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Discerning the synodality path for Filipinos, Part 3

The gathering in Thailand for the 50th founding anniversary of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC) has ended. From the speeches, it is apparent that the summit’s theme of “Journeying together as Peoples of Asia,” refocuses its thrust from Missio Ad Gentes (mission to nations) to Missio Inter Gentes (mission among nations). Plainly, there is a need to shift the church’s paradigm in the mission theology of the FABC, in search for the face of Jesus.

Journeying together as divergent Asian peoples, however, poses many challenges not only because of the multiculturality of countries, but also because of prevailing conditions (i.e., conflicts, poverty, authoritarian governments, etc.) in Asia. While the FABC is a great forum to find commonalities in pursuing the Asian spirit, each country must redefine its approach based on its history and experiences, towards achieving the synodal church of God.

Cardinal Antonio Tagle, a leading figure at the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Evangelization of Peoples and Pope Francis special envoy to the gathering, emphasized youth and evangelization of social media. His message will find commonality and resonance among Asian churches, but how it does it, will rely on the situation on the ground. Internet access, use and social media preferences vary among Asian countries. While Facebook use (99%) ranks number #1 in the Philippines; Line (followed by Twitter and Instagram) is the preferred platform in Japan.

Tagle’s emphasis really echoes that of Pope Francis’ call for evangelizing our “newfound” neighbors on Facebook born out of the pandemic. It is a big concern for the Church because statistics show that more and more youth are highly influenced by social media (i.e., creating its own culture of self-sufficiency, detachment from reality), albeit, to the detriment of the self, and the Church.

The emphasis on young people and the utility of artificial intelligence (AI) is understandable, however, it masks the bigger issues in the Philippine Catholic Church. Beyond acknowledging that the “local Church is far from being with the Church of the poor,” and that the “Church does not know the poor and the poor do not know the Church;” there has to be a concerted effort to reverse such trends.

Ten years ago, Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan sounded prophetic. “Evangelization has been hurt and continues to be impeded by the arrogance of its messengers,” he said referring to the local prelates. “The hierarchy must shun arrogance, hypocrisy and bigotry… and that the Gospel cannot thrive in pride,” that’s because “When pride seeps into the heart of the church, the Gospel proclamation is harmed.”

Yet we heard Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of Caloocan, CBCP president, who said last month that there is a perception that “Many priests and lay leaders have tended to be more welcoming toward the wealthy and the influential …. (That) even more painful was the common remark that many Church leaders, clerics or lay, do not bother to listen to their voices.”

The source of the problem, I believe, is what Bishop David also said about inter-religious ecumenism, “blaming” the fact that the Philippines is predominantly Catholic. “[It] is precisely the reason why we have the tendency to be less concerned about (dialogue) with other religions.”

Such attitude and arrogance are reflected well in how the leadership views their role in achieving synodality. Being predominantly Catholic, is a disincentive to do better, to be more Catholic, if you will, because regardless of their efforts, the percentage of Catholics in the country will remain static and that I believe, is the benchmark being used. Consequently, the situation on the ground remains static too when it comes to enriching the faith.

The poor are not only poor materially, but also spiritually. Week-in, week-out, they will fill the pews, albeit in overflowing fashion, climbing images during processions and hoping for deliverance that the church can’t deliver.

Tagle’s growing prominence in Rome places him at a unique position to influence the direction of the Philippine Catholic Church, but he must first break the mold that Cardinal Sin had created with the People Power Revolution of 1986. Some would ascribe liberation theology to it with the clergy’s outsized role in that momentous moment, but did it?

The fact of the matter is that the EDSA revolution was not to liberate the oppressed, marginalized communities from the tyranny of the Marcos dictatorship. It was an afterthought after rebellious soldiers began a coup but whose resolve appeared to teeter with the lack of manpower and capability. Cardinal sin’s intervention for people to converge on EDSA was an opportune move but to say it was providential, is a stretch.

Cardinal sin’s closeness to the rich, elite, powerful, and highly connected dovetailed with a volatile situation that resulted in an impasse, if not for the timely U.S. intervention for Marcos to “cut cleanly.” With Cory Cojuangco Aquino in power, created an outsized ego and prominence for the cardinal and the Philippine Catholic Church in general. The mainstream media that is owned and controlled by the oligarchs created a tempting narrative extolling the virtues of democracy and the “saintly” Cory Aquino as the product of divine intervention.

From the elder Aquino to the son, both presidents used the aura of democracy as proof that the Philippines had exorcised the demons of the dictatorship. In reality, however, it didn’t. More Filipino billionaires were created in a span of 30 years, the gap between the poor and the rich widened, graft and corruption worsened, population geometrically rose, and free speech contributed to a worsening moral decay of society.

God has inspired these? As a matter of fact, Cory Aquino’s administration was rocked by multiple coups that nearly toppled her presidency, if not again, by timely U.S. intervention. Mutinous soldiers, disillusioned by the elite’s hold on power and Aquino’s failure to deliver on the promises of People Power, were restless. Consequently, their destabilization efforts rocked the Joseph Estrada and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo regimes, as well.

And where was the leadership of the Catholic Church? When President Macapagal Arroyo was implicated in the infamous “Hello Garci” tapes, Archbishop Fernando Capalla who was the president of CBCP then, did not issue a call for resignation. Arroyo reportedly paid back the debt with brand new Mitsubishi Pajeros to a select few CBCP bishops.

Liberation theology is a systematic approach, a moral reaction to the poverty and social injustice of a particular area or region. Was there any methodical approach, other than the occasional sermons, to ameliorate the sufferings of the poor? No. Church leaders, despite a burgeoning drug problem contributing to society’s moral decay, they held fire because of their closeness to the wealthy and influential people until Rodrigo Duterte came to power. Many politicians in power were corrupt, but their being Catholics was indistinguishable from their deeds!

During the pandemic, the oligarchs made billions from people’s misery but many of these oligarchs were behind the candidacy of the person that the Church leaders promoted as Cory 2.0. To be continued…


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