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.

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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.

 

 

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
welgampo@gmail.com

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.

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!

END

Hector Welgampola
welgampo@gmail.com

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.

 

Sri Lanka Commentary: Blessed Joseph Vaz canonization

Joseph Vaz devotion card

Contributed photo

Denigrating the holiest event Lankan Catholics awaited for 303 years

Sri Lanka has decided to hold a presidential election on Jan. 8 – just one week before Pope Francis visits the country. Such advancing of an election, not due for another two years, has deeply hurt the country’s Catholics.

Catholics invited the pope to canonize Blessed Joseph Vaz, the country’s first saint, not for a State visit. The event was set alongside the saint’s Jan. 17 death anniversary. Catholics wished it to be a religious event, with minimal State involvement just for routine protocol. With deep frustration, they now watch the political Trojan horse invade the sanctuary.

The spiritual upbuild for the canonization by groups such as the Joseph Vaz National Secretariat was first distracted with Church-State-planned pageantry for the papal visit. Thereafter political posters made it a tool for election propaganda. Election-related discord and violence may soon overshadow the event. Church leaders little realize the faith erosion caused by letting politics ruin the holiest event Catholics eagerly awaited for 303 years.

Much public distress about the event’s politicization has been expressed via social media and other public exchanges. Many Catholics have urged that the canonization be postponed. Others even say it could be held in Rome like the recent canonization of Indian Saints Chavara and Alphonsa. Some prefer such moves to political denigration of the name of Father Vaz who eschewed politics, and ministered to victims of political conflict.

Sri Lanka Papal visit FB screenshot

The Indian priest had arrived in the country in 1687 dressed as a beggar to avoid Dutch colonizers’ ban on entry of Catholic priests. For 10 years he was the only priest serving the entire country until confreres joined him. During his 24-year apostolate, he searched for Sinhala or Tamil Catholics living in hiding in the aftermath of political conflict between Portuguese and Dutch colonizers. Buddhists and Hindus valued his ascetic witness of treating king and commoner with equanimity.

Saint John Paul II, who beatified Father Vaz in 1995, once described him as the greatest missioner in Asia next to Saint Francis Xavier. It was an affirmation of Lankans’ acclaim of this holy missioner’s sanctity.

Since the missioner’s death in 1711, about 50 books on his life and service have been published in English, French, Italian, Konkani, Sinhalese and Tamil. Devotion to this Apostle of Sri Lanka has spread locally as well as in his Indian homeland. Since his beatification, 10 venues in four Sri Lankan dioceses hold novena devotions to Blessed Vaz. Nine dioceses have dedicated 23 churches and chapels in his honor.

Apart from such public veneration, the aura of his mission still survives in the pastoral field. Trincomalee and Kurunegala dioceses have named their minor seminaries after him. Colombo, Galle and Kurunegala dioceses have opened lay theologates to promote his pioneer mission of indigenization.

Amid such evidence of his living memory, Catholics countrywide have eagerly awaited the peak moment of the preparatory work by the Joseph Vaz National Secretariat, headed by Bishop Vianney Fernando of Kandy. But the spiritual benefit of these efforts will be lost if election-related rivalry and recrimination invade its final stage. Church leaders should make alternate arrangements if they cannot ensure Catholics a prayerful atmosphere to celebrate their first saint without being hassled by election unrest or militarized restrictions.

Hector Welgampola
welgampo@gmail.com 

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.

 

Synod on the Family 2014: Commentary By Hector Welgampola

Hector Welgampola

Hector Welgampola

If synodal midwifery is to prevent hemorrhaging a familial Church …

There was a time when Africa was sneered at as the Dark Continent. But no longer. The recent Rome synod showed that now there is more to Africa than the stigma of Boko Haram, ISIS or Ebola.

