A Buddhist monk’s challenge to clergy of all religions – Commentary, Hector Welgampola

Sri Lanka Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe pays respect to Venerable Madoluwave Sobhitha Thero - Ranil Wickremasinghe Facebook Photo.

Sri Lanka Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe pays his last respects to Venerable Madoluwave Sobhitha Thero – Ranil Wickremasinghe Facebook Photo.

“…grassroots-level clergy of all religions should commit themselves to the role Venerable Sobhitha Thero played as mentor and guardian of the people’s conscience. The time has come to take such commitment to apocalyptic fulfillment through an apolitical mass movement…” – Hector Welgampola

2015 was a momentous year in the history of Sri Lanka. It began with a decisive presidential election followed by a significant parliamentary election. The polls led to an unlikely merging of two political teams led by President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe. They were welcomed as implementers of a reform agenda pioneered by a charismatic Buddhist monk– Venerable Madoluwave Sobhitha Thero.

Soon after facilitating such triumph of people power, the king-maker withdrew to his temple, thus providing space and time for the new leaders to implement the program of Good Governance championed by him. However, like émigré who forgot nothing and learned nothing from the French Revolution, many political vermin of all parties lost no time in an eager rush for perks and privileges. While the frustrated prelate was contemplating the next move of his prophetic mission, he fell ill and died, a virtual white martyr in a campaign for social justice.

The new rulers hastened to give a State funeral to the venerable thero whose untimely death is mourned by the entire Nation. Even the Catholic Church held a Nov. 23 memorial in his honor. Eulogizing the prelate’s prophetic self-giving, his close collaborator Father Reid Shelton Fernando reportedly compared the prelate to Prophet Jeremiah. It was an appeal for further pursuit of the prelate’s prophetic commitment of witness to social justice. No doubt a tall order for puny politicians!

The politically dissipated new rulers too have rushed in to recommit to Venerable Sobhitha’s agenda, though emphasis seems to be more on constitutional reform and less on wiping out the endemic cancer of corruption. The Western-style perception of reform as political tinkering has been deep rooted in the psyche of the country’s political establishment. Unfortunately, the momentary dazzle of such political tinsel has often anesthetized the public and distracted their yearning for a moral ethic in politics: a weakness that has riddled the country for centuries.

By coincidence, this year also marks the bicentenary of the political cataclysm of 1815, which has been innocuously recorded as the year when the British completed their capture of then Ceylon. Until recent times, little was spoken of the local political establishment’s connivance in that transfer of power to the colonizers. Much less was highlighted about the polity’s spontaneous protest symbolized by a Buddhist monk courageous enough to rise against the aristocracy’s surrender of a Nation’s self-respect. History records how he pulled down the British flag and re-hoisted the flag of the country’s last independent kingdom.

Venerable Wariyapola Sumangala Thero’s action on behalf of his Nation was the symbolic launch of a people’s political protest that kept struggling in varied forms to survive for over a century. His 1815 protest surfaced and resurfaced in the form of popular riots, rebellions and uprisings in 1818, 1848, 1912 onward. Ultimately, such protests in the public square were hijacked by new rich urban elite seeking respectability of a tame path of constitutional reform to the delight of their colonial masters. 

That contrived process climaxed in the British-style dominion status leading to political independence in 1947. Just as the Nation’s cause of selfhood was nobly pioneered by generations of Buddhist clergy, its blossoming into a popular movement was thwarted by the money-culture- addicted business elite striving to emasculate it into a tool of economic dominance and political control. And from the early years of political independence, the parliamentary system became a forum to entrench family power, and share political spoils based on subtle racist and casteist criteria. That led in no small measure to the uprisings of the post-independence period. We do not need to go down that path again.

This bi-centenary year of the 1815 political upheaval has begun to be marked by still newer waves of constitutional pyrotechnics to divert the Nation’s need for moral reawakening and elimination of corruption at all levels. Political lobbies have proved themselves impotent in fulfilling that momentum perceived by Sobhitha Thero as a prophetic mission. It was part of a grassroots-level spiritual mission nurtured by generations of non-hierarchical Buddhist clergy including more recent plebian-allied prelates such as Venerable Heenatiyana Dhammaloka Thero, Venerable Yakkaduwe Pragnarama Thero and Venerable Siri Seevli Thero.

If that mission of apolitical social engagement is not to be frittered away, grassroots-level clergy of all religions should commit themselves to the role Venerable Sobhitha Thero played as mentor and guardian of the people’s conscience. The time has come to take such commitment to apocalyptic fulfillment through an apolitical mass movement.

Veteran Asian Church journalist Hector Welgampola from Sri Lanka has retired as Executive Editor of the former Union of Catholic Asian News (UCAN) based in Hong Kong, then Bangkok. Before UCAN, Hector headed editorial teams of newspapers in Sri Lanka. Since retiring Hector has lived in Australia with his wife, Rita. He authored the resource book Asian Church Glossary and Stylebook.

Veteran Asian Church journalist Hector Welgampola from Sri Lanka has retired as Executive Editor of the former Union of Catholic Asian News (UCAN) based in Hong Kong, then Bangkok. Before UCAN, Hector headed editorial teams of newspapers in Sri Lanka. Since retiring Hector has lived in Australia with his wife, Rita. He authored the resource book Asian Church Glossary and Stylebook.

Myanmar Cardinal Bo calls for fair, free polls , lists voting guidelines – full text

Cardinal Charles Maung Bo of Yangon is urging voters to choose candidates and parties that promote a culture of democracy, human rights and reconciliation during the Nov. 8 general election.

The country’s first general elections since the establishment of nominal civilian rule in 2011 ended nearly 50 years of military rule will vote in members of parliament that will select the country’s president.

Cardinal Bo , 66 year-old Archbishop of Yangon, is the first cardinal created from his country where 16 dioceses provide pastoral care for some 800,000 Catholics comprising an estimated 1.44 percent of Myanmar’s total population.  Ordained a Salesian priest, he is known internationally for his many efforts, including his work with ethnic minorities and for peace.

Cardinal Bo issued his written appeal with guidelines for choosing candidates on Sept. 24. The full text of the document sent to Catholic In Asia follows…

DOCUMENT: A Fervent Plea for Fair and Free Election

From Charles Cardinal Maung Bo, Yangon!

Five years ago, the dawn of hope broke forth in the parched lands of despair. After decades of sacrifice of blood and tears, my Myanmar Brothers and Sisters tasted democracy. Termed ‘controlled democracy’ by our rulers, that dawn brought encouraging changes. People who have walked in darkness saw the light. It was not perfect democracy but the fledgling democracy brought forth a stream of hope in the hearts of our country men and women. Democracy is a process. So through this appeal I call upon the rulers and the people to make the forthcoming election a true exercise in democracy. But democracy is a long and arduous journey. The rulers and the ruled need mutual accompaniment in this journey. Democracy has won our people’s heart and mind. The surging enthusiasm for elections reflects our people’s desire for peace and prosperity- making this nation once more the Golden land.

Voting is a fundamental right in a democracy. The primary duty bearer of this responsibility is the Election Commission. Most of the vibrant democracies in the world are fortified by the strong resolve of the Election Commission. Voter education, enrollment of all in the electoral roll, a ruthless adherence to neutrality, a strong inclusive approach and a commitment to transparency are some of the expectations from our people of the Election Commission. Our earnest desire is that Election commission rises up to this challenge.

Candidates from various political parties have exhibited great desire to serve the nation. Mutual respect and consideration for the candidates from minority groups and ethnic parties will promote long term peace. Inducements and threats of civilians, use of force will be a death knell to democracy. Let your election manifestos speak for themselves. Let your people friendly policies attract the people to vote for you. Not strong arm methods.

This is a rainbow nation of colorful tribes and great religions. Manipulating sectarian sentiments would send this country to dark ages. Let religions heal, not wound. Kindly avoid vote bank politics. The principle protagonists are the citizens in this election. In a democracy the voter is the King. But they have a moral responsibility to go to the booth and elect their candidates. To dispel the darkness of fifty years, everyone should hold his or her vote as the light that challenges that darkness.

Democracy is a sacred duty. We forsake that at our own peril. Every vote counts. So please fulfill your sacred duty in this election. Please go to the booth. Vote for the candidates of your choice. Being a religious leader, I have no commands to anyone, but as one deeply interested in the welfare of ALL Myanmar people, let me express my desire to see voting done on the following guidelines: Vote Candidates and Parties who have:

1. the ability to stop the half a century long civil war pave the way for national reconciliation and peace.
2. the ability to work with due respect with different ethnic groups and religions of the nation.
3. the ability to safeguard the country’s nature and natural resources, protecting our forests and not selling our sacred rivers and resources to foreign powers. (e.g. stop the Myitsone Dam Project and Protect our forest)
4. the ability to promote the comprehensive development of our children and youth, creating employment opportunities,
5. the ability to protect the land right of the farmers and facilitate access to market and greater agriculture production,
6. the ability to ensure an inclusive economic system that is beneficial especially to the vulnerable rather than to a handful of unscrupulous profit oriented destroyers
7. the ability to respect for the role of women in the decision making process of the nation and work for development of women
8. the ability to develop an empowering education system of the nation, seeking collaboration from local and foreign academic experts, decentralizing education to benefit of all especially ethnic groups, allowing cultural and religious groups to educate their children.
9. the ability to make this nation a healthy nation through investment in health especially for women and children.
10. the ability to promote a culture of democracy that proactively promotes human rights, media freedom.

Election is a great window of opportunity to this nation. Peace and prosperity are the fruits of free and fair election. Myanmar waits for its date with destiny. Let us pray that let the dark days of despair become a distant thought. Let peace and justice flow like a river, bringing joy and happiness to all the people of this great nation.

Issued By
Charles Maung Bo., DD
Cardinal – Yangon, Myanmar

Document : Philippines Catholic bishops speak out on homosexuality, legalization of same sex unions


Manila – Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) in its latest pastoral statement expressed “motherly compassion and paternal love” for people experiencing homosexual attraction while urging those who find themselves sexually attracted to the same sex to remain chaste.

Asserting that same sex  attraction is not a sin, the bishops explained why homosexual acts arising from such attraction are considered to be “objectively disordered” and “sins gravely contrary to chastity”. They offered guidelines for Filipino Catholics’ response to legalized same sex “marriage” in various countries, underscoring the practice of mercy and compassion while upholding Catholic values and guiding the youth through confusing situations.

Following is the full text of Aug. 28 statement sent to Catholic in Asia from the CBCP president’s office…


A Pastoral Response to the Acceptance of Homosexual Lifestyle
And the Legalization of Homosexual Unions

The Nature of Marriage in the Divine Plan

The creation narratives at the beginning of Sacred Scripture reveal that God made human beings in His image and likeness. He created them male and female, equal in dignity but not identical nor interchangeable.

He made one explicitly for the other – “It is not good that the man should be alone” (RSV, Gen. 2:18)1 – equal as persons, not alike but complementary. So that in relating to each other, as male and female, one would complete the other as two halves coming together to be whole.

This complementarity between man and woman, as St. Pope John Paul II has pointed out, is observed and affirmed at the biological, emotional, psychological, and spiritual levels. But it is most manifest primarily in and through the union of two complementary bodies, male and female.

“The body, which through its own masculinity or femininity right from the beginning helps both (man and woman) to find themselves in communion of persons, becomes, in a particular way, the constituent element of their union, when they become husband and wife.”2

Simply put, human beings, created by God as either male or female, are meant to complement each other in a union of the two intended from their creation. And human sexuality, characterized as distinctly masculine or feminine, is ordered by nature towards that union, of one specifically with the other.

Having created man and woman, Scripture continues, God instituted marriage as the form of life in which the complementarity of man and woman would be fulfilled and perfected. “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24).

And as it is ordered or directed to the union of man and woman, human sexuality is also ordered towards the procreation and education of children. It is in and through the conjugal union that God has willed to give man and woman a share in His work of creation: “Be fruitful and multiply” (Gen. 1:28).

In the Creator’s plan we see, therefore, that sexual complementarity and fruitfulness belong to the very nature of marriage. In other words, marriage by its very nature and intention is unitive and procreative.

Marriage is also the form of life best suited for the flourishing of children. As St. Thomas Aquinas explained, human children need, not only nourishment for their bodies, but also education for their souls. This they acquire best, according to St. Thomas, when they have both parents – father and mother, male and female – as their teachers and role models.3

The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains: “The intimate community of life and love which constitutes the married state has been established by the Creator and endowed by him with its own proper laws. . . . God himself is the author of marriage.”4

In sum, the Catholic Church teaches that marriage is the institution established by God for the foundation of the family: “The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring; this covenant between baptized persons has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament.”5

In other words, God created human beings as male and female, complementary and specifically for each other, and ordered or directed towards union and procreation that are intended to be fulfilled and perfected in marriage.

The Nature of Homosexuality in the Created Order

Created either male or female, and by their masculine or feminine sexuality thus directed towards union with the other who complements them, men and women are naturally drawn and relate to each other in this order.

There are some men and women, however, often through no fault of their own, who find themselves sexually attracted to individuals of the same sex.6

A comprehensive explanation for same-sex attraction or homosexual tendencies and inclinations remains elusive to this day, but research undertaken within various branches of science and medicine at various levels indicate that male and female homosexuality, though different in character, have both biological and environmental causes.

Sexual attraction towards the same sex is not a sin. But it is, in the light of our understanding of marriage, objectively disordered – in the sense that it is not ordered towards the union of male and female in a relationship of natural complementarity.

Homosexual acts or practices that may arise from such attraction, although they may proceed from and be motivated by genuine affection between two persons of the same sex, are similarly not ordered to the union of the two persons and to the procreation of children.

Because they are not unitive and procreative – the distinct qualities of a complementary union of man and woman in marriage – homosexual acts or practices are “contrary to the natural law”7. Hence, they are, from the perspective of natural law, gravely disordered and considered “sins gravely contrary to chastity”.8

The Catholic Church acknowledges that the number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies could be more than we think and that this inclination “constitutes for most of them, a trial.”9

The Catholic Church looks at her children who have deep seated homosexual attraction with motherly compassion and paternal love, even as she reminds them that in cultures that have lost sight of the richness and diversity of friendships that enhance the human condition, those who struggle with homosexuality are called to witness to the life-giving nature of virtue-based friendships not ordered to sexual acts.

Those who find themselves sexually attracted to others of the same sex are called to develop chaste friendships with both men and women.

The Church certainly recognizes that like all growth in virtue, this challenge is a difficult one that will require a robust supernatural life that is radically open to the grace and mercy of God. Frequent recourse to the sacraments of penance and the Holy Eucharist is a necessary condition for growth in holiness.

The Social Reality of Homosexual Unions

Over the past few years, in an increasing number of countries, including traditionally Catholic countries, homosexual unions have been granted legal recognition equal to that of marriage.

In our understanding of God’s creation of man and woman in complementarity and in His establishment of marriage, however, there are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and the family.10 A homosexual union is not and can never be a marriage as properly understood and so-called.

In response to this emerging social reality and for the guidance of the faithful, therefore, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith instructs:

In those situations where homosexual unions have been legally recognized or have been given the legal status and rights belonging to marriage, clear and emphatic opposition is a duty. One must refrain from any kind of formal cooperation in the enactment or application of such gravely unjust laws and, as far as possible, from material cooperation on the level of their application. In this area, everyone can exercise the right to conscientious objection.11

Concretely, this means that Catholics cannot participate in any way or even attend religious or legal ceremonies that celebrate and legitimize homosexual unions. Understandably, this will be a particularly heavy cross for families that have been touched by homosexuality. The Church reaches out with compassion to these families whose loved ones have entered into such unions.

In countries where homosexual unions have not been legalized – a vast majority of countries worldwide, including the Philippines – Catholics are called to give witness to the whole moral truth about human sexuality, which is contradicted “both by approval of homosexual acts and the unjust discrimination against homosexual persons.”12

Moreover, Catholics are called to resist all attempts to normalize homosexual behavior and homosexual unions in their culture.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith also recommends the following actions that may be effective in societies that may begin to manifest an inclination to legalize homosexual unions:

• Unmasking the way in which such tolerance [of homosexual unions] might be exploited or used in the service of ideology;
• Stating clearly the immoral nature of these unions;
• Reminding the government of the need to contain the phenomenon within certain limits so as to safeguard public morality and, above all, to avoid exposing young people to erroneous ideas about sexuality and marriage that would deprive them of their necessary defenses and contribute to the spread of the phenomenon.13

Catholics are called to oppose all gravely unjust laws that contravene both divine law and natural law – including all laws that legalize homosexual unions – because these unjust laws pervert and undermine the common good.

They are at the same time called, perhaps even more so in societies that legally recognize homosexual unions, to be charitable to every single homosexual person they know.

In particular, families with members who struggle with homosexuality are called to love them unconditionally, thereby outlasting all their other same-sex loves. This love, however, must be a love in truth that avoids praising, consenting to, or defending the so-called “homosexual lifestyle.”

Finally, given their unique vocation, Catholic politicians are obliged to oppose the legal recognition of homosexual unions in a particularly vigorous way. When legislation in favor of this recognition is first proposed, the Catholic lawmaker has a moral duty to express his opposition clearly and publicly and to vote against it. “To vote in favor of a law so harmful to the common good is gravely immoral.” 14

And, in countries where legislation in favor of homosexual unions is already in force, the Catholic lawmaker must try to obtain at least the partial repeal of the unjust law when its total abrogation is not possible at the moment.15

Arguments Against the Legalization of Homosexual Unions

Marriage is a social institution that has been granted privileges and benefits by the state because it is an institution of the natural law that contributes to the common good in a way that no other relationship can, i.e., the procreation and education of children.

Marriage binds a man and a woman together for life so that the offspring of their union would have the experience and benefit of the complementary male and female presence in their total development.

Homosexual unions, on the other hand, do not have the basic biological and anthropological elements of marriage and family. They are not able to contribute in a proper way to the procreation and survival of the human race16, and thus it would be an injustice to grant them legal recognition along with the same benefits and privileges accorded to marriage.

Neither can this injustice be mitigated by allowing homosexual couples to either adopt children or use artificial reproductive technologies to engender them. Such actions would intentionally deprive these children of the experience of fatherhood or of motherhood that they would need to develop and flourish, not only as human persons, but as persons living in a gendered society where socialization involves the learning of gendered social norms.

This too would be a grave injustice, especially in light of the principle, “recognized by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, that the best interests of the child, as the weaker and more vulnerable party, are to be the paramount consideration in every case.”17

It would likewise be unjust if homosexual unions were granted privileges and benefits identical to those of marriages because this act would redefine marriage, making it “an institution devoid of essential reference to factors [that are necessarily] linked to heterosexuality; for example, procreation and raising children.”18

Responding to Arguments for the Legalization of Homosexual Unions

In any debate that runs current to a proposal to legalize homosexual unions, four major arguments have been and will continue to be advanced.

The following enumeration and discussion is presented for the understanding and enlightenment of Catholics seeking appropriate responses to such arguments.

1. To deny homosexual unions the legal status of marriage is to unjustly discriminate against homosexual persons who simply wish to express their love and commitment to their same-sex partners as heterosexual spouses do.

The Catholic response: Distinguishing between persons or refusing social recognition or benefits to specific individuals or groups of individuals is immoral only when it is contrary to justice. Marriage is more than just the mutual affirmation one’s love and commitment to a beloved. This is why the state regulates and licenses marriage in a way that it does not regulate other types of friendship, which to some degree, all involve the mutual affirmation of love and commitment between and among friends – because only marriage can naturally and directly contribute children and a stable environment for the raising of those children, to the common good.

Denying homosexual unions the social and legal status of marriage simply affirms that these unions, as well as other non-marital unions similar to them, are not equivalent to marriage because they cannot give society what marriages can give. This is not opposed to justice. On the contrary, justice demands it.19

2. Homosexual unions should be legally recognized because individuals, whether they are heterosexual or homosexual, should have the right to do whatever they want to, if doing so does not hurt or impinge upon the freedom of others.

The Catholic response: As the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith explains, it is one thing for individual persons to freely engage in their private activities, and another very different thing for them to demand that the state sanction these activities, especially when they would harm the common good.

This would be the case if homosexual unions were legally recognized.20

Rightly respecting individual autonomy does not mean that society has to do everything that an autonomous individual demands that it do.

3. Homosexual unions should be legally recognized because they are occasions for virtue, and as such, are good for society. There are many instances where same-sex couples have clearly grown in virtue, for example, the virtues of patience, forgiveness, and generosity, in and through their efforts to build a life together.

The Catholic response: It may be true that homosexual unions, in certain cases, may be occasions for the growth of imperfect natural virtue. However, this alone would not be a reason for granting them the legal status of marriage, because they still do not and cannot contribute to the common good in the same way that marriages do.

Moreover, the Catholic Church has the obligation to remind same-sex couples that natural virtue is insufficient for salvation and for the eternal beatitude to which everyone is called. Only the supernatural virtues are salvific.

4. Marriage as a social institution has evolved and changed numerous times over the course of human history to accommodate the needs of a particular society and culture. Thus, marriage should evolve once more to accommodate our contemporary notions of human sexuality that recognize the fluidity not only of gender identities but also of sexual orientations.

The Catholic response: The truth about marriage, i.e., that it is a social institution ordered towards the life-long union of a man and a woman and the procreation and education of their children, is attainable by human reason.

However, given fallen human nature, especially given the interior disarray of our carnal desires that obscures our intellect, it is a truth that is often hard to grasp, and only after a long time, and with the admixture of many errors.

Not surprisingly, therefore, there has been and will continue to be throughout history, much confusion about the nature of marriage. Nonetheless, error is not a reason to abandon truth.

A Pastoral Response to the Legalization of Homosexual Unions

In societies that have legalized homosexual unions and in societies that are inclined to grant homosexual unions legal status, the Catholic Church is called, like her Lord did in his own time, to preach the good and saving news of marriage, by turning once again to God’s plan “in the beginning,” especially as it has been taught in the papal magisterium of Pope St. John Paul II in his Theology of the Body.

To the Catholic people and to other Christian believers, the Catholic Church is called to renew her efforts to catechize the faithful about the true nature of creation and marriage. This is especially urgent for our young people who may be led into error and doubt by those social movements that want to normalize homosexuality and to legalize homosexual unions.

For the Filipino people, we the Catholic bishops will be publishing a short catechism that specifically responds in simple language to the most common questions and objections raised by critics of the Church’s teaching on marriage and homosexual unions. Notably, however, we also acknowledge that the confusion surrounding the true nature of marriage cannot be driven out of the culture without the penance, prayer, and fasting of God’s holy people (cf. Mk. 9:29).

To families with members who struggle with homosexuality and who are tempted to ostracize their sons and daughters, the Catholic Church is called to preach mercy as her Lord did, without forgetting that the mercy of Jesus is always accompanied by his challenge to the woman caught in adultery that “from now on, do not sin again” (Jn. 8:11).

For the Filipino people, we the Catholic bishops consider addressing the familial shame that is experienced by Filipino families touched by homosexuality. It is a shame that needs to be redeemed in Christ through the intercession of Mary, the Mother of God.

Finally, and most importantly, to homosexual individuals who are tempted either to pride or to despair, the Catholic Church is called to preach the power of grace through prayer and Holy Communion, and the mercy of Jesus Christ through the sacrament of penance.

It is Jesus Christ, and he alone, who can heal every broken human heart that yearns for unconditional love and authentic friendship. It is Jesus Christ, and he alone, who faithfully accompanies the homosexual person from grace unto glory.

From the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, August 28, 2015

CBCP 2015 Archbishop Villegas NJ Viehland
Archbishop of Lingayen Dagupan
President, Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines

1 Catechism of the Catholic Church, §1605.
2 Pope John Paul II, “Marriage, One and Indissoluble in the First Chapters of Genesis,” General Audience, November 21, 1979, Vatican City.
3 St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles III-II.122.8.
4 Vatican II, Gaudium et spes, 48 §1. (cf. CCC, §1603)
5 Codex Iuris Canonici, can. 1055 § 1; cf. Gaudium et spes, 48 § 1.
6 In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in 2014 that 1.6% of the U.S. population identify themselves as gay, lesbian, and that 0.7% consider themselves bisexual. For details, see Ward et al., “Sexual Orientation and Health Among U.S. Adults: National Health Interview Survey, 2013,” National Health Statistics Reports Number 77, July 15, 2014.
7 Catechism of the Catholic Church, §2357.
8 Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, “Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons, June 3, 2003,” §4.
9 Catechism of the Catholic Church, §2358.
10 Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, “Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons, June 3, 2003,” §4.
11 Ibid, §5.
12 Ibid.
13 Ibid.
14 Ibid., §10.
15 Ibid.
16 Ibid., §7.
17 Ibid.
18 Ibid., §8.
19 Ibid.
20 Ibid.

Why CBCP “welcomes” UN Climate Change Conference 2015 [Document]

Farmers, Philippines - By Ed Gerlock [Published with permission] edgerlock@yahoo.com.ph

Farmers, Philippines – By Ed Gerlock [Published with permission] edgerlock@yahoo.com.ph


CBCP on the Climate Change Issue

In December, 2015, the nations of the world will gather at Le Bourget in Paris for the United Nations Climate Change Conference.  The representatives of the state-parties will endeavor to arrive at legally binding measures addressing the pressing challenge of climate-change.  From a broader perspective, the Paris Negotiations will be a welcome attempt to reach a consensus on responsibility for the future of the Earth and for generations yet to come.  It is not some futuristic matter with which state representatives and negotiators will be concerned, but with nothing less than social justice.

Climate Change Action is an Issue of Social Justice

The social encyclicals of the Church have referred to social justice as that part of justice that guarantees that all social classes and groups are benefited by the resources of earth and of society, and are advantaged equitably from the progress of nations.  Concern with the despoliation of the ecosystem and the deleterious disturbance of that delicate balance of everything that constitutes the human environment has brought home the point that social justice must, of necessity, include our responsibility for future generations.

Laguna,NJ Viehland

Farmer’s daughter plays in Laguna coffee farm, NJ Viehland Photos

Pope Francis’ celebrated encyclical, Laudato Si, anticipates the Paris Conference and urges Catholics and Christians to be passionate about the environment and with the concerns that will be taken up at Le Bourget.  It is a Christian obligation to be concerned with ecology and with climate change as a direct consequence of the moral concept of STEWARDSHIP and a concomitant of Christian charity.  All persons of goodwill must train their eyes on Paris, and by collective and communitarian action, make the issues that will be there discussed, the issues and concerns of all, for in truth, caring about climate change and its deleterious and devastating effects on all, but especially on impoverished and struggling nations and communities, is our way of attending to the needs of the least of our brothers and sisters; it is how, today, we must wash each others’ feet.

Marikina, NJ Viehland

Flooding in Marikina City during the monsoon, NJ Viehland Photos

Laudato Si teaches us that the core of the matter of climate change is justice.

The notion of the common good also extends to future generations. The global economic crises have made painfully obvious the detrimental effects of disregarding our common destiny, which cannot exclude those who come after us. We can no longer speak of sustainable development apart from intergenerational solidarity. Once we start to think about the kind of world we are leaving to future generations, we look at things differently; we realize that the world is a gift which we have freely received and must share with others. Since the world has been given to us, we can no longer view reality in a purely utilitarian way, in which efficiency and productivity are entirely geared to our individual benefit. Intergenerational solidarity is not optional, but rather a basic question of justice, since the world we have received also belongs to those who will follow us. The Portuguese bishops have called upon us to acknowledge this obligation of justice: “The environment is part of a logic of receptivity. It is on loan to each generation, which must then hand it on to the next”.  An integral ecology is marked by this broader vision.” (Laudato Si, 159)

Climate Change Issue is an Intergenerational Responsibility

Quite significantly the Supreme Court of the Philippines in that case that has now become a classic in environmental law — Oposa v. Factoran — already characterized concerns of this category as matters of “intergenerational responsibility”.

We are not owners of the earth. We are its stewards, to keep and cherish and nurture its resources not only for ourselves but for future generations.  The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines has not been remiss in its duty of instructing the faithful on the matter of the environment. We were honored when the Holy Father cited one of our letters in Laudato Si.

Pastoral Formation on the Climate Change Issues

We your bishops commit to organize symposia and conferences on the issues that will be taken up at the Paris around of the climate change negotiations, as desired by Pope Francis. Meaningful participation and debate are premised on sound information and adequate knowledge. In these matters it is part of moral responsibility to inform oneself.

But more direct and immediate action can and should also be taken. Our parishes and Basic Ecclesial Communities can make, as the theme of their collective discernment, situations in the locality that scientists have found to be contributory to deleterious changes in the environment as well as to the disruption of the ecosystem. Mining, incineration and landfills are among the local concerns that immediately come to mind. Here, advocacy of Church communities in behalf of the common good should influence policy makers and translate itself into community action as well.

Climate change has brought about suffering for nations, communities and peoples.  It is that kind of suffering that, in the words of Benedict XVI’s Deus Caritas Est “cries out for consolation and help”. (n. 28) When they who are in need cry out, it is not an option to respond.  It is an obligation.

From the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, July 20, 2015

Archbishop Socrates Villegas. - NJ Viehland Photos

 -NJ Viehland Photos


Archbishop of Lingayen Dagupan

President, Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines


Mother Teresa of Calcutta successor, Sister Nirmala, dies

MC, NJ Viehland

MC sisters join Lament service in Paco Church, Manila,2013. – NJ Viehland Photos

Sister Nirmala Joshi, who had succeeded Mother Teresa as the Superior General of the Missionaries of Charity in 1997  passed away around midnight June 23. She was 80.

The nun has been suffering from a heart ailment, The Indian Express reported.  Her remains will be kept at the Missionaries of Charity headquarters in Kolkata until her funeral on June 25 afternoon.

The Missionaries of Charity under Sister Mary Prema Pierick’s lead since 2009 continue to care for the homeless and dying in Kolkata. The congregation that began as a small community with 12 members in Calcutta currently has over 4,500 Sisters running orphanages, AIDS hospices, charity centres worldwide, and caring for refugees, the blind, disabled, aged, alcoholics, the poor and homeless and victims of floods, epidemics and famine in Asia, Africa, Latin America, North America, Europe and Australia.

After Pope Paul VI granted in 1965 Mother Teresa’s request to expand her congregation to other countries it established its first house outside India in Venezuela. Others followed in Rome and Tanzania, and eventually in many countries in Asia, Africa, and Europe, including Albania.

The first home of the Missionaries of Charity in the United States was established in the South Bronx, New York. In the USA, the Missionaries of Charity are affiiated with the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious, a body of female religious, representing 20 percent of American nuns.

By 1996, the congregation was operating 517 missions in more than 100 countries. Today, more than one million co-workers and donations from ordinary people reportedly support the group.

In the Philippines mission, 53 foreigners and 50 Filipinas are among some 138 members a Catholic Directory published by Claretian Publications reports.. Six are contemplative sisters. Some 116 Filipinas are serving abroad, and the rest care for sick and malnourished children and destitute adults in centers located in five archdiocese and eight dioceses around the country.



Ecology encyclical and “far away” Churches – Commentary, Hector Welgampola 

Ecology encyclical presents collegial wisdom of “far away” Churches

Hector Welgampola

Laudato Si cover

Full text here


Quite unsurprisingly, Laudato Si (Praise be to you), has taken the world by storm. Its content and ecclesial nuances have taken a definitive stand for the welfare of all forms of planetary life.  

As the most recent social encyclical, it is a groundbreaker, even though categorized with Rerum Novarum and other seminal documents of Catholic social doctrine. And those documents dealt mostly with issues that concerned the Western hemisphere. Like other encyclicals, they too were addressed to bishops and other Church leaders, although their salutations did often include a mention of “ to all men and women of good will.”  

As instruments of the Church’s teaching authority, they were grounded in the Scriptures and Tradition. An occasional mention of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as in Saint John Paul’s Centesimus Annus was an exception. Dante’s Divine Comedy was quoted by the same pope in his encyclical Redemptoris Mater. Apart from following suit quoting Dante, Pope Francis’s Laudato Si also quotes Patriarch Bartholomew and Sufi mystic Ali Al Khawas as well. 

But there is much more to the new encyclical than its content and genre of documentation.While wading through traditional gateways of encyclicaling, Pope Francis new encyclical makes a subtle shift.While inviting all humanity to a dialogue about our shared home, the document engages the wider Church in a new dimension of ecclesial magisterium. That futuristic move once more reiterates the Holy Father’s prophetic streak as an innovator.   

As noted earlier, in response to varied needs and circumstances, encyclicals have grown as instruments of papal teaching. Especially in more recent times, they have tended to articulate the primacy of the Petrine office as supreme teaching authority.It is no surprise that Pope Francis, who prefers collegial consultation to authoritarian imposition, should see a need to broadbase the paradigm of encyclicaling. In a Spirit-led move, the innovative pope has reached out to the people of God worldwide for the wisdom of the “diaspora” Churches. And beyond doubt, the Spirit must hover over him. 

Especially, as a product of Puebla, Medellin and Aparecide, the Holy Father would fail Churches worldwide if this encyclical put a lid on his home Church’s passion for the environment. After all, how could that document ignore the pain of a continent raped and plundered by industrial conglomerates? Apart from reflecting the thinking of Aparecide, the document refers to statements by Bolivian, Brazilian, Dominican, Mexican, Paraguayan and Patagonian bishops.  

These and other agonies of oppressed peoples have been cited from Africa too. In particular, the pope had not forgotten the African outcry against corrupting foreign aid heard at the recent Synod. Asian voices from the FABC (Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences) and countries like Japan and the Philippines have been enhanced by echoes from Churches in Australia, Canada, Germany, New Zealand and the United States. 

This encyclical will go down in Church history as a genuine effort to integrate voices and values of the worldwide Church. And as the Spirit discerns, may it help evolve a collegial magisterium that resonates the pastoral wisdom and catholicity animating God’s people at the grassroots worldwide. 

Hector Welgampola

Veteran Asian Church journalist Hector Welgampola from Sri Lanka has retired as Executive Editor of the former Union of Catholic Asian News (UCAN) based in Hong Kong, then Bangkok. Before UCAN, Hector headed editorial teams of newspapers in Sri Lanka. Since retiring Hector has lived in Australia with his wife, Rita. He authored the resource book Asian Church Glossary and Stylebook.



Filipino farmer’s son, computer chipset designer

Filipino Farmer's son Dado Banatao computer chips inventor

Diosdado “Dado” Banatao, Jr., son of a farmer in northern Philippines Cagayan Valley grew up in a barrio where there were no telephones and electricity. He learned math using bamboo sticks. He is now an engineer.  He studied in the United States and reportedly designed the first chipset used in every computer today. He also co-founded three companies: S3, Chips & Technologies and Mostron. 

Click on the image to hear him tell  you his story.

“My story could be your story,” he tells fellow Filipinos.

Cagayan Valley is under the pastoral care of the Archdiocese of Tuguegarao.

Why every Christian must exercise right to vote – CBCP President

Elections and the duty of every Christian

By Archbishop Socrates Villegas

CSMS anthem by NJ Viehland

It is not difficult to feel the election fever — even if the 2016 elections are still so (many) months away. It has always been complained that the efforts of the Church and other non-political groups to educate voters come too late. It is the reason for this letter, this early — so that it may never be again said that we spoke too late.

The exercise of the right of suffrage is not only a political right. It is also a moral obligation. For the Christian it is one of the most meaningful and effective means of contributing to the flourishing of the Kingdom of God, a kingdom of justice, peace and love. And so while politicians plan and strategize, and, this early, find ways of circumventing the law against premature campaigning, the Church cannot be remiss in its obligation of forming the consciences of Catholic and Christian voters.

Vote for the right reasons. Vote, not because you have been paid, or promised bounty, not because you or your relatives have been promised employment or privilege but because you trust a person to lead the community and to lead the country. Just as the discerning voter will not be easily won over by all the flattery in favor of one candidate, neither should a voter allow ‘demolition jobs’ to dissuade him from choosing a person who is truly fit for office.

Reject the notoriously corrupt, but neither should one readily jump on the bandwagon of condemnation in the absence of incontrovertible evidence, for, these days, one’s reputation, so painstakingly built by sincerity and honesty over the years, can so easily be tarnished by the truly evil work of “spin-doctors” in the payroll of one or the other political aspirant!

End political dynasties. Do not vote for family members running for the same positions as family members before them to perpetrate the family’s hold on public office. When it is clear that one politician clings to public office, seeking election to some other position after he has run the length of the permissible number of terms in one elective office, the Christian voter should prudently choose others who may have equal if not superior abilities and competencies for the position. There is no monopoly on ability for government, and truly no one in government is indispensable!

Ask the right questions as basis of your selection among candidates. Do not demand to know of a congressman or a senator what his or her local projects have been. Legislators are not supposed to have local projects. They are supposed to legislate, to attend congressional sessions, rise to debate and actively take part in committee hearings. Ask, rather, whether or not they have attended the sessions of the Lower House or of the Senate diligently and regularly. On the other hand, do not make ‘kapit sa taas’ a criterion for the choice of local elective officials, because a local official leads by his own charisma and leadership skills. We reject a government by patronage!

A person who aspires for high office but who, because of inexperience, will be totally dependent on advisers is not the best possible candidate for national positions, but we should be willing to repose trust on those who, we are convinced, are capable of leading and of serving with probity, high above suspicion and with skill, competence and wisdom that comes from abiding faith. That a person is a firm believer, and that he or she practices her faith should be a crucial consideration for the Catholic voter.

Every vote a Christian casts is not only an instance of the exercise of those liberties and rights we have as free citizens. Because the Kingdom of God is God’s gift, inaugurated, as Lumen Gentium teaches, in the world by the life, ministry, death and Resurrection of Jesus, The Lord, we are commissioned to do what is within our ability to make God’s Kingdom a living experience for all of his people. And a vote wisely and virtuously cast is a fulfillment of that commission!

CBCP 2015 Archbishop Villegas NJ Viehland

Archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan
President, Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines

Refugees — The ‘Anawim’ of the Lord Today – Bishops’ Conference President


Decades ago, the Philippines was host to the “boat people”, hundreds if not thousands of Vietnamese fleeing their homeland, following the fall of what was then called Saigon.  Our country then served as some kind of a way-station, because our Vietnamese guests soon found their way to other parts of the globe.  One of them, in fact, rose through the ranks of ecclesiastical academe to become dean of theology at one of Rome’s Pontifical Universities.  It was a glorious chapter in our history, and we thank God that many of our priests and religious received the privilege of serving them.

Once more, refugees in flimsy boats, are making their way to our shores,  having endured appalling conditions aboard these vessels.  Doubtlessly, many lost their lives in the attempt to find some haven.  They navigate into our waters tired, famished, desperate — many of them carrying the dead bodies of their children in their arms. 

It is however a saddening fact that some countries in our Southeast Asian region have turned these refugees away, refusing them the comfort of even just a temporary stay. Ironically, the countries that turn refugees away view with each other for tourists and investors!  In many instances, coast guard and naval patrol vessels tow these boats, brimming over with their load of our hungry, sick and desperate brothers and sisters back to the high seas, there to face the elements, and often, sadly, to perish!

The Pontifical Council “Cor Unum” has passed on our moral obligation in respect to refugees:

Progress in the capacity to live together within the universal human family is closely linked to the growth of a mentality of hospitality. Any person in danger who appears at a frontier has a right to protection. In order to make it easier to determine why such people have abandoned their country, as well as to adopt lasting solutions, a renewed commitment is needed to produce internationally acceptable norms for territorial asylum.(9) Such an attitude facilitates the search for common solutions and undercuts the validity of certain positions, sometimes put forward, that would limit acceptance and the granting of the right of asylum to the sole criterion of national interest. (n. 10)

While it may be true that there is no legal obligation on the part of the Republic of the Philippines or that of any other country to grant asylum to every refugee or displaced person, there is a moral obligation to protect them from the harm they flee from.  There is a legal obligation not to forcibly repatriate them.  And by all precepts of morality and decency, there is an obligation not to leave them to the  mercilessness of the elements on the high seas.

In the Old Testament one of the sternest commands God gave his people was to treat the stranger with mercy and compassion because, God reminded his people, “you too were once strangers in the Land of Egypt.”  If anything at all, the plight of displaced persons and refugees makes clear to us how the artificial boundaries that we establish between ourselves — principally geographical and political boundaries — can in fact become barriers to that hospitality towards the other that makes us human, that marks us out as sons and daughters of an ever-welcoming Father.

We laud our government for its attitude of hospitality towards refugees, even as we urge other nations in the region, in the name of our common humanity and the common Father we recognize, to allow these refugees succor and assistance.  For while our own economic resources may not allow us to to welcome every migrant as a permanent resident of our country, still there is always room for the weary and burdened to rest on our shores before they continue on their journey.

