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The last of a Catholic nation in Asia?

HONG KONG (SE): “Some of my friends in other countries say that they are worried about the government in The Philippines,” Archbishop Socrates Villegas, the president of the Philippine bishops’ conference, says in his message for Easter, but while he admits he is not worried about the government, he confesses he is worried about the Filipino people.

Archbishop Villegas points out that although Filipinos trumpet their faith, declaring their belief, waving baptismal certificates at marriages, joining religious fiestas and processions, making pilgrimages and calling the priest for funerals, he worries profoundly about what is beneath the surface.

In asking how Catholic they are, Archbishop Villegas says they declare faith, but agree that drug addicts should be shot; favour gay marriage; ignore their bishops as being old fashioned; giggle when the pope is called a prostitute; share fake news; and approve of corruption in government.

He adds to his list the members of congress who when they vote keep their budget allocation for their pet projects as their primary concern ahead of their conscience. “I am a Catholic, but I disagree when bishops talk about social issues and ecological concerns.

The Church should not interfere in politics. There is separation of Church and state after all. Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s. I am Catholic but… I am Catholic but…”

Archbishop Villegas points to Christians in Syria and Nigeria, Egypt and Lebanon, China and The Union of Myanmar, where he says people suffer for their faith, sometimes in a torture chamber—sometimes taking a bullet.

But he notes that in The Philippines people are not killed for their faith, they are bashed. “We allow our idols to curse the pope. We make fake news about one another. We remain safely anonymous in hidden Facebook and Twitter accounts.”

He says that the bishops in particular have become targets of trolls. “We are killed a thousand times; our trolls are in the thousands. When we speak they want us muted. When we oppose they want us maimed. When we stand for life, they want us dead.”

The archbishop continues in his reflection on the sad state of play among the people of his supposedly Catholic nation saying, “We have become uncaring for one another. We are proud to be critical without rhyme or reason. We walk not forward, but backwards, becoming day by day an angry society.”

He says that The Philippines has entered a new phase in its religious history, with the Church becoming the hapless victim in the Punch and Judy Show to the screams of delight of its parishioners.

He also notes that the bishops are derided, randomly accused of having many wives by one who is immune from legal recourse; but few care and none dare to set the record straight.

“The Church is ridiculed and her Churchmen are rebuked. Christ’s teachings are relentlessly challenged. Human life is cheaper than a gun. God’s mercy is disdained and scorned,” he says.

In pointing out that the attack on the faith is clear, he called on people to stand up and take the bashings and the beatings before it is too late, “as no one can stop our hearts beating only for God.”

He then quotes the Ombudsman, Conchita Morales, as saying, “We should not wait until the sea of ethics runs dry, nor should we allow the navy captain to altogether dismantle the lighthouse that gets in his way.”

Archbishop Villegas then simply concludes by saying, “If you die in Christ, you will live forever.”

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