by FR. SHAY CULLEN
THE visit of Pope Francis to the Philippines this Thursday January 15 is greatly awaited and what his message will be to this most Catholic nation in Asia is a matter of intense speculation .
Of course there will be millions trying to see him and receive his blessing. Most are very poor and they will be praying that his spiritual aura and huge popularity will be influential in spreading virtue, good family values, respect for human rights and social justice in the Philippines.
Indeed despite this being the Asian nation that is 80% catholic , it is for many a version of Catholicism that is at variance many times with the gospel message of compassion, respect and self-sacrificing service to the poor and the downtrodden.
Catholic schools and universities flourish, producing the educated middle class and the ruling elite many of whom are devoted Mass goers and good Catholics in the sense that they accept without question Church teaching and participate in the Church rites and rituals. But the awareness and commitment to act for social justice is limited to the few.
Catholicism here is more of a cultural faith tradition than an energizing power to work for a just and honest society. The Catholic school graduates gravitate to serve the elite and wealthy and corporate interests. They tend to look to heaven and not see the social injustice and cruel suffering and poverty on earth.
Those Catholics that engage in works of mercy, reaching out to the poor, the hungry and work in humanitarian organizations to help the poor, redress injustice and economic inequality and change society are much too few.
In general most adult Filipino Catholics are traditional and lead good church-going virtuous lives. They are not very empowered to imitate Jesus of Nazareth. They have been spiritually trained to be more docile and subservient than to be on fire with a burning faith in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. They are not faith-inspired to challenge and change the crushing injustice and corruption that keeps 100 million poor dominated by one percent of the population.
That one percent is composed of billionaires and millionaires that make up the ruling elite. They dominate Congress, the administration, the military, police and the justice system. Government departments packed with their cronies and relatives do their bidding. They pass laws that protect their stolen wealth, privileges and entitlements and thwart and silence their opponents and critics. No wonder that the Philippines has the longest lasting communist guerilla war in Asia. Without justice there cannot be peace, without peace there cannot be prosperity for all.
In 1986 when Cardinal Archbishop Jaime Sin called the faithful to be socially active for human rights and justice and to take to the streets to oppose the dictator Ferdinand Marcos, defy the military Filipino Catholicism did have a bright shining moment. But it soon faded. Such social and political engagement was discouraged and criticized by the Vatican.
Today there are those who masquerade as “good Catholics,” are seen in church but pursue worldly power and money, are driven by political ambition and the desire for economic domination over the weak and poor and value them only as cheap labor. They are the hypocrites of the ruling elites condemned by Jesus.
Its amazing that in a nation of 100 million people just a tiny few can own and control over 70 percent of the wealth, land, property and means of production. They, so few, have such power and cause such poverty and human rights abuses over so many.
These rich and corrupt people will be trying to get close to the Pope hoping that their proximity to such a famous and holy man will be a sign to the electorate that despite their evil deeds they are approved persons and blessed. May no such corrupt politicians get a seat at the table with Pope Francis.
Pope Francis choose that very name in the Spirit of St. Francis when just as his election was announced Cardinal Claudio Hummes hugged him and whispered into his ear “Do not forget the poor.” He was determined to champion their cause for equality and human rights and make the social teaching of the Church a living practical reality everywhere. He had to scold the Cardinals in the Curia recently for their 15 “diseases” that are holding back the teaching and practice of the gospel.
For sure human rights and the rights of children and women will be central to his messages. In this nation of 100 million people five million children are enslaved in some kind of child labor, mostly agricultural and slum-survival work. But as many as 100,000 are trafficked into sex slavery which Francis declared, a few weeks ago to be a crime against humanity.
The message of Pope Francis will likely address the great disparity between rich and poor. He may speak out against the death squads that kill priests and church workers and children with impunity. He is the Pope of the poor and the oppressed and is the long awaited man of God to lead the wayward Church leaders out of apathy and arrogance, teach them to reject corrupt ways and instill in them the love of the Gospel message.
This the very message that Jesus died for. We can all be inspired by him and Pope Francis to speak the truth, oppose corrupt rulers and work to lift the poor from poverty by good example and evangelical poverty.