Once, our land was resplendent not only because of tourist spots and destinations, but because we welcomed refugees with the hospitality that has made us famous the world over.  God gives us this chance once more to bind the wounds of body and spirit, warm the hearts and embrace in solidarity our brothers and sisters who come to us from troubled lands.  Let the Philippines be a place where they can dream of a future of promise, possibly in other lands and where helping hands and generous hearts may make their dreams come true.

CBCP 2015 Archbishop Villegas NJ Viehland

   Archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan
   President, CBCP

Religious sisters and other communities in Nepal shift to earthquake relief

Sisters of Charity of Nazareth are among 15 women religious congregations, most of them based in India, engaged in various ministries in Nepal. They have all survived the quake and have joined relief work.

Jose Kavi, editor of mattersindia.com , reports that the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth and other religious communities in Nepal have shifted their earthquake response to relief. The India-based website publishes news and information on Church in South Asia 

What exactly are the Nazareth Sisters doing and who are other India-based communities of religious women who were serving in Nepal when the 7.9-magnitude earthquake shook the country on April 25 killing more than 5,000 people? 

This story and photos on Global Sisters Report



“Why are you frightened…weeping?” – Tagle Easter message

Paco, Lament,NJ Viehland

Prayers of lament, San Fernando de Dilao Church, Paco, Manila, Nov. 2013. NJ Viehland Photos [click photo for story]


Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila 

The annual commemoration of Jesus’ resurrection and glorification gives us a glimpse of the eternal life that He, who became human like us, now possesses – a life that will not be touched by sin, destruction and death again. His risen life is our hope, the pledge of our future glory. But Jesus’ resurrection does not cut us off from our earthly life and concerns. It is not an excuse to ignore and to be indifferent toward our world. Rather the light from Jesus’ resurrection makes us see more clearly the truth about our complex human condition while urging us on towards a glorious future.

NJ Viehland Photos

Teacher from Aeta cultural community trained by Franciscan nuns. NJ Viehland Photos [Click photo for story]

Some words spoken by the Risen Lord during his appearances to various people seem to be addressed to us Filipinos in our present situation. The eternally reigning Lord is speaking to us now. Let us listen to some of these words. To the disciples gathered in a room he asked, “Why are you frightened and why do doubts arise in your hearts?” (Luke 24:38). To a troubled Mary Magdalene he said, “Why are you weeping? Who are you looking for?” (John 20:15). The Risen Lord offers the same questions to us especially in moments of fear, doubts, distrust and grieving. He leads us to our hearts so we could reflect, explore and find meaning. Outbursts of panic, phobia, worry and sorrow need the calming influence of reflection and meditation. The Risen Lord asks questions that make us pause and look into the reasons (or lack of reason) for our terror and anxiety. Let us listen to Him.

DSA nuns, NJ Viehland

Fatima Center for Human Development of the Daughters of Saint Augustine, Iriga City.  NJ Viehland Photos [click photo for story]

To the disciples still unable to believe that He was indeed alive and standing before them He asked, “Have you anything here to eat?” (Luke 24:41). The glorious Lord comes to us through our humble, simple, poor and suffering brothers and sisters. Even while possessing all authority and power, he deems it worthy to reside among the lowly, those who lack basic necessities of life. He invites us not to allow worries and cynicism to blind us to the needs of the poor among us. Let us behold the Risen Jesus in every needy person and see a neighbor, a brother or sister.

Ed Gerlock Photos edgerlock@yahoo.com.ph

Contributed: Ed Gerlock Photos edgerlock@yahoo.com.ph

I pray that this Easter we may promptly respond to the Risen Lord’s greeting, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” (John 20:21). Let us go to all the corners of our country as missionaries of peace.

Manila,NJ Viehland

Cardinal Luis Tagle of Manila        NJ Viehland Photos

+ Luis Antonio G. Cardinal Tagle 

Archbishop of Manila

Filipinos in Texas pause from teaching, join Good Friday ‘visita iglesia’

Saint Anne Houston Good Friday NJ Viehland

Filipinos teaching in Houston public schools brought family and friends to seven churches for Good Friday ‘visita iglesia’ starting here at Saint Anne church

HOUSTON, Texas – More than a dozen women and men from the Philippines teaching in one of America’s largest cities drove in a convoy on their holiday, Good Friday, to pay a visit to seven churches in keeping with Filipino tradition of visita iglesia.

In the Philippines, the general practice is to visit seven churches on Holy Thursday or Good Friday and make the Stations of the Cross in them.

Where the teachers’ group went and what they found?

1. re-enactment of the Stations of the Cross at Saint Anne church

Saint Anne Houston Jesus NJ Viehland

Actors act out Stations of the Cross at Saint Anne church in Houston. NJ Viehland Photos

2. warm welcome and kind accommodation from parishioners of St. Raphael the Archangel

They had moved the Blessed Sacrament for exposition in a small chapel, covered all statues and locked up the church, but opened it up briefly for the teachers’ visit.

Saint Raphael Houston Good Friday NJ Viehland 2

Saint Raphael church, Houston on Good Friday 2015. NJ Viehland Photos

Saint Raphael Houston Good Friday NJ Viehland

Saint Raphael Houston                              

3. Saint Francis De Sales was busy with some service so the teachers’ group prayed in the hallway before a cross draped with red cloth.

Saint Francis De Sales praying

4. Saint Thomas More Catholic community has built a shrine in memory of aborted babies

Saint Thomas Moore Church Houston aborted babies NJ Viehland

The group also visited St. Michael the Archangel, Holy Ghost and Corpus Christi churches.

Saint Michaels Houston Good Friday NJ Viehland

Filipino teachers and their families visit Saint Michael the Archangel church in Houston on Good Friday, 2015 

Holy Ghost Houston Good Friday NJ Viehland

Holy Ghost church in Houston is run by Redemptorist Fathers. NJ Viehland Photos

Corpus Christi Houston Good Friday NJ Viehland

Blessed Sacrament Fathers (SSS) administer Corpus Christi church in Houston. NJ Viehland photos

The Catholic Church recognizes the great responsibility teachers bear for building a society instilled with values and hope.

Pope Francis, in a recent meeting with educators called teaching a “beautiful profession” noting that it “allows us to see the people who are entrusted to our care grow day after day.”

The pope said only mature and balanced personalities can take on the “serious  commitment” to teach.  A former classroom teacher himself, the pope also reminded educators, “no teacher is ever alone: ​​They always share their work with other colleagues and the entire educational community to which they belong.”

He told members of the Catholic Union of Italian Teachers, Managers, Educators and trainers  (UCIIM) on their group’s 70th anniversary in March that being teacher is “like being parents, at least spiritually.” 

Philippines bishop at Chrism Mass warns against ‘homily abuse’

Facebook photo from Chrism Mass in Dagupan City, Kenneth Baldueza mobile uploads

Facebook photo from Chrism Mass in Dagupan City, Kenneth Baldueza mobile uploads

Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan called on his priests to prepare better to “preach Jesus Christ” to avoid “abuse” of the faithful with their homilies.

“Long, winding, repetitious, irrelevant, unprepared homilies are signs of a sick spiritual life of the priest,” Archbishop Villegas said in his homily for the Holy Thursday Chrism Mass with his priests, other religious and faithful who came to Saint John the Evangelist Cathedral in Dagupan City, north of Manila, this morning.

He said long, winding, unorganized homilies are rampant and widespread, and people have jokingly called them their Sunday “scourges.” These sermons “abuse the kindness of the people who are forced to listen,” the bishop added.  

Archbishop Villegas, who is also president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, advised priests to prepare spiritually for homilies.

Following is the full text of his homily sent to Catholic in Asia:

Archbishop Socrates Villegas. - NJ Viehland Photos

Archbishop Socrates Villegas. – NJ Viehland Photos



My brother priests:

Today we make a spiritual journey again to the Upper Room to remember our priesthood.  We come once again to thank the Lord for calling us to be priests.  The Lord took a risk. He entrusted to us His Church. The longer we stay in this vocation the more clearly we see that it takes more than will power to remain a good priest. It needs grace. We need God. We need God to stay focused. We need God to stay on track. We need God to protect us and preserve us.

We have seen many abuses among the clergy—alcohol abuse, sexual abuse, child abuse, gambling abuse, money abuse, traveling abuse, vacation abuse. Today, I invite you to turn your hearts to another very rampant and widespread abuse among priests—homily abuse. Yes abuse of the kindness of the people who are forced to listen to long, winding, repetitious, boring, unorganized, unprepared, mumbled homilies. In jest but certainly with some truth, the people say our homilies are one of the obligatory scourges that they must go through every Sunday.

If you listen more carefully to what our people say about our homilies, they are not complaining about depth of message or scholarly exegesis. They are asked to endure Sunday after Sunday our homilies that cannot be understood because we take so long with the introduction, we do not know how to go direct to the point and we do not know how to end. Be prepared. Be clear. Be seated.

We were all abused by the homilies of our elder priests when we were seminarians. When our turn came to deliver homilies, the abused became the abuser.

If a seminarian lacks chastity, we cannot recommend him for ordination. If a seminarian is stubborn and hard headed, we cannot endorse his ordination. If a seminarian cannot speak in public with clarity and effectiveness, we should not ordain him. He will be a dangerous homily abuser. Homily abuse can harm souls.

Long, winding, repetitious, irrelevant, unprepared homilies are signs of a sick spiritual life of the priest. Saint Joseph Cupertino said “A preacher is like a trumpet which produces no tone unless one blows into it. Before preaching, pray this way: Lord you are the spirit, I am your trumpet. Without your breath I can give no sound.”

It is not enough to prepare our homilies; the good priest must prepare himself. Preaching is a ministry of the soul and the heart not just of the vocal chords and brain cells.  Our spiritual life is the true foundation of our homilies. The question is not what we will preach but rather who will we preach?  We preach only Jesus Christ; always Jesus Christ.

How shall we rise from the prevalent culture of homily abuse? What is our remedy?

The first call of the times is priestly sincerity. You can preach to empty stomachs if the stomach of the parish priest is as empty as his parishioners.  Our homilies will improve if we diminish our love for talking and increase our love for listening. When our homily is simply a talk, we only repeat what we know, get tired and feel empty. When you listen and pray before you talk, you learn something new and your homily will be crisp and fresh. We will be better homilists if we dare to smell again like the sheep.

The second challenge of our times is simplicity—simplicity of message and even more, greater simplicity of life. Simplicity of life will also help us to stop talking about money and fund raising in the homily; money talk has never been edifying. Simplicity means resisting to use the pulpit as a means to get back at those who oppose us–patama sa sermon. Simplicity also demands that we keep divisive election politics away from the lectern. Simplicity in homilies means not desiring to make people laugh or cry—that is for telenovelas and noontime shows. Simplicity in homilies makes people bow their heads and strike their breasts wanting to change, seeking the mercy of God. To be simple is to be great in God’s eyes. The simple lifestyle of priests is the homily easiest to understand.

The third and last challenge is a call to study. Reading and study must not stop after the seminary. If we stop reading and study, we endanger the souls of our parishioners. If we stop studying, then we start forcing our people to read the so-called open book of our lives– the comic book of our lives, hardly inspiring, downright ridiculous and awfully scandalous. The homily becomes our story and not the story of Jesus. Reading a bank book too much is not a good way to prepare our homilies.

Be careful with your life. The people watch us more than they listen to us. Be sincere and true. A double life, a secret dark life is stressful.

Be careful with every homily. God will judge you for every word you utter. Believe what you read. Teach what you believe. Practise what you teach.’

Be careful with every homily. They want to hear Jesus not you; only Jesus, always Jesus.

Be careful with your homily. Pity the people of God. Stop the homily abuse. Let your homily inspire and set hearts on fire.


ISIS, 21st century youth and the 2015 synod on family – Commentary

 Manila,NJ Viehland

Manila, NJ Viehland Viehland Photos


“Re-communing with the divorced world of youths is a priority task for next October’s second Synod on Family. Indeed, that will be a more realistic pastoral agenda than theological cud chewing about Communion to marital divorcees….”


Commentary: ISIS needs ‘Assisian‘ responses, not sniping crusades

By: Hector Welgampola

Amid ongoing Islam-bashing worldwide, comes a bit of good news from the Arab world. According to media reports, in April Qatar will name the recipients of that country’s WISE (World Innovative Summit for Education) Awards for 2015. Given by Qatar’s Education City, these awards have been described by BBC as an effort to recycle oil and gas into knowledge.

“The Emir of Qatar believes that a new golden age can be achieved through education and research coupled with creativity and development,” wrote James Martin, founder of Oxford University’s 21st Century School. The Qatar project would seed “a new Arab renaissance bringing multicultural tolerance, new ideas and education action across the Arab world,” he claimed. Others pin hopes on the project’s Faculty of Islamic Studies, despite lingering suspicion that Qatar funds reach jihadists.

While saluting the project, BBC noted how “events of the Arab Spring have shown the dissatisfaction of a young population with rising unemployment and lack of opportunity.” The Arab world’s youth frustrations have been aggravated by the post 9/11 frenzy to militarily intervene there with a fantasy to impose Western-style panacea for local problems.

Just as lack of social justice incubated communism, prolonged abuse of Arab countries as mere oil wells festered social ills that reignited Islamic militancy. A belated sense of guilt for such abuse led some developed countries to support the Qatar project. A similar sense of guilt should help affirm the inadequacy of military responses to curb frustration-fed jihadism.

Hired armies lack motivation to wipe out guerilla cults or jihadist passion. And eliminating Saddam Hussein, Muammar Qaddafi or Osama Bin Laden did not make the world any safer. If al Qaeda was a geographically diffused ad hoc network, its modern avatars like ISIS and Boko Haram showcase bin Laden’s dream caliphate still thriving and on martyrdom. The apocalyptic cult goes beyond self-immolation to the ruthless slaughter of those considered to be infidels. It now threatens West Asia, North Africa and beyond.

If Islamism’s extremist outreach has gone viral, it has also gone global. It attracts youths from two sources. Unsurprisingly, it volunteers youths from Islamic nations. Addressing a recent Christian-Islamic dialogue meet run by Nigerian bishops, an Islamic scholar attributed the rise of Boko Haram partly to “the impunity, bad governance and corruption of Nigerian elite.” Qatar-type projects may help replace such self-serving elite with socially committed cadres.

ISIS also draws youths worldwide. Its media-hyped fantasy appeals to listless young men and young women wearied by the depravity of secularized post-christian society. Maybe, an erratic society’s death-peddling obsession with abortion and mercy killing has so desensitized the young even to fancy jihad as an option. Frequent news reports confirm how the jihadist mirage attracts spiritually starved youths from all continents. But, sadly, such youths’ home countries fail to get the message. Their rulers try to prevent the outflow of youths with laws to muzzle social media, patrol borders or deny passports – all inept measures.

Instead, leaders of state, society and religion should heed the unspoken outcry of desperate youths fleeing parents, siblings, peers, churches and country to embrace jihad. The thousands of young men and women opting for jihad are our own sons and daughters. Their drift to ISIS speaks of our generation’s moral failure. Their spiritual thirst is an indictment of our ineptitude to offer them a meaningful goal of holistic life. So, let’s stop stigmatizing them as misled youths or blessing counter crusades. Today’s society needs to find solutions by re-examining our distorted faith-life, fractured family-life, consumerist lifestyles and counter values based on worship of money-culture.

As evident in the recent Germanwings plane crash too, all youths blamed for atrocities are not jihadists. The crisis of today’s youths should alert society to our long abuse of social structures as a mask for power play. Churches and Nations need to return to a moral ethic and restore honesty in public life. The need to wipe out the scandal of duplicity in religio-ethical and socio-economic life was never more urgent. And Church youth apostolates and family apostolates should be so re-oriented as to attract, involve and inspire all levels of youth life and activity.

Meanwhile, initiatives like the March 24 Catholic-Muslim summit in Rome can offer further hope. Interestingly, Cardinal Jean Louis Tauran, Vatican head for interreligious relations, told the meet of his wish to set up a more permanent mechanism for such interaction. For a moment, it brought to mind the environment of interreligious amity facilitated decades ago by the BIRA (Bishops Institutes for Interreligious Affairs) meets and live-ins organized by FABC (Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences). Such interfaith action-in-prayer fosters inclusive pluralism. And a response of relational sacramentalty can better facilitate social awakening than statements, episcopal or papal.

That sacramental mission has to awaken the 21st century Church to a Jesus-like embrace of all youths divorced from community by post-christian secular cults. Re-communing with the divorced world of youths is a priority task for next October’s second Synod on Family. Indeed, that will be a more realistic pastoral agenda than theological cud chewing about Communion to marital divorcees. And instead of premising the synod with a requiem for martyred Christians, let reflection on the waste of life of both jihadists and their victims inspire the synod to seed a Church of Assisian service to the human family.

Hector Welgampola

Hector Welgampola

Veteran Asian Church journalist Hector Welgampola from Sri Lanka has retired as Executive Editor of the former Union of Catholic Asian News (UCAN) based in Hong Kong, then Bangkok. Before UCAN, Hector headed editorial teams of newspapers in Sri Lanka. Since retiring Hector has lived in Australia with his wife, Rita. He authored the resource book Asian Church Glossary and Stylebook.

Leave or else… – threat letter to nuns in India town

Kolkata (Calcutta), INDIA – A Catholic school in the eastern India state of West Bengal has sought police protection after it received four letters threatening to burn it down, reported mattersindia.com service for news, features and information on India.

Security has been stepped up at St Capitanio Girl’s Higher Secondary School, about 70 kilometers from Jalpaiguri, said Ravindra Nath, a senior police officer. 

Read full report from mattersindia.com

Ancient Bengal was the site of several major kingdomsFrom the 13th century onward, the region was controlled by the Bengal Sultanate, Hindu kings and Baro-Bhuyan landlords until the beginning of British rule in the 18th century. 

West Bengal is India’s fourth-most populous state, with over 91 million inhabitants, including roughly 515,150 Christians, based on the 2001 census report.

Mother Teresa worked in Kolkata (Calcutta).


Carry on goal to protect minorities’ freedom, punish perpetrators – US commission to Sri Lanka gov’t.

Sri Lanka's new President Maithripala Sirisena screenshot Sri Lanka Mirror Facebook

Sri Lanka’s new President Maithripala Sirisena screenshot Sri Lanka Mirror Facebook

A US delegation, which visited Sri Lanka to assess the climate for religious freedom, other human rights, and tolerance, have noted progress on the issues in Sri Lanka since the country’s 2015 election. It cited the importance of punishing perpetrators of attacks and stopping harassment of religious groups trying to build houses of worship.

Commissioner Eric P. Schwartz of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) said he met with Minister of Foreign Affairs Mangala Samaraweera, Justice Minister Wijedasa Rajapaksa, Minister of Buddha Sasana Karu Jayasuriya, and Minister of Muslim Religious Affairs Abdel Halim Mohamed Hasheem, as well as representatives from Sri Lanka’s diverse religious communities during the March 15-17 visit.

“We are encouraged by statements made by officials with whom we met,” Schwartz said in a statement posted on the commission’s website.

He cited  among “welcome” developments comments he heard supporting national reconciliation among all Sri Lanka’s religious and ethnic communities. 

“After a devastating war and reports that religious minority communities were increasingly subjected to attacks in recent years, the new government’s engagement with religious minorities is an important step forward in the effort to promote national unity and increased space for all religious groups,” the commissioner pointed out.

He also cited government’s measures in the areas of freedom of expression and association noting these “tend to create a climate conducive to religious freedom.”

Buddhism is the official religion in the country where Buddhists reportedly comprise more than 69 percent of the 21.87 million people. Most of the rest are Muslims (7.6 percent) or Hindu (7.1 percent). Christians make up about 6.2 percent of the population.

Expressing pleasure in hearing that reports of abuses against minority religious communities have diminished over the last few months, Schwartz encouraged the government to hold perpetrators of such crimes accountable. “We believe accountability will encourage a critical sense of security and well-being among affected communities,” he stressed.

He also said representatives of civil society at meetings reported “continued concerns about the ability of religious communities to practice their chosen faiths without restriction,” citing experiences of intimidation or harassment when trying to build houses of worship. 

“We hope and trust Sri Lankan officials will address these issues in the weeks and months to come,” Schwartz said.

The U.S. Congress created USCIRF in the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 (IRFA) as an independent, bipartisan, federal government entity to monitor the status of freedom of religion or belief abroad and provide policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State, and Congress.

