By Fr Peter Geremia
I just reached the age of 80, and I wrote a diary titled “Seeking God’s Kingdom of Justice and Peace”. Someone asked me, “When did you start seeking what you call the kingdom of justice and peace? Now that you are 80 years old, have you already reached justice and peace?
I started seeking justice and peace in a confused way when I first felt the call to be become a missionary. I grew up among the ruins of World War II and I imagined that I could hear the cries of all who were killed or wounded and orphaned in all wars all over the world.
As a missionary I landed in the Philippines in 1972. In the 1980’s I joined the movement of the GKK or BCC (Basic Christian Communities). We thought that the BCCs where a way of building God’s kingdom of justice and peace because people united not only for prayers but also to help one another in all their needs. From BCCs we expanded to Tribal and even Muslim communities organizing tri-people organizations where all kinds of people united in seeking justice and peace.
The people most interested in seeking justice and peace where the Poor, Deprived, Oppressed, Marginalized, Exploited and Struggling people (PDOMES). With them we discovered “Liberating Education”, the kind of education that helps the poor to discover that they can become free from the slavery of vices and all forms of oppression. With them we experienced the special joy of solidarity with the poor. We were surprised to see so many overcome the complex of hopelessness and passivity and dare to become involved in seeking justice and peace. Some became activists in rallies shouting their demands for justice and peace. Others were recruited to fight for justice and peace joining different armed groups in endless wars. Still others became activists in the movement of non-violence and many were killed in our BCCs and tri-people organizations, and also a couple of missionaries were killed because they shared the expectations of the poor, Father Tullio Favali and Father Fausto ‘Pops’ Tentorio who wrote in his last will, “Your dreams are my dreams, your struggles are my struggles, you and I are one in building God’s kingdom”
Jesus Christ was the first one who proposed to seek God’s kingdom of justice and peace. He said “Seek God’s kingdom and its justice and everything else will be granted to you” (Mt. 6:33). Jesus’ way of non-violence but of concrete solidarity by feeding the hungry, becoming Good Samaritans and sharing everything… can produce concrete justice and peace starting in families up to larger networks of solidarity.
Many joined this movement of solidarity. One special witness of justice and peace was Nonoy Lory Obal, a young lay person that grew up in our BCCs and became a moving force in our tri-people organizations. Nonoy could make all kinds of people dream of liberation from all forms of oppression or injustices and unpeace, she even challenged the oppressors to join the oppressed and the warmakers to become peacemakers. She was so excited about the All-Out Peace Movement, but suddenly her voice was silenced by cancer… But, we can still hear her song, like the Song of Mary,
“My heart sings of joy because I experience the saving power of the God of Mercy and Compassion… He scatters the proud and their plans, He overthrows the powerful from their thrones, He lifts up the oppressed, He feeds the hungry with plenty, but He sends away the rich with empty hands…”
Mary sings that God’s wave of mercy and compassion continues for all generations, continues to overthrow the powerful from their thrones and to lift up the oppressed, continues to feed the hungry and to send away the rich with empty hands… that’s how God shows His mercy, as He promised to Abraham and to all generations.
Can we pray with Mary that the plans of the proud be put to shame and the powerful be overthrown from their thrones? Can we pray to empower the oppressed and to lift them up from their oppression? Can we pray to provide enough food for the hungry and to send away the rich with empty stomachs? Can these expectations bring about justice and peace, or will the rich and the powerful object that God will never allow such revolutionary changes? Can we join those who are now uniting to implement such expectations or changes?
Are these only impossible dreams? After all Jesus and Mary, Pops and Nonoy and all the martyrs are all dead and we cannot see much justice and peace… Right now in the Philippines we are experiencing a return to Martial Law and Dictatorship with a regime that has no respect for God nor for the poor and their dreams. Killers are hunting poor drug suspects and Human Rights and Peace Advocates. Even some priests were killed and some bishops and foreign missionaries are threatened. This is a time for more Martyrs, while many are paralyzed by fear or indifference… Still there are also some who believe that all who sacrificed their lives seeking justice and peace are still alive, they live on in those who share their passion and determination to continue seeking justice and peace.
As long as there are people who are hungry and thirsty for justice and peace, as long as there are volunteers who sing Mary’s song and carry Jesus’s cross and pursue the dreams of the poor, and as long as there is a God of mercy and compassion who will continue building His Kingdom until injustice and unpeace will be no more, until the weapons of war will be transformed into farm tools, until the hungry will have plenty to eat, until enemies can be reconciled… then the impossible may become possible.
We may not understand how this can happen, but it may be happening without our noticing it. Jesus thought us to pray in the Our Father, “May Your Kingdom come… soon!” (Mt. 6:10).
By: Father Peter Geremia, PIME.
Mosso dallo Spirito il missionario arrivò nel 1968. Era dicembre e l’attesa del Natale era per molti abitanti dell’arcipelago l’unico periodo di felicità. Da tempo, infatti, regnava nelle isole a Sud un latifondismo inospitale mentre a Nord, soprattutto nella metropoli, l’atmosfera liberale appariva molto banale. Lui, appena arrivato, si guardò attorno e si mise in testa di distanziarsi dall’uno e dall’altro; dall’usare la provvidenza per sopperire ai bisogni provocati dal primo e la disciplina necessaria per riformare il secondo. Era partito avendo in mente la metafora della barca oscillante. Coi piedi nel fango, provocato dall’ultimo tifone, la vedeva attraccare al porto di North Harbor e poi scaricare una moltitudine di gente, frettolosa di trovare un pertugio nella vicina baraccopoli di Tondo.
Per un attimo, tentato dalla modernità della metropoli intravista al di là delle baracche, perse l’orizzonte. “Prova ad andare a Sud”, gli dissero e lui salì sulla barca. Ma anche lì subentrarono malintesi e malumori. La guerra pure. Dove era la gioia missionaria? si domandava. Ovviamente soffrì molto, ma riuscì a ritornare in sé stesso e a Nord. Cominciò a girovagare tra i baraccati come un povero cristo senza una meta ben precisa, e chiedeva “Cosa posso fare per voi? Chi è Cristo per voi? Mi capite? Ma nessuno capiva uno straniero. Per di più, era un prete e poteva confidare solo su principi preconfezionati ereditati dal passato. Per qualche anno si dette da fare alternando i problemi della chiesa a quelli dei poveri, ma brutalmente fu fatto tacere. Non aveva il diritto di farlo. Fede sì, politica no!
Allora salì di nuovo sulla barca e cominciò a esplorare nuove rotte, rifiutando condizioni di comodo come quelle vissute all’interno di comunità religiose. Navigatore solitario e favorito oramai dalla sua condizione di emarginato reinventò una presenza senza coperture, senza appigli. Si spostò verso isole più povere, Mindanao sopra tutte, e divenne reale il suo bisogno di immergersi e di scovare la verità circa le speranze perdute. Cercava pure una rotta per la propria sopravvivenza tra i resti di una umanità sempre più attirata dalla sua strana presenza, dalla sua barca di salvezza, dalla sua capacità di amministrare cose e persone. A Nord come a Sud c’era una umanità spinta giù oltre i bordi periferici di una collettività nazionale creata dai grandi poteri centralizzati e ideata per concedere solo libertà di comodo, preconfezionate e liturgiche. Loro sì, naufraghi che cercavano appigli.
Poi, stanco di navigare, si fermò meditando una soluzione migliore di vita per sé e per gli altri. Troppi i mendicanti, le canaglie, i truffatori e i violenti da convertire. Troppi ancora non dicevano le cose come erano veramente. Come trovare soluzioni per superare con momenti di vittoria e gioia, quelli fatti di sconfitte e tristezza? Dalla barca scese e trovò nelle cinelas, infradito, una nuova metafora: percorrere le mulattiere percorse dai poveri e consumarsi.
