We have been given by God, as a nation, the rich diversity of ethnicities, cultures and religions that make up the Filipino people. From the dawn of our history, we have flourished from the exchanges that trade between the peoples of our region and the flow of ideas and ideologies from as far as China and India have brought us. We are a richer people because of our plural-ethnicity. We rejoice in the multicultural character of Philippine society. Our faiths our strengthened when we witness how the One God whom we worship and adore has made Himself known in the various faiths and creeds that we encounter in our pluralistic society. But we are not oblivious to the challenges as well for when people must live together and count themselves as one nation with different ways of looking at the world and at themselves, different norms to live by, and different faith to which they have staunch allegiance, there will be problems – most of which are spawned by the lack of respect to which everyone is due!

The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines enthusiastically unites its voice and its resolve to that of the Holy Father and the Holy See as the Church sets its attention on the dialogue of faiths and cultures, one that, because of its urgency and what it means for our lives both as individuals and as collectivities, cannot and should not be put off. A particularly beautiful line from the Catechism for Filipino Catholics captures how we have dealt with multi-cultures and a plurality of faiths. “Who, then, are Filipino Catholics? We are a people who have experienced in one way or another that our Filipino identity, meaning suffering, commitment and world’view are all tied to Jesus Christ. Like a diamond with a thousand facets, Christ is able to reveal to every person and nation, their very own unity, truth and value.” (n. 52)

This then has been our key: Not mere tolerance, and definitely more than merely making room but recognizing Christ revealing himself in a thousand faces – like a diamond with a thousand facets! This is also our project, and the challenge to all Filipinos. And the Year of Mercy is the perfect setting for a recommitment to this love – that love that prevails over differences and makes of them not stumbling blocks but paths to richer national and individual lives! We have tried the weapons of war, and all we have to show for years of conflict are piles of lifeless bodies and a war-scarred countryside. We must now try the eternal precept of love that recognizes no conditions, that stops at no boundaries, that considers irrelevant differences in culture, ethnicity, ideology and yes, even the different ways we call on and worship God!

While we Catholics remain convinced with firm faith that in the Catholic Church we will encounter the fullness of the Lord’s Revelation, we will embrace those who do not share our beliefs nor profess our creed, acknowledging that they too like us are guided by conscience and the earnest desire to do what is right. And we will bend to wash their feet for that is how Christ’s disciples are to manifest their fealty to Him! Let the bells of peace ring! Let the hearts that seek the Lord proclaim the Good News of Peace!

From the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, September 20, 2016 + SOCRATES B. VILLEGAS Archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan President, CBCP

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