Maithripala Sirisena won as president in the Jan. 8 polls set by incumbent President Mahinda Rajapaksa in the latter’s bid to seek a third term. Sirisena has pledged to abolish the executive presidency within 100 days of being elected, and repeal the controversial eighteenth amendment and restore the 17th amendment that limits the president’s rule to two terms and sets other restraints on the presidency.


Young Filipino artists gear up for pope’s encyclical on climate with campus ‘wall’

Wall of Good Life 3 by Jaazeal Jakosalem OAR

Contributed photo:A section of the Wall of Good Life mural at University of Negros Occidental-Recoletos by Jaazeal Jakosalem OAR.

BACOLOD CITY, Philippines (Catholic In Asia) – Young local artists’ colorful paintings of trees, earth and other nature themes brighten up a wall of a central Philippines university run by Order of Augustinian Recollects (OAR) who have committed to raise the awareness and strengthen the responsibility of the school community to care for the earth.

“Wall of Good Life” project of DIHON group of artists intends “to raise social & ecological awareness among students and members of the school community, and in a way to prepare for the upcoming encyclical of the Pope on ecology,” OAR Brother Jaazeal Jakosalem told Catholic in Asia.

Wall of Good Life 9 Jaazeal Jakosalem OAR

Contributed photo of Wall of Good Life mural at University of Negros Occidental – Recoletos by Jaazeal Jakosalem OAR.

In March 2014 Pope Francis reportedly spoke of his concern for the environment during an audience in the Vatican with superiors from the Franciscan order whose advice he was said to have sought. The pope by then had spent months drafting his new encyclical on Creation, and respect for the environment, Rome Reports news service reported.

 Word spread that the pope would possibly release the encyclical in Tacloban City last Jan. 17 when he was to visit survivors of 2013’s “super typhoon” Yolanda (Haiyan), but Cardinal Luis Tagle of Manila when asked at a forum organized by Inquirer media group ahead of the visit replied that Pope Francis would like to make sure all questions and contentious issues related to climate change are studied well before he releases a document.

“I do not want a papal encyclical being accused of spreading false data or data that are not yet verified even by scientists,” Cardinal Tagle quoted a remark he said he had heard the pope make to journalists. “I’m sure you all know that as we talk about climate change there is also a big group saying there is no climate change, and that is present even within the Church,” Cardinal Tagle told the Inquirer-organized public forum in Manila.

However, Pope Francis in an in-flight interview from Sri Lanka to Manila in January was also quoted saying he was convinced that global warming was “mostly” man-made and that man had “slapped nature in the face”. He expressed the hope that the upcoming Vatican encyclical – the most authoritative documents a pope can issue – on the environment, would encourage negotiators at the United Nations climate change conference in Paris Nov. 30-Dec. 11  to make courageous decisions to protect God’s creation, the report on The Guardian’s online newspaper said.

Contributed Photo: Jamilio Bayoneta and young artists of DIHON by Jaazeal Jakosalem OAR.

Contributed Photo: Jamilo Bayoneta (in black) and young artists of DIHON by Jaazeal Jakosalem OAR.

 Meanwhile, Bacolod diocese’s young artists, led by Jamilo Bayoneta have gone ahead with their awareness-raising project to paint University of Negros’ Wall of Good Life from Feb. 15-March 15. Students from elementary through college and Brother Jakosalem, himself an artist and mentor of the group, joined painting sessions.

Wall of Good Life by Jaazeal Jakosalem OAR

Wall of Good Life 8 Jaazeal Jakosalem OAR

Contributed Photos: Wall of Good Life by Jaazeal Jakosalem OAR
updated March 17, 10:38 pm (Manila)

Filipino Cardinal Quevedo,Papal Envoy to Japan ‘Hidden Christians’ anniversary

[update March 14, 2015]

OMI, NJ Viehland Photos

Filipino Cardinal Orlando Quevedo of Cotabato – NJ Viehland Photos

Celebrations in Nagasaki began today to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the “Hidden Christians of Japan.” Pope Francis appointed Filipino Cardinal Orlando B. Quevedo, Archbishop of Cotabato, will serve as his Special Envoy at the anniversary event which will last until March 17th.

Full report here

Hidden Christians video by Journeyman YouTube

click photo to watch Journeyman Pictures’ mini-documentary on Hidden Christians

Also taking place at the Nagasaki Museum of History and Culture until April 15 is the exhibit of more than 500 items confiscated from Japanese Christians during their brutal persecution in the 19th century from the late Edo Period to the early Meiji Era, Japan Times online newspaper announced.

The Times reports that some 550 items are back in Nagasaki for the first time on display in the special exhibition “Miracles Protected by the Virgin Mary — Churches and Christian Sites in Nagasaki,” include 212 cultural properties rarely loaned out by the Tokyo National Museum at one time.

The exhibit is reportedly taking place because the central government has recommended that churches and other Christian locations in Nagasaki be listed as UNESCO World Cultural Heritage sites. It shows the history of Christianity in Japan from the introduction of the faith by Francis Xavier in 1549, to the birth of the “hidden Christians” caused by brutal crackdowns and the confession of their beliefs to a foreign priest by a small group of Japanese in 1865.

Cardinal Quevedo, first prelate on the southern Philippines Mindanao island to be created cardinal, has led the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC) as Secretary General from 2005-2011. FABC is a Vatican-approved voluntary association of Catholic bishops’ conferences in Central, East, South and Southeast Asia.


What Cardinal Tagle told youth in London – video

Cardinal Tagle at Flame2 YouTube

click photo to play

Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila addressed on March 7 thousands of young people gathered for Flame2, Great Britain’s largest national Catholic youth event of 2015 in the SSE Wembley Arena, London.

Participants from 10 years old listened also to Baroness Sheila Hollins, Dominican Father Timothy Radcliffe and David Wells in a “joyful” program interspersed with music and drama provided by double Grammy Award winner Matt Redman and his band, organizers announced. Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster, England led the prayers and time for adoration.

Read the full text of Cardinal Tagle’s talk.


Cardinal Tagle in BBC Hard Talk on Church, development – video clip

AMOR, NJ Viehland Photos

Aspirants from south Asia bring offerings at the opening Mass for the XVIth Asia Oceania Meeting of Religious women (AMOR) officiated by Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila in Tagaytay City, Philippines, in Nov. 2014 – NJ Viehland Photos

Stephen Sackur of BBC’s Hard Talk interviewed the Catholic Church’s most senior cleric in the Philippines, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle. Is the Catholic Church helping the nation’s development?

View clips from the 30-minute BBC interview with Cardinal Tagle here

Manila archdiocese assembly studies climate change, Lenten fasting movement

Yeb Sano, YouTube video

Yeb Sano, YouTube video  click photo to view

Manila archdiocese’s Ministry on Ecology has organized an orientation session, March 11, on the Global Catholic Climate Movement’s Call to Fast for climate during Lent.

In the invitation to media, Ministry Coordinator Lou Valencia Arsenio expressed alarm over reported risks the Philippines faces due to climate change. Arsenio said results of the recent study of risk analysis firm Verisk Maplecroft is “alarming because the global temperature is … feared to increase up to 2-4 degrees centigrade before the end of this century.” 

The study found that eight of 10 cities most exposed to natural hazards are in the Philippines. Overall fourth are Metro Manila, Tuguegarao in Cagayan province, and Lucena in Quezon province. The study also shows that out of 100 cities with greatest exposure to natural hazards, 21 are in the Philippines, 16 in China, 11 in Japan and eight in Bangladesh.

Arsenio said these hazards are triggered by climate change and that scientists foresee the situation will worsen over the years if critical gas emission remains uncontrolled. “Very large amounts of methane gas are now being released with the massive melting of the ice caps especially in the Antarctica,” Arsenio said.

While many “well-meaning” and industry independent organizations, individuals, scientists, and members of faith groups have been advocating for decades for drastic and decisive decisions among governments to stop the ongoing rising of global temperature, the conference of parties held in various places discussing a solution to climate change remains very political because “industrialized countries do not like to give up their wasteful and luxurious lifestyle especially with the dictates of aggressive and destructive industries,” Arsenio said. 

 NJ Viehland Photos

Fr. Edwin Gariguez of CBCP-NASSA, second from right, at the launch of Climate Walk 2014 – NJ Viehland Photos

Meanwhile, there seems to be lack of a solid Catholic voice in this debate, the ministry coordinator said. The March 11 orientation at the Manila chancery (Arzobispado) will be conducted by Columban priest Fr. John Leydon, a long-time missionary to the Philippines, and Commissioner Yeb Sano of the Climate Change Commission of the Philippines 

The two resource persons represent the Philippines in the Global Catholic Climate Movement composed mostly of lay Catholics with few religious and priests, Manila’s ecology ministry coordinator said.

Aside from explaining in depth the objectives and bases for the Global Catholic Climate Movement’s Call to Fast for the Climate, the resource persons will also update participants on concerns and conditions related to climate change ahead of the next United Nations Framework Convention Climate Change meetings beginning in August.



In India – Free speech vs. women’s safety [reblog]

Source Saudi Gazette (Editorial)
India is no stranger to violence against women, including domestic and sexual violence. In the capital city of New Delhi, sexual assaults against women take place every day and very often ends in rape.

Full article Free speech vs. women’s safety.

Challenges to Religious in the 21st Century Asia – Commentary

By: Hector Welgampola 

Nun during a break at the XVIth Asia-Oceania Meeting of Religious (AMOR) in Tagaytay City, Philippines. – NJ Viehland Photos

As home of the world’s main religions, Asia has been the font and source of mysticism. The ancient continent’s celestial heights, expansive deserts and sprawling wilderness whetted early Asians’ yearning for the sublime. This search inspired varied forms of ascetic life in Hindu, Jain, Buddhist, Judaic, Essene, Christian, Islamic, Zoroastrian traditions.

As reminded by the current Lenten season, the habitat-related search for the divine is nothing new to our own faith tradition. Moses’ Sinai trek, the Baptist’s desert sojourn, and Jesus’ withdrawal both to the wilderness and to Tabor are links in that chain of mystic spirituality.

The Catholic Catechism’s claim that “Religious life was born in the East during the first centuries of Christianity,” affirms the continuity of that search by early mystics such as Saints Anthony and Melania of Egypt. The Desert Fathers’ and Mothers’ lifestyle of contemplative and self-purifying spirituality paved the way for a Christian monastic tradition. Religious communities grew when holy solitaires fraternized for more effective search and service in and through wider society.

Contemplatives’ ascetic role in the Christian community, however, was in no way diminished by the birth of proactive Religious Orders in Europe or even gradual dominance of ordained ministries. Rather, the contrary seemed to be true at least in Asia where, despite canonical definition of some Religious as lay groups, laypeople always had higher esteem for unordained Religious than for diocesan clergy. Such reverence for consecrated persons is rooted in Asian cultures, where people value holiness of life over the liturgical ministry of sacramental service.

MC, NJ Viehland

Missionaries of Charity at Prayers of Lament for Yolanda victims, Manila, NJ Viehland Photo

Such esteem was the secret behind the success of revered missioners such as Matteo Ricci, Roberto de Nobili, John de Britto, Costanzo Beschi, Mother Teresa and Joseph Vaz. Except for Vaz, the others were Europeans. Nonetheless, they assimilated the essentials of Asian spirituality and won people’s hearts by holiness of life and witness. The world still looks back with nostalgia to their ascetic life, which radiated the spirit of Asian sages, swamis and gurus. Had local Religious too grown in such spirituality, they could have furthered the Asian awakening pioneered by revivalists like Swami Vivekananda, Mahatma Gandhi and Sun Yat-sen.

At the turn of the century, the Asian Synod acknowledged that, “In the numerous religious traditions of Asia, men and women dedicated to the contemplative and ascetic life enjoy great respect and their witness has an especially persuasive power.” But amid a whirlpool of canonical and ritual implications impacting Religious life in the post-modern West, precious little was done to let the synod-affirmed power of witness flourish in the service of Asia. And it is still not too late for Asian Religious to explore the stalled vision of above-named pioneers in a renewed search for new modalities of holiness and holy activism to meet today’s needs.

La Salette Sr., NJ Viehland Photos

Catholic nuns and clergy led the ecumenical prayer to end corruption in the Philippines, NJ Viehland Photos

Take for example, the current pastoral setup in many Asian countries where vagaries of the public square and diocesan prescripts inhibit even well-meaning pastors from any prophetic role. In such a scenario, community-supported Religious will be at greater liberty to engage in prophetic roles of furthering the good-news ministry by denouncing and challenging market-enslaved consumerist cultures.

Opus Dei, NJ Viehland Photos

Fair Trade coffee farmers in Laguna, NJ Viehland Photos

The revival of grassroots groups such as the Federation of Free Farmers in the Philippines or the Catholic Farmers’ Association in South Korea or networking people-welfare groups in Bangladesh, India, Malaysia or Sri Lanka on an ecumenical level can be timely challenges for today’s Religious. The lead taken by some individual Religious to volunteer as English teachers in China has much potential as a base for youth apostolate. The fast growing milieu of social media should challenge today’s Religious to discern creative outreach through the blogosphere and the virtual world that coral an eclectic phono sapiens generation.

Nuns tweet at Catholic Social Media Summit v2, Dagupan, 2014 - NJ Viehland Photos

Nuns tweet at Catholic Social Media Summit v2, Dagupan, 2014 – NJ Viehland Photos

Religious should find providential role models in the earlier named pioneer missioners who on their own initiative ventured out of the beaten track even at the risk of being considered freaks by their own institutes. Fired by deep faith, they dared to discern contextual charisms for service, not for self-glory. Today’s Church woefully needs more of such men and women with pastoral wisdom and prophetic courage to venture beyond confines of juridical carapace.

Additionally, would AMOR and its local arms look beyond the juridical ebb and tide, and encourage Religious to venture out in Gospel witness even in traditional mission fields? For example, missioners from Islamic countries like Indonesia and Pakistan may better suit the needs of Central Asian cultures than missioners from elsewhere. Such missions may also help renew the apostolic energies of those Religious crucified by administrative overkill. On a lighter note, such re-missioning may even help resolve the ennui-syndrome driving Green-Card-seeking “missioner” outflows beyond the Atlantic.

This attempt to discuss some challenges to Religious would be incomplete if it fails to voice their muted challenge to Mother Church. After all, as sons and daughters of today’s Church, Religious too are part of fallible humanity. Like all laity, clergy and bishops, they too are part of a sinful world striving for perfection. Having dared to pursue that search through service to society, they challenge the Christian community with a plea for prayer and understanding. A timely Lenten mission!

Hector Welgampola

Hector Welgampola, welgampo@gmail.com Veteran Asian Church journalist Hector Welgampola from Sri Lanka has retired as Executive Editor of the former Union of Catholic Asian News (UCAN) based in Hong Kong, then Bangkok. Before UCAN, Hector headed editorial teams of newspapers in Sri Lanka. Since retiring Hector has lived in Australia with his wife, Rita. He authored the resource book Asian Church Glossary and Stylebook.


Pastoral Moral Guidance on the ANTI-DISCRIMINATION BILL – CBCP Document

CBCP 2015 Archbishop Villegas NJ Viehland
[Full text of Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) President’s Pastoral Moral Guidance, sent to Catholic in Asia March 3, 2015.]

Congress of the Philippines is poised to pass into law that was earlier known as the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity bill, which is now more generally referred to as the anti-discrimination bill.  We are grateful that the CBCP was earlier asked by the relevant committees of the houses of Congress to submit its comments, and we did so.  But now, we deem it opportune to express ourselves collectively on the matter.

Non-Discrimination is a Christian Imperative

If discrimination means that certain individuals, because of sexual orientation or gender identity, are systematically denied fundamental human rights, then any measure that counters discrimination of this kind is a gesture of charity, one that reaches out to all and recognizes them in their inherent dignity as sons and daughters of God, called to new life in Jesus Christ.

This then is also the propitious time for us to call on all pastors throughout the country to be as solicitous of the pastoral welfare of all our brothers and sisters regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity.  Their exclusion from the life of the Church, their treatment as outcasts, their relegation to the category of inferior members of the Church worthy only of derision and scorn certainly does not conform to Pope Francis’ vision of the Church as the sacrament of Divine mercy and compassion.

In this regard, the Church has much to contribute towards the education of Catholics to be more accepting of others and to see through appearances the Lord present in each brother and sister.  There can therefore be no more approval of parents who imbue in their children the loathing and disgust for persons with a different sexual orientation or with gender identity issues.  In Catholic institutions, there should be zero-tolerance for the bullying and badgering of persons in such personal situations.

Christian Anthropology and Consequences for Pastoral Care

The Church remains firm in its teaching however that reason discerns in the process of human evolution, the perpetuation of humankind, and the complementarity of the sexes, as well as from the very nature of sexuality itself that God’s image and likeness is found in either man or woman.  The Church therefore compassionately reaches out to persons with orientation and gender identity issues so that they may clearly discern, with a well-formed conscience, and in the light of the Divine plan for humankind, how they ought to live their lives.

In this regard, a common fallacy has to be contested.  Today, it is not uncommon to hear the assertion that the way a person chooses to live his or her life and with which gender to identify is purely a matter of personal sovereignty and choice.  Much is left to choice, but much is also a matter of human given-ness, a matter of human facticity.  From the perspective of Divine Revelation, much is not of the person’s doing but must be counted as God’s gift.  Among these are sexuality and gender. 

While contemporary psychology and psychiatry are far from unanimous on the causes of orientation and identity issues, it is as clear that the individual is not helpless in this regard. There are decisions a person can and must make.  There are mind-sets a person must either acquire or discard. 

On the basis of its understanding of the human condition, the Church cannot encourage persons to “choose” their gender, orientation, and sexual identity as if these were matters at the free disposal of choice.  The Church therefore looks to mature parents, school counselors, community workers, professional psychologists and personality experts, as well as to her own priests engaged in pastoral counseling, to help in the resolution of what, it must be admitted, are very difficult personal issues, always with understanding, compassion, acceptance of the inherent worth of the human person and attentiveness to what has been revealed to us about the human person.

We must also insist on the distinction between “orientation” and overt acts.  No one may be excluded from the life of the Church and its sacraments merely because of avowed orientation or identity.  However, the disapproval of homosexual acts remains part of the Church’s moral teaching, a consequence in fact of its understanding of human dignity.  If “gay rights” movements, for instance, encourage free and unbridled sexual relations between persons of the same sex, the Church cannot lend its support, for in its view, they ultimately do a disservice to our brothers and sisters.  What gay rights can legitimately champion is justice for all, fairness that must extend to all persons regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity.

The Proposed Law

Before anything else, CBCP must ask whether or not the proposed non-discrimination bill is itself a manifestation of that pernicious form of colonization to which Pope Francis referred in his recent visit to the Philippines.  Is this the “importation” into our country of values, behavioral norms and attitudes that the West has championed and peddled?

To the legislators who consider through future legislative initiatives giving legal recognition to same sex unions, the Church declares there is no equivalence or even any remote analogy whatsoever between marriage between a man and woman as planned by God and the so-called same sex unions.

Insofar as the proposed piece of legislation renders illegitimate the relegation of persons with sexual orientation and gender identity issues to citizens of a lower category enjoying fewer rights, the CBCP cannot but lend its support to this proposed legislative measure.

However, there are certain matters that the Church considers to be within its exclusive sphere of competence such as determining who should be admitted to priestly or religious formation, who should be ordained and received into Holy Order, or who should be professed as members of religious communities and orders.  The Church asserts its exclusive right to determine its own criteria and to exclude even on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity if it finds these to be hindrances to the fidelity that is expected of ordained or consecrated persons.  We believe that the Constitution of the Republic guarantees this under the “free exercise” clause of the fundamental law of the land.

In respect to Catholic schools and the guidance and counseling that it extends to its students, the CBCP herewith expresses its position that our Catholic schools remain at liberty to determine their own admission and retention policies on the basis of the manner in which the Supreme Court of the Philippines has developed the constitutional guarantee of academic freedom.  We must however reiterate that none must be demeaned, embarrassed, or humiliated for reasons of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Persons with homosexual orientation are sons and daughters of God; no less than any of us is.  Discrimination against them is contrary to the Gospel spirit. Verbal and physical violence against them is an offense against the good Lord Himself.  Through honest dialogue and pastoral accompaniment, it should be our goal to assist them to respond to the demands of chastity and that purity of body and heart that Jesus, in the Gospels, calls ‘blessed’.  When they wish to make an offering to the life of the Church according to their talents, abilities and gifts, the Church as mother provides for them.


We foresee that CBCP will be reproved for not going “all out” in its approval of homosexual and transsexual orientation and identity.  But we pray that all will understand that the deposit of faith is not owed to us, nor is it something we are free to modify or tailor to suit fad and fancy.

