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

REFUGEES — THE ‘ANAWIM’ OF THE LORD TODAY

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

+ SOCRATES B. VILLEGAS
   Archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan
   President, CBCP

Cardinal Tagle highlights issues, concerns from pre-Synod feedback

Nuns were among people who attended Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle's lecture at Loyola School of Theology Sept. 3, 2014 - NJ Viehland Photos

Nuns were among people who attended Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle’s lecture at Loyola School of Theology Sept. 3, 2014 – NJ Viehland Photos

Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, one of three presidents of October’s Synod on the Family, presented to professors, students and guests at the Sept. 3 Theological Hour of Loyola School of Theology highlights of the responses to a pre-synod survey of dioceses that are incorporated in the synod’s working document or Instrumentum Laboris.

Following are excerpts of this section of his lecture, from a personal recording of his lecture (words in parentheses are the reporter’s)… Cardinal Tagle said: I just have to enumerate some of the topics and I hope you don’t look at them simply as a list of concerns. Give yourselves time to ponder and see whether these concerns are part of our experience. If not then they might be speaking of concerns of other people.

In our Council (of the Synod of Bishops) of 15 persons, the discussion could be at one time heated, at another hilarious. We from Asia and from Africa would say, “Wait, wait wait, that is again a north Atlantic concern. That’s not our concern in Asia and Africa. Let me tell our stories…” They would say, “Wait, wait wait, that is the concern in Asia, not in Europe.” It’s good that we are able to listen to one another, and I tell you, those were tiring discussion, but moments of pure reflections.

I would always come home from Rome attending those meetings with my mind, my imagination ready to explode just trying to enter into the world of some people – the stories I heard from Africa, stories that I heard or testimonies from refugee camps and the impact of war on families. Sometimes I said to myself, “Oh, our concerns are really cute, really cute.” Couples separate because, “I don’t like ube (purple yam) ice cream.” Then we have stories about families really torn apart by war. How do you minister to families among the stateless people? Many of them are in Asia.

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 In the past, when we talked of interreligious dialogue, theologians came to mind…but now it seems to be happening worldwide. Interreligious dialogue must happen in the families. And how it worked? Our people were getting married to engage in interreligious dialogue on a daily basis not just in the classroom. The dialogue in the classroom ends, but if you’re married to someone who does not belong to the same faith or religion, how do you engage in that for life? Are we equipping, are we preparing our Christians and families to be agents of interreligious dialogue? It’s a different type of communication skill….

What one of the writers of this Instrumentum Laboris (working paper) did was to organize this narrative of responses into three main sections. I think there were 12 people who worked on the collation and the summary of the responses – half of them women, half of them males so that the different perspectives would be there.

Communicating the Gospel of the Family in Today’s World

Ed Fermin of Miriam College hands to Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle the working document of the Congress on the Filipino Family convened by school family councils, PTA particularly from Catholic Schools - NJ Viehland Photos

Ed Fermin of Miriam College hands to Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle the working document of the Congress on the Filipino Family to be convened by school family councils and parent-teacher-associations particularly from Catholic Schools – NJ Viehland Photos

The first section was titled Communicating the Gospel of the Family in Today’s World. Remember, the synod of bishops is about evangelization. It is the pastoral challenges of the family in the context of evangelization. The latest synod was on the New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Faith. So the theme continues but now focused on the challenges of and to the family.

When we think of family, does evangelization enter our mind? Do we connect the pastoral care of the family to evangelization? This is the one big chunk. The responses affirm that the family is mostly Good News. The family is Gospel. It is Good News. The Gospel of the family – and I guess all of us can resonate with that. We in Asia our joys are always connected to the family. Our pride and also our sorrows are always connected to the family.

The family is Gospel – especially because the family is part of God’s plan for humanity, for revelation and even for salvation. This plan of God for the family, for marriage is contained in the Scriptures and the many documents of the Church. It is intimately related to the vocation of the person and, in the tradition of the Church, to natural law.

Now, I pick up some of the concerns and what I think will be applicable for a school of theology and for people engaged in pastoral work. One big concern that emerged in this section is related to the knowledge and acceptance of the faithful – by the faithful – of the teaching of the Church and the Bible regarding the family.Responses show that the level of knowledge and acceptance varies from place to place. Generally speaking, the Biblical teaching regarding the family is quite widespread but there is much work that remains to be done in terms of appreciation of the Biblical teaching regarding marriage and family.

