Democratic Space | From the Holy Week 2018 fearless Filipinos will arise to transform the country

Holy Week 2018 is a crucial opportunity for radical conversion. Jesus who has suffered so much for us, Filipinos, is inviting us participate in his crucifixion, death and resurrection so that without any fear and hesitation we participate in the transformation of the country.

By FR. PETE MONTALLANA
Bulatlat.com

While waiting for my turn to use a public toilet, a balot vendor friend from the urban community where I live came over and complained to me that he was experiencing chest pains radiating into his whole body. That was the same symptom he felt seven years ago in Saudi when he was hospitalized and a tube inserted into his heart. According to the doctor that tube could last for ten years but my friend suspected that he could have an attack anytime now because he has abused his body with only three hours of sleep daily to be able to support his family.

He has not told his wife about this to keep her from worrying but I insisted that he disclose the matter with her because she would shoulder the burden if anything happened to him. Perhaps together they could discover some solution to his problem. This is indeed a difficult dilemma for my friend. As I watched him go back to his house, I pleaded with the Lord for his healing.

The reality that many of my neighbors endure regularly, the pain of poverty, has kept me focused on the mission of Jesus to bring the Good New to the poor.

Last January this year Oxfam published that the world’s richest 1% get 82 % of the world’s wealth. The Philippines which is so much blessed with natural resources endure the same inequality. Speaking to government officials in 2015 Pope Francis was candid: “Break the bonds of injustice and oppression which give rise to glaring, and indeed scandalous, social inequalities”.

With Church leaders in the Manila Cathedral, he pleaded: “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.”
At UST he talked about being evangelized by the poor. That was three years ago and have we internalized the Pope’s words? It is a resounding no! The situation of the poor has become worse.

We are now at the crossroads of our history when very important decisions have to made for our future, eg. Federalism, the Constitutions, China intrusions, the Supreme Court issue and most especially the Global warming issue which can bring about another much more devastating Yolanda because we refuse to read the signs. We seemed paralyzed by the developments.

Holy Week 2018 is a crucial opportunity for radical conversion. Jesus who has suffered so much for us, Filipinos, is inviting us participate in his crucifixion, death and resurrection so that without any fear and hesitation we participate in the transformation of the country.

Experiencing the Risen Lord we go beyond a faith that is confined to beautiful liturgies and buildings and with a faith-response that focus simply on doles-outs rather than understanding the structural roots of poverty. 30 years ago we had the inspiration from II Plenary Council of the Philippines to establish the Church of the Poor by empowering Basic Ecclesial Communities but that inspiration generally remained well kept in the libraries.

Perhaps we can start now with the Lenten practice to go on “visita Iglesia” (visiting churches). I suggest that we visit the poorer sections of the parish – not bringing dole-outs – but simply listening to the peoples’ stories and experiences – they are the living Church being crucified. We can allow their pain to penetrate our hearts until mercy and compassion is evoked in us and we are led to examine our personal and communal values and structures that have imprisoned the poor.

For instance we have taken advantage of the indigenous people and even now there is a move to totally deprive them of the lands they owned long before our lowland ancestors came.

Realizing how wayward we have been, the merciful Father is just waiting to embrace back his prodigal children this Holy Week and replacing our fears and inadequacies with total commitment for the country.

To everyone from the President down to the barangay personnel and from the Cardinals to the lowly churchgoers the Risen Lord will give to the humble that special strength to walk the path of conversion and to take up the cross daily to transform our country.

Concretely this would mean that believers can experience that mysterious power to stand up and be heard unintimidated by name calling and fake news or even by the guns of state actors or by non-state actors (that is, by the rebels). Like the believers during the Roman Empire who they were not afraid of persecutions, losing jobs, property and even life, the empowered Filipinos will assert justice and truth. They will face the courts from the lowest to the highest levels, whether national and international because “truth will set them free.” Congress will make laws no longer to consolidate their hold on power but to eradicate the structures that enslave the majority of the people to oppressive poverty since colonial times. Public servants are what they are servants of the public who pay them with their taxes.

Perhaps the above might be utopic but the truth is that God is more powerful than the greed for power and wealth. The crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus this 2018 together with people of good will can transform the 100 million Filipinos to bring life to the poor. It starts now with you and me. ()

Fr. Pete Montallana who resides at an urban poor community in Quezon City is the Indigenous Peoples’ Coordinator of the Diocese of Infanta, Quezon and the chairperson of the Save Sierra Madre Network Alliance.

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