We conclude by reiterating our position that your bishops and priests welcome all of God’s sons and daughters, that there is room in the Church for all, whatever our personal conditions, gifts as well as burdens might be, and the Church will be tireless in extending its support and care for those in the midst of personal conflict who must make crucial decisions for themselves in the light of the new life Christ offers us all!

From the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, March 3, 2015


Archbishop of Lingayen Dagupan

 President, CBCP


Nuns, priests march with protesters against Sri Lanka port project – video


Colombo, SRI LANKA – The People’s Movement against the Port City Project, including nuns and priests marched in protest today from the Fort Railway Station to Gall Face Green urging the government to ban the project, Sri Lanka’s Daily Mirror reported.

Some nuns stood along the sidewalk holding placards while fellow sisters marched on the road with priests, Buddhist monks in saffron robes, environmental activists, and other protesters. Priests spoke with police officers, but the police stood firm face to face with the nuns and stopped protesters at the World Trade Centre. Some groups continued protesting sitting down.

See photos by Shameera Rajapaksa

Sri Lankans, including government officials, have expressed concern about the environmental impact of the 1.4 billion dollar Chinese-funded ‘Port City’ on reclaimed land next to Colombo harbor.

nation.lk online newspaper quoted Eran Wickramaratne, Deputy Minister of Highways, Higher Education and Investment Promotion at a recent event in Colombo citing issues with of water, transport and sewerage. He also warned of possible water scarcity for the future residents.

Wickramarante reportedly noted that with 300,000 people or half the population of Colombo living in the 500 acres of land of the port city, the present sewerage system of nearly 200 years old would not be able to hold or carry waste from such a population.

“Stop Port City Immediately!” read the streamer carried by marching nuns.




Gov’t agency to repatriate workers from ‘tense’ Yemen – OWWA

The Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) is ready to extend airport assistance to returning OFWs (overseas Filipino workers) from Yemen, who registered for the mandatory repatriation offered by the government as tension escalated in the said country.

“OWWA is part of the Crisis Management Team (CMT) composed of officials from the DFA (Department of Foreign Affairs) and the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE). The CMT continuously monitors the situation of countries experiencing crisis to ensure that our OFWs working there are safe. If immediate action is needed, the CMT automatically activates its committees to respond to the situation,“ OWWA Administrator Rebecca J. Calzado explained.

Calzado disclosed that as of 26 January 2015, there are a total of 2,391 OFWs working in Yemen as nurses, household service workers (HSWs), supervisors, technicians, mechanics, engineers, among others.

The continued occupation of the capital city of Sana’a by Houthi rebels and the recent suspension of many embassies in the Yemeni capital was the basis for the DFA’s heightened alert level.

OWWA appeals to the relatives of OFWs working in Yemen to convince their loved ones to come home to safety. In 2011, OWWA extended assistance to about 1,000 OFWs who returned from Yemen due to the political instability in the said country.

OWWA NEWS RELEASE, Manila, March 3

Bishop in northern Sri Lanka, Tamil alliance protest postponement of war report

Bishop Rayappu Joseph of Mannar on Tuesday (Feb 24) joined a demonstration led by the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) against the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) decision to delay the release of a report on issues of accountability during the Tamil separatist war and the post-conflict period.

However, Bishop Thomas Savundranayagam of Jaffna where the protests were held refrained from joining the protest due to the participation of politicians in the event, Sri Lankan online newspaper, The Island, reported on Thursday. 

TNA (Tamil: தமிழ்த் தேசியக் கூட்டமைப்பு) is a political alliance in Sri Lanka composed of moderate Tamil parties as well as number of former rebel groups that has participated in elections since 2001.

Bishop Joseph meanwhile reportedly called the deferment of the report’s release as UNHRC’s deception of the Tamil people who have no faith in a domestic investigation of war crimes under any government. 

Read The Island’s full report

On the day of the protest, the Tamil Civil Society Forum (TCSF) and the Welfare Organisation for the Forcibly Disappeared Persons also jointly decided in Jaffna not to appear and give evidence before the Presidential Commission to Investigate Complaints Regarding Missing Persons (PCICMP).

In their statement released Feb. 27 the forum convened by Bishop Joseph listed reasons why it is convinced that a credible inquiry is possible only through international means.

It noted that while the government has promised to create a credible domestic mechanism for probing alleged atrocities it “seems to continue with the approach adopted by the previous regime towards truth, justice and accountability of which your commission’s continuance is a prominent example.”

“We cannot afford to continue to appear before this commission giving it a stamp of legitimacy,” Task Force leaders wrote.

The UNHCR investigated allegations of war crimes following a resolution adopted last March, and planned to present its report during next month’s session. However the UN body announced it would issue its report in September instead after newly installed Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena assured that government would conduct an impartial and transparent domestic probe into allegations of atrocities. 

Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister had reportedly asked the UN body to give the administration installed in January more time to establish a new judicial mechanism to deal with the fallout of the investigation.

Alleged war crimes include attacks on civilians and civilian buildings, and executions of combatants and prisoners by both the Sri Lankan military and Tamil Tigers  – the guerrilla organization established in 1976 that sought to establish an independent Tamil state of Eelam in northern and eastern Sri Lanka. 

Sri Lankan military and paramilitary groups backed by them were also accused in enforced disappearances and acute shortages of food, medicine, and clean water for civilians trapped in the war zone. Tamil Tigers were allegedly recruiting children as fighters.

The group gained control of Jaffna Peninsula by 1985, two years after escalation of violence between the Tamil Tigers and the Sri Lanka military. It lost control of Jaffna in October 1987 to an Indian peacekeeping force that had been sent to Sri Lanka to assist in the implementation of a complete ceasefire.

However, following the withdrawal of the IPKF in March 1990, the Tigers grew in strength and conducted several successful guerrilla operations and attacks around the country and in India.

Earlier in 1981, Pope John Paul II created Mannar diocese from territories formerly under the pastoral care of the Jaffna diocese.


Task Force Detainees awards honor rights defenders, Franciscan nun founder

Sr Mariani Dimaranan Award poster TFD Facebook

Sr Mariani Dimaranan, SFIC Award poster – TFD Facebook photo

Quezon City, Philippines -Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFD), a mission partner of the Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines (AMRSP) capped its 40th anniversary celebration with the First Sister Mariani Dimaranan, SFIC Human Rights Defenders Awards at University of the Philippines, Quezon City, on Tuesday (Feb. 24).

“Through the years, TFDP has worked with numerous persons and institutions that helped the organization in advancing the cause of human rights in the Philippines. As TFDP celebrates its 40th year, it wants to pay tribute to some of the individuals and organizations who have been part of TFDP in its beginning years,” Order of Carmelites Father Christian Buenafe, TFDP co-chairperson, said during the awards ceremony.

OCarm, Pauline, NJ Viehland Photos

Fr. Christian Buenafe, OCarm with Pauline nuns – NJ Viehland Photos

TFD cited: 

Religious of the Good Shepherd Sister Rosario Battung

* Lor Abrazado of Task Force Detainees 

* Retired Bishop Julio Xavier Labayen of Infanta, former chairman of Office of Human Development of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences


* Free Legal Assistance Group (Flag)

* National Secretariat for Social Action of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP NASSA)

* Amnesty International 

These people and institutions have dedicated “a substantial part” of their lives to human rights promotion, protection and defense, organizers explained in their announcement sent to Catholic in Asia. Awardees have shown selflessness, outstanding leadership and unfaltering commitment in furthering the cause of human rights. 

Their efforts have provided significant contribution to the promotion and defense of  human rights and their pioneering endeavors have helped in the progressive realization of human rights, the TFD awards announcement added.

The event – rescheduled from December – also opened the organization’s 17th National Convention.

See posters of human rights defenders on TFD’s Facebook account.


CBCP President on ongoing Mamasapano investigation


CBCP Statement on the Ongoing Mamasapano Investigation

CBCP 2015 Archbishop Villegas NJ Viehland

CBCP President Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan at the end of the bishops’ plenary assembly Jan. 2015 at Pius XII Catholic Center, Manila. – NJ Viehland Photos

Congress has commenced its inquiry into that sad episode of our recent history — the slaughter of 44 gallant men of the Special Action Force of the Philippine National Police.  We note that the two chambers of the Legislature have opted to conduct separate investigations when a joint inquiry would have allowed for a more expeditious investigation and would have obviated the possibility of findings at loggerheads with each other.

Truth and Accountability

The President and his advisers must give a full and satisfactory accounting of their actions in respect to this tragic loss.  The targets of the SAF operations were characterized as “high value targets”.  If the police went after them, it can only be because they were ordered to do so.  Policemen do not order themselves, not even members of the Special Action Force.  Indeed, that is what corroborated statements now clearly establish: The decision was made on the highest levels to go after these “high value targets”.  The only thing that was awaited was “the window of opportunity”, a judgment that is made by people on the ground.

Questions call for unequivocal and truthful answers.  Lives were needlessly lost because in many ways the operation was covert.  Why, for one, were the highest-ranking official of the Philippine National Police and his civilian superior, the Secretary of Interior and Local Government, left out of the loop of information, consultation and command?  It seems that a suspended police officer played more than a merely advisory role.  Why should he have been giving orders?  And if he was in fact issuing orders and commands, should it not be clear that his authority to do so, precisely because he was laboring under a legitimate order of suspension, emanated from higher levels?

The concealment of truth or the foisting of deliberate falsehood even to shield one’s superiors from embarrassment or to spare them indictment is always a moral wrong, especially in the context of legal processes and under oath.  When one swears to tell the truth and invokes the help of God, one is morally obligated to speak the truth.  We therefore urge all witnesses and all those in possession of information material to the resolution of facts in issue to speak the truth at all times.

 Heroes Among Us

As we did almost immediately after being informed of the gallant deaths of our SAF men, the CBCP extols their courage, their heroism and their fidelity to the call to duty.  We understand the heartaches of the SAF men and women who rightly have reason to feel that our leaders failed them.  While it is true that every person who dons the uniform either as a police officer or as a soldier puts his life on the line in the performance of his sworn duties, it remains the solemn moral duty of the national leadership to protect them from needless harm and to uphold their interests as well.  The human person is never merely a means, no matter how glorious, noble or desirable the ends may be!

quevedo bday bishops mejia NJ Viehland

[from right] Bishops Leopoldo Tumulak of the Military Ordinariate, Mylo Vergara of Pasig and Father Marlon Mejia, CBCP Secretary General in Cotabato City, Philippines.- NJ Viehland Photos

The Peace Process

The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines offers its assistance to the pursuit of lasting peace, a settlement of differences that will allow the people of Mindanao, Muslims and Christians alike including indigenous peoples to live in peace and as equals, citizens of one Republic, nationals of one country.  We hold it to be morally obligatory for the government and for the restive segments of Philippine society to search for the paths of peace.

It is of course true that peace cannot rest on deceit, the suppression of truth and subterfuge.  This is the reason that getting to the truth of the Mamasapano tragedy is of paramount importance.  In fact we should learn from Mamasapano for we paid a heavy price to learn its lessons.  We have painfully been shown the pitfalls and the traps, the gaps and the lacunae of deals we have thus far entered into.

The goal cannot be the cessation of hostilities at any cost, but a principled settlement of the dispute, and peace born out of truth, a commitment to social justice and adherence to the fundamental law of the land!

If anything at all, Mamasapano should instill in all, especially in our legislators, a sense of circumspection in respect to examining the first draft Bangsamoro Basic Law.  Let the document be assiduously studied, fully debated and exhaustively examined.

The Moral Requisites of a Just Settlement

There has to be SINCERITY on both sides — on the side of government forces and agents and on the side of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.  Hostilities must cease while legal processes must be observed.  Officers pursuing fugitives from justice or identified terrorists can never be the legitimate objects of attack.  Similarly where a truce has been agreed on, it is incumbent on all parties to hold their fire.  The government must resolutely pursue its projects for the further development of Muslim Mindanao and for the speedy and lasting attainment of social justice so that our Muslim brothers and sisters may fully share in the resources of the country and in the strides it makes towards prosperity.

The MILF must surrender the culprits: those who cut down the SAF 44 in the prime of their youth and must not interfere with their prosecution and their trial. The video clip that went viral showing the merciless execution of SAF men who were wounded and helpless cannot and must not be shrugged off.

The CBCP stands with the widows and orphans of the fallen to demand Justice and the indictment of the culpable.  It must also explain satisfactorily why international terrorists were within the territory supposedly occupied by them.

Finally, the arms and ammunition captured from the SAF and from other lawful agents of the Republic of the Philippines must be returned.  Justice and peace demand restitution of what one has wrongfully taken.

Solidarity in Prayer

The CBCP remains one with the grieving families of our fallen SAF men, as well as with the families of all who lost loved ones in this armed encounter.  Whether Christian or Muslim, we believe in a God who does not allow those who remain faithful to him to be lost.  We turn now in this moment of grief to the One Father of us all for consolation, strength and hope.

Appeal for True Patriotism

This is not the time for political opportunism.  This is not the time for adventurism or grandstanding.

While resolute action is necessary on the part of all, precipitous action and recourse to extra-constitutional measures will only visit more harm and misery on our people.

 The CBCP cannot lend its support to any movement that may bring greater suffering for our people.  We would do well to join in the debate spiritedly, to be zealous in ferreting out the facts and to be unyielding in demanding accountability.  But it is also our moral duty to be law-abiding citizens, animated at all times by the Gospel that insists that we love even those who we may find difficult to love!

No Peace Without Humility

 The Kingdom of God is as much a gift as it is a project, for while only God can make his kingdom come among us, he calls us all not only to preach it but, by our deeds, to make its presence tangible and real for the world.  Peace is the mark of this kingdom, and so it is that for a Christian there is no other way but to work for peace.  But time and again we have been taught that clever calculation, crafty speech and pompously worded documents never bring lasting peace.  It is when we humble ourselves and pray, and allow the Spirit to lead us that shall find that path of peace.

 The CBCP therefore invokes God’s Spirit even as it pledges that bishops individually and collectively will make themselves and their resources available for the demands of arriving at a lasting solution to the problem of turning swords into ploughshares.

From the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, Intramuros, Manila, February 16, 2015

Archbishop of Lingayen Dagupan
President, CBCP

Happy Lunar New Year of the Sheep, Asian families

Good Shepherd rice mural - NJ Viehland PhotosXuan Loc, VIETNAM – This mural of the Good Shepherd made of rice grains hung in the dining room of the Pastoral Complex of the Diocese of Xuan Loc, in Dong Nai, Vietnam, when the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC) officials gathered there with delegates and resource persons from around east, south, southeast and central Asia on Dec. 2012 for the Xth FABC Plenary Assembly. 

This year’s celebration of Lunar New Year on Feb. 19 pulls the mural photo out of Catholic in Asia’s media library because the Chinese Zodiac sets the date as the start of the Year of the Sheep until Feb. 7, 2016, and sheep is one of the prominent symbols used in the Christian faith.

Some of the earliest depictions of Christ show him as the Good Shepherd. 

At the same time, lamb also represents Christ as sacrifice (Paschal Lamb) and also a symbol for Christians.

As Christ is Shepherd, Peter, as head of the Church, was told to “feed His sheep.”

For example: 

Jesus gave Peter a three-fold command to “feed my sheep” in John 21:15-17. Each time Jesus said, “Feed my sheep,” it was in response to Peter’s three-fold declaration of love for Jesus. 

The three commands, although often translated the same way, are subtly different. The first time Jesus says it, the Greek means literally “pasture (tend) the lambs” (v. 15). The Greek word for “pasture” is in the present tense, denoting a continual action of tending, feeding and caring for animals. Believers are referred to as sheep throughout Scripture. “For he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care” (Psalm 95:7). Jesus is both our Good Shepherd (John 10:11) and the Door of the sheepfold (John 10:9). By describing His people as lambs, He is emphasizing their nature as immature and vulnerable and in need of tending and care.

The second time, the literal meaning is “tend My sheep” (v. 16). In this exchange, Jesus was emphasizing tending the sheep in a supervisory capacity, not only feeding but ruling over them. This expresses the full scope of pastoral oversight, both in Peter’s future and in all those who would follow him in pastoral ministry. Peter follows Jesus’ example and repeats this same Greek word poimaino in his first pastoral letter to the elders of the churches of Asia Minor: “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers” (1 Peter 5:2).

The third time, the literal translation is “pasture (tend) the sheep” (v. 17). Here Jesus combines the different Greek words to make clear the job of the shepherd of the flock of God. They are to tend, care for, and provide spiritual food for God’s people, from the youngest lambs to the full-grown sheep, in continual action to nourish and care for their souls, bringing them into the fullness of spiritual maturity. The totality of the task set before Peter, and all shepherds, is made clear by Jesus’ three-fold command and the words He chooses.

from http://rosemarieberger.com/2014/11/07/pope-francis-the-holy-people-of-god-living-on-the-peripheries-of-history/

from rosemarieberger.com click photo for full blog post

Pope Francis has also used the symbol of shepherd on various occasions. At his first Chrism Mass in 2013, he used the imagery to stress the need for priests to go out of themselves, reach out to their people in the name of Jesus, and also to allow their people to be media through which Jesus can touch and teach priests.

Pope Francis said:

A priest who seldom goes out of himself, who anoints little – I won’t say “not at all” because, thank God, our people take our oil from us anyway – misses out on the best of our people, on what can stir the depths of his priestly heart. Those who do not go out of themselves, instead of being mediators, gradually become intermediaries, managers. We know the difference: the intermediary, the manager, “has already received his reward”, and since he doesn’t put his own skin and his own heart on the line, he never hears a warm, heartfelt word of thanks. This is precisely the reason why some priests grow dissatisfied, become sad priests, lose heart and become in some sense collectors of antiques or novelties – instead of being shepherds living with “the smell of the sheep”, shepherds in the midst of their flock, fishers of men.

And so it is along these lines of Scripture and Pope Francis’ message to priests that we wish families in and from Asia celebrating Lunar New Year of the Sheep : may prosperity, peace and justice reign in everyone’s lives and in the world through our sacrifices, mercy, compassion and full pastoral care from our Church.

Five wounds of the Church today [Invitation to Lenten reflection]

Five wounds of the Church ISA Pilipinas

“Free detained women, punish torturers” – rights NGO

SFIC,NJ Viehland

Agta women and children at Commission on Human Rights dialogue in Manila. NJ Viehland Photos

Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP) has called for the immediate release of the two indigenous Agta women that a Department of Justice resolution said were illegally arrested, immediate implementation justice Secretary Leila De Lima’s order for a reinvestigation of the arrest, detention and alleged psychological torture of the women living in the northern Philippine Prelature of Infanta.

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima in January said the arrest of Marites Marquez, 43, and her cousin, Rosario Loreto, 37, was illegal because of procedural lapses, including the absence of a warrant.

Policemen and soldiers arrested Marquez and Loreto of the Agta community working with the prelature’s apostolate to indigenous people in the Sierra Madre mountains in Quezon province last September, shortly after the New People’s Army of the Communist Party of the Philippines abducted a retired army soldier in the province.

Fr Pete Montallana OFM FB photo

A copy of the DOJ order given to the Inquirer by Fr. Pete Montallana, Infanta prelature’s apostolate coordinator showed De Lima ordered on Jan. 7  the “complete record” of the arrest of the two Agta women “returned to the office of origin for the conduct of a reinvestigation in light of the illegality of the arrests of the respondents

 TFDP is a mission partner of the Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines (AMRSP), a voluntary association of heads of some 400 congregations and groups of consecrated men and women serving in the Philippines, former association Executive Secretary Father Marlon Lacal of the Order of Carmelites Philippines told Catholic in Asia.






Will Pope Francis’ visits awaken the Asian Church? – Commentary

By: Hector Welgampola

Within the first 22 months of his papacy, Pope Francis has gone on pilgrimage to the Churches in three Asian countries: South Korea, Sri Lanka and the Philippines. As part of a fast awakening vast continent, these countries represent three religio-cultural streams and three varied socio-political realities.

Over recent months, and especially since his return form Colombo and Manila, the Holy Father’s words and actions have evidenced the impact of such exposure to vignettes of Asia’s rich plurality. More than any of the three predecessors who went on pilgrimage to Churches worldwide, Pope Francis keeps recapping and interpreting such pastoral experiences. Just as Saint John wrote the Apocalypse to the Churches in Asia, Pope Francis is using the Asian revelation to enunciate his Francisocalypse.

