Statements – Vol. 48 No. 03

Statements – Vol. 48 No. 03

Statements – Vol. 48 No. 03

Poverty that dehumanizes, poverty that sanctifies
A CBCP Lenten Message 2014

Do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.  (Micah 6:8)

AS we begin this Lenten Season in the Year of the Laity, we invite you, our brothers and sisters, to reflect on poverty, particularly the types that contradict God’s Kingdom as well as those other types that promote and establish the Kingdom. We do this following the lead of our Holy Father, Pope Francis, whose own Lenten Message takes its inspiration from St. Paul writing about our Lord Jesus Christ: “He became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich” (cf. 2 Cor 8:9).

There are many forms of poverty. Those that degrade and dehumanize, we are to reject and work against. Those that paradoxically humanize and sanctify, we are to embrace and through them, by God’s grace, be transformed. We encounter such opposing forms of poverty on three dimensions of human existence: material, moral, and spiritual. Allow us now to describe them in a framework that may help us all observe this season of grace more generously and fruitfully.

Poverty that degrades and dehumanizes

In his earthly life, Jesus was no stranger to poverty. He knew well how people suffered from it and he tirelessly went about lightening their burdens: “Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness” (Mt. 9:35).

He worked against this kind of poverty because it degrades and dehumanizes humanity; deforming the very ones created lovingly in God’s image and amounting to a grave insult hurled at God. Such poverty continues to undermine and threaten our existence.

In his apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis declares in no uncertain terms, “No to an economy of exclusion!” (EG 53) This exclusion is the defining characteristic of poverty in our country and in the world today. As the Pope has stressed, “Poverty in the world is a scandal. In a world where there is so much wealth, so many resources to feed everyone, it is unfathomable that there are so many hungry children, that there are so many children without an education, so many poor persons. Poverty today is a cry.”[i]

Indeed, it is a great scandal that takes us all to task.[ii]

No to Material Destitution

In the material dimension, poverty that degrades and dehumanizes exists for individuals and families as destitution, which is an exclusion from the basic needs of life. In the past few years the poverty rate of the country has hovered at over 20%  according to the National Statistics Coordinating Board (NSCB). This means that one in every five Filipinos are in households earning less than the level of income needed for a family to meet its minimum food and non-food requirements. While the poverty rate has gone down from its peak of 29.7% in the early 90s, to have such a huge segment of our population living in such abject poverty is an unacceptable scandal. These official figures are further enhanced by the real life perceptions of people. In its survey on poverty for the last quarter of 2013, the Social Weather Stations (SWS) reports that 55% of respondents actually consider themselves poor, up from 50% the previous quarter. Clearly, many people see themselves as being excluded from opportunities to live a decent life.

No to various faces of the Economy of Exclusion

On the societal level, the scandal of material poverty can be seen in various faces of the economy of exclusion.

Exclusion from gainful livelihood. The appalling poverty rate is aggravated by the exclusion of many Filipinos from opportunities for economic advancement. The latest Labor Force Survey pegs unemployment at 6.5% of the national workforce and, more tellingly, underemployment at 17.9% (the latter being the percentage of the workforce that is employed but looking for additional work).

Exclusion from sufficient shelter. Shelter is another basic right to which people are denied when poverty strikes. The Subdivision and Housing Developers’ Association has estimated that the housing shortfall between 2001 to 2011 has reached 3.93 million units. The estimates of informal settlers alone run from anywhere between 1 to 3 million households, not counting those rendered homeless by recent natural and man-made calamities.

Exclusion from rural development. Centuries of inequitable land ownership, peace issues, and lack of livelihood opportunities have excluded poor rural folk from genuine progress, driving them into the cities in search of a better life. Sadly, the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program Extension with Reforms (CARPER) is set to expire this June 2014, with land acquisition and distribution targets still unmet.

Exclusion from adequate health care. The poor, who can avail of health care at only public hospitals and local government health centers, are at risk of being further excluded from access to basic health care with the proposed privatization of leading public health institutions such as the Dr. Jose Fabella Memorial Hospital and the National Orthopedic Hospital. Especially vulnerable are children and the elderly, unless government continues to aspire for the ideal of “universal health coverage.”

Exclusion from quality education. While we have had good progress in battling illiteracy, further improvements can be made. The International Labor Organization reports that, in 2010 to 2012, out of every ten grade 1 pupils six finish elementary school and only four are able to finish high school. Overcrowding in schools, large classroom sizes, and double to triple shifts are chronic problems in basic and secondary education. Quality higher education, in particular, is an elusive dream for many. Our Catholic schools in the rural areas continue to suffer from the departure of our well trained teachers in the pursuit of higher monetary gain.

