By Christine Rousselle
The Filipino bishops conference has called for three days of prayer and fasting, about a month after President Rodrigo Duterte called God “stupid,” among other things. After the initial series of comments, the country’s bishops’ conference met with Duterte to attempt to ease tensions.
Duterte’s remarks were met with outrage by the majority-Catholic country.
Archbishop Romulo Valles of Davao, president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) wrote in a pastoral exhortation asking Filipinos to make July 16 “a day of prayer and penance” asking God for mercy and justice for “those who have blasphemed God’s Holy Name, those who slander and bear false witness, and those who commit murder or justify murder as a means for fighting criminality in our country.”
The bishops requested that the next three days, from July 17 – 19, be days of “fasting, praying, and almsgiving.”
The exhortation, “Rejoice and be glad”, was released by the CBCP July 9.
Although it did not specifically mention Duterte by name, it did allude to some of his past actions and policies, including “those who arrogantly regard themselves as wise in their own estimation and the Christian faith as nonsense” as well as “those who blaspheme our God as stupid.”
Since his election, Duterte has been accused of “social cleansing” with his violent war on drugs. He even campaigned saying that he would like to “dump [drug pushers] in Manila Bay, and fatten all the fish there.”
The Church has consistently spoken out against these policies.
“We are not political leaders, and certainly not political opponents of government,” clarifies the exhortation. And while the Church has in the past worked alongside the government for the common good in helping the poor and disadvantaged, this is not always an option for every topic.
“On some specific issues, collaboration might not be possible because of our spiritual and moral beliefs, which we persistently propose, but never impose on the unwilling,” said Valles. “In such instances, we can only invoke our right to conscientious objection.”
The Church, the exhortation added, does not have “any political or ideological agenda in mind,” and when the bishops address issues, “it is always from the perspective of faith and morals, especially the principles of social justice.”
The exhortation also included a section addressing violence in the country. Three priests have been murdered in the Philippines in the last six months, inspiring nearly 200 priests to apply for gun carry permits. The CBCP was not in favor of priests carrying weapons, even legally, and said that a bishop must give permission for priests in his diocese to carry.
The concept of “priests being murdered for witnessing to Christ” is not a new one, Valles wrote. He encouraged Filipinos to remember the words of St. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians, and to “respond with a blessing” to insults, and to respond “gently” to slander.
Valles also condemned the current state of the country’s criminal justice system, saying the jails are “extremely congested” with those arrested for drugs and who should be in rehabilitation, and that people have removed themselves from the plight of the poor, sick, and addicted.
“We have a saying in Tagalog, ‘Ang sakit ng kalingkingan ay ramdam ng buong katawan.’ (The pain of one part of the body is felt by the whole body.),” he wrote.
“Alas, this is not always true! There is no way we can feel each other’s pains when some parts of the body are numbed by sheer indifference.”