While enhancing the catholicity of papal teaching with Assisian aura, his spontaneity and off-the-cuff theologizing continue to endear him today to a broader church beyond traditional borders. No wonder, while on pilgrimage, often he went beyond limits set by tour planners as much as he ignored the drafts of papal speechwriters. More important than scheduled speeches were hisfrom-the-heart interventions. Far more significant than diplomacy-imposed hobnobbing with politicians and fraternizing with prelates were his Jesus-like skirmishes “into the multitude.” Quite unsurprisingly, they all jived together as a passionate pastoral embrace of the needy and the suffering.

Pope Francis korea

He first visited Asia to attend the 6th Asian Youth Day in Daejeon, South Korea. And while there, he brought alive the theology of Eucharistic sharing and solidarity by grieving with Koreans mourning youths killed in the 2014 ferry disaster.

During his visit to Sri Lanka, he travelled to Madhu Marian Shrine on the Northern border to pray with and console survivors and mourners deeply affected by the country’s 30-year ethnic war. On the Philippine pilgrimage, the Holy Father braved very stormy weather to visit and embrace Tacloban residents grieving the impact of Typhoon Yolanda. His outreach of pastoral presence radiated Jesus.

Papal Visit pope with Anak children press release

Contributed photo of Pope Francis with street children at Anak-TNK center.

Such intimate encounters and empathy with the suffering and afflicted endure in people’s memory as a fatherly outreach. Their healing impact may even wipe out bad memories of papal galas or exorcising handshakes with corrupt politicians. And it was encouraging to read that Asian Church leaders have learned from the example set by the Holy Father.

Cardinal Oswald Gracias,of Mumbai led the 10th Plenary Assembly of the Federation of Asian Bishops Conferences in Vietnam Dec. 2012, NJ Viehland Photos

According to a media report, Indian Cardinal Oswald Gracias has admitted that the papal visits to Asia have given a big boost to the “self-confidence” of the Asian Church. The cardinal, president of the Asian bishops’ federation, has said that the pope’s example will encourage the Asian Church to take forward the mission to the poor. Such enthusiasm rekindles hope of a renewed outreach to people harried by multiple forms of poverty and deprivation.

HFSB, Sorsogon,contributed

Sri Lankan Sr. Bernie De Silva, HFSB, leads seminar for fishermen in Sorsogon [contributed photo, HFSB]

In fact, just like Pope Francis’ own home Church in Latin America, the Asian Church used to be a pioneer in social apostolate and outreach to the poor, a few decades ago. Committed social apostles such as Japanese Cardinal Fumio Hamao, Korean Cardinal Stephen Kim Sou-hwan, Filipino Bishops Julio Labayen and Francisco Claver and Japanese Sister Filo Hirota were among stalwarts of the Asian bishops’ Office of Human Development (OHD). A few still survive in ecclesiastical backwoods. Although that office is struggling for survival today, hopefully, the grace of papal visits may herald a new springtime!

May the pope’s Gospel witness be a new Revelation even to latter-day Church leaders dismissive of pro-poor movements such as OHD and shift focus from regional commitment by withdrawing into juridical ghettos. The lived witness of the pope’s Asian pilgrimages is further affirmed by his Lenten message 2015, which urges Christians to overcome the scandal of globalized indifference. Time to live that message!


Hector Welgampola

Hector Welgampola

Veteran Asian Church journalist Hector Welgampola from Sri Lanka has retired as Executive Editor of the former Union of Catholic Asian News (UCAN) based in Hong Kong, then Bangkok. Before UCAN, Hector headed editorial teams of newspapers in Sri Lanka. Since retiring Hector has lived in Australia with his wife, Rita. He authored the resource book Asian Church Glossary and Stylebook.


CBCP Document : Pastoral Statement on the Draft Bangsamoro Basic Law

Sr Cecilia Espenilia OP with Muslim girl in Luneta. - NJ Viehland Photo

Sr Cecilia Espenilia OP with Muslim girl in Luneta. – NJ Viehland Photo


Pastoral Statement of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference
of the Philippines on the Draft Bangsamoro Basic Law

To All People of Good Will:

Peace be with you! With this greeting of peace we as religious leaders share with you our thoughts on the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).

Our Perspective as Religious Leaders

Our first stance is to listen and discern. We will especially listen to those who are directly affected by the BBL, those living in the Bangsamoro, the Muslim majority and non-Muslim minorities. We will listen to those who support the BBL and to those who oppose it. We will listen to those who believe that there has been a lack of consultation. Further, we will listen to those outside the proposed Bangsamoro territory — Muslims, Christians, Indigenous Peoples, peoples of other religious persuasions. What we receive we shall present to officials concerned.

Our overriding concern is the common good of all Filipinos. We believe that concern for the common good is also that of the negotiating panels, MILF and government. After so many years of grave discussions replete with turns and stops, they have finally reached an agreement which they believe is the basis of a just and lasting peace. We do not propose any specific political or ideological blueprint for peace.

We are not political negotiators or political officials. We are not constitutionalists or lawyers. We refrain from delving into the constitutional issues raised by many. We leave those to constitutional experts to argue and to the Supreme Court to decide.

Our mandate as religious leaders is altogether different. Ours is to proclaim, as Jesus did (Eph. 2:16), “glad tidings of peace.” Our specific concerns are the religious and moral imperatives of peace. That perspective is as always our viewpoint as religious and moral teachers.

Peace is God’s Gift

And this is the most fundamental religious teaching about peace that we share with you. Peace is God’s gift. It is given to those “among whom his favour rests” (see Lk. 2:14). It is “through the tender mercy of God” that we are led to peace by “the dawn from on high” (see Lk. 1:78=79). And Jesus himself said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives” (Jn. 14:27).

Because peace is God’s gift, we need constantly to pray for peace, the peace that God desires for all of us, the peace that reconciles us with one another, with God, and with all His creation. This is the kind of peace that we wish and pray for when we greet one another: Peace be with you. Salaam. Shalom.

Peace is in and of the Heart, Peace is Harmony

Peace is fundamentally in the heart, of the heart. Peace is harmony. Peace is unity. Peace is reconciliation. Peace is mutual forgiveness among peoples.

A peace agreement may be signed between the government and the Moro *(Islamic) Liberation Front (MILF). Armed conflicts may cease. But if hatred or desire for revenge or dislike or aversion consumes the heart, if deep historic biases and prejudices remain, the eruption of violent conflict is simply simmering below the surface of apparently peaceful co-existence.

Peace Comes with Justice

Peace is not the fruit of a mere handshake or an embrace. Peace comes with justice. Peace is the assurance of respect for fundamental human dignity and human rights. For the Bangsamoro, justice means the recognition of their centuries-old aspiration for self-determination, their right to chart their own destiny in dignity and freedom. For the whole country justice requires the acceptance of the overarching right of national sovereignty and national territorial integrity. For Indigenous Peoples in the Bangsamoro, justice means respect for and protection of their right to their ancestral domain already officially recognized by the Indigenous Peoples Right Acts (IPRA). For non-Muslim and nonindigenous inhabitants in the Bangsamoro, justice is a recognition and protection of their fundamental human rights, such as religious freedom and property rights. Pope Francis in his message at Malacanang emphasized this when he said: “I express my trust that the progress made in bringing peace to the south of the country will result in just solutions in accord with the nation’s founding principles and respectful of the inalienable rights of all, including the indigenous peoples and religious minorities.”

Some Concerns of Justice

Some of these rights may be inadequately or inappropriately articulated in the BBL. Many believe, for instance, that a time-free 10% requirement to have a referendum for inclusion into the Bangsamoro will effectively expand the Bangsamoro territory through the years because of the sheer force of population immigration. Others see the need for a clear elaboration of the Bangsamoro exclusive right over education so as not to endanger the nature and purpose of Christian religious educational institutions. Still others are concerned about the ambiguous concept of contiguity by water, and see dangers of a Bangsamoro territory slowly expanding through time.

Many are also disturbed that there is a lot of misinformation and misinterpretation with regard to certain provisions of the BBL, as for instance, the provisions on land. Presently attempts to grab land or drive away their lawful owners by force of arms and even by murder, under the pretext of ancestral domain, are creating fear and tension, among certain communities in the Bangsamoro. The reported rise of shadowy civilian militias for self-protection recalls the tragic past of “Ilagas” and “Blackshirts” in the 1970s. This is totally unproductive and ironic when we understand the BBL as a promise of peace and harmony.

Such concerns we bring to the attention of MILF and government peace negotiators, as well as of legislators who are tasked with refining the draft BBL.

Peace Comes with Fairness and Equity

We all desire that the provisions of the BBL express fairness and equity. For this reason we hope that the BBL will ensure equal opportunity for integral human development for all the peoples in the Bangsmoro. We desire a BBL that will respect various cultures, religious beliefs and traditions. We wish to be assured that the BBL will provide equal access to educational, economic, political benefits and resources.

It would be a travesty of fairness and equity if, for instance, jobs are denied to capable persons simply because of ethnic, cultural, religious or gender considerations. Discrimination would be a direct contradiction to the fundamental Bangsamoro aspiration for self-determination that responds to deep feelings of neglect and marginalization.

Peace is Unity through Dialogue

Isaiah the Prophet spoke of a messianic time when the Word of the Lord shall come to the people. “They will beat their swords into plowshares, their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore” (Is. 2:4).

We are at the cusp of a new Mindanao history when arms of destruction are replaced by productive tools for human development, when men trained for war are trained for wise and prudent governance. In some countries innocent civilians are persecuted or even killed, their homes devastated, places of worship destroyed. May this not be so in our country.

We, therefore, commend the consensus decision of both negotiating sides for the decommissioning of military forces and arms. We also pray that the form of government in the Bangsamoro will unite the different cultures together for the common good. We appeal to emerging political parties that they effectively remove the neglect and isolation of the poor from decision-making and make them active partners for their integral development. We ask legislators to ensure that the provisions of the BBL as well as their implementation will be forces of solidarity and not of division.

We make a special appeal to all sectors, groups, and political movements of the Bangsamoro to come together in dialogue towards a consensus position on the BBL.

Dialogue is the way to peace, not the use of arms. This has been the experience of successive negotiating panels on both the MILF side and the government’s. From hostility to openness, from aggressive onesidedness to mutual respect and understanding, from contestation to trust and friendship – this is the road of authentic dialogue. When the encounter of persons from opposite sides is authentically human, it is the Spirit of the Lord that draws them together finally as friends. And friendship is an expression of love — “the common word” for Muslims Christians, and peoples of other religions.

Final Pastoral Observations and Recommendations

In the light of the above moral and religious considerations:

1. We commend the perseverance of the negotiating panels of both the government and the MILF that, even with changes of key personnel through the years, persevered in the peace process, changing the nature of tense and troubled negotiations into trustful dialogue for peace.

2. We commend the realism of the MILF vision to dialogue towards self-determination while respecting and preserving national sovereignty and territorial integrity.

3. We appeal to Congress to sift objectively and wisely through the results of their Mindanao-wide consultation and ensure that the fundamental Bangsamoro aspiration for self-determination be effectively enshrined in the final BBL, together with the twin national principles of national sovereignty and territorial integrity.

4. We strongly recommend that the fundamental human rights and freedoms of the non-Muslim peoples in the Bangsamoro – Christians, peoples of other faiths, and Indigenous peoples — be respected and promoted as already enshrined in existing laws, such as property rights and the IP ancestral domain.

5. We recommend the inclusion of a provision in the BBL that would make it impossible in the future for any radical extremist group to exploit or change the democratic framework of the Bangsamoro government so as to deny both the doctrine and practice of religious freedom.

6. We pray to our Lord God for wisdom for our legislators so that they would keep in mind the good of the Bangsamoro and the common good of all Filipinos.


We believe that regarding the centuries-old conflict in Mindanao we are, with a significantly improved BBL, truly at the threshold of a just and lasting peace. We place our concerns of peace in the hands of our Blessed Mother Mary, the Queen of Peace, so that through her maternal intercession her Son, Jesus who is himself our “Peace” (Eph. 2: 14), may always be with us “to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

For and on behalf of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines:


Archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan January 22, 2015

*reprinted from CBCP News, with correction

Document: CBCP Pastoral Exhortation in the Year of Consecrated Life

AMOR, N.J. Viehland

AMOR, N.J. Viehland

As you received Christ Jesus the Lord, walk in him, rooted in him and built upon him and established in the faith as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. (Col 2:6-7)

Our Holy Father Pope Francis has dedicated the year 2015 for Consecrated Life. This special Church event started on the First Sunday of Advent and will end on February 2, 2016, the World Day of Consecrated Life. The purpose of this event according to the Prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, Cardinal Joao Braz De Aviz, is to “make a grateful remembrance of the recent past while embracing the future with hope.”

The year 2015 also marks the fiftieth anniversary of Perfectae Caritatis, the Vatican II Decree on the Adaptation and Renewal of Religious Life.

Concurrent with the aforementioned events is our observance in the Philippine Church of the Year of the Poor as part of our nine-year preparation for the Great Jubilee 2021. Thus, our observance of the Year of Consecrated Life and the Year of the Poor in 2015 serves as our ecclesial horizon in our “grateful remembrance of the past and hopeful embrace of the future”.

Paco, NJ Viehland

Paco, NJ Viehland


In the middle of our nine year preparation for the Great Jubilee 2021 celebrating the first Mass and first baptism in the Philippines, we invite you to celebrate kaplag, the discovery on April 29, 1565 of the image of the Santo Niño in an abandoned house in Cebu. The finding occurred just a day after the arrival of the Legazpi-Urdaneta expedition inCebu, and was greeted as a marvelous portent of the success of the missionary endeavor. Effectively, this day marked the formal beginning of the continuous proclamation of the Gospel to us Filipinos.

Pit Señor!

It must be noted that when the Santo Niño was found, there were evidences that it had been treated as an object of veneration. Its original garments had been replaced by local material; it had a necklace of peculiar make, but with a cross probably also from Magellan; flowers were found before the image. The Cebuanos had made sacrifices in front of the image and had anointed it with oil. This image of the Santo Niño is believed to be the same one given by Magellan to the native queen who was baptized Juana in 1521. Thus seven years from now we shall be celebrating the five hundredth anniversary of the first recorded Mass and baptism in thePhilippines.

 The First Missionaries

Our Christian faith was brought to our shores by selfless men and women from many countries. During the first three centuries they came initially from Spainand Mexico, but also from Italy, Germany, and Central Europe. They were formed and sent by religious Orders, which at that time were the most organized to send missionaries. They braved the seas in ships, with each batch or shipload called abarcada (whence the popular name for our peer groups). It pleases us to recall their institutions in anhonor roll, in their order of arrival:

In the first century of evangelization these were: the Augustinians (OSA), 1565; the Franciscans (OFM), 1578; the Jesuits (SJ), 1581; the Dominicans (OP), 1587; the Japanese beatas, 1602; the Augustinian Recollects (OAR), 1606; the Hospitaller Brothers of St. John of God (OH), 1611; and the Poor Clares (OFM), 1621.

Members of the Third Orders for women of these congregations, now called the Lay Orders, also formed their own institutions of consecrated life in thePhilippines. In order of their foundation, these were: the beatas of Bolinao, 1659; the Dominican Tertiaries (OP), 1682 and 1750; the beatas de la Compañia, ancestors of the RVM sisters, 1684; the beatas of Babuyanes, 1719; the Augustinian Recollect Tertiaries (OAR), 1719; and the Augustinian Tertiaries, ancestor of the ASOLC sisters, 1740.

In the second half of the 19th century came more congregations: the Vincentian Fathers (CM) and Daughters of Charity (DC), 1862; the Augustinian Tertiary Sisters from Barcelona (OSA), 1883; the Capuchin Friars (OFM Cap), 1886; the Assumption Sisters (RA), 1892; and the Benedictines (OSB), 1895.

Cardinal Orlando Quevedo with RVM nuns NJ Viehland Photo

During this same time religious groups of women were also formed: the Hermanitas de la Madre de Dios, Cebu, 1877; the beatas de Balingasag, Misamis Oriental, 1880; and the beatas de Santa Maria Magdalena, La Paz, Iloilo, 1887.

The critical condition of the Philippine Church at the beginning of the 20th century in the light of the Philippine revolution against Spain and the Philippine-American War led the bishops to call for other congregations. First to respond were the Sisters of St Paul of Chartres (SPC), 1904. From here up to the convening of the First National Eucharistic Congress in Manila on 11-15 December 1929, there arrived the Redemptorists (CSsR), 1906; the Mill Hill Missionaries (MHM), 1906; the Benedictine Sisters (OSB), 1906; the Fathers of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (CICM), 1907; the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart (MSC), 1908; the Divine Word Missionaries (SVD), 1909; the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (ICM), 1910; the Brothers of the Christian Schools (FSC), 1911; the Franciscan Missionariers of Mary (FMM), 1912; the Religious of the Good Shepherd (RGS), 1912; the Holy Spirit Sisters (SSpS), 1912; the Oblates of St Joseph (OSJ), 1915; the Pink Sisters (SSsPAP), 1923; the Discalced Carmelite Nuns (OCD), 1923; the Maryknoll Sisters (MM), 1925; the Maryknoll Fathers (MM), 1926; the Columbans, 1929; and the Franciscan Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament (now SFIC), 1929. During this period another congregation for local women was also established, the Dominican Sisters of Molo (OP Molo), 1925. In the ensuing decades up to the present, many more congregations of men and women, local and international, have come to assist in the continuing evangelization of the Church in the Philippines.

They Lived Christ and Shared Christ

Quezon City,NJ Viehland

Quezon City,NJ Viehland

To each and every one of these men and women, “known or unknown,” the Papal Legate Cardinal Ildebrando Antoniutti said, “the Church devotes a grateful and heartfelt thought, as does also the fatherland which they helped to establish.”

Apart from the obvious apostolic work such as catechizing, preaching, and building churches, these men and women lived their religious lives in community.

The legacy of these religious congregations to Philippine life is staggering. Histories of peoples were written down or may be gleaned through neatly kept canonical books, records of income and expenses, and inventories of church goods and property, all of which were dutifully turned over by every incoming and outgoing personnel and kept in archives and libraries. Members of religious congregations were sent as emissaries to foreign countries such asJapan,China,Cambodia, andSiam. They contributed to the defence of the islands against pirates and slave-raiders, helped in pacifying revolts, and extended assistance during natural calamities such as famines, wars, plagues, floods, earthquakes, and typhoons.

The Promotion of Filipino Culture

Manila,NJ Viehland

Manila Cathedral,,NJ Viehland

The arts and sciences flourished under their care. In terms of cultural heritage alone, the country is the richer not just for solid and artistic churches and conventos but also schools, hospitals, orphanages, leprosaria, dams, fortresses, watchtowers streets, bridges, plazas, and even marketplaces like the market of Baclayon, Bohol and town halls like the tribunal of Paoay, Ilocos Norte.

Philippine languages were preserved in grammars and dictionaries. Local plants were documented and promoted for their medicinal and economic value. The Augustinians introduced the European-style weaving loom, and brought in trapiches from Mexico to extract sugar. As early as 1669, the Franciscans had introduced a hemp-stripping machine in Bacon, Sorsogon which presaged Bicol’s abaca industry[i].

Explorations of new territory were preserved in maps, duly printed in the presses which the religious orders established. The Villaverde Trail opened a route that connected Pangasinan with Nueva Vizcaya via the Caraballo mountains (1890s). The most famous Philippine map is that by the Jesuit Pedro Murillo Velarde, printed by Filipino engravers inManilain 1734. The Dominicans established a printing press in 1593, the present UST Publishing House, possibly the second oldest running publishing house in the world.

The Jesuit Meteorological Observatory established in 1869 pioneered in predicting tropical disturbances. In Minuluan (now Talisay) Negros Occidental, Fr Fernando Cuenca OAR promoted the sugar industry by inventing the hydraulic pressing machine for milling cane in 1872[ii]. Electricity and Edison’s phonograph were introduced through the University of Santo Tomas in 1880[iii]. Fr Felix Huerta OFM facilitated the realization of the water supply forManila in 1882.

Pope Francis in his homily at the Manila Cathedral rightly said: “As the Church in the Philippines looks to the fifth centenary of its evangelization, we feel gratitude for the legacy left by so many bishops, priests and religious of past generations. They labored not only to preach the Gospel and build up the Church in this country, but also to forge a society inspired by the Gospel message of charity, forgiveness and solidarity in the service of the common good.”


