• Our personal roles in the scandal of poverty

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    Yes, the state of massive poverty in our country is a social scandal. The recent Pastoral Exhortation of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) signed for all the bishops by the body’s present president, Archbishop Socrates B. Villegas, D.D., of Lingayen-Dagupan, points out the severity of the problem. It reminds readers of the corruption in government that contributes to the failure to solve the poverty problem.

    “While we gratefully recognize advances in Philippine society in such areas as basic education, fundamental aspects of the economy, the struggle for elusive peace in Mindanao, the war against corruption, and in all the shameful slime uncovered in connection with the now unconstitutional Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), we cannot help but admit with Pope Francis that twenty-eight percent of our people still ‘are barely living from day to day.’ The poorest of our people are in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao with 47% of the people living below the poverty threshold of PHP 5,458 pesos/month, in Region XII and Region IX with 38% and 37% respectively of the populations still living in absolute poverty. The income gap between our rich and poor has not closed: the richest ten percent of our population is earning ten times more than the poorest ten percent, with the income of the richest families soaring way beyond the income of the poorest. These are figures that have not yet captured the devastation wrought by the standoff in Zamboanga, the earthquake in Bohol, and Typhoon Yolanda in the Visayas,” the exhortation says.

    Then Archbishop Villegas makes the exhortation personal for every Catholic—and citizen of the Philippines:

    “This is a social scandal for which we cannot just blame government. We need to understand our role in it, our personal responsibility for it in our individual lives and shared cultures, and return to Jesus.”

    Those who call themselves Catholic Christians are exhorted to act and do something to help the poor and realize that “the encounter with Jesus is the root of our love for the poor.”

    “It is the fundamental encounter with Jesus that must guide our response to the poor. The poor are not just curious ciphers on a statistical report. The poor are not just the unlettered, the unwashed, the uninitiated, the uneducated, the unhealthy, the naked, the exploited, the trafficked, and the infirm gazing into our eyes for human recognition. They are those about whom Jesus said, ‘Whatever you have done or not done to one of these the least of my brothers and sisters, that you have done or not done to me” (cf. Mt. 25:40). Jesus makes himself one with the poor. From his Cross, Jesus gazes into our eyes and touches our hearts with love. It is his love which calls forth our response in love. It is his love which allows us to admit our personal faults in our shared social woundedness. It is his love which quietly says: ‘Go forth, and heal!’ ”

    How do we love the poor?
    Archbishop Villeges invites us to examine “from the poverty or wealth of our lives and personal situations, how do we love our neighbor? How especially do we love our poor, God’s poor?”

    He offers us an answer from a joint pastoral letter issued after the 1971 Synod of Bishops, “Our relationship to our neighbor is bound up with our relationship to God; our relationship to the love of God, saving us through Christ, is shown to be effective in the love and service of people. Christian love of neighbor and justice cannot be separated” (34). An honest assessment of our ways of dealing with the poor whom God brings in our lives—our neighbors, our colleagues, our students, our employees, our parishioners, our political constituencies—is called for, especially when these ways impact not just on individual lives but on the common good. To the poor, we owe love as God loved us first. That entails not just sentimentality. That entails justice.”

    From this we can then see that we must learn to love as “all-inclusively” God loves us human beings. That we must learn to be so compassionate as to abhor and fight injustice. That we must recognize that the existence of so much dire poverty is injustice.

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    3 Comments

    1. POVERTY, not just in the Philippines is very easy to resolve if we care about our environment, our neighbors, our government, ourselves, and most of all follow God’s commandments. ( The last five of the TEN COMMANDMENTS) These are the ones seemed to be broken, or disobeyed by most people nowadays. Do not kill, do not steal, do not covet your neighbor’s wife/property. What happened to our New Year’s Resolutions???

      Climate is changing, and this will definitely affect our day-to-day living. Prices of commodities will go sky high. Renewable energy needs to be push forward so our darker streets will be lit without relying too much on electricity. This is a God-given resources that we can benefit from, if we utilize it to the fullest. Perhaps, those “power jumpers” may be lessen, and our electricity bills would follow suit.

    2. “This is a social scandal for which we cannot just blame government. We need to understand our role in it, our personal responsibility for it in our individual lives and shared cultures, and return to Jesus.”

      It is not clear to me what the good Archbishop mean by “our.” Is he speaking in solidarity with the whole Filipino people or the institutional hierarchy of the Church?

      He conceded that “this social scandal for which we cannot just blame the government” he did not (from this column) specify what the institutional hierarchy would contribute to the solution of this “social scandal.”

      If CBCP “admit with Pope Francis” about statistics on poverty, should not the CBCP also go all the way with the Pope in giving examples, such the example of not living the Papal Palace, giving up the Papal Limousine, personally paying his own hotel bill, etc?

      On the positive note it good the hear that justice is being given it overdue prominence in this declaration. “To the poor, we owe love as God loved us first. That entails not just sentimentality. That entails justice.” If we are to extend the love of God because “God loved us first” then there must be justice first. if I may paraphrase the good Archbishop.

      We have heard from a lot about forgiveness. Forgiveness is an act of Charity or love of God. “Justice is the minimum requirement of charity”, according to a dictum familiar to theology students. Therefore, Charity that doesn’t include justice is a sham.

    3. Rosauro Feliciano on

      Yes I am one of those who called themselves Catholic Christians, and since I have been employed in some countries as OFW, I did my part to help poor people back home in some ways but everything I did has been a drop of water in an ocean.

      But what we are expecting from our Church leaders is to recognize about what they are saying that they have to do, and if and when they will be doing about what they are saying, then they have to show that all what they are doing are in harmony with what they are saying. So what does this mean? Does this mean that only we lay people of the Church will do and they (the leaders of the Church from the Cardinals down to every Priest) will just watch us while they are in their comfort dwelling places eating more than three times a day? All the leaders of the Churches (Catholics and Protestants denominations) have to go visit the poor people especially those poorest of the poor who dwell on street corners and subsisting on just instant noodles soups daily; this is exactly what Pope Francis is telling them to do to leave their comfort places and visit the poor.

      Yes it is true that our Pope Francis says that 28% of our people are poor and barely living from day to day and this is why we are expecting the leaders of all Christian Churches to help the government find solution to uplift the miserable condition of the poor people who are victims of those whom they elected to represent them in the august hall of our lawmaking body but ironically they are there not to represent them but to enrich themselves. Most of these elected government officials are alumni and alumnae of the best universities manage by the Catholic Church and Protestant Church as well. So what does this mean? Does this mean that what they learnt from their university years was focus only on how to become rich? Maybe they were taught on how to defend the Church in terms of not to pay taxes.