow the words of a famous local comedian, “dasalasa nonsense!” Its mission is supposed to be spiritual, that invisible part of life that is reflected in morality and ethics. Its clear that here in the Philippines they are an abject failure in that mission as mirrored by the total moral breakdown everywhere, but some Catholic pundits blame this lack of faith on the state! That is implicit admission that the Church, like this BS in Malacanang, is not responsible for anything at all. If it is not, then the Church is society’s biggest parasite, like a giant tapeworm whose only reason for existence is to live off its host, a real good for nothing. But a tapeworm does not meddle in complex politics and social issues, for which the Church has no real answers. Lets hope and pray that the real Holy Spirit touches this Church, and soon, before the end times come.

    • Your comment revealed your lack of deeper knowledge of the Church and maybe the world structure.

      Christianity as you suggest is not WESTERN, it is EASTERN, it started in Jerusalem and spread to all over, but it is in the west where it find deep footing.

      If the Church is not doing its works of Charity, why is it that in many parts of the world you would only see a Catholic hospital/clinic and Catholic run educational institution and orphanage.

      Now ask your group, what have you done so far?

  7. Please don’t put your ideas in the mind of Pope Francis. Respect his ideas and message. Please review well the way you use Biblical references just to suit your points. contextualize it in the very mission of Christ while He was ministering as the Biblical passages suggest. But most especially experience and enter deeply into the life of the believers in the Catholic church so that your point will be convincing. Thank you!

  8. bayan ko filipinas, you are spot on, right now all will be singing the praise of the pope & maybe trying their best to be good, but in less than 1 week things will be back to normal. The pope spoke against corruption & do any of you for one second think that will mean anything to those that are corrupt. The money they make from their corruption is more important to them than being a good honest christian. They look on their corruption as their right, perks of the job. They wont give it up without a fight.

  9. The Pope visit and teaching are REAL and MEANINGFULL,HIS HOMILY AND MESSAGES ARE TRULY SINCERE,the problem here is ,most of the people that attend. and praises the POPE will surely forget all the messages in a weeks time,most of them will face the REALITY OF LIFE ,most of them will be use again by the ELITE OF THIS COUNTRY in next years election.the crowd and people that attend the masses was a frenzy and hysteria created by MEDIA,AS A SAYING SAYS, RELIGION IS THE OPIATE OF THE MASSES,how true it is,

  10. What is this? Are you making a mockery of Catholic religion in Pilipinas?

    Wow!!! Authorities should come in, anybody should come in, someone somewhere, but two persons (or five or twenty) should come into ManilaTimes to shut it down. Reason — “freedom of expression” is not a human right. Writing sentences and paragraphs that make citizens look down on a religion practiced in Pilipinas — VERBOTEN. Censorship like done in Iran or Saudi Arabia or China — that is the model to follow.

    Maybe next week, a panel of Iglesias (or 2 Iglesias and 3 imams) get recognized to have full censorship authority over Manila Times.

    Di ba tama iyon?

  11. Justaskingseriously on

    “If Main Springs to Broadway, won’t it be Grand to Hope to find a Flower at Figueroa?” Nice question? Nice slogan? A scholar would find it a challenge to decipher like some ancient text that probably has now lost its meaning. A literary analyst might find it a beautiful poem pregnant with meaning. Some philosopher might start a dissertation on the meaning of life about finding a flower. But what about the other capitalized words? How could they fit? Great chance for the pedantic to show off his wares. Can’t we just go by whatever light guides our journey? A tourist who has been to downtown Los Angeles, California, might find the sequence of streets very useful and gratifying just by sharing his thoughts. Light that is shared is inextinguishible? Did anyone notice how our distinguished guest got here from Ceylon? How he got to Tacloban and back to Manila? One would have thought that he owned at least one airplane. How much do we really project our own grandiosity? If our guest hadn’t allowed himself to be a beggar, he wouldn’t have been able to share with the elite how great it is to let oneself to be loved and be a recipient of a shared experience.

  12. One needs to be compassionate first in order to be merciful. Therefore it start in the heart not only in those who are merciful, but to whom mercy is bestowed. If that understanding in the heart does not happen, one cannot be merciful. The poor needs that understanding too in his heart, if it doesn’t no amount of mercy will alleviate his condition.
    Mercy to the poor does not mean providing them food and shelter only or changing their environment. It is first of all compassion. The condition of their “heart of man” and in the ” heart of us all”, the poor too, including you, Mr Tiglao, even if you are not poor materially, must have compassion in order to be merciful.

    I think you spoke too soon regarding the Pope’s message to the powerful. You should have waited after the Rizal Park homily.

  13. Ang mali sa slogan!mercy and compassion!
    Ayaw ni pope francis deriktahin at komprontahin ang mga mayayaman at elitista dahil baka mabawasan ang suporta sa kanila!
    Ang mahihirap ang mga taong madaling sumunod sa kanila at ang mga ito ang pag-asa nila na

    • Anong gusto mo ituturo niya isasa sa mukha papangalanan bawat isa? Baka kasama din yung mga pastor mo sa mamayaman na ayaw mag bahagi.

      Hindi na kailangan pangalanan kung sino ang dapat magbigay ang hamon hindi mo kailangan maging mayaman para makatulong, subalit kung ikaw ay mayaman mas malaki ang obligasyon mo na magmalasakit at tumulong sa mga mahihirap.

  14. You are way off the mark on this one Mr Tiglao. You are talking apple when the subject is orange. I like your columns but so disappointed with this one.