Both theologian-Saint Augustine and his mystic mother, Saint Monica, would have felt vindicated by African voices at the Oct. 5-19 Synod on Family. Amid media-mediated efforts of deviant cultures, African synodists spoke up courageously for family values cherished by their peoples. As Augustine’s voice did in an earlier decadent era, African bishops’ stand helped prevent the synod’s gay abandon to effete post-Christian trends.

Some claim that it was pastoral realism that led German Cardinal Walter Kasper to canvass for permissiveness both sacramental and sexual. Whatever that may be, it brought into the open a reality less spoken of in public up until now: if pastoral policies need to suit the times, they need also to suit the climes.

As Hans Kung once wrote, this modern age too may “produce various and contradictory views of the Kingdom of God.” But every such view need not be imposed arbitrarily on all Catholics as universal Church teaching. Perhaps, that was why Nigerian Archbishop Ignatius Kagama held that, “the time has gone when we would just follow without question.” Also, that was why Guinean Cardinal Robert Sara recapped arbitrary moves to impose Western gender ideologies as a precondition for humanitarian aid to developing nations.

Some Asian synodists too echoed related sentiments. Their passivity did not always match the passionate pleas of African prelates. Yet, their interventions cited the unsung heroism of poor but virtuous families struggling to resist the imposition of secular values.

In a way, Cardinal Kasper’s disputed claim that “Africans should not tell us too much what we should do” did more than open a can of worms. It was a profound moment of truth. There was no need for others to make a big hue and cry about it.

After all, his plain-speak was an admission of the plurality of Catholics worldwide, who live in varied cultures while sharing a common faith. And of course, the converse also has to be true! Dechristianized societies should not dictate what Churches elsewhere should do. In particular, they should not project their secularized worldview as a universal Christian ethic.

If that realization emerges undiluted in the final document of the synod, then the consultation could claim a considerable achievement by way of preparation for next year’s synod proper. Hopefully, the recent synod had an opportunity to assess over-concerns about people’s sacramental and sexual life. And Pope Francis, who spoke very little during that process, seems to have said it all in his post-synodal remarks that the family is being “devalued”. Some translators of his remarks used the word “bastardized”!

In those frank words spoken Oct. 25 to members of a Marian movement from Cardinal Kasper’s own country, the Holy Father summed up the gut feeling of most Catholics about the trend to downgrade family life from a joyous vocation to a permissive social industry.

If those words are to hold out hope for the synod of 2015, that upcoming consultation will need active participation of more mothers, fathers and youths, but fewer celibates. Opening the synod to families will give voice to Church members who strive to live marital spirituality in family beyond what some may see as just a sacramental or sexual partnering. 

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Hector Welgampola 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.  

Write him: welgampo@gmail.com 

Post-Synod thoughts – CBCP President Villegas

Archbishop Socrates Villegas. - NJ Viehland Photos

Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan / NJ Viehland Photos

THE SPIRIT BLOWS WHERE HE WILL!
Random Thoughts at the Close of the Synod

I have just finished attending the Extraordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, convened by the Holy Father, Pope Francis.  It was my privilege not only to listen to the debates and interventions.  I also had the privilege of addressing the assembly on the role of the clergy in family renewal.  Much has been written and reported on in respect to this event, truly momentous in the life of the Church.  It is my duty, as President of the CBCP, and as a Synodal father, to share with you these thoughts at the conclusion of the synod.  It is, as has repeatedly been underscored, only the prelude of more complete discussions in the future that we all eagerly await.

INCLUSIVE AND FAITHFUL LOVE

There are two concerns of the Church: first, the Church must be able to extend to all that hospitality, that care, that mercy that Jesus ordained would be the mark of his community, his Body, the Church.  None should be systematically excluded because of circumstances personal to the individual.  All should be aided in the path of constant conversion and renewal.  All should be offered the hope of the Gospel.  All should be comforted by the love of brothers and sisters in the One Body of Christ. In this regard, Pope Francis warned us of the temptation to be simply “do-gooders”, that in the name of a deceptive mercy binds the wounds without first curing them and treating them; that treats the symptoms and not the causes and the roots.

