By BENJIE OLIVEROS
During the visit of Pope Francis from January 15 to 19, time seemed to have gone to a standstill. We had non-working holidays, at least in Metro Manila; there was no traffic, except of course in areas where the roads were blocked and near places where Pope Francis was holding an activity; and there was a drop in crimes. Even the trapos and epals were silent. The people were also spared from the noise of political wrangling and maneuverings.
But now we are back to reality. Tuesday greeted us with heavy traffic. News headlines shout about corruption cases. And then there is this story “Pope Francis and the Mystery of Manila’s Vanishing Street Children” by TIME where Social Welfare Sec. Dinky Soliman reportedly admitted that the government rounded up 100 homeless families along Roxas Blvd. and hid them in a resort in Batangas.
So is this the government’s way of showing love and compassion for the poor?
Anyway, it is not enough that the government prepared a grand welcome for Pope Francis, the Catholic Church ensured the success of his visit and the people braved the crowd and the rains. It is not sufficient to be enamored by the personality of Pope Francis and be awed by his words. What we do next determines whether his visit had an impact.
How will the Aquino government respond to the challenge made by Pope Francis in his speech in Malacañang?
“The great biblical tradition enjoins on all peoples the duty to hear the voice of the poor. It bids us to break the bonds of injustice and oppression which give rise to glaring, and indeed, scandalous social inequalities. Reforming the social structures which perpetuate poverty and the exclusion of the poor first requires a conversion of mind and heart.”
“I hope that this prophetic summons will challenge everyone at all levels of society to reject every form of corruption which diverts resources from the poor, and to make concerted efforts to ensure the inclusion of every man and woman and child in the life of the community.”
How consistent with this is the government’s thrust toward neoliberal policies of liberalization, deregulation and privatization, which result in increases in the prices and rates of basic commodities, services and utilities, in order to ensure the profitability of corporations at the expense of the poor majority?
Where do the government’s Public-Private-Partnership projects, in which it abandons its responsibility of providing services to the poor and leaves the latter at the mercy of profit-greedy corporations, fit in this challenge?
How could the Aquino government claim that Pope Francis is not referring to it directly when it has been perpetuating landlessness and social injustices, scandalous inequality, grave human rights violations, and attacks on the rights of the poor majority?
For the Catholic Church, how would it respond to the challenge of Pope Francis of putting the poor at the center of the Gospel?
“As ambassadors for Christ, we, bishops, priests and religious, ought to be the first to welcome his reconciling grace into our hearts. Saint Paul makes clear what this means. It means rejecting worldly perspectives and seeing all things anew in the light of Christ. It means being the first to examine our consciences, to acknowledge our failings and sins, and to embrace the path of constant conversion. Constant conversion, everyday conversion. How can we proclaim the newness and liberating power of the Cross to others, if we ourselves refuse to allow the word of God to shake our complacency, our fear of change, our petty compromises with the ways of this world, our ‘spiritual worldliness.’”
“Only by becoming poor ourselves, by stripping away our complacency, will we be able to identify with the least of our brothers and sisters. We will see things in a new light and thus respond with honesty and integrity to the challenge of proclaiming the radicalism of the Gospel in a society which has grown comfortable with social exclusion, polarization and scandalous inequality.”
How could Catholic Church take on this challenge if it turns a blind eye and remains mute on the prevalence of impunity in enforced disappearances, killings and human rights violations?
How could it proclaim the radicalism of the Gospel when it is content with delivering acts of charity while being silent about scandalous inequality?
Will the bishops, the princes of the Church, give up the luxuries and comforts that they are so used to and reject donations and gifts from and, instead, confront those who perpetuate oppression, injustices, poverty and the exclusion of the poor?
Is it enough for the Catholic Church to proclaim that it is for justice and against inequality, against corruption and for the protection of the environment in words but does not match it in deeds?
For the people, how could we show love and compassion for and be moved by the poor and receive their wisdom when all we do are acts of charity, which we do with a patronizing attitude?