Hail Our Valiant Religious Men and Women

De La Salle Brother Armin Luistro from FaceBook

The commemoration of the discovery of the Santo Niño leads us to embrace the future with hope as we observe a truthful review of the contribution of the religious orders and congregations. We are called forth to a renewed commitment of their following of Christ through the evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty and obedience. May every religious be led to a joyful response with the people of God in the work of evangelization today!

First, a truthful review should be based on historical evidence of the religious groups who came to thePhilippines, especially the friar orders of the Spanish colonial period. The ghosts of the Black Legend and even of our own Propaganda Movement and its supporters have conditioned our thinking towards these friars, with the backlash that the key to the understanding of so many sources to our history—our knowledge of the Spanish language—has unfortunately deteriorated. Unfamiliarity with primary sources has led significant sectors of the Philippine Church—hierarchy and seminary professors included—to regard the role of the religious in the Spanish colonial chapter of Philippine church history in a negative light. Shadows there were aplenty, for sure, but these seem to obscure the lights that are so much more illuminating.

Second, the call to follow Christ through the evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty and obedience must be renewed and deepened in religious life. As described in the Essential Elements of Religious Life, living the evangelical counsel of chastity is their testimony to hope since it is “a sign of the future life and a source of abundant fruitfulness in an undivided heart for the Kingdom of God”.[iv] The evangelical counsel of poverty, in imitation of Christ who lived a life of poverty and who showed preferential love for the poor, invites those in consecrated life to a deeper integration of how they embody this vow in fact and in spirit as religious during this Year of the Poor. The evangelical counsel of obedience calls them to pattern their lives after Christ who surrendered His whole life following the will of the Father until death. Thus, the evangelical counsels express not only their public consecration in the Church, but also form their identity, lifestyle and mission as religious today.

 A Joyful Response

Zambales, NJ Viehland

Sr Mary Francis Borje, SFIC, Zambales, NJ Viehland

Third, a joyful response with other Church groups in the work of evangelization must characterize religious life. Pope Francis observed that “wherever there are consecrated people, seminarians, men and women religious, young people, there is joy, there is always joy! It is the joy of freshness, the joy of following Jesus; the joy that the Holy Spirit gives us, not the joy of the world.”[v] This joy which sustained our missionaries in the past continues to this day as our religious participate in the ministries of the various dioceses: schools, parishes, orphanages, hospitals, youth centers, catechetical centers, etc. The religious in our country are not only active in the administration of the various spiritual and corporal acts of mercy but are courageous in defending human rights, as their predecessors did before them. Increasing number of religious are now sent as missionaries to other countries, including places where their institutions were born in Europe and the Americas.

Fourthly, an important service of consecrated people to the church is their witness to the importance of Christ in our life as based in the sacraments of baptism and confirmation. May all the faithful be challenged by the religious that Christ can fill up our life with joy and he is the reason of service to the world.

So as we remember with gratitude the past and embrace the future with hope, we look toward Mary, model of consecrated life who remembered the great acts of salvation and who always hoped in God’s gracious providence in her heart. May she who gave birth to the Holy Child Jesus (the Santo Niño) in Bethlehem and who followed Jesus to Calvary be the constant inspiration and guide of our men and women in consecrated life as they live out joyfully their religious consecration in the Church today!

For the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of thePhilippines, January 22, 2015

CBCP 2015 Archbishop Villegas NJ Viehland


Archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan

CBCP President

 [i] Fernandez 1979, Chapters 25, 26, and 27.
[ii] Simonena 1974.
[iii] Villarroel 1984, p.74. Electric lighting for the Ateneo and the Escuela Normal also enhanced the Golden Jubilee of Leo XIII in 1888. Another Edison’s grafófono was bought fromChicago and introduced to the Ateneo in 1894 (de la Costa 1997).
[iv] Essential Elements in the Church’s Teaching on Religious Life as Applied to Institutes dedicated to Works of the Apostolate, Sacred Congregation for Religious and for Secular Institutes, May 31, 1983).
[v] Pope Francis, Meeting with Seminarians and Novices,Rome, 6 July 2013.

Pope Francis appoints Quevedo papal envoy in Japan ‘hidden Christians’ anniversary

 NJ Viehland Photos

NJ Viehland Photos

Vatican City, 17 January – Pope Francis has appointed Filipino Cardinal Orlando B. Quevedo, archbishop of Cotabato, as his special envoy to the celebrations for the 150th anniversary of the discovery of the “hidden Christians of Japan”, to be held in Nagasaki March 14-17, Vatican Information Service reported.

Catholic missionaries St. Francis Xavier of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits)  with Cosme de Torres and John Fernandes  arrived in Kagoshima, Japan in 1549, to spread the word of God. Eventually, the number of Christians rose to about 300,000 including members of the aristocracy, but by the beginning of the next century, Christianity was banned in the country and in 1612, the faithful were forced into practicing their beliefs in hiding. 

The “hidden Christians” are locally known as Kakure Kirishitan.

Today, about half a million Japanese identify as Catholics; roughly 0.5% of the population. There are 16 dioceses around the country. 

Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Japan Archbishop Peter Takeo Okada of Tokyo wrote last year about his church’s plan for the March anniversary celebration. Archbishop Okada said the existence of these Christians who kept their faith under severe persecution was revealed at Oura Catholic Church in Nagasaki. He expressed his hope that Pope Francis would join the commemoration.

“We would be deeply grateful if Pope Francis would encourage us in deepening our faith and conveying widely the message of faith to others. We also expect that a visit by the pope would be an occasion for promoting and advancing inter-religious dialogue in Japan,” Archbishop Okada added.

The pope would be just coming from pastoral visits to Sri Lanka and the Philippines by the time of the Japan event. He chose to send Cardinal Quevedo as his representative .

The 75 year-old cardinal has been called a “powerful voice for inter religious dialogue” between Muslims and Christians especially those in Mindanao where an autonomous region with predominantly Muslim populations sits.

Quevedo also headed the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC) from 2005-2011. The Japan bishops’ conferences is a member of the voluntary association of bishops’ conferences in the region.







Commentary: The courage of Sri Lanka’s first saint challenges today’s Church

Joseph Vaz devotion card

     The courage of Sri Lanka’s first saint challenges today’s Church

The  eyes of the faithful saw the saint in Joseph Vaz during his lifetime. But he had to wait 303 years after death for official acclaim of his sanctity. And now, will his canonization just niche him away on church walls or inspire emulation of his pastoral courage?

For many years, Church historians, pious groups in Goa and Sri Lanka’s Joseph Vaz National Secretariat kept the Vaz saga of sanctity alive. As secretariat chair and ordinary of Vaz’ final resting place, Bishop Vianney Fernando of Kandy harnessed people’s enthusiasm for the Vaz cause. Soon after Vaz was beatified in 1995, nine Lankan dioceses built 23 churches/chapels in his honor. At some 10 venues, devotees hold public prayer to seek his intercession.

Even before official approval of public veneration for the country’s first saint, in 1983 Archbishop Nicholas Marcus Fernando of Colombo pioneered a project to focus laity attention on a vital aspect of Vaz’ ministry. He founded Joseph Vaz Deva Dharma Niketanaya to teach theology in the Sinhala language. Now affiliated to Rome’s Urban University, the theologate has campuses in three other dioceses as well.

Up until now, this network has helped train catechists and lay cadres for apostolates. Hopefully, the Jan. 14 canonization should enthuse these campuses to take a lead in deeper study and wider sharing of hitherto unexplored lessons of the Vaz mission methods.

The life and mission of Sri Lanka’s first saint was uniquely heroic and prophetic in many ways. His own priestly zeal led him there in 1687 to serve Catholics abandoned by Portuguese colonizers and their clergy. After the Apostles of Jesus, he is the first known Asian missioner to have evangelized an Asian country. And he did it with the help of a few fellow-Indian priests. That is why Pope John Paul II named him the greatest missioner in Asia since Francis Xavier.

From the ruins of a Lusitanized Church deserted by the Portuguese, the Brahmin priest began to build a truly native Church. After studying the local language and culture, his pastoral team introduced indigenized para-liturgies to meet people’s spiritual needs. He set apart teams of writers to provide Catholic literature in Sinhala and Tamil. Though he led a minuscule religious community, Father Vaz intervened for the public good when floods and plagues hit the country. If the essence of his pastoral style became a guide to later European missioners to Lanka, it froze in a cultural winter. His vibrant witness to interreligious harmony and interethnic amity ended up fossilized.

Three centuries after Father Vaz’ death, the better method of celebrating his canonization would be to discern his message for today, not to blindly mimic his pastoral methods. Just as he set apart personnel for contextual apostolates such as writing and healing, will today’s Church prioritize current apostolic needs and pastoral challenges?

More importantly, will the example of his personal holiness and commitment challenge Catholics and their pastors to holiness of prophetic witness, the essence of our Christian faith? Just the way the Vaz team ministered to smallpox victims, there is a need for pastoral teams to speak up for victims of today’s bigger-pox: injustice, oppression and corruption.

Some Sri Lankan dioceses are so blessed with a glut of priests that seniors may opt to make way for younger clergy. In such a scenario, let volunteers go on Vaz-style mission to needy regions and apostolates.

Maybe, the new Asian theological institute to be blessed by Pope Francis in Negombo could be the nucleus for an Asian program of reverse mission of prophetic social ministry. Such emulation of the great missioner’s pastoral vision and style will be the better way of bringing alive his canonization. It will also resonate the challenge to “apostolic courage to come out of itself” that Cardinal Bergoglio presented to the Church, just before he was elected pope.

Hector Welgampola


Hector Welgampola

Veteran Asian Church journalist Hector Welgampola from Sri Lanka has retired as Executive Editor of the former Union of Catholic Asian News (UCAN) based in Hong Kong, then Bangkok. Before UCAN, Hector headed editorial teams of newspapers in Sri Lanka. Since retiring Hector has lived in Australia with his wife, Rita. He authored the resource book Asian Church Glossary and Stylebook.

LEAVE THE RABBITS IN PEACE!! – CBCP President on Pope Francis interview

The Pope NEVER made the rather unseemly remark that Catholics breed like rabbits. Everyone is encouraged to read both on print and on social media the transcript of the Papal interview aboard Philippine Airlines that flew the Holy Father back to Rome.

What the Pope DID SAY was that some Catholics mistakenly believe that to be Catholic, we ought to breed like rabbits — and prior to using that simile, he knew that it was harsh and so said “excuse the expression” — but it was apt and it brought home the point. And the point is that the Church has always taught that it is a Catholic obligation to be RESPONSIBLE about parenthood. Births should be planned rationally by both parents who must always remain open to new life, but who must also take into consideration their physical, financial and emotional capacity to raise children. It is not correct for a Catholic to assume the attitude: “Come what may!” This is traditional Church teaching that the Pope was reiterating, and it should be especially relevant to us Filipinos who are grappling with population issues.

It will also be important to go back to the Pope’s words at his meeting with families at MOA. There he said that Blessed Paul VI in his much-maligned Humanae Vitae prophetically understood that nations would be impoverished in the measure that they assume an anti-birth stance. The experience of aging nations with only a handful of youngsters to take on the jobs necessary for a country’s survival and growth has proved Blessed Paul VI right. At the same time, Paul VI urged PASTORS to be sensitive to PARTICULAR CASES, referring to cases that called to carefully balanced, prayerfully calibrated solutions in accordance with a well-formed conscience and in the context of the guidance received from the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

And this is certainly significant teaching for our time.

Let us leave the rabbits in peace!

Pope Francis visits ANAK-TNK children’s home

Papal Visit pope with Anak children press release

Pope Francis with children in institution who sent their invitation through Cardinal Tagle. Photo release

Pope Francis visited children in an NGO-run institution that invited him last year through Cardinal Luis Tagle of Manila.



In Manila: Filipinos waited to greet Pope Francis

Papal Visit Men Women rush NJ Viehland

Men, women rush to get a spot on an empty truck to catch a glimpse of Pope Francis as he goes from Villamor Airbase to the nunciature in Taft Avenue. NJ Viehland Photos

MANILA, PHILIPPINES Filipinos came in droves to line streets of Manila, where Pope Francis’ motorcade breezed through the 14 miles from Villamor Air Base to the nunciature on Taft Avenue.
The sidewalks beyond the barricades from the corner of Taft near the nuncio’s residence down Roxas Boulevard were teeming with people hours before the expected 5:45 p.m. landing of the plane that carried him from Sri Lanka.

Some people, like Gladys Silvano, told NCR she arrived at 3 a.m. It was her day off as a cashier in a restaurant, and she wanted to make sure she found a spot that would give her clear view.

There were no video screens installed in this part of the motorcade. See what they did in NCR Photo blog: Crowds greet Pope Francis in Manila  N.J. Viehland | Jan. 15, 2015

Quevedo: Dialogue in Asia and Francis’ dialogue

 NJ Viehland Photos

Former officials of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao greeted Archbishop Orlando Quevedo of Cotabato at a dinner celebration in Cotabato of his birthday and creation as cardinal. NJ Viehland Photos

It is very encouraging that we are on the right track — that we are not a church apart that thinks differently from the pope, from the universal church – Orlando Quevedo.
Full report Quevedo: Francis’, Asian church’s definitions of dialogue are the same N.J. Viehland  |  Jan. 14, 2015
Asian Family buddhist hindu catholic NJ Viehland

Congress on Asian Family with Buddhist monk, Hindu mother and Catholic evangelist Bo Sanchez. NJ Viehland Photos

Pope Francis in Asia – Asians look forward to Pope Francis’ visit, healing

Papal Visit 2015 Letran NJ Viehland Photos

Children playing street ball said they will watch Pope Francis ride around nearby Manila Cathedral on Jan. 16



Pope Francis returns to Asia this week, where crises are priming the ground for the kind of church he is working to grow.

“Francis’ dream of a church that is bruised and wounded and muddied is what the church in Asia wishes to be,” said Cardinal Orlando Quevedo of Cotabato, Philippines, who for years led the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences, or FABC, and who was named a cardinal by Pope Francis last year.

Read full report 

Sri Lanka Church announces post-election Papal Visit schedule

Sri Lanka, screen shot

Sri Lanka, screen shot

Newly installed President Maithripala Sirisena and his First Lady followed by Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith will greet Pope Francis when he arrives in Colombo from Rome tomorrow Jan 13, Sri Lanka’s Sunday Observer online newspaper reported.

More on the post-election papal visit schedule published here



Sri Lanka election over but political war awaits – Hector Welgampola

Sri Lanka's new President Maithripala Sirisena screenshot Sri Lanka Mirror Facebook

Sri Lanka’s new President Maithripala Sirisena screenshot Sri Lanka Mirror Facebook

Commentary: Lanka’s new president won the electoral battle, but the political war awaits

By: Hector Welgampola

With political alacrity, Sri Lankans have voted in a new president thwarting an incumbent’s plan for an unprecedented third term seen as a move to further entrench dynastic power. The cosmic speed of behind-the-scene events before and after the Jan. 8 election took many by surprise.

Was President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s decision to quit midway through vote-counting a final act of magnanimity or a crafty move to ensure his political future? Where does it leave the kitchen cabinet of siblings and son, who continue to hold office? Before returning to his native village, Rajapaksa had a final tete-a-tete with soon-to-be prime minster Ranil Wickremesinghe, a longtime friend, though vintage political antagonist. What transpired remains unknown. Only history or future political memoirs will divulge the mystery of the Rajapaksa exit.

Some insights may be discerned from newly elected President Maithripala Sirisena’s speedy decision to be sworn-in within hours of his victory. The ceremony was simple but rich in symbolism. In order to counter witness to the lavish presidential lifestyle of the past, the Gandhian new president had instructed his staff to restrict his inauguration expenses to fifty dollars. He took the oath of office in the presence of a Tamil judge of the Supreme Court, not in the presence of the country’s chief justice, Mohan Pieris, the Catholic appointee promoted by Rajapaksa after impeaching Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranaike.

Reportedly, the installation was unduly speeded up partly to relieve the public regarding fears of an alleged military intervention. Two days before the Jan. 8 election, a Muslim citizen wrote a 13-point open letter to the army commander deploring politicization of the military. All armed forces are under the defense secretary, Rajapaksa sibling Gotabhaya. Social media too reported that even before President Sirisena swore him in as prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe had private discussions with military leaders to assuage army fears of counter politicization, as well as to allay public fears.

Social peace and stability will be essential if the new president is to implement his 100-day program of constitutional reform and return to a just and equitable system of governance. He heads a rather loose coalition of disparate political elements, some of whose retinue may be nursing hopes of political perks and rewards. But the new president’s greatest asset is public confidence and hope for a return to an era of peace and social justice based on the equality of all citizens irrespective of race, religion or political persuasion. He received the unprecedented support of all ethnic groups. His highest percentage of votes came from the Tamil-speaking northern and eastern regions.

After a decade of discrimination, partisan politics, nepotism and corruption, the ethnically and economically fractured nation of 21 million will have thousands of grievances. The religious sector has the unenviable role of soothing their anxieties and championing their just causes. Religious leaders must heed the chiding by the nation and recommit themselves to guiding rulers with diligence and not pandering to their weaknesses. Much fallout of this period of transition could be contained if Church leaders act as Romeros, not as Richelieus.

In a statement to Fides news agency, Bishop Vianney Fernando of Kandy, has already welcomed the election of Sirisena. The country’s senior bishop expressed hope that the new president would implement the program of anti-corruption, good governance, commitment to development and reconciliation he placed before the country’s bishops.

Hector Welgampola


Hector Welgampola

Veteran Asian Church journalist Hector Welgampola from Sri Lanka has retired as Executive Editor of the former Union of Catholic Asian News (UCAN) based in Hong Kong, then Bangkok. Before UCAN, Hector headed editorial teams of newspapers in Sri Lanka. Since retiring Hector has lived in Australia with his wife, Rita. He authored the resource book Asian Church Glossary and Stylebook.

After 10 years, Sri Lanka elects new president

Sri Lanka Maithri screen shot Manifesto

Sri Lanka Maithripala Sirisana screen shot of Manifesto from ground views.org/wp

President Maithripala Sirisena, 63,  took his oath of office as the 6th Executive President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka before Supreme Court Judge K. Sri Pawan at the Independence Square in Colombo Friday evening, Jan. 9, the Sri Lankan online newspaper Daily Mirror reported.

Sri Lankan president, Mahinda Rajapaksa conceded defeat in this morning’s polls ending his 10-year rule, which he tried to extend by removing the constitutional term limit for the presidency. He called elections two years ahead of schedule and was reportedly widely predicted to win before his party mate and health minister defected from the party to run against him.

Around the time Rajapaksa conceded defeat, the Department of Elections said it had counted 56.5 percent of the votes in favor of Sirisena while Rajapaksa garnered 42 percent.

Analysts say aside from winning votes of Tamil and Muslim electors in the countryside, Sirisena, a Sinhala Buddhist, also split votes of southern Sinhalese electors that traditionally backed Rajapaksa who led the government when it defeated Tamil militants in 2009.

Recently, however, Rajapaksa, 69, has been criticized for his authoritarian leadership and appointing family members to key positions in government.

Sirisena raised these issues in his campaign and promised to fight corruption and bring constitutional reforms to weaken the power of the presidency. His platform of government or “Manifesto”  promises he would work for genuine democracy by amending the constitution, review economic and development ventures and policies, promote a moral society, food security and sustainable agriculture, provide healthcare for all Sri Lankans, reform education, among others.

The elections were conducted just 5 days before Pope Francis’ pastoral visit to Sri Lanka to canonize its first saint and pray with pilgrims at the Marian Shrine in Madhu in a northern district heavily affected by the civil war.

Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith had said the candidates pledged at a meeting with bishops they would work for a “peaceful atmosphere” during Pope Francis’ visit to their country Jan. 13-15. Since Rajapaksa invited the pope for a state visit, the defeated president “gave his personal assurance that … he will not allow anything untoward to happen during the Papal Visit,” Cardinal Ranjith added in an interview in mid-December.


Philippines Church ready for Pope Francis


Fr Mario Francisco, SJ reviews Tagalog language lyrics he composed for the public Mass of Pope Francis at Rizal Park (Luneta) Jan. 18./ NJ Viehland Photos

Fr Mario Francisco, SJ reviews Tagalog language lyrics he composed for the public Mass of Pope Francis at Rizal Park (Luneta) Jan. 18./ NJ Viehland Photos

… But this is the Philippines, where “the Christian story and Christian symbols have played a very important role in everyday life,” said Jesuit Fr. Jose Mario Francisco, who teaches contextual theology at Loyola School of Theology in Quezon City.

“Even when the percentage of people who have regular contact with the church through Mass and activities may be much smaller than the 80 percent who are Catholic or the 90 percent who are Christian,” Francisco said, “the influence of Christianity in the Philippines remains very strong through devotions, worship, music and other symbols.”

He cited Haiyan survivors who were photographed fleeing…

Read full report




New Year’s letter: Peace And Fraternity—The Road Map For A New Myanmar

By Charles Bo, SDB, Archbishop of Yangon, Myanmar

Happy New Year to all of you!

Today is the Day of Peace. For the citizens of Myanmar this is a day of a common dream, a common hope. I wish each one of you a blessed and peace-filled new year.

As we prepare for the dawn of a New Year, so too in Myanmar we are preparing for the dawn of a new era. A new era of freedom, democracy, justice, peace and hope. A new era of fraternity among the diverse peoples of our beautiful nation. There is much to be grateful for.  There is much to be hoped for.  We stand at that blessed and challenging juncture in history. We are just at the very beginning of a new chapter in Myanmar’s story. Over the past two years, the doors of our nation have opened to the world. There are many reasons for hope. In the past two years, restrictions on freedom of expression have been relaxed, there is more space for civil society, the media and political actors, there have been preliminary steps towards peace in the ethnic states, and many political prisoners have been released. After many years under house arrest, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has been elected to Parliament, along with her colleagues in the National League for Democracy. These steps encourage us to see the prospect of a new dawn.

For the first time in more than fifty years, there are reasons to be hopeful for Myanmar. And all these came because some of our brothers and sisters, from 1988 onwards refused to accept the powers of darkness. Some of them were willing to lay down their lives on the altar of supreme sacrifice. They gave their yesterday so that our today may be free and the tomorrow of Myanmar may be justice oriented. Yet we must remember that this is just the very beginning of the beginning. As some political prisoners have been released, others have been arrested. As talks about peace take place, military attacks against civilians in Kachin State continue. And as we begin to enjoy more freedom of speech, some have used this to preach hatred and incite violence against our Muslim brothers and sisters. So there is a very long way still to go, there are many grave challenges to be addressed, and on the horizon alongside the sunshine of hope and a new dawn sit storm clouds of suffering and strife. Myanmar will never be truly free and at peace until all the peoples of Myanmar can live in freedom and peace. Democratic reforms in the cities will not, by themselves, end decades of conflict. It is often said that genuine peace will only be achieved through a peace process, not simply ceasefires, and that such a peace process must involve a political dialogue leading to a political settlement for Myanmar’s ethnic nationalities.

This is true. However, real, true peace can only be achieved through a revolution in our hearts, a renewal of our minds and a rediscovery of the value of fraternity. Peace, Pope Paul VI warned, is not the absence of War.  Once again he guided the nations:  If you want Peace, work for Justice.  No Justice No Peace. Catholic Social tradition struggles for this noble concept: Peace that is born of Justice. As Pope Francis says in his New Year’s message for this World Day of Peace, “in the heart of every man and woman is the desire for a full life, including that irrepressible longing for fraternity which draws us to fellowship with others and enables us to see them not as enemies or rivals, but as brothers and sisters to be accepted and embraced.”

For six decades the country was suffocated by an inhuman dictatorship. You and I and every human being were suffering in our long night of silent tears.  And after all those tears and brokenness, after darkness of merciless persecutions, dawn arrives and we seek light.  But suddenly there seems to be darkness at the midday.  I refer to the interreligious conflicts that has brought sorrow, stigma to the young nation. Do we deserve this. Over the past eighteen months, a wave of hatred and violence  that included violence towards our Muslim brothers and sisters has been unleashed, wreaking destruction and death across Rakhine State, Meikhtila, Oakkan, Lashio and some other parts of our country. This hatred and violence led not only to the deaths of many people and the destruction of homes and shops, but to the death of fraternity and the destruction of brotherhood. Our country’s good name was tarnished world over.  The senseless acts of few brought grief to many.  All communities suffered.

Our task is to rebuild not only the destroyed buildings, but destroyed relationships. Our task, individually and in community, is to rebuild our hearts. The Holy Father says that “without fraternity, it is impossible to build a just society and a solid and lasting peace”. Whatever our religion, we need to refocus our minds on our common humanity and our fraternity as peoples of Myanmar. The Pope says “in the dynamics of history, and in the diversity of ethnic groups, societies and cultures, we see the seeds of a vocation to form a community composed of brothers and sisters who accept and care for one another.” We need to rediscover the value of “unity in diversity”. Myanmar is a multi-ethnic and multi-religious society, rich in ethnic and religious diversity. This diversity is something to celebrate. After the storms, when the sun comes out, we should be able to see that we are a nation of many colours.  

A rainbow nation. We must build a nation in which every person born on Myanmar’s soil feels at home, has a stake in the country’s future, is treated with equal respect and equal rights, and is accepted and cared for by their neighbours. A nation where the histories, languages, customs and religions of all are respected and celebrated. There must be no second-class people. As Pope Francis says, “in many parts of the world, there seems to be no end to grave offences against fundamental human rights, especially the right to life and the right to religious freedom.” This is true in our corner of the world. Even as talks continue in Kachin State, we hear reports of attacks on villages, looting of churches, and the rape of women and girls. In other parts of our country, we hear of mosques destroyed. We hear of the tragedy of an entire people, known as ‘Rohingyas’, treated as if they were not human, consigned to dire conditions in displacement camps or forced to flee the country in boats, embarking on a precarious escape across the seas.

The cause of Rohingya is highly contested. Every human being, Christianity believes, is created in the image of God.  All of us belong to God’s immeasurable embrace of dignity reaches all. The Myanmar government and the International community need to settle citizenship issues. But as a people, as a nation that has taken Karuna and Metta  as the guiding principles, we should not allow a fringe to stain a nation known for its forbearance through random violence. Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere, says Martin Luther King Jr.. We know that many of the Rohingya people have lived in Myanmar for generations, yet they are not accepted as citizens and are rendered stateless. This misery cannot be allowed to continue. Every person born in Myanmar should be recognized as a citizen of Myanmar. While wars and interreligious conflicts go on, a much under reported human agony unfolds elsewhere which affect all communities. Those agonies are much more deeply wounding the nation.  But sadly attention is wanting in these day to day issues that affect millions in our country.

We hear of human trafficking of women and children, as well as more subtle abuses, such as land confiscation or discrimination against religious minorities in business and government employment. The Pope notes: “The tragic phenomenon of human trafficking, in which the unscrupulous prey on the lives and the desperation of others, is but one unsettling example … Alongside overt armed conflicts are less visible but no less cruel wars fought in the economic and financial sectors with means which are equally destructive of lives, families and businesses.” Those words speak to our situation in Myanmar today and remind us of the challenges we must face. A nation that successfully conducted the SEA games deserves a great praise.  When needed, the Myanmar as a nation and people can rise up to any challenge. The same spirit is needed to fight chronic wars  that bleed the nation. We refer to the absolute poverty of 40 percent of our people. We refer to the millions, languishing in the hell of Malaysia, Thailand, victims of human trafficking, the modern day slaves. The multiple faces of poverty is a pestering wound in the soul of the nation. The great challenge is poverty.

The Holy Father says that fraternity is “a prerequisite for fighting poverty”. We must put richness of heart first, if we are to end material poverty. In Pope Francis’ words, “This means not being guided by a ‘desire for profit’ or a ‘thirst for power’. What is needed is the willingness to ‘lose ourselves’ for the sake of others rather than exploiting them, and to ‘serve them’ instead of oppressing them. The ‘other’ – whether a person, a people or a nation – is to be seen … as our ‘neighbour’.” He continues: “Christian solidarity presumes that our neighbour is loved not only as ‘a human being with his or her own rights and a fundamental equality with everyone else, but as the living image of God’.” And so as we begin a New Year and move towards a new era, I echo Pope Francis’ words on behalf of the Church, to all who are suffering the consequences of hatred and war: “To all those who live in lands where weapons impose terror and destruction, I assure you of my personal closeness and that of the whole Church, whose mission is to bring Christ’s love to the defenseless victims of forgotten wars through her prayers for peace, her service to the wounded, the starving, refugees, the displaced and all who live in fear.

The Church also speaks out in order to make leaders hear the cry of pain of the suffering and to put an end to every form of hostility, abuse and the violation of fundamental human rights. For this reason, I appeal forcefully to all those who sow violence and death by force of arms: in the person you today see simply as an enemy to be beaten, discover rather your brother or sister, and hold back your hand! Give up the way of arms and go out to meet the other in dialogue, pardon and reconciliation, in order to rebuild justice, trust, and hope around you!”

I wish all my brothers and sisters, of all religions and ethnicities, throughout our nation a truly happy and blessed New Year. Let’s join hands together to build a new rainbow nation in Myanmar. Let 2014 mark a new era not only of greater freedom, but of fraternity, throughout Myanmar, and in growing in fraternity, we can secure lasting peace and prosperity. A new Myanmar is possible My brothers and Sisters.  That Myanmar will be born   through Peace that comes through Justice. That Myanmar that will make poverty history That Myanmar that will celebrate unity in diversity A free Myanmar freed from hatred is possible. Let us echo with Tagore the great Poet and Nobel Laureate :  Into that land of freedom and prosperity,  My Father, Let my Country Awake.

*Archbishop Charles Maung Bo, of Yangon, Myanmar was among 15 cardinal electors Pope Francis is to create in February.

From Radio Veritas Asia, Quezon City, Philippines


Three Asians among new cardinals

Rome: Three Asians are among 20 new cardinals Pope Francis will create during a Feb. 14 consistory in the Vatican, Matters India reported.

One of the pope’s nominees is Archbishop Pierre Nguyen Van Nhon in Hanoi, Vietnam. The Southeast Asian nation has a small but vibrant Catholic community and is one of the few countries with which the Holy See doesn’t have diplomatic relations. However, relations have warmed notably in recent years and some expect full ties to be restored in the near future.

welcome FABC Vietnam N J Viehland photo go

Vietnam Catholics and government officials welcome FABC assembly delegates to Xuan Loc, NJ Viehland Photos

The Pope also nominated Archbishop Francis Xavier Kriengsak Kovithavanij of Bangkok and Archbishop Charles Maung Bo in Myanmar.

They are among new cardinals from 14 countries in total: five are from Europe, three each from Asia and Latin America, and two each from Africa and Oceania.

Fifteen men are under the age of 80, which makes them eligible to vote in a conclave to elect a future pope. The group of cardinals is the second appointed by Pope Francis, who will have chosen nearly a quarter of voting-age cardinals once they are elevated during a ceremony at St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican on Feb. 14.

For the second time, the pope chose no new American cardinals. And his nominees in the rich world reflect his preference to focus on smaller cities. For instance, he chose Msgr. Ricardo Blazquez Perez, archbishop of Valladolid, Spain.

Referring to the Vatican, Pope Francis told faithful in St Peter’s Square that the churchmen come “from every continent” and “show the indelible tie with the church of Rome to churches in the world.”

In addition to the 15 new cardinals who are under 80 and thus eligible to vote for the next pope, Francis bestowed the honor on five churchmen older than that.

He said they distinguished themselves for their work in the Vatican bureaucracy, in diplomatic service in giving witness to their love of Christ and God’s people. Those included men from Peru and Mozambique.

Speaking from a Vatican window to a crowd in St Peter’s Square, Francis made another surprise announcement. He said that on February 12-13, he will lead of meeting of all cardinals to “reflect on the orientations and proposals for the reform of the Roman Curia,” the Vatican’s administrative bureaucracy.

Read full report

Novena for Pope Francis’ safety and security, Papal Visit PH

 Paco, NJ Viehland

NJ Viehland Photos

January 2, 2015

First Friday of the Sacred Heart of Jesus

Circular 2015-2

RE: Obligatory Novena Holy Hour for the Papal Visit 

My dear people of God:

As the Apostolic Visit of Pope Francis approaches, we are being asked to mobilize our Catholic faithful in our parishes to pray for the safety and security of the Holy Father while His Holiness is in the Philippines. Unable to use the regular security precautions like bullet proof vehicles and armed security men, we turn to the Lord and ask Him to keep the Holy Father safe from all harm. If we come together in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, we claim the Lord’s blessings of security and peace and order. God is our refuge; in His love we are secure.

The format Holy Hour that you are encouraged to use in all parishes, religious communities and schools may be downloaded from www. lingayen-dagupan.org

The novena for the safety of Pope Francis during his Apostolic Visit must be prayed in the entire Archdiocese of Lingayen Dagupan from January 6 to 14, 2015 at a time when most of the parishioners can participate. This is an OBLIGATORY NOVENA in the Archdiocese.

I trust that you understand the urgency of the situation and the invaluable recourse to simultaneous prayer nationwide.

Thank you in advance for this spiritual support.


Sincerely yours,


Archbishop of Lingayen Dagupan

Priests in the Year of the Poor – Archbishop Villegas circular to priests

children watch priests march Ed Gerlock

children watch priests’ in anti-US military bases march Ed Gerlock

January 1, 2015

Solemnity of Mary Mother of God


My brother priests:

2015 is Year of the Poor. It is also Year of Consecrated Life for the universal Church as willed by Pope Francis. As our year opens, I wish to offer you some thoughts on living out the call to simplicity so that the Gospel to the poor may better glow through us priests.

From Pope Francis

Addressing the Curia, the Holy Father laid out his thoughts on the danger of avarice and greed and materialism in our vocation. He said one of the maladies of ecclesiastics is the sickness of accumulating: when the apostle seeks to fill an existential void in his heart by accumulating material goods, not out of necessity but only to feel secure.

In reality, we can take nothing material with us because “the shroud does not have pockets” and all our earthly treasures – also if they are gifts – will never be able to fill that void, in fact, they will render it ever more exacting and more profound.

 To these persons, the Lord repeats: “For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing; not knowing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked … Therefore, be zealous and be converted” (Revelation 3:17-19).

Accumulation only weighs down and slows the inexorable journey! And I think of an anecdote: one time the Spanish Jesuits described the Society of Jesus as the “light cavalry of the Church.” I remember the transfer of a young Jesuit that while loading his many belongings on a truck: bags, books, objects and gifts, heard an old Jesuit who was observing him say, with a wise smile: Is this the Church’s “light cavalry”?! Our transfers give a sign of this sickness. (December 23, 2014)

Father's Embrace: Then-Bishop Luis Antonio Tagle [wearing the miter] embraced Father Mark Anthony Reyes and four other seminarians during their priestly ordination for the Diocese of Imus on the bishop's last ordination ceremony Dec. 6, 2011, before he was installed as Archbishop of Manila that same month and elevated to the College of Cardinals on Nov. 24, 2012. [N.J. Viehland Photo]

Bishop embraces newly ordained priests. NJ Viehland photo From Our Vocation

From our vocation

Let us return to our original reason for desiring to be a priest. We were trained for a difficult life in the seminary. We seemed to be in a perennial food lack; remember those days? We deprived ourselves of the warmth of family life and contented ourselves with living together with the brother seminarians. We cleaned the seminary ourselves, maintained the garden and observed the rules. We wanted to be priests hence nothing was unbearable.

The ordination was our turning point. The Church entrusted her mission to our hands. We also received in trust the money of the faithful believing that priests help so many poor people. They gave us money to send poor children to school, to feed the malnourished, to help the sick receive medication, to defray the cost of burying the poor and so many more duties.

Accumulation, Comfort and Security

And the sickness of accumulating possessed us so quickly. Money got stuck in our hands instead of sliding to the needy. The car became a status symbol even for the newly ordained when the chrism of anointing had hardly dried. The recreation became more sophisticated to expensive tourist sites unreached by the working class. We were no longer lacking in food; we were now choosing our food after being initiated into the palate of the filthy wealthy.

It is bad for a priest to fall in love with a woman. It is worse if he falls in love with money. Ordination gave us access to church money but that money is not ours to enjoy.

Our ordination gave us powers. In a manner of speaking, the ordained are supermen. But the awesome plan of God cannot be restored by a Church that is more concerned about power than of service, more interested in convenience than sacrifice. A Church that is so focused on the powers of supermen clerics will hardly inspire hearts for renewal. We priests can start touching hearts again if we talk less about our powers and instead expose ourselves more to the power of Christ to change us. When we demand integrity from public officials, can we humbly say like Saint Paul “imitate me because I imitate Christ”? In this Year of the Poor self accusation must precede prophetic denunciation of social corruption.

Materialism and Clericalism

If our youth and children see shepherds who are more concerned about imitation than money we will see them staying with God. If we would be more focused on imitation of Christ before imposing fixed rates for the sacraments, we would see renewal. These times call for imitation before proclamation, imitation before teaching, imitation before mission, imitation fund raising. Imitation of Christ before all else! Our confused flock, like everyone else, listen only to life examples. The best fund raiser is the holy priest because he is credible. People know his hands are slippery when he touches money. The donations always end in the tables of the poor.

Clericalism speaks of privilege, prerogatives, entitlement and special treatment. Clericalism prefers sacristies to the slums. Clericalism is more concerned with embroidered vestments than reconciled souls. When we look back at the history of the Church, Church reform always started with clergy reform. As the shepherds go so the sheep follow.

When we lose humility, we lose perspective. When we lose perspective, we also become too reactive. When we become too reactive and possessive and materialistic, we become less effective and less credible as pastors. The loss of humility and the sickness of accumulation in Church ministry can be very costly. With materialistic clericalism laid aside, and Gospel empowered humble shepherding taking its place, we might be able to see the rainbow of hope in the Year of the Poor.

Clerical accumulation injures the idealism of our seminarians, hurts the sensibilities of the youth and confuses many of the faithful who know that Christ lived as a poor man and His disciples cannot be anybody less than that.

Archbishop Socrates Villegas. - NJ Viehland Photos

Archbishop Socrates Villegas. – NJ Viehland Photos

Signs of Simplicity

As a brother in the vocation whose mission is to bring the Good News to the poor, let us impose on ourselves strict discipline in the following areas of priestly life:

Avoid as much as you can foreign travels and frequent recreation in expensive tourist destinations. Even if such are paid for by friends and family, it is best to decline and choose austerity and simplicity. Rest is important but luxurious recreation is disrespectful for the poor who cannot even take a rest from their backbreaking jobs. Be more sensitive.

High end cars and expensive vehicles smack of vainglory and luxuryespecially in a province like ours where there are so many who are poor who cannot afford a tricycle ride. There is no excuse for any priest to have such high end vehicles. We need vehicles to reach the poor barangays and bring them the blessings of God. Expensive cars alienate the poor from the Church. We smell differently from the sheep.

We need to return to the clerical attire or clerical cross in public places as a form of witnessing to the poverty of Christ. Loud colored signature shirts and pants are fashionable but we cannot let Christ glow unless we let our glamour go. To be simple is to be great in the eyes of God. The poor priest does not need to dress sloppy. We must give dignity to our vocation.

It is a serious sin of omission for a priest not to have a regular poor person to help whether for education, health or livelihood. While it is morally acceptable to set aside some savings for future needs, it must be done with prudence. The money spent for the poor on earth are savings in the heavenly kingdom. It is a scandal for a priest to die a rich man. We bring to heaven only what we give away on earth.

We must be honest in reporting to the Curia the true financial condition of the parish or school. There are no fixed rates of offerings for the celebration of Masses, for confirmations, for funerals, for weddings and other sacramentals in our archdiocese as we agreed on. What the archdiocese forbids, the parish priest must not circumvent. We are only temporary stewards not chief executive officers. Our goal is ministry not revenue upgrade.

We need to re examine what we keep in our bedrooms. A priest’s room and a bachelor’s pad are exact opposites. Is the Lord our only companion in this sacred space of the rectory? “The bread which you withhold belongs to the hungry: the clothing you shut away belongs to the naked” (Saint Thomas Aquinas)

Always give alms to the poor who come to you. Do not be afraid to be fooled nor turn them away empty. Do not be afraid to pamper the beggars. They have no one to help them. If you have to make a mistake, make a mistake in being too charitable, in being too kind. There is no excess in kindness. We cannot outdo Christ in kindness.

There is much to be done in the Year of the Poor but the first in the list is the simplification of priestly lifestyle. The renewal of the Church begins with the renewal of the priests. Let us take the lead in embracing the poverty of Jesus on the Cross.

I impose all these challenges on myself first before inviting you to embrace them too. Let us look at Jesus. Let us look at Him and let us be like Him. That is our only duty—to be Jesus and to give Jesus who alone is our treasure.

Sincerely yours,


Archbishop of Lingayen Dagupan

Also published in http://rcald.org/