Other faces of poverty. The foregoing are some of the most familiar faces of poverty, but other aspects of poverty also cause concern. In the aftermath of typhoons, droughts, and earthquakes, it is poor Filipinos who are most profoundly affected and further excluded from a decent life. Despite recent progress in the peace accords between the MILF and the Philippine Government, the ravages of war (as seen in the MNLF Zamboanga incursion and the long standing NPA rebellion) continue to affect the poorest who are often caught in the crossfire. The destruction of the environment due to illegal logging and both large and small scale mining disadvantage the poor, especially our indigenous communities, who are often excluded from the benefits of such economic activities. We suffer from ecological poverty due to our neglect of the gifts of creation entrusted to us by God.

No to Consumerism

On the level of a global ethos, the scandal of material poverty shows itself in the ever-growing influence of consumerism. Pope Francis laments that “The great danger in today’s world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience” (EG 2). In the end, such poverty leads to a self-inflicted emptiness.

No to Moral Destitution

In the moral dimension, poverty can be debilitating on the same three levels.

Individually, one can experience dehumanizing poverty as a slavery to vice or sin. “How much pain is caused in families because one of their members—often a young person—is in thrall to alcohol, drugs, gambling or pornography! How many people no longer see meaning in life or prospects for the future, how many have lost hope! And how many are plunged into this destitution by unjust social conditions, by unemployment, which takes away their dignity as breadwinners, and by lack of equal access to education and health care. In such cases, moral destitution can be considered impending suicide.”[iii]

On the societal level, moral poverty confronts us everywhere as the malady of corruption. As we have written repeatedly, “We face today a crisis of truth and the pervading cancer of corruption. We must seek the truth and we must restore integrity.”[iv] More recently, on the pork barrel issue, we renewed the call for vigilance and self-critique, “Our protests should not just emanate from the bad feeling that we have been personally or communally transgressed, violated or duped. It should come rather from the realization that God has been offended and we have become less holy as a people because of this.… We are not just victims of a corrupt system. We have all, in one way or another, contributed to this worsening social cancer—through our indifferent silence or through our cooperation when we were benefiting from the sweet cake of graft and corruption.”[v]

Most widely, as a global ethos, we experience moral destitution as inequality. We see this in the critique of capitalism that Pope Francis makes: “In this context, some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting” (EG, 54).

No to Spiritual Destitution

Material destitution constitutes a scandal. Moral destitution frustrates our striving to respond to God’s call of love. But spiritual destitution is the form of poverty that threatens the core of our relationship with God. Individually, we experience it as loneliness and hopelessness. Mother Teresa declares from her vast experience of being among the poorest of the poor that “the most terrible poverty is loneliness and the feeling of being unloved.” Moreover, she is convinced: “We can cure physical diseases with medicine, but the only cure for loneliness, despair, and hopelessness is love…. The poverty in the West is a different kind of poverty—it is not only a poverty of loneliness but also of spirituality. There’s a hunger for love, as there is a hunger for God.”[vi]

Then, as a society, we see this poverty in religious intolerance. The Pope has spoken out adamantly against it, which exists even within the Church: “The Lord created us in His image and likeness, and we are the image of the Lord, and He does good and all of us have this commandment at heart: do good and do not do evil. All of us. ‘But, Father, this [person] is not Catholic! He cannot do good.’ Yes, he can. He must. Not can: must! Because he has this commandment within him.… [T]his ‘closing off’ that imagines that those outside…cannot do good is a wall that leads to war and…killing in the name of God… [which] is blasphemy.”[vii]

Globally, spiritual destitution appears as relativism and the loss of a sense of transcendence. According to Pope Francis, “It is the spiritual poverty of our time, which afflicts the so-called richer countries particularly seriously. It…makes everyone his own criterion and endangers the coexistence of peoples.… There cannot be true peace if everyone is his own criterion, if everyone can always claim exclusively his own rights, without at the same time caring for the good of others, of everyone, on the basis of the nature that unites every human being on this earth.”[viii]

Poverty that Humanizes and Sanctifies

Poverty that degrades and dehumanizes is all around us. One can be disheartened by all this especially in the midst of struggling against. However, the Christian believes that “the Gospel is the real antidote to spiritual destitution.” Pope Francis precisely encourages the faithful to affirm “that God is greater than our sinfulness, that he freely loves us at all times and that we were made for communion and eternal life.”[ix] In the great wisdom that only God possesses, the Gospel proclaims that Jesus resoundingly defeats this poverty by practicing another kind of poverty, namely, the poverty that humanizes or makes one fully human, the poverty that sanctifies or conforms one to his own likeness. This life-giving poverty also has material, moral, and spiritual forms.

