CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 9 December 2017

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Lord heal our broken land

MANILA (SE): Thousands of people flocked down EDSA (Epifanio de los Santos) Avenue in Manila on November 5 retracing the footsteps of the massed crowds that formed the giant demonstration of People Power in 1986, forcing the president at the time, Ferdinand Marcos, to allow himself to be removed from the country by the United States of America.
 
Photographs show thousands of people processing with the famed statue of Our Lady of Fatima that had galvanised solidarity among the crowds in the street in 1986 as they marked what the Philippine bishops had declared Lord Heal our Land Sunday.
 
At a Mass celebrated at the Shrine of Mary Queen of Peace on EDSA, the outgoing president of the bishops’ conference, Archbishop Socrates Villegas, called for healing in the blood-soaked Philippines, warning that an accursed retribution awaits a nation that murders its own people.
 
“Repent so the healing can begin,” the archbishop pleaded. “Stop the killing is only one big step. The journey of healing and the values of our nation turned upside down will be a longer journey still.”
 
The outspoken Archbishop Villegas called the culture of violence that is so loudly applauded by so many Filipinos an alien response to the suffering of people.
 
He added that this, coupled with the nonchalant attitude towards the bloodshed are contrary to the spirit of the words of the Philippine national anthem, Lupang Hinirang (Land dear and holy).
 
He mused as to why people applaud when they hear of a murder taking place, saying, “This is not The Philippines. This is not the Filipino! What we sing is To die because of you… not To kill because of you…”
 
He called on the bishops and priests to be the first to repent, saying, “The country that was once for heroes is now a country that does not have any feeling and does not care. The apathetic should repent.”
 
Of the clergy, Archbishop Villegas stressed, “They allowed themselves to be lured by comfort and were attracted to convenience. They have also kept quiet when they should have been heard.”
 
He then called for healing for people at all rungs of a corrupt, dysfunctional administration, for civil servants and government officials, saying they should serve the poor.
 
“Let civility and courtesy prevail over curses and lies. Let the institutions of democracy be revered and safeguarded; let dialogue prevail over the many reasons for division. When mediocrity in social services becomes normal, the poor suffer first,” he said.
 
“No politician lasts forever; only God does. Turn to the Lord and turn away from destructive politics. Peace to you all! We respect you and we call you honorable. Be worthy of it,” Archbishop Villegas concluded.
 
However, the only high profile politicians there to hear him were congress representative, Gary Alejano, and two senators, Bam Aquino and Antonio Trillianes.
 
Two other senators, Rissa Hontiveros and Franklin Drilon; together with the former vice president, Jejomar Binay; joined the procession.
 
Former secretary of the Human Rights Commission, Loretta Ann Rosales, was quoted by UCAN as saying, “The Church’s call is stop the killing and start the healing, our call is justice heals.”
 
But the crocodile faces at the presidential palace remained thick skinned. A spokesperson, Harry Roque, was critical of the Church for what he called resisting the effort to fight drugs in the country and denied that the president, who is on record as calling for the killings many times, ever condoned them.
 
A similar outcry for an end to the bloodshed echoed through the streets of Cebu, but a statement made by the incoming president of the bishops’ conference, Archbishop Romulo Valles, a well-known friend of the president, Rodrigo Duterte, may have gone down well in Malacañang, but was not received so well in other quarters.
 
In a call to push without condemning, Archbishop Valles said the people should work to inspire the police to do their job according to the book, noting that working to eliminate the supply of drugs rather than the people should be the way to go.
 
“We should not forget the killings, but one side of it is it will inspire the police to do their job according to the book,” he said.
 
His words raised eyebrows among the clergy and human rights advocates as not being prophetic and failing to be constructively critical by not analysing the problem of drugs in society.
 
But in the poverty stricken masses of the sprawling slums that are a hallmark of Philippine cities and indeed the countryside as well, there is a marked lack of care shown for the community of people that are by and large left to fend for themselves, a recipe for chaos in any land.
 
The Church has long been criticised for its indolence towards the drug problem by the handful who have laboured for years among the millions of addicted souls and it is only with the onslaught of Duterte’s attack on the poor that it has suddenly woken up.
 
Almost magically rehabilitation centres have sprung up in many parishes around Manila and other areas as well.
 
Provincial governments that did not sign onto the mass murder campaign began alternative programmes for the lost and homeless youth abandoned by society, family and country.
 
While the safety of the streets has been hailed as a great by-product caused by the drug war, it would be simplistic to attribute a newly found peace to violence.
 
Wiser heads can see that all the violence may have done is stir up the community spirit and prompt care for it, which if done with clarity, expertise and assiduous concern will reap results.
 
A survey carried out by social Weather Stations has revealed that over 70 per cent of the people believe the mass shooting campaign is aimed at the poor and not at the drug problem, as the supply of the illegal substances is as prolific as ever, because the drug barons are rarely touched.
 
But for a people who basically believe in violence as the best way to solve problems, this is a remarkable development and just maybe, the real Filipino that Archbishop Villegas spoke of in EDSA is beginning poke its head out of the clouds once again.
 
The archbishop touched a nerve when he quoted from a CCTV recording of the murder of 17-year-old Kian delos Santos in August begging for his life as he knelt before the police with his hands tied, “Please stop, I still have a test tomorrow.” He was dead long before the test began.

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