In the name of misplaced mercy Pope Francis said we face the temptation to come down off the Cross, to please the people, and not stay there, in order to fulfil the will of the Father; to bow down to a worldly spirit instead of purifying it and bending it to the Spirit of God.

The other concern is as legitimate as the first: that the Church must preach a message that is not just a concession to popular demand, but is truly Christ’s, and that the Church must remain constantly docile to the prompting of the Spirit.  This is the reason that the Church must be unceasingly devoted to that discernment by which we all seek out the will of God and read from the Gospels, as interpreted by the Tradition of the Church in a living faith, a response to the questions of our time. There is also a temptation, according to Pope Francis, of  hostile inflexibility that is, wanting to close oneself within the written the letter and not allowing oneself to be surprised by God, by the God of surprises; within the law, within the certitude of what we know and not of what we still need to learn and to achieve. From the time of Christ, it is the temptation of the zealous, of the scrupulous.

HURTING FAMILIES

Filipinos who presently find themselves in irregular relationships — live-in unions, de facto separation from spouses and partnerships with other persons — must be helped by pastors particularly by the Sacrament of Penance, to follow the demands of true and unselfish love in the Spirit of the Gospel. We cannot presume to judge and condemn.  Rather, the presumption should be that there is a genuine effort on their part to live according to the demands of our faith.  The danger of scandal should never stand in the way of genuine charity, and the Catholic faithful must be reminded that much of what Jesus did was scandalous to the ‘righteous’ of his time.  Where, however, in the pastoral assessment of bishops and priests, the full and unqualified admission of persons in irregular unions to the life of the Church causes charitable and sincere Catholics to doubt and misunderstand the teaching of the Church, then some prudent arrangement must be worked out that will be beneficial to all.

PERSONS WITH SAME SEX ATTRACTION

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.

To the legislators who consider 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.

We can be tempted to neglect reality, making use of meticulous language and a language of smoothing to say so many things and to say nothing, said Pope Francis.

CHRISTIAN RESPONSE

In facing our Catholic brethren in painful broken marriage situations or our brothers and sisters with homosexual attraction quietly struggling to be chaste, Pope Francis said we must avoid two temptations: The temptation to transform stones into bread to break the long, heavy, and painful fast; and also to transform the bread into a stone and cast it against the sinners, the weak, and the sick, add to their already unbearable burdens.

Our Filipino Catholic laity must be fully engaged in the apostolate of the family for the family is precisely the competence of lay persons.  Active Catholic couples are asked to lead in initiatives that assist couples in living the reality of the sacrament of matrimony, and in the rearing of their families according to the spirit of the Gospel.  Our bishops and pastors encourage and support these lay initiatives.

I wish to borrow this prayer at the end of the Message to the People of God at the conclusion of the synod:

Laguna,NJ Viehland

Husbands, wives serve in farmers’ cooperative in Laguna,NJ Viehland

Father, grant to all families

the presence of strong and wise spouses

who may be the source of a free and united family.

Father, grant that parents

may have a home in which to live

in peace with their families.

Manila,NJ Viehland

Manila,NJ Viehland

Father, grant that children may be signs of trust and hope

and that young people may have the courage

to forge life-long, faithful commitments.

Alabang,NJ Viehland

Workers packing coffee in Alabang,NJ Viehland

Father, grant that all may be able to earn bread with their hands,

that they may enjoy serenity of spirit

and that they may keep aflame the torch of faith even in periods of darkness.

Elderly people dance during party by Ed Gerlock

Elderly people dance during party by Ed Gerlock

Father, grant that we may all see flourish,

a Church that is ever more faithful and credible,

a just and humane city,

a world that loves truth, justice and mercy.

 

Rome, October 19, 2014

+ SOCRATES B. VILLEGAS

Archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan

CBCP President