Yes to Simplicity, Commitment, and Surrender to God

Material poverty that humanizes and sanctifies is experienced in simplicity of life. Not all are called to choose a life of actual poverty. Many among the laity, the clergy, and the religious do so admirably, whether as individuals or in community, and as a result give a powerful witness to the Gospel. However, all are called to live lives that are marked by a consistent and liberating detachment from such worldly goods as material possessions, resources, power, and social status—a detachment that allows us to be sensitive and to respond to those with less possessions, less resources, less power, lower status.

Such a readiness and ability to respond to those in need finds a stable expression in the moral poverty of a commitment to the Good, the Just, and the True. It is a sustained yearning to participate in the establishment of the Kingdom manifested in concrete decisions and patterns of behavior that always look beyond the private realm of self and family toward the public world of neighbor and society. It is the natural consequence of professing a faith in a God who identifies with the little ones. After all, “how does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods, and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?” (1 Jn 3:17).

Finally, humanizing and sanctifying poverty endures in its spiritual form as surrender to God (Ps 9:10, Prov. 3:5-6). According to PCP II, to be a Church of the Poor means “a Church that embraces and practices the evangelical spirit of poverty, which combines detachment from possessions with a profound trust in the Lord as the sole source of salvation. While the Lord does not want anyone to be materially poor, he wants all his followers to be ‘poor in Spirit’.”[x]

Christ’s Invitation, especially to the Laity

This Lenten season, Christ invites all, but especially the laity, to oppose degrading and dehumanizing poverty and to embrace humanizing and sanctifying poverty. In other words, he invites us to imitate his example. We fight poverty with poverty only because Christ has shown us the way. “Our faith in Christ, who became poor, and was always close to the poor and the outcast, is the basis of our concern for the integral development of society’s most neglected members” (EG, 186). Much more needs to be done in translating this faith into effective action, in achieving “a greater penetration of Christian values in the social, political and economic sectors,” which in the mind of Pope Francis is where the Church relies on the laity (EG 102).

Particularly, we are invited to practice material poverty by taking up a simple lifestyle and works of mercy and justice that attend to the poor and aim for an economy of inclusion, for what the Nobel laureate Amartya Sen calls “total human development.” We are to exercise moral poverty by strengthening our resolve to practice solidarity with the neglected and to denounce injustice and all forms of radical inequality. We are to embrace spiritual poverty by deepening our rootedness in Christ, whose poverty alone enriches us. “Let us not forget,” Pope Francis insists, “that real poverty hurts… I distrust a charity that costs nothing and does not hurt.”[xi] At the same time, “We may be sure that none of our acts of love will be lost, nor any of our acts of sincere concern for others. No single act of love for God will be lost, no generous effort is meaningless, no painful endurance is wasted” (EG 279).

May the Lord bless your Lenten observance and send you forth with love and joy.

May Mary, Mother of the Poor show you the way to the heart of Jesus, our pearl of great price!

For the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, March 5, 2014 Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent

Archbishop of Lingayen Dagupan
President, Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines

[i] Francis, Meeting with Students of Jesuit Schools, Q & A, June 7, 2013.
[ii] Cf. CBCP, Pastoral Exhortation, “To Bring Glad Tidings to the Poor” (Luke 4:18), January 27, 2014.
[iii] Francis, Lenten Message, 2014.
[iv] CBCP, Pastoral Statement, Seeking the Truth, Restoring Integrity, February 26, 2008.
[v] CBCP, Pastoral Statement on the Pork Barrel, “Hate evil and love good and let justice prevail…” (Amos 5,15), September 5, 2013.
[vi] Mother Teresa, A Simple Path: Mother Teresa, 1995.
[vii] Francis, Homily at Mass in Domus Santae Martae on the feast of Santa Rita, quoted by Vatican Radio, May 22, 2013.
[viii] Francis, Audience with the Diplomatic Corps, March 22, 2013.
[ix] Francis, Lenten Message, 2014.
[x] PCP II, 125.
[xi] Francis, Lenten Message, 2014.