How about the documents of the Church? – Gaudium et Spes, Humanae Vitae, Familiaris Consortio, and all the many statements of the episcopal conferences, homilies of the pope, etc.? The knowledge of conciliar and post-conciliar documents does not seem to have taken a foothold in the faithful’s mentality. In some parts of the world, they have no knowledge of those documents. This came up in the survey.

So, our commentary on it is this: While the content is important – family and marriage – it seems that in this first portion, the question is really that of evangelization. In a school of theology, I think you’d be interested in addressing some of the concerns that surfaced in the discussions. Aside from the dissemination – they say, oh, priests do not even know those documents, how can they talk about it? The responses say our parish priest never mentioned any of those documents, probably he does not know those documents exist. But not our graduates of LST !You know it’s a joke!

How about our pastoral workers? Our catechists? Our family life ministers? Do they know of these documents? Have they studied those documents? From where do they draw their so-called teaching about marriage and family? Do they come from Scripture and from their immersion to the will of God? Are these as contained in Scripture and the documents of the Church?

Another concern – the language of Church documents. The language of Church documents probably must shift as cultures and mindsets shift and we have here a test case – natural law. We did a survey in the Council – what do people think now when they hear the word “natural”? It’s quite different from the philosophical use of the word “natural” in natural law. For some people, natural is spontaneity. If I don’t like you, and I tell you, “I don’t like you,” that’s natural. I’m not going against my nature. So they say, if we quote Church teaching using the language of natural law, some people might say, “Oh, natural law, so if this is spontaneous to me I’m following natural law.” “Ah, what a beautiful girl. She’s married. Uh – natural law – I’m attracted to her so I’m obeying natural law.”

So the challenge is we experts presume that our language which is clear to us is absorbed by others in the same way that we understand it. Not anymore, so we have to review the language of the Church. In fact, there’s a proposal already – instead of talking of natural law – can we be more Biblical? Narrative – the use of narrative, the use of symbols – and we speak also to peoples of other faiths and cultures for how many people still get formal training in natural law theory? Related to that is the question of evangelization – related to the language of the Church.

Do we consciously, deliberately factor in the emerging mentalities of the time and how these emerging mentalities, perspectives and culture influence our people’s view of reality – people’s view of themselves, people’s view of family and relationships?

Another area, they say, we should look into – training, the formation of the clergy, the religious, the pastoral workers. Why are they incapable of communicating effectively the Gospel of family? They say, how come the media are more powerful? They are able to penetrate minds and hearts of people whereas the Sunday homily does not. So one of the recommendations is – please review the whole section of Evangelii Gaudium on the homily.

So, we’re not even talking about the content of the Gospel, but we are talking here about evangelization and we, of course, are put on the spot. And then they also say, maybe we should also take the path of beauty – the world of the laity – by witnessing to the beauty, the joy of married life. Maybe people will be attracted to marriage and Christian marriage, especially.

Without negating the role of the clergy in teaching.. they say, when it comes to proclaiming the Gospel of the family and of marriage, the lay people, especially the married ones, should assume the main role. I attended years ago a whole-day congress of the family. The first speaker was a religious woman. The second speaker was a priest. The third speaker was a bishop. The fourth was the bishop again – in the homily of the Mass. No one realizes, where are the lay people? Where are the married people? I said if you will invite me again for the same congress and this is the same line-up of speakers I will not attend. Of course they got mad at me. That’s the reason they did not invite me again.

We’re making a statement. It’s about marriage. It’s about family life. If I may expand this – what do the bishops say about charter change? Why us again? What do the lay people who took political science and the constitution – why not speak up? Why us again and again and again? So we talk about marriage. We talk about the things that lay people know better…I’m just giving some example.

Pastoral Program for the Family in Light of New Challenges

The second section is titled The Pastoral Program for the Family in Light of New Challenges. So, the Holy Father has been stressing we cannot avoid doctrinal and moral discussions, but the whole thrust of the extraordinary assembly is really the pastoral care of the family. So in this whole second section, new challenges – I don’t know if some of them are really new. Some of them have been with us for centuries – but the challenges that our contemporary families are facing, what are these then?

