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Lack of mercy questions reality of hospitality

MANILA (SE): Archbishop Socrates Villegas cast a shadow of doubt across the depth of the famed Philippine hospitality, saying in his message for Migrant and Refugee Sunday published on January 17, that the nation has failed to develop a merciful heart and without mercy, cannot offer true hospitality.

In addressing the call of Pope Francis for mercy to be shown to refugees, especially in this time when tens of thousands are knocking at the doors of nations in the European Union, the president of the bishops’ conference says that just because The Philippines is geographically a long way off does not excuse it from its obligations.

However, he says that the nation must look at what is happening within its borders as well. He points to the hundreds and thousands of displaced people in Mindanao, victims of a war being fought for profit and power in the resource-rich island province.

He then calls attention to the words of Pope Francis spoken at a meeting with street children in the Holy Land in 2014. “Don’t ever allow the past to determine your lives. Always look to the future, work hard and make efforts to achieve what you want. But you must understand this: violence cannot be overcome by violence. Violence is overcome by peace! By peace, by working with dignity to help your homeland to move forward.”

Archbishop Villegas also points out that when the pope visited the Philippine shores in January last year, the homeless and the poor were rounded up and hidden from papal eyes.

“But we cannot go on hiding the poor, the homeless and the displaced,” he says. “This is no solution that benefits them.”

Archbishop Villegas says that it is nothing short of window-dressing designed to give a false and misleading impressing of a harsh reality.

Such window-dressing has a history in Manila, as Imelda Marcos built whitewashed walls around squatter areas when Pope Paul VI visited in 1970 and then again, during the Asia-Pacific Cooperation Meeting last year the homeless and embattled indigenous people were hidden from the eyes of the world.

“But the problems remain and they challenge us to be merciful,” Archbishop Villegas says.

He points out that although Filipinos are known as an hospitable people, it is impossible to be hospitable without mercy. “After all, mercy is not some fleeting sentiment or passing emotion. It is a decision to be open to the hurts, the wounds and the grief of those who suffer.”

He says that The Philippines prides itself on its beautiful tradition of welcoming the oppressed from other lands and offering them succour, a haven, even if only temporary, from the tedium of flight and journey.

“We must, in our treatment of refugees, be true to this tradition. This, ultimately, is the most profound dimension of the much-vaunted hospitality of the Filipino! Mercy necessarily calls forth hospitality!” he continues.

Archbishop Villegas concludes, “We would be deluding ourselves if we were to overlook that in our midst there is a deficit of mercy.”


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