‘At EDSA love of God and love of country came together’

(Homily delivered by Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop and CBCP President Socrates B. Villegas at  the 28th anniversary of EDSA People Power Revolution on February 25, 2014 at Our Lady of EDSA Shrine.)

EDSA People Power is 28 years old and so is my priesthood. I am 28 years a priest. I’m as old as EDSA People Power. When the Church sent me to Bataan each time I looked back at EDSA, I looked back at EDSA with gratitude, with happiness, with joy, and with pride. And now in Dagupan I still remember EDSA People Power with so much fondness and someday when I’m old and wrinkly I will sit down and write my memories about EDSA 1986. But I have mixed feelings today. On one side I am happy and grateful to remember, but on the other side I am sad and lonely and I ask myself, “is this all that is left?” After 28 years is this all that we can gather to thank the Lord for an event that made Filipinos 10 feet tall in the family of nations. I cannot resist returning to the Gospel, and returning to the question of the Lord after he cured 10 lepers and only one returned, and said, “Where are the other nine?”  But I am not here to accuse you. I am not here to make you sad. I am not here to contaminate you with my sadness and loneliness. I am here to bring you joy, the joy of the Gospel, the joy of the Lord.

So with remnants like us and a bishop coming down from the north to be with you and to celebrate and to make sure that the EDSA spirit is not forgotten, then I ask myself, “What is EDSA about?” The celebration of the EDSA anniversary has taken many faces, it has taken many forms. For some people, they celebrate it on the 22nd of February, the focus is the military. For some people they celebrate it on February 25, evening, because that was the time when the former president fled. For some people it is noontime of February 25 because that was the time when the first Lady President took her oath. For some people it is salubungan; for some people it is confetti. For some people it is picnic. For some people it is being offered a boiled corn by a beggar. What is EDSA really about?

Brothers and sisters you can approach EDSA from any angle but just don’t forget one component. You cannot tell and retell the story of EDSA without God. You can tell the story of Tita Cory but don’t forget that she prayed the rosary with us. You can tell the story of Cardinal Sin but do not forget that he was first man of God and the Church before being a man of the streets. You can tell the story of the military, of the businessmen, of the professionals, of the soldiers, of the nuns, but please remember all the time, that the soldiers, the nuns, the businessmen, politicians, cardinals, bishops and priests, all of them will be nothing if God did not walk with us on this hallowed ground in 1986. Sometimes we forget, and sometimes we claim the honor that belongs to God as our own.

Tita Cory has passed on to eternal life and so has Cardinal Sin, and so has many EDSA heroes, but my dear brothers and sisters in Christ, no matter how you retell the story of EDSA, I plead with you on bended knees, do not forget the rosaries you prayed; do not forget the image of Our Lady of the Immaculate Heart that we put on top of tanks. Do not forget the bibles that we read. Do not forget the concrete pavements that we knelt on, into midnight, into the morning, praying the rosary for deliverance from slavery. There can be no EDSA story without God. But it seems God is so used to being set aside. Even if we set him aside he continues to bless us, it seems. But our country, our government cannot move on if it continues to ignore God. I am not even talking about Church. I am just talking about God. Muslim or Protestant, Buddhist or Hindu, Christian, Iglesia ni Kristo, whatever, we must always remember that our lives are in the hands of God.

But what did we do in EDSA 1986 that made it so extraordinary? It is this. Our faith in God got married with our love for country. At EDSA love of God and love of country came together. That love of country is not alien to somebody who follows the Lord. And love of country would be empty unless it is grounded on the love of God. Through the years after EDSA 1986, the spirit has been manipulated, abused, raped, prostituted. But we must always return to it. EDSA was a gift from God and it will always be so. Can we do it all over again? I don’t know. Do we have to do it all over again? I hope not because 20 years of dictatorship and four days of EDSA should be more than enough for us never to repeat the mistakes of history. Shall we live it again? God forbid no more because if we have to do it again it will only mean we have not learned our lesson. Cardinal Sin used to say, tongue in cheek, “to err is human; to forgive is divine; but to repeat is stupid.”

Let us allow EDSA to make us wiser. Let us allow EDSA to keep us vigilant. In EDSA 1986 we told the whole world, God is with us. At EDSA 2014 the question I throw to you is, “Are you still with God?” The issue is not God is with us. The issue is: Are with God or have we strayed from the path of God.