The first to be identified is the crisis of faith and its impact on family life. But it seems that this crisis of faith is not confined to the Catholic Church. We got a report that among some countries in Europe, while the practice of Catholic faith has declined dramatically, it has declined more dramatically among the Protestant Churches. And among the Jews, there’s an increasing number of what they call “cultural Jews” or not practicing – in the same way that we have cultural Catholics – baptized, with certificates, married in Church, confirmed, received the First Holy Communion from the archbishop, but all of it cultural.

Now the big question for us here is when people come to us for sacramental marriage, is faith a consideration? When people continue living in marriage, sustaining their family, is faith the motivation? In a context of a world where faith is considered as superfluous, even irrelevant, does faith still influence people’s choice about marriage and staying in marriage? Is marriage simply a social or cultural event? This question arises not only for people who come to us for marriage, but even in the day to day living of commitment. Is faith the reason why they remain committed to one another? So the question to ask is how can we make faith again one of the primary motivations for entering into sacramental marriage and to remain committed to married life?

Here, some questions about sacraments – the theology of sacraments and the pastoral approach to the preparation and the post-sacramental guidance that we give to people who are married post-marriage. I think we can all tell stories about how, not only marriage, but the other sacraments as well, have become social and cultural events and not anymore events of faith. So the question is how does it impact marriage and family life?

You start your married life with faith as the one significant factor. Do you expect people to remain faithful to each other in marriage and to the family because of faith? So even in our theology of sacraments… a big part is pre-sacramental preparation. There are a lot of seminars for baptism, confirmation, first confession, first communion, marriage. But the question is: Is there a pastoral program post-sacramental? How do we guide the newly baptized? How do we guide the newly confirmed? How do we guide the newly married? I do not know of any viable post-sacramental program existing in parishes and in dioceses. We spend so much time in the preparation, and afterwards there’s no sustaining guidance. If we look at the catechesis, the catechetical guidelines of the Fathers of the Church, some of them are post-sacramental: Do you recall the oil that was poured on you and how the oil felt as it flowed on your cheeks, etc… It is a reflection in life now of the grace of the sacrament received. So – there is the crisis of faith.

The second area here is very real. I don’t have time to explain everything, but these are some of the critical situations that have been identified pertaining to marriage and family.

1. Communication difficulties. This is not new. But I think what is lamented here is that we have many means of communicating – we have the cellphone, we can text, we have the Internet, we have the e-mail, but the question is have these means and gadgets really taught us how to communicate or are they merely means of transferring information swiftly? Just that, but no communication is happening. Even on an international level, we see a breakdown in communication – countries, heads of state, who don’t know how to communicate. Of course they have access to the most modern means of communication, but they are not communicating.

Priests and their superiors – when I want to talk to a priest I don’t use a cellphone. Because I say, where are you? I’m in the chapel. How do I know? I use the landline. I call Father, he’s not here. If you use the cellphone – where are you? I’m in the adoration chapel. Why did you answer your phone if you’re in adoration?

2. Another: violence and abuse – especially of women and the girl-child.

3. Different forms of dependence and addictions – we know the effects of these on relationships.

4. The uncritical use of media, and the values being communicated by media.

5. Now here – work and the competitiveness of the consumerist world. People work work work. They don’t have time to have coffee or tea with their spouses. They don’t “waste time,” as they say, with their children. They excuse this by saying, “We have to work” and they are “working for you.

6. Migration, of course. We were talking about divorce, when the Council asked me, “Do you have legal divorce in the Philippines?” I said no. Do you have legal separation in the Philippines? Well, there is legal separation. But many couples are separated not because they hate one another, but because poverty pushes them to leave their families. It’s a different type of separation. It’s not separation that’s “good riddance” but separation with pain. I became a bit dramatic discussing that.

Then I asked them, do you have Filipino migrants in your dioceses? They said yes. Do you have pastoral programs for those migrants so they will remain faithful to the families they’ve left? They say no because the only type of separation they know is divorce.

