By Antonio Meloto
Wednesday, July 2, 2008
Theology Class Public Lecture
Ateneo de Manila University
July 1, 2008
There is a time to speak and a time to be silent. Tonight is the first time that I will speak publicly about the upheaval that rocked Couples for Christ.
For over a year, I chose to keep quiet out of respect for long cherished friendships and refrained from adding fuel to the fire while emotions were high. What was an internal leadership transition within an organization I felt should not have been made into a public issue and prudence should have been taken not to drag the Catholic Church into the conflict. I must admit that it was tempting at times for me to speak out and defend myself but I listened to the voice within my heart that kept telling me “keep still, I will defend those who defend the poor.”
Now I understand how God shielded me by making me computer illiterate. The fight for control over CFC was being waged in the internet, while the struggle to ease human suffering was happening in the GK communities. During the most difficult moments, I went to the poor for consolation. It became clear to me that the poor are oftentimes the victim when there is conflict among leaders. When politicians fight, it is the poor who suffer. Ironically, when religious leaders fight it is also the poor who suffer, just like the CFC controversy where Gawad Kalinga became the central issue. My stand on this is clear; I will always be on the side of the poor. As a Christian, I believe that this is also the stand of Jesus. I have remained with CFC that is building the church of the poor.
As I turn the page to start a new chapter in my life, I want to make one thing clear. Contrary to allegations, I have not veered away from the Catholic Church and set aside my faith for social work. I have put my social work inside my faith.
It is my personal conviction that I am not a good Catholic if I do not love my country or if I allow my countrymen to remain poor even if I live a devout and decent life. Within our context, where 85 percent of our population profess to be Catholic, faith and patriotism must go together to address the twin sisters of underdevelopment — poverty and corruption.
Bishop Francisco Claver, SJ., comments on the reluctance before of the Church to address this issue in his new book The Making of a Local Church. “Economics, so the charge went, is outside of the Church’s competence. Not so much now. It is readily seen that if, faithful to Christ’s concern for the least of his brothers and sisters, we must feed the hungry, teach the ignorant, heal the sick, we can and must do something about the causes, not just the symptoms, of their hunger, their ignorance, their sicknesses.” When addressing corruption, which is a moral issue, the Church is also being accused by the powerful and those with vested interests, “of meddling in politics.”
Central to my being Catholic is Jesus’ love for the poor. He saw the world through their eyes. His world-view was from the bottom up. His value system was always skewed in their favor — the last shall be first, the lowest shall be raised to the highest. The challenge for me is to care for them in a manner that will help them rise to their highest potential. My piety and pity alone will not save them; the squatters need land, not alms… justice, not dole-out. Without land, they cannot build homes or produce food. Without decent homes, they have no dreams. Without dreams, they have no desire to study or work. It is terribly unchristian for Filipinos to be squatters in a country where there is so much land in the possession of a few.
One interesting issue raised about me was that I was talking too much about nation-building when I should be preaching about Kingdom-building. For me, there is no dualism: nation-building is Kingdom-building. We need to make every Filipino passionate nation builders. Our country needs more builders, not just more preachers. The Jesus of history that I know, before he became the transcendent Christ to us, was a carpenter and the builder of both a physical and a spiritual kingdom. His disciples followed his example and built the early Christian communities where believers shared their resources with one another and no one was in need. This was the inspiration to start the first Gawad Kalinga village in Bagong Silang, Caloocan City. Building sustainable GK communities is about values as well as economics. It is also about politics. It is our antidote to corruption by promoting servant leadership. Our slogan for leaders is “Una sa serbisyo, huli sa benepisyo” (First to serve, last to benefit! ).
What happened to us?
At the heart of Christianity is social justice anchored on Jesus’ love for the oppressed and the spirit of democracy is equality for all but looking at the vast social inequity in wealth and opportunity in our country clearly shows that we have been unfaithful to our core values and belief systems.
God is not about structures and rituals but about caring. Nation is not about politics but patriotism. Politics is competition for power; patriotism is giving up our lust for power, sharing our wealth and making heroic sacrifices for the weak to build our collective strength as a people.
We have not invested enough in building the church of the poor. We missed Jesus’ point of view and wisdom when he spoke about leaving family as a condition for discipleship. The poor not only deserve our attention but investing in them will catalyze economic activities, create opportunities, and build a safer environment for our children. Our greatest asset, our biggest market — the poor — are just waiting to be mentored, empowered, and harnessed as our engine for growth. The stones that were rejected will become the cornerstone for nation-building.
Knowing this, how do we face the future as Catholics in a country of immense potential but mired in poverty of spirit and body?
My personal response is simple: Gawad Kalinga — the Filipino expression of integral evangelization that seeks to build good citizenship on earth as it is in heaven. Being Catholic is my choice that demands conviction and action from me.
1. This is my anchor: faith in God, love for family, and pride in being Filipino.
2. This is my compass: Christ as the core of my conscience, my model of citizenship, and the source of commonsense. He is my navigator through controversy and conflict, the mirror to my soul, my companion and consolation.
3. I go to Church for mass and communion every Sunday but I strive daily to be in communion with the masses and those who want to see their lives improve. To many, going to church is an end. For me, being Catholic begins the moment I step out of the church.
4. To build solidarity, I am guided by Pope Benedict’s spirit of ecumenism in this country divided by religious intolerance and partisan politics. For me, Catholic fundamentalism is just as bad as fundamentalism that we deplore in other religion. Hypocrisy and bigotry in any language and form are unacceptable to me as a Catholic as they were to Jesus.
5. With all our imperfections, I am proud to be Catholic and I want to bring passion in the Church to serve God by serving the poor. There are rumors that I am doing all of these because I will run for public office. To set the record straight, this is not my desire or calling. I value the freedom to serve more than the authority to rule. To gain freedom, I will not seek political power or personal profit from business. Real power is in not wanting it. True wealth is in not loving money but sharing it with those deprived of a dignified life due to lack of it. To be free is not to put a price tag to one’s soul. To end, let me share with you my wish before I die. I want to see the Philippines as the first Catholic nation in Asia that will rise from third-world poverty and corruption. I will not rest until we put Fr. Damaso and Dona Victorina finally to rest.
Source: Philippine Star