I will return to Dagupan but I leave with you one request. Please take care of this hallowed ground. This church, this place minus Megamall, minus Robinsons Galleria, this place is sacred. Please take care of it. Even if you are only one of the ten lepers who would thank the Lord, take care of it nevertheless. Even if you are only a handful remnant remembering our moment of glory, stand on this holy ground nevertheless. You know why I asked Father Nilo for permission to say Mass tonight? It is because I need the spirit of EDSA. I will return to Dagupan strengthened, invigorated, energized because this church is special; this hallowed ground will always remain holy. Take care of it, against all odds. And please tell your children and your children’s children that EDSA is holy and it is people that will keep it holy, and that is you.

If they want to celebrate EDSA in Cebu; if they want to celebrate EDSA in Baguio; if they want to celebrate EDSA in Mindanao, let it be. But for you, EDSA Shrine community, stand on this ground because here on this ground, you and I and God had a brief loving encounter for four days and history cannot be changed anymore. On this hallowed ground, for four sacred days the blessed Virgin Mary walked with us; the Lord of Peace walked with us. Keep it sacred, no matter where you go, because here you will always find the living God.

Message of Pope Francisto the Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum on the Occasion of the Annual Meeting at Davos-Klosters (Switzerland)

TO Professor Klaus Schwab

Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum

I am very grateful for your kind invitation to address the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum, which, as is customary, will be held at Davos-Klosters at the end of this month. Trusting that the meeting will provide an occasion for deeper reflection on the causes of the economic crisis affecting the world these past few years, I would like to offer some considerations in the hope that they might enrich the discussions of the Forum and make a useful contribution to its important work.

Ours is a time of notable changes and significant progress in different areas which have important consequences for the life of humanity. In fact, “we must praise the steps being taken to improve people’s welfare in areas such as health care, education and communications” (Evangelii Gaudium, 52), in addition to many other areas of human activity, and we must recognize the fundamental role that modern business activity has had in bringing about these changes, by stimulating and developing the immense resources of human intelligence. Nonetheless, the successes which have been achieved, even if they have reduced poverty for a great number of people, often have led to a widespread social exclusion. Indeed, the majority of the men and women of our time still continue to experience daily insecurity, often with dramatic consequences.

In the context of your meeting, I wish to emphasize the importance that the various political and economic sectors have in promoting an inclusive approach which takes into consideration the dignity of every human person and the common good. I am referring to a concern that ought to shape every political and economic decision, but which at times seems to be little more than an afterthought. Those working in these sectors have a precise responsibility towards others, particularly those who are most frail, weak and vulnerable. It is intolerable that thousands of people continue to die every day from hunger, even though substantial quantities of food are available, and often simply wasted. Likewise, we cannot but be moved by the many refugees seeking minimally dignified living conditions, who not only fail to find hospitality, but often, tragically, perish in moving from place to place. I know that these words are forceful, even dramatic, but they seek both to affirm and to challenge the ability of this assembly to make a difference. In fact, those who have demonstrated their aptitude for being innovative and for improving the lives of many people by their ingenuity and professional expertise can further contribute by putting their skills at the service of those who are still living in dire poverty.

What is needed, then, is a renewed, profound and broadened sense of responsibility on the part of all. “Business is – in fact – a vocation, and a noble vocation, provided that those engaged in it see themselves challenged by a greater meaning in life” (Evangelii Gaudium, 203). Such men and women are able to serve more effectively the common good and to make the goods of this world more accessible to all. Nevertheless, the growth of equality demands something more than economic growth, even though it presupposes it. It demands first of all “a transcendent vision of the person” (Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate, 11), because “without the perspective of eternal life, human progress in this world is denied breathing-space” (ibid.). It also calls for decisions, mechanisms and processes directed to a better distribution of wealth, the creation of sources of employment and an integral promotion of the poor which goes beyond a simple welfare mentality.

I am convinced that from such an openness to the transcendent a new political and business mentality can take shape, one capable of guiding all economic and financial activity within the horizon of an ethical approach which is truly humane. The international business community can count on many men and women of great personal honesty and integrity, whose work is inspired and guided by high ideals of fairness, generosity and concern for the authentic development of the human family. I urge you to draw upon these great human and moral resources and to take up this challenge with determination and far-sightedness. Without ignoring, naturally, the specific scientific and professional requirements of every context, I ask you to ensure that humanity is served by wealth and not ruled by it.

Dear Mr Chairman and friends, I hope that you may see in these brief words a sign of my pastoral concern and a constructive contribution to help your activities to be ever more noble and fruitful. I renew my best wishes for a successful meeting, as I invoke divine blessings on you and the participants of the Forum, as well as on your families and all your work.

17 January 2014