7. Poverty, consumerism, individualism and the scandals in the Church. The scandals in the Church, especially those committed by the clergy, some responses say these have had a big impact on the family and how the family has even justified the breakdown. Some say, how can they judge us, when they’re unfaithful. Look at our priests, they’re also unfaithful. So the counter-influence of infidelity.

Manila,NJ Viehland

Manila,NJ Viehland

8. Societal expectations – Some children don’t have a time for leisure. They don’t enjoy games on weekends. They have to work, even during summer breaks. They expect it.

9. Wars, the refugee problem, disparity of cult. These are some difficult situations, but connected to them are the difficult pastoral situations that are confronted by the Church.

10. Co-habitation, living together ad-experimentum, and there’s no more wedding because they say, we are poor, the government does not give us housing, and so why marry and become miserable? De-facto unions, which is connected to co-habitation – “Let us live together “- and in some countries those de-facto unions, without marriage or civil recognition now enjoy some rights.

11. And of course, the separated, the divorced and re-married divorced people. Here, the children are left alone.

12. Teen mothers, who often end up being single mothers.

13. Canonical irregularities in the reception of the sacrament. This has been discussed over and over again – divorced and remarried whether they can receive Holy Communion

14. The canonical procedures for the declaration of nullity of marriage – There’s a call to simplify the process or to de-centralize the process for the declaration of nullity of marriage and to make it cost-friendly. They are too costly.

15. What do we do with non-practicing Catholics – baptized, but non-practicing Catholics – who get married sacramentally, when you know they are not practicing, but they’re Catholics?

16. Same sex union, and the pastoral care of the children, because some of them have adopted

Challenges to a school of theology

These are some of the critical and difficult situations. What are some of the challenges to a school of theology?

The survey indicated a fluidity – the fluidity of a temporary understanding of family and marriage. In the past, we had a stable understanding of marriage. A man and a woman. Now it’s fluid, and in fact, some reports said, there are moves to delete or remove the word “marriage” because the word is too confining. The word marriage involves only a man and a woman, so they say remove that and replace it with union because it is more open – a man and a man, a woman and a woman, a man and a woman, a man and a chair ! We don’t want to be restricted. We want to use marriage and then find a man, but we’re limited by that word to choose a woman, but if we use the word union – ahhh – it’s now open.

This is related to the shifts in anthropology – understanding the human person, the understanding of freedom, the understanding of conscience. How can the Christian institutes of learning contribute to the whole discussion?

Going to our pastoral responses – it was also indicated that the Holy Father was deeply touched by this. In most of the reports, we were told that couples in irregular marital situations feel shamed and even condemned by the Church. They feel that because of the irregularity of their situation they don’t belong to the Church and the Church does not have room for them so they distance themselves.

So the question arose then – how do we reach out to them and assure them that in the Church they still find a community and home? How can we pastorally guide them, especially their children? How can we help them draw hope especially in their painful situation? And the Holy Father even list some questions because in some Churches children are denied Baptism when the pastors learn that the parents are in an irregular canonical situation.

So for theologians, the question raised for us to reflect on is what are sacraments? Are sacraments rewards to the righteous? Are sacraments to be used as punishment – in this case -of innocent children? Can we deny sacraments to children who belong to families that are in irregular canonical and sacramental situations? How do we blend these formulas in Christian teaching yet showing the hope that God offers to people in painful situations?

Let me go to the last portion. This is supposed to be a theological hour, so the third section is titled Openness to Life – the transmission of life and parental responsibility in upbringing of children. This section I think is very much welcome. It talks about openness to life. Openness to the transmission of life – the whole issue of contraception, the whole question of individualistic mentality, that is brought into our attitude about life and the transmission of life were very much present in those questions.

Related to the issue of contraception and individualism are also what we have already mentioned are the difficult shifts in anthropology and the understanding of the human person, the gender ideology, and so the questions therefore of fatherhood and motherhood….and the entry of the gender issue and same sex marriage and what happens to concepts of fatherhood and motherhood. I remember there was a movie titled “Ang Tatay kong Nanay” something like that. So what happens to motherhood? Is that concept still valid? Is it an empty concept? What happens to fatherhood?

Responses also said that the teaching of Humanae Vitae and other documents of the Church should be captured and transmitted in its fullness for they are not teachings about contraception and natural methods, but about the decisive human experience of love. This is the main context and should be the main context in our discussion of the openness to life and the transmission of life. It’s not just about a method, it’s about an experience of a radical and decisive experience of loving that makes you generous to life.