Un giorno incrociò un ribelle in fuga di nome Lumad. Lui, il missionario, ascoltò le ragioni della sua ribellione, ma non ne voleva sapere di politica. Fede sì, politica no. Ma più in là vide anche le facce oscure e le armi di coloro al suo inseguimento e non lo denunciò affermando di non averlo visto e manco di conoscerlo. Gli uomini annusarono lo straniero, sogghignarono e continuarono le loro ricerche.
Lumad era un nome comune e discorde. Altri lumad vivevano sbandati sulle montagne. Soggiogati dal male. Cristiani, musulmani e tribali. Prodotti di leggi sbagliate. A cosa può servire cercare di comportarsi secondo la legge degli uomini, elaborata solo per inseguire, catturare e uccidere chi si ribella? Gli sembrò più spontaneo andare contro e fare quello che gli veniva più naturale; avere compassione e in nome di questo contrapporsi ai luoghi comuni della società prepotente e violenta. Contraddirla. Era non violento e credeva nel valore della vita e da tempo aveva deciso per l’utopia assoluta del Regno di Dio. Così ignorò le false contraddizioni, quelle cioè di schierarsi da una parte o dall’altra, per evitare di inaridire il suo pensiero come individualità pensante, naturalmente. Intravide il Regno nel reticolato delle piccole comunità unite da pensieri biblici, dalla voglia di cambiamento e dal desiderio di difendere l’onore in nome di una giusta lotta nel nome di Cristo e del Popolo. Ci si calò dentro, alla ricerca della verità nelle piccole cose e negli ultimissimi.
Ma cos’è la verità? E il prezzo da pagare fu pesante. Morì una prima volta, ucciso al posto di un altro. Risuscitò dopo tre lunghi giorni e fu assassinato una seconda volta mentre pregustava un periodo di pace e di dialogo tra diversi modi di guardare al Creatore. Risuscitò di nuovo, più volenteroso di prima con una grande gioia nel cuore per i tanti salvati, ma ancora fu colpito. Si ridestò una terza volta, ma, questa volta, stanco di penare smise di lottare. Il corpo era indebolito. Il clima di gioia era intriso di tristezza dopo aver perso, nel cammino, molti amici. Appese le cinelas al muro e il calcolatore divenne la sua nuova metafora. Cominciò a pensare positivo. Cosmopolitano.
Oggi cerca di liberare gli altri dalla prigione del male ricorrendo ai testi, ai manuali, agli scritti liturgici, religiosi e alle pagine web. Dice alla gente: “Guardate in questo brano è accaduto così, cosa dobbiamo fare? Se vi aiutate ho i mezzi per aiutarvi!” Un tempo era naturale stare nella realtà e cercare, di volta in volta, la soluzione adatta per strappare dal pericolo un povero ammalato, un bambino senza istruzione e un ribelle perbene. Rianimandoli a restare saldi nella loro fede. Oggi fa decine di volte lo stesso sforzo, calcolando il numero da salvare. È diverso e non poteva essere diversamente. Il sapere, la cultura e i Big Data da tempo si sono rivelati più autorevoli della legge dei governanti e della stessa Chiesa. Una volta era potente la vita e l’esistenza di colui in lotta giorno dopo giorno per sopravvivere dignitosamente. Oggi sarebbe un’impossibile utopia non essendoci più frontiere genuine da raggiungere perché già digitalizzate. Oggi è la rete di cluster di esseri al computer a decidere, in veste di abolizionisti, della libertà di un individuo. E tuttavia la fede del missionario resiste, nel bene e nel male: prova gioia quando il gregge va bene e versa lacrime quando i lupi lo assalgono.
Il clima natalizio è oggi fotocopia di quello del 1968. Tuttavia, da allora la popolazione è raddoppiata e parecchia emigrata all’estero, forse portando con sé lo spirito del vecchio missionario. A Nord si vive più ricchi, ma ancora nella banalità delle cose consumate, a Sud i latifondisti, ora capitalisti, sono tormentati dalla sete di terre da edificare e i ribelli rimasti, perseguitati da antiche e perdute libertà. Ma non è la fine. Tuttavia, che cosa ne sarà del missionario nel 2068? La questione rimane aperta, ma il Natale ci sarà ancora.
