Christmas is near, less than a hundred days, and deep in people’s heart is that feeling of hope that when December comes it would indeed be a Christmas filled with carols, and prayers, and parties, and dancing, and food.
There is always that hope, something that many seem not to voice out these days, something that many are afraid to enunciate fearing disappointment, like when they were disappointed when even the singing of Christmas carols by street urchins was prohibited because of the pandemic.
There is always that hope Filipinos (and people around the world, too) want to whisper, a hope that next year there will be better leaders after the May elections (for the Philippines), that change will indeed come, that no dictator’s son will rule, that no human rights violators or self-righteous pretenders would win in the electoral exercise.
I always believe in hope, and I believe in those who are supposed to bring hope to communities in the peripheries, literally and figuratively, those who are called to serve the people of God.
There are indeed many signs of hope, especially in the Church, starting with the call of Pope Francis for a “synod on synodality,” which many among our church people still do not understand, the call for the care of “Our Common Home,” which seems to have become a slogan instead of a call to action.
There is hope, but it seems it is just being whispered, instead of being shouted on the rooftops.
As a journalist covering the Church and issues that are of interest to the Church in the past ten years or so, I’ve always wondered how silent many Church and religious leaders are when it comes to issues the confront our communities.
It has been five years already since the Philippine government’s so-called war on drugs started, and while the International Criminal Court has insisted on investigating those supposed to be behind the killings, only a few parish priests and lay leaders, and even bishops, have spoken against it.
Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of Kalookan, north of Manila, one of the few courageous members of the Philippine clergy had this to say: “It pains me, as it seems we have also failed – as pastors – in educating the minds and consciences of our people.”
He said that people, Catholics, find it “difficult to accept our stand (against the killings” and would even say that we “should be happy the government is controlling criminality and getting rid of drug addicts.”
“That shocks me because we are supposed to be a predominantly Catholic country. So when I deal with this kind of mentality, which is so contrary to the values of being a Christian, I say we are also to blame for not having communicated Christian values, the Christian faith very well.”
In the past days, the Diocese of Marbel in the southern Philippines — its bishop, priests, nuns, religious, and lay people — made a stand against the proposal to lift the ban on open-pit mining in the province.
Still there were a lot of “likes” on social media on the call of a local political leader for the Church to back off its lobby against the mines. I wonder how those Catholics understood Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment.
In the central Philippines, Catholic bishops in the Western Visayas region came out with a statement against the proposed operation of gambling casinos on Boracay island. It was a move lauded by many, but many more kept their silence and seemed to refuse to listen.
Both stories — the Diocese of Marbel’s opposition to open-pit mining and the opposition to gambling casinos on Boracay by several bishops — were one time, fleeting, headlines that were carried by a few publications and online news sites. Many social communication pages of the Church seemed to have not even heard about it.
How do we bring hope to a seemingly hopeless situation in the midst of the pandemic, in the midst of the political circus during the 2022 elections (yes, elections (plural) because we will be electing national and local leaders), in the midst of fear that seemed to have gripped even the hearts of many Church leaders?
How about ending the whispering and starting the walk, nay the march, in the streets of villages, even in cities, to be with the people. How about going out of the so-called comfort zones and visiting the sick, even if one gets sick, or distributing what one has, even if one has nothing at all.
The image of Divine Word missionary priest Flaviano “Flavie” Villanueva giving a bath, sheltering and feeding the homeless in Manila and then later collecting the remains of victims of extrajudicial killings in cemeteries in the outskirts of the capital keeps coming back to mind.
There was also Claretian missionary priest Eduardo “Eduk” Apungan who, during the series of lockdowns in the national capital, distributed relief aid to motorcycle drivers who thought he was a village leader, not a priest.
Who can forget “running priest” Robert Reyes who would go out in the middle of the night to give last rites and blessings to victims of killings even during the pandemic, not minding whether he would get infected by COVID-19. He was indeed infected later.
There were many more examples, but there were many more who prefer to keep their silence because they believe that praying for the souls of those who died is enough, and going out to condemn the killings, oppose the mines and the casinos are not the role of those called to be servants of God.
Jose Torres Jr. is a Filipino journalist and editor-at-large of LiCAS.news