This section included the transmission of the faith in the transmission of life. So the whole question of Christian initiation – Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist – and they ask the question why are parents hesitant to transmit the faith? Why do they pass on the responsibility to Catholic schools and catechists? If you run a Catholic school, you hear parents say this often: “That’s why I sent my child to your school for you to teach him or her about the faith!” I say, “Well, what are you doing better? That’s part of transmission of life, you transmit the faith also. Why are you making us the surrogate transmitters of life and faith?” It seems to be a universal experience. They hire a catechist, they hire tutors, they send their children to Catholic schools and say, that’s your mission – transmit the Catholic faith to them while the parents do nothing. The question is why? Why are they hesitant to do that?

Manila catechists and Catholic school teachers -NJ Viehland Photos

Manila catechists’ and Catholic school teachers’ conference on family -NJ Viehland Photos

Transmission of life and faith must be a concerted effort of the wider Christian family – of the schools, the parishes, the lay movements with special attention to the godparents. They said if the child comes from a family with an irregular situation, maybe we can tap more fully the godparents for the transmission of the faith. But then again, the question is how do we choose godparents and are godparents still aware of their role in the transmission of faith? Parang (As if) it’s a whole review of the whole sacramental practice also.

And because of migration, we said we should take care of the grandparents who are now parenting their grandchild. In fact some grandparents are requesting for seminars on parenting their grandchildren. They said I’m supposed to be a grandfather, not a father to these children. How do I conduct myself as a father when I am a grandfather? I don’t know whether it is an academic question or an existential question. That’s why grandparents spoil their grandchildren – because they’re behaving like grandparents, not as parents. What do you say to the children, and what pastoral program do we have to equip grandparents as parents?

And finally they say, in all of this, can we be creative and joyful in our approach to the family? This is the complexity of the issue. Any person, any group who claims they have clearly defined answers to all of these questions and difficulties are deluding themselves. That’s why this synod in October will be spent on how, and serious listening, and entering worlds that are not familiar to us – the complexity of issues, the diversity of cultures and situations.

When we engaged in one discussion of the canonical nullity of marriage the Holy Father pointed to the full will. He said maybe many marriages are not valid because of lack of will. Playing devil’s advocate, I said, what do you say to this: In Asia, there are some cultures that arrange marriages and spouses meet each other a few days before marriage, or the day before marriage. I know a couple of Chinese descent. Their marriage is arranged. They just celebrated their 40th anniversary of marriage. The four children, their marriages were not arranged. They were free to court anyone, they were free to get married to anyone, unfortunately, three of those marriages ended up in separation. Which is the valid marriage? Will we declare arranged marriage as invalid for lack of will? And declare those separated as marriages still valid because you chose and while they chose, they separated.

That question of mine ilicited a response from an African bishop. That bishop said that is happening in some sub-cultures in Africa. He said the key is with arranged marriage, clans intervene when there are problems and they help the couple to sustain their marriage. So the complexity of the issue – it’s just fascinating to listen to each other – and the invitation to institutes of higher learning to contribute through research and pastoral creativity to resolve our debate.

The whole spirit, according to the Holy Father, is that of pastoral solicitude – pastoral solicitude that upholds doctrinal integrity, yet mindful of the imperfection of the human condition. Yes, we have the ideal. But how do we guide and lead people broken and weak and sinful to the ideal? How do we give hope to those who have missed the ideal? Part of the spirit is to celebrate the heroism and the beauty that we find in couples who have remained committed to their marriage and to their families.

The Holy Father, from the beginning of his pontificate, has emphasized that “the Lord never tires of forgiving: never! It is we who tire of asking his forgiveness.” (Angelus, 17 March 2013). This accent on mercy has had a great impact even in matters relating to marriage and the family, in that, far removed from every kind of moralism, it confirms the Christian outlook on life and opens new possibilities for the future, no matter what the personal limitations or the sins committed. God’s mercy is an opening to an ongoing conversion and a continuous rebirth.

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END OF NOTES [for official transcript, contact Loyola School of Theology, Theological Hour]