The desire and longing to be a free and fully human is perhaps the deepest and strongest need of every person. All creatures want freedom. Birds want freedom to fly from a cage, beasts to roam the land, monkeys to swing on trees, fish to swim in the seas.
Humans want to be free to walk the earth without chains, guards, and fear. The freedom to speak the truth to power and political freedom are among the most important of all human freedoms.
What is it that makes us a human being? I often pose this question to college students who come to study psychology, social work and other subjects in their practicum internship at the Preda Foundation.
They come from many countries in Europe, Canada, Japan, the Philippines and United States. I ask them to answer that basic question. “Tell me in a few words the attributes of the human person that set us apart from the other animals and make us uniquely human.”
I ask that to help us focus on who and what we are. I am amazed as I am frequently met with embarrassed silence. What do you think makes us human?
Well, the children at the Preda Home for Girls, aged 6 to 16, are pretty smart and they will raise their hands and speak up and they have true answers to the question. And that knowledge is what encourages and inspires them to be strong, resilient, brave and courageous in facing and dealing with the most horrific thing that could happen to them- child rape and acts of sexual abuse.
Society has always ignored children, denied them their rights and dignity and used, enslaved and physically and sexually abused them as if they were not human. Many people do not see children, especially those not their own, as having rights especially the poor, skinny, malnourished and sickly children of the streets and those in prison. That’s why so many go hungry, uneducated and die of diseases before they reach ten years old.
In the Philippines, the secretary of Justice justified the killing of the youth on mere suspicion of wrongdoing because they were “not humanity,” he said. Therefore there could be no crime against humanity if they were summarily executed. I wonder if that argument would hold up in the International Criminal Court one day.
The amazing fact seems to be emerging of a Catholic country that has lost it Christianity. Archbishop Socrates Villegas says many Filipino “Catholics” love the trappings and processions and outward devotions of Catholicism but he worries profoundly about what lies underneath the surface. They say they are Catholic but are they Christians?
The outspoken archbishop has said that they “declare faith, but agree that drug addicts should be shot… and many approve corruption in government.” (See the full report on the Sunday Examiner 30 April 2017 and www.preda.org). Outspoken bishops are attacked online by thousands of critics. “When we speak, they want us muted, when we oppose, they want us maimed, when we stand for life they want us dead,” he said.
Sad to say many bishops don’t know what it is to be fully human and as a result they fail to act for justice and truth and gospel values.
Many have been silent so long they are now dumb. Fear is a powerful weapon. But the children, even when they are threatened by death, find the courage to speak out. When given the freedom, protection and empowerment, they can speak out for justice and truth especially when they are the victims of injustice, rape and abuse.
The childhood of Anna Darling, 15, was taken away by a male pedophile known by her mother. Together they conspired to turn Anna into a sex slave. She was threatened with death if she told authorities about her plight. The fear kept her silent. She had nowhere to run to. Yet, the pain became unbearable and eventually she found a woman she trusted who listened to her and believed her and Anna Darling told her story.
She was rescued and after months in therapy at the Preda home with 42 other abused children, she began to heal. Soon she was ready and bravely asked to be able to testify against her abusers. The case is now in court and justice, we hope, will be done.
Anna Darling discovered and believed that she has human rights, profound dignity, equality before God, that she was a child and the most important in the Kingdom of God and had civil and legal rights. She was empowered and overcame her fear. She learned too that her humanity is based on having reason and the ability to think for herself, to have knowledge of right and wrong and to have free will to choose the right over the wrong. She also found that she has the unique human ability to communicate and speak out the truth and to love others.
Anna Darling, 15, used all five attributes of humanity to get justice. What a girl! If we could all be more reasonable, be actively thinking, knowing, choosing right over wrong, good over bad, truth over falsehood, speaking out and loving our neighbor, what a different world we would live in.