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The greatest thing about being human

The desire and longing to be a free and fully human is perhaps the deepest and strongest need of every person. It seems all creatures want freedom.
Birds want to fly from the cage, beasts to roam the land, monkeys to swing in the trees and fish to swim in the seas.
Humans want to be free to walk the earth without chains, guards or fear of being in the power and custody of others. They want the freedom to speak the truth, to power and political freedom, to be themselves.
“What is it that makes us a human being?” This is a question I often ask college students who are studying psychology, social work and other subjects in their placement period at the PREDA Foundation.
They come from many countries in Europe, Canada, Japan, The Philippines and the United States of America.
I ask them to answer that basic question, “Tell me in a few words, the attributes of the human person that set us apart from the other animals and make us uniquely human.”
I ask that question just to help them focus on who and what we are. I am amazed, as I am frequently met with embarrassed silence. What do you think makes us human?
But as it turns out, the six- to 16-years-olds from the PREDA Home for Girls are pretty smart, raise their hands and speak, as their tough experiences have taught them how to respond to that question.
And it is that knowledge that encourages and inspires them to be strong, resilient, brave and courageous in facing up to and dealing with the most horrific thing that could happen to them—rape or sexual abuse.
Society has always abused children, denied them of their rights and dignity, used, enslaved and physically and sexually abused them.
Many people do not see children, especially those not their own, as having rights, especially the poor, skinny, malnourished and sickly ones of the streets. That’s why so many are left to go hungry, uneducated and prone to disease, and die before they are 10.
In The Philippines, the secretary of justice justified the killing of the young people on mere suspicion of wrong-doing, because as he pointed out, they are not human. So a summary execution is not a crime.
It seems amazing that a Catholic country could lose its Christianity so easily. Archbishop Socrates Villegas says many Filipino Catholics love the trappings and processions, but he worries profoundly about what lies underneath the surface. 
“They call themselves Catholic, but are they Christian," the archbishop asks.
In asking how Catholic they are, the outspoken archbishop said, “They declare faith, but agree that drug addicts should be shot… and many approve corruption in government.”
He, along with other bishops who have spoken out, are attacked online by thousands of critics. “When we speak, they want us muted, when we oppose they want us maimed, when we stand for life they want us dead,” he said.
Sad to say, there are many bishops who don’t know what it is to be fully human either and, as a result, they fail to act for justice and truth and gospel values.
Many have been silent so long they are now dumb. Fear is a powerful weapon. But the children, even when they are threatened by death, find the courage to speak out.
When given the freedom, protection and empowerment they need they do speak out for justice and truth, especially when they have been the victims of injustice, rape and abuse.
The childhood of 15-year-old Anna Darling was taken away by a male paedophile. It was approved of by her mother and she conspired to have Anna turned into a sex slave under the threat of death if she spoke.
The fear kept her silent. She had nowhere to run to. Yet, the pain became unbearable and eventually she found a woman she trusted that listened to and believed her. Then Anna Darling told her story.
After months in therapy at the PREDA Home, she began to heal. Soon she was ready and bravely asked to be able to testify against her abusers.
The case is now in court and justice, we hope, will be done and be seen to be done.
Anna Darling discovered and believed that she has human rights, profound dignity, equality before God, that she is a child of the most important in the kingdom of God with civil and legal rights.
She was empowered and overcame her fear. She learned too that her humanity is based on reason and the ability to think for herself, having knowledge of right from wrong and the free will to choose the right over the wrong.
She also found that she has the unique human ability to communicate and speak out the truth and to love others.
Anna used all five attributes of humanity to get justice. What a girl! If we could all be more reasonable, active thinkers, use our knowledge to choose right over wrong, good over evil, truth over falsehood, speak out and love our neighbour, what a different world we would live in.

● Father Shay Cullen