Philippines: Bishops call four days of prayer

Archbishop Romulo Valles

Archbishop Romulo Valles

The Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) has issued a pastoral exhortation inviting the faithful to join them in four days of prayer, penance, and almsgiving next week, to atone for those who blaspheme against God, who slander and bear false witness, and those who commit or justify murder to fight crime.

The message, entitled: 'Rejoice and be glad!' was issued at the end of the 117th CBCP plenary assembly in Manila. yesterday and signed by CBCP president, Archbishop Romulo Valles of Davao.

The bishops urged Catholics to spend a day of prayer and penance on July 16, 2018, the feast of Our Lady of Carmel, "invoking God's mercy and justice on those who have blasphemed God's Holy Name, those who slander and bear false witness, and those who commit murder or justify murder as a means for fighting criminality in our country." They also invited them to "three days of fasting, prayer and almsgiving from July 17 to 19, 2018."

The exhortation does not mention anyone by name but alludes to shocking statements made by President Rodrigo Duterte on several occasions. Duterte has had a turbulent relationship with Catholic bishops, who have criticized his brutal war on drugs, his push to reinstate the death penalty and obscene language.

Duterte drew heavy criticism after calling God "stupid" in a speech in Davao city in June. On another occasion on Friday, he said he would step down if anyone could prove God exists.

To "those who arrogantly regard themselves as wise in their own estimation and the Christian faith as nonsense, those who blaspheme our God as stupid, Saint Paul's words are to the point: 'For the stupidity of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength,'" the bishops said.