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Our shepherds have not been silent

At Wacom4, Archbishop Villegas told our young people: “Do not be afraid to wait.” We say to you: “Do not be afraid to wait for us, the faithful.” The Holy Spirit moves ponderously among us, but with certainty.

By Gemma Rita R. Marin, Liza L. Lim, and Patrick Z. Falguera, SJ

Our beloved bishops: Much has been made in the mainstream media about your supposed silence on the calamity of killing that plagues our nation. But we who look to you for guidance and strength know you have not been silent.

Within weeks after the calamity began, as the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) you entreated our law enforcers to be careful with the rights and lives of suspected criminals, and you urged us not to tolerate, cooperate with, or participate in vigilantism. In September, the CBCP Permanent Council expressed solidarity with those killed and their families. As bishops of Negros Island and as individual bishops all over the country, you spoke and rang your church bells against the killings. At the Fourth World Apostolic Congress on Mercy (Wacom4), you pleaded earnestly for an end to the slaughter and to the silence of the faithful.

You have spoken clearly against proposals to restore the death penalty. You issued guidelines to the faithful about such proposals, invoking God’s mercy and the sacredness of life. You issued statements and prayers against these proposals, enjoining us to speak and pray together with you.

For this you have been castigated and vilified. But for this, we who share your faith in a merciful and life-giving God owe you inexpressible thanks. You have strengthened and inspired us, especially when, like you, we have been tempted to despair by the mounting death toll, the lack of moral outrage over it, and the assaults of those who approve of it.

We cannot claim to be the majority of the faithful. But our numbers are growing. At Wacom4, Archbishop Villegas told our young people: “Do not be afraid to wait.” We say to you: “Do not be afraid to wait for us, the faithful.” The Holy Spirit moves ponderously among us, but with certainty.

We thank these bishops whose prophetic courage has fortified us: Bishops Alminaza, Bacani, Bastes, Baylon, Buzon, Cortes, David, Gutierrez, Maralit, Pabillo, and Santos; Archbishops Aniceto, Argüelles, Capalla, Cruz, Ledesma, and Villegas; Cardinals Quevedo and Tagle. We thank other bishops unnamed who may be witnessing to life even when no one seems to be watching.

Yet many in the Church have not spoken with such prophetic clarity. Perhaps we are rendered speechless by accusations that the Church herself is sinful, or doing nothing to help the poor or stop the scourge of drugs and crime.

We in the Church will be sinful until the final redemption. However much we do for the poor or the victims of drugs and crime, it will never be enough. But by keeping silence until we have built up drug rehabilitation programs and social service programs and viable alternative solutions that we think will give us the moral ascendancy to speak, we are heaping sin upon sin. To raise our voices against the carnage is not a right that comes from moral ascendancy or better solutions, but an obligation that comes from the mercy of God.

In June 2016, you said to us: “We must all ask ourselves whether or not by our silence … we may have contributed to the proliferation of crime and the increase in criminal activity.” We must ask ourselves now whether or not by our silence we are contributing to the butchery in the streets and poor settlements of our nation. We must ask ourselves whether or not by our silence we are leading the rest of the faithful into perdition, because we have not opposed the voices persuading them that violence is the way to peace and death the way to life. We must ask ourselves whether or not by our silence we are betraying the mercy that the Father has bestowed on us.

With you, our beloved bishops, we cast ourselves wholly upon the Father’s mercy. Continue speaking to us so that together we may discern what this mercy demands of us. Continue praying with us so that together we may have the courage and strength, in this merciless time, to speak and act freely according to our consciences, with the audacious and stubborn mercy of the Father.

Gemma Rita R. Marin is executive director of the John J. Carroll Institute on Church and Social Issues. Fr. Patrick Z. Falguera, SJ, is executive director of Simbahang Lingkod ng Bayan. Dr. Liza L. Lim is executive director of the Institute of Social Order.

First published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer.