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Gratitude and repentance

ASSISI (SE): The Philippines can give thanks for its religious and cultural diversity, but must also beg forgiveness for its continual reliance on the violence of arms to settle its disputes.

Archbishop Socrates Villegas told the gathering at the Interreligious World Day of Prayer for Peace held in Assisi, Italy, on September 20, that his nation is highly blessed by God with a rich diversity of ethnicity, culture and religion, all contributing to the makeup of what it means to be Filipino.

However, he added that it is also a nation that has steadfastly believed in the weapons of war, which has left it with nothing to show but piles of lifeless bodies and a war-scarred countryside.

He described his nation as needing conversion away from violence in settling disputes towards embracing the eternal precept of love that recognises no conditions and stops at no boundaries.

The president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of The Philippines said that the nation needs to mature in its outlook and stop looking at the differences in cultures, ethnicities, ideologies and ways of worshiping God as things that divide, and embrace them as elements that can unite.

He told the mixed faith gathering that as a nation, The Philippines has rejoiced and grown in wisdom and knowledge of God by witnessing the various faiths and creeds in their worship and seeing how God has revealed himself in various ways through them.

This he called one of the biggest blessings of a pluralistic society.

However, he said that often accepting the rich blessings that God has bestowed on his nation can be a great challenge, as living together as one nation with differing ways of looking at the world and even self—following different norms of living and holding allegiance to our various faiths—has often spawned a lack of respect that has overflowed into violence.

“Who then are we in our Filipino identity?” the archbishop asked. “We are people who have experienced in one way or another that our identity, meaning suffering, commitment and world view, are all tied to Jesus Christ,” he said.

“Like a diamond with a thousand facets, Christ is able to reveal himself to every person and every nation, their very own unity, truth and value,” he continued.

Archbishop Villegas called this the key to being Filipino, saying that it is not merely a tolerance of God present among the people and it is not merely making room for him, but a recognition of Christ present in a thousand different faces.

“This is also our project and challenge to all Filipinos. And the Year of Mercy is the perfect setting for a recommitment to this love—that love that prevails over differences and makes them not stumbling blocks, but paths we walk on.”

Archbishop Villegas said that while the majority of the country may state allegiance to the faith promulgated by the Catholic Church and believe that through it they will encounter the fullness of the Lord’s revelation, he promised that his Church would also embrace those who do not share its creed.

“They, like us, are guided by their consciences and the earnest desire to do what is right,” he pointed out.

However, the archbishop concluded by saying that for the Catholic Church, giving verbal assent to the beauty of those with different beliefs is not sufficient.

His final promise was, “We will bend to wash their feet for that is how Christ’s disciples are to manifest their fealty (fidelity of a servant) to him.”

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