THIS TOOK place last month, but it can’t be too late to congratulate the University of the Philippine Visayas for organizing and hosting the 2ndInternational Conference on Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) in Iloilo City last October 25-26. This gathering brought together participants from all over the country and from around the world to focus on an aspect of our cultural, social, and even economic life that we literally don’t see—our intangible heritage, meaning our beliefs, customs, and practices that form a deep spiritual and intellectual resource that we should be tapping into, but have neglected in favor of Facebook and such other attractions of this digital age.
One paper, for example, by Sashah B. Dioso of the Center for West Visayan Studies of UP Visayas, dealt with the role of indigenous beliefs in resource conservation and sustainability in Pandan, Antique. The paper cites how an old man was walking home one day when it suddenly rained. He then “cut two banana leaves to serve as umbrellas for both of them. The latter was heard speaking to the banana that he needed the leaves for them not to get wet and then thanking the plant including ‘kon sin-o man ang rugyan’ or whoever was there (referring to the taglugar). In that situation, the value given to a plant and the respect accorded to the taglugar were evident.
“In general, the indigenous beliefs discussed contribute to the communities’ collective sense of protecting their environment and helping sustain natural resources. The practices mentioned share a common characteristic which is to use natural resources and the environment sustainably. Failure to observe due care in using natural resources may earn the ire of the spirits dwelling in the environment. The taglugar, considered guardians of the environment, are portrayed by these beliefs as active protectors of the environment that constantly watch and give the due punishment to transgressors (while also giving) rewards to people who use natural resources in a manner that is acceptable to the spirits (in terms of) a good catch and bountiful harvest.”
There were dozens of these fascinating reports and presentations on offer at Pagtib-ong (Hiligaynon for “to lift up”), and I was sorry that I couldn’t stay for the two full days, after giving a brief talk at the opening.
I had the privilege of attending the first conference last year and found it extremely informative, provocative, disturbing in some ways at it should be, but also giving reason for hope, in that we clearly have not forgotten the importance of those parts of our cultures and societies—parts far removed from the limelight of entertainment and social media—that define who we are.
Those engaged in ICH know that the life of a cultural scholar and researcher can be a very lonely, thankless, and sometimes even dangerous one. They sometimes wonder if their hard work matters to anyone else, or if it will bring real change to people’s lives. They forego more lucrative pursuits chasing after obscure languages and songs that will never make the Top Ten, or even the Top 1,000. The agencies they apply to for funding ask if their work has any practical economic benefits.
This conference was a welcome and warm reminder that they were not alone, that they all belonged to a community of people who understand, almost intuitively, what many others choose to ignore.
Studies like theirs go into the nerves and the bones—indeed, the DNA—of our culture, of what holds us together as peoples deep beneath the skin. The intangible heritage they are retrieving and preserving is an invaluable resource that we can all draw upon in our respective countries and communities around the ASEAN regionNo one else can do this but universities like UP and UPV, and their counterparts around the region, and scholars and cultural workers who believe fervently in needs other than the physical and the economic, those immediately tangible and measurable bottomline concerns that governments and administrations typically prefer to support.
But there is a cultural bottomline as well that we have barely plumbed, that very few people seem to be interested in, forgetting the fact that many of our national and regional problems are cultural in nature, stemming from our ignorance of who our people truly are and what they truly need and want.
This conference happened at a time when truth and human rights have been devalued all around the world. The delegates met in the face of a creeping train of anti-intellectualism, of suspicion and outright hostility towards teachers, students, and universities who dare to speak to power and to challenge falsehood.
This was all the more reason for ICH workers to persevere in what they do—in recovering the threads of our nationhood and weaving them into a coherent narrative that not even the fractiousness of our politics today can tear asunder.
