CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 14 September 2019

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A test of will for Philippine Church leaders

MANILA (UCAN): It was a test of will and determination to be witnesses of the gospel in the face of the attacks, and even threats to the lives, of both Catholic and Protestant Church leaders in the Philippines.
 
The year 2018 saw members of the clergy being vilified for being corrupt, for being child abusers, and even for having alleged links with drug syndicates and communists.
 
There was no end to the tirades against priests and bishops, especially those who have become vocal critics of the government’s war against illegal drugs.
 
Rodrigo Duterte, the president, even labelled some Catholic bishops “useless fools” who deserved to be killed for criticising his administration’s policies especially against narcotics.
 
What worried Church leaders was the president’s violent war on drugs which, according to official figures, resulted in the deaths of 5,050 people between July 2016 and the end of November 2018.
 
The figure is way below the estimates of human rights groups and advocates who claim that there are about 20,000 undocumented killings of suspected drug dealers and users.
One bishop, Arturo Bastes of Sorsogon, called the president a “sick and a megalomaniac” and a “murderous madman.”
 
The president countered by telling Catholics to stop going to church and to build their own prayer rooms in their homes as he described the Church as the “most hypocritical institution.”
 
Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo of Manila, said the Philippines has become a “pitiful” country for having “a president who does not perform and is unable to take criticism.”
Some sectors of the Church blamed hate speech from the president for attacks on some members of the clergy.
 
In April this year, unknown gunmen killed 37-year-old Father Mark Ventura, who was known to be an environmental advocate working with tribal communities. 
 
On June 10, Father Richmond Villaflor Nilo was added to the growing casualty list when he was shot dead while putting on his alb before celebrating Mass.
 
A fourth priest, Father Rey Urmeneta of St. Michael the Archangel parish in Calamba City, survived an attack by two gunmen.
 
The killings and attacks on Church leaders have become part of what advocates describe as a continued culture of impunity in the country.
 
While there were reactions and strongly worded statements from some bishops, most Church leaders seemed to opt for silence.
 
Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle of Manila, warned against “abuse of power” as he kicked off the Philippines’ traditional nine-day early morning Masses (Misa de Gallo) to usher in Christmas.
 
He reminded Catholics against bullying and using “power to coerce others” in what many viewed as a very tame response to Duterte’s repeated verbal attacks on Church leaders.
 
The presidential palace issued a statement reacting to Cardinal Tagle’s homily, saying that the beloved archbishop of Manila was not referring to the president.
 
“’Those in power’ would also apply to those in the Church. You use the pulpit for bullying people, then it’s the same,” said the president’s spokesperson.
 
It was still a year of living dangerously, especially for those accused of having links with drug syndicates, those who were tagged as having connections with the communist movement and poor innocent civilians caught in the midst of Duterte’s war.
 
Still, Duterte’s populist rhetoric, including his use of foul language, seemed to endear him to the public. 
 
The results of a survey conducted in September showed that 70 per cent of adults said they were satisfied with the president’s performance while only 16 per cent were dissatisfied. This was despite 83 per cent of the people surveyed feeling Duterte’s comments—in which he called God “stupid”—were vulgar.
 
How can a country that claims to be predominantly Catholic, with a population that does not approve of capital punishment and artificial contraception let Duterte get away with all the crimes he has allegedly committed?
 
Either the president is doing something Filipinos actually want deep in their hearts—kill suspected drug addicts and massacre alleged communists—or they have been so cowed that they have chosen to wallow in silence.As for our Church leaders, we are reminded of the apocryphal story of Peter when he fled the persecution of the emperor, Nero, in Rome. The apostle met Jesus on the road. Peter asked The Lord, “Quo vadis?” a Latin phrase meaning, “Where are you going?”
 
Jesus reportedly replied, “Romam eo iterum crucifigi” (I am going to Rome to be crucified again). It gave Peter the courage to return to the city, where he was martyred by being crucified upside-down.
 
Will our Church leaders pass the test?

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