Church of the poor?
|One of the many Basic Christian Community chapels under the Carmelite parish in Agusan del Sur.|
The Second Plenary Council of the Philippines (PCPII) clearly defined what it means to be a Church of the Poor in the Philippine context. This is a response to the call of the Second Vatican Council (VCII) for renewal, and it being late is not even the issue, rather, it being not taught, appreciated and implemented in every Diocese and parish and chapels in the country is far more disturbing.
So how does PCP II define the Church of the Poor?
First, the Church of the Poor is one that “embraces and practices the evangelical spirit of poverty, which combines detachment from possessions with a profound trust in the Lord as the sole source of salvation.” But what do we see? We see dioceses asking their poor parishioners to pay taxes for the building of shrines that would only boast of the material richess of the Church, or of priests with bejeweled vestments and made of finest quality and of the most expensive materials. And then there are parishes that seems to renovate or be rebuilt every time there is a change of parish priest. We still have not included here the gadgets and personal properties owned by the clergy or the story of the Pajero Bishops.
Second, the Church of the Poor has a special love for the poor. Tell that to parishes inside exclusive subdivisions whose parishioners are limited in their participation to the celebration of the Eucharist just once a month in a makeshift chapel. In one urban poor community where I immersed, I was told that many parishioners does not even know how there parish looks because they are either ashamed to enter the subdivision where their parish is or they are discriminated by the guards who often would not let them inside the gates of the subdivision. Is that a special love for the poor? Or are we content with scheduled feedings, in responding during calamities by giving out relief goods with additional pictorials to post in the parish’s social media accounts, or in such other charitable acts that does not require one to connect deeply with the parishioner? Perhaps, that is what love is for us. Hypocrisy.
Third, PCP II states that “at the very least the poor are not discriminated against because of their poverty, and they will not be deprived of their ‘right to receive in abundance the help of the spiritual goods of the Church, especially that of the word of God and the sacraments from the pastors.’” Sadly, that is not what is happening. In fact, aside from the compulsory “donations” there are other requirements imposed by Dioceses and parishes that would make it even more difficult for the faithful to partake of the sacraments. Why get married in the church when the baranggay is offering free weddings? Why baptize our children when the baptismal certificate has no legal bearings whatsoever, all we need is an NSO birth certificate, anyway. Why be a member of the church when we can get salvation hassle free from other churches whose pastors and ministers seem to be living a life that is more Christian than our gold digger priests and bishops who like the Pharisees want to act holy and be revered with their roman collars and expensive habits? Who can blame the faithful.
Fourth, “preferential attention and time to those who are poor, and will generously share of their own resources in order to alleviate their poverty and make them recognize the love of the Lord for them despite their poverty,” adds PCP II. It further elaborates, encouraging pastors and other Church leaders to do pastoral immersions so that they would “be directly knowledgeable of the life situation of the poor among their flock.” But let us be honest. When a priest goes somewhere, a chapel or a house of a faithful what he expects is preferential attention and special treatment for himself.
Fifth, PCP II states that a Church of the Poor is “one that will be in solidarity with the poor” empowering them to overcome their situation. This reminds me, one time, when I went to Ateneo de Manila University with the lumads of Manilakbayan by invitation of the student council who wanted to dialogue with the lumads before they decide on what to give. But when we reached Ateneo, we overheard a Jesuit priest and a famous sociologist known for his works on the indigenous tribes of Mindanao, briefing the students saying that the lumads are NPAs. I was enraged and the lumad leaders could only cry in frustration. ADMU did not give anything to the lumads because of that Jesuit priest’s understanding of being in solidarity with the poor, which is to demonize the oppressed.
Sixth, “Pastors and members of the Church will courageously defend and vindicate the rights of the poor and the oppressed, even when doing so will mean alienation or persecution from the rich and powerful.” Yes, that Jesuit and the lumads, yes, we are becoming a Church of the Poor.
Seventh, the Church will not only evangelize the poor, but that the poor in the Church will themselves become evangelizers. This, somehow, has been given face in many parishes, but in most, the poor are given responsibilities because the rich could not have it in themselves to be dressing up or assisting self important priests, anyway, or to go to far flung boondocks to evangelize and catechize the people there. Only the poor has the dedication to do such, so, let’s have more poor lay ministers to go to barrios while the rich lay ministers stay in the parish.
Eighth, it said that the clergy should “live simply in order to share what they have with the needy.” This also includes not being ambitious of titles, ranks, or of wealthier parishes, but please, who are we kidding?
Ninth, is for the whole community to favor the poor, to the point that the focus of the community would favor the poor. So, far, there are remnants of such but it so that the rich can feel good of themselves and almost always projects for the poor don’t last. They would fall back to their devotional expensive pilgrimages, always.
Lastly, it “is one that is willing to follow Jesus Christ through poverty and oppression in order to carry out the work of salvation.”
Indeed, we still have a long way to go to become a church of the poor. While there are those who try to honestly work for the realization of the Church of the Poor, their number is insignificant and they tend to fall into passivity because of pressures from the hierarchy who is contented with lip service and photo ops to show an international community of its concern for the poor.
How I wish Jesus was here today. I am embarrassed.