“What are you willing to die for?” It was a very challenging question that Pope Francis presented to the thousands of young people gathered for the beatification of the 130 martyrs in Korea last week. It is also challenging for all of us who claim to be Catholics and Christians. His message was clear in calling on the youth and people to reject a life of selfish gratification based on gross materialism and living for wealth alone and instead to strive for equality and protect the poor and their human rights.
The Pope visited a Catholic home for the elderly and embraced some of them showing compassion and love. In Korea, as in many wealthy nations, there are serious pockets of neglect of the elderly. Although Korea is one of the wealthiest nations in the world, half of the old folk there live in poverty. Instead of cherishing and respecting them all with a life of dignity and sufficiency, many of the senior citizens are marginalized and rejected as people of little value.
Many are locked away in retirement homes and some tied to beds and chairs and given tranquilizer drugs that leaves them in a state of semi-conscious stupor that accelerates dementia. New legislation in Belgium, Switzerland and The Netherlands allows them to be helped to kill themselves by “assisted suicide.” Where will this trend end? Soon the practice could be for nasty relatives and government caregivers to bully and persuade them to kill themselves and not go on being a financial and medical burden to the rest of us. This is an attitude arising from loveless selfish materialism.
The Pope reminded us that the early Catholics of Korea sacrificed themselves for their needy brothers and sisters. “They knew the price of discipleship and were willing to make the great sacrifices,” he said of them. The Pope pointed out that their love and courage and rejection of the strict unbending and unequal social structure of their day is an inspiration for people alive today. Their belief in Jesus of Nazareth and his teaching of a Kingdom of love, equality and social justice led to their execution. The rich can’t stand talk of equality.
Pope Francis’s compassion for the bereaved families of the hundreds of school children that drowned when the ferry boat sank off South Korea showed through also when he and the organizers of the Mass of Beatification did not allow the authorities to drive away the protestors, one on hunger strike, demanding the truth about the sinking of the ferry. The Pope had met them in private and now embraced them in public. Bishop Kang stated that “to forcibly move people crying for justice in order to celebrate Mass simply could not happen – if it did the Mass would have no meaning.”
When Pope Francis comes to visit the Philippines next January he will find many martyrs including priests and pastors, human rights workers who gave their lives for the poor and exploited and were executed by death squads run by military and local government officials.
One of the worst suspected and accused military generals, the darling of the previous government of President Gloria Arroyo who herself is in detention for plunder and awaiting trial, is Retired Army Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan. He was arrested recently after four years on the run from the charges of allegedly running death squads wherever he was assigned around the Philippines and allegedly left a trail of blood of assassinated civilians who dared to criticize the government. Known as “The Butcher” for these alleged crimes, he will be put on trial for the disappearance and suspected murder of two student activists.
Like the Korean martyrs we should be ready to give up some comforts of our easy life and defend the abused children and those poor people exploited by the rich one percent that owns 70 percent of the Philippines. We need the spiritual commitment and belief in what is right and good and be ready to put aside selfish desires and greed to help others in great need.
This is at the heart of the Pope’s message. When Francis comes to the Philippines
I hope he will not be feted and manipulated by glory-seeking rich elites and publicity-seeking politicos. He will, we hope, visit the poor and the victims of abuse and survivors of the greatest typhoon. He will see little reconstruction of homes, schools and public services. Political corruption is still rife and raging wherever there is money to be stolen. His message will be equally challenging for sure and we will do well to heed it and act in solidarity with those in great need wherever they may be.