By: Randy David – Philippine Daily Inquirer
Outside of religious circles, Caloocan Bishop Pablo Virgilio David used to be introduced as my brother. Now it’s the other way around, especially after he became the latest target of President Duterte’s rants against the Catholic Church and its leaders. I take deep pride in this affinity. We take similar positions on most social issues, although, in his case, it is the faith perspective that consistently informs his convictions and actions.
“Ambo,” as we call him, is the 10th of 13 children (seven boys and six girls), all still living, of whom I happen to be the eldest. Our parents have long passed on. It thus falls on me, as head of the family the President has accused of benefiting from Church offerings that my brother allegedly steals, to counter this outrageous lie. The truth is that Ambo regularly turns to the family for contributions to his projects and charities, well before he accepts offerings from others. To accuse him of taking Church offerings to give to his family is ludicrous.
There is a quote widely attributed to Adolf Hitler that goes like this: “[T]he broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily; and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods. It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously.”
I thought that nothing more clearly explains Mr. Duterte’s penchant for inventing colossal lies about people he dislikes than this. Because he is President, the lies he tells are not only magnified a thousand times; a lot of people also tend to believe them without proof, and worse, to take their cues from them. That the President appears indifferent to their effect on the stature and credibility of the office he occupies only compounds the problem. It has become more and more difficult to interpret what he is saying when, after reading a few lines from a prepared script, he shifts to loose slanderous language such as that he has used against Bishop Ambo.
I had two minds about writing a column on this topic. My first instinct was to stay silent, to let others speak in defense of my brother, and to treat Mr. Duterte’s attack against him as yet another instance of his habit of speaking recklessly against other people just to generate controversy and to remain in the news. Moreover, I didn’t want to appear as though I’m using this platform to defend a beleaguered sibling. Everyone who knows Bishop Ambo knows that he can speak for himself. But that doesn’t change the fact that he is unarmed and defenseless against the myriad forces under the President’s command.
I thought President Duterte went too far when, in a recent speech, he said, from out of the blue, that he suspected that “this Bishop David” could be into drugs because he had supposedly been monitored roaming the streets of Caloocan at night. He then threatened to chop off his head if he catches him red-handed.
If my late mother had heard the President speak these words against her son—the gentlest of her children—she would have choked to death from sheer unspeakable anguish. She would have begged me to protect him from harm even to the point of gagging him. This is exactly how some of my relatives are reacting to Mr. Duterte’s Mafia-like threats against Bishop Ambo. They fear for his life. They have seen what happens to people the President singles out, for any reason, as objects of his ire. They end up dead, or in prison on fabricated charges, or stripped of their properties, and subjected to unceasing humiliation.
My brother has no wealth and perhaps would not mind going to jail for what is right. But, our relatives fear that the young bishop, the guiding star of the clan, has just been sentenced to death. They want him to stop responding to the President’s attacks, to desist from talking about the drug war and its victims, or from attending to the urgent needs of the widows and the orphans of this war that God has put in his care—until the President’s anger subsides. They want him to go away, far beyond the reach of rogue policemen, contractual killers and fanatical death squads—until the President stops threatening him.
I must admit that the thought of asking him to go on a sabbatical leave did cross my mind. He is a pastor of great commitment, but also a gifted biblical scholar. I had mulled the idea of advising him to rest from his current pastoral work and resume his biblical studies. I thought it was easy enough to represent this as merely retreating from a futile word war that—as some observers depict it—distracts the public from the more important problems confronting the nation.
But, the more I thought about it, the more I was convinced that it would be wrong for him to go on a prolonged retreat at this time. It would mean abandoning his flock when they need him most. It would mean failing to speak God’s truth to power when it is needed most.
The lofty perch that some commentators prefer would make us see crime, corruption, armed conflict, terrorism, inflation, unemployment, and, indeed, the drug menace, as the paramount issues of our time. Everything else is a distraction.
But, isn’t fear the greatest problem we face in a despotic regime? So complex is fear as an emotion that people find a thousand and one ways to redescribe and rationalize it even as they meekly succumb to it. Yet, to overcome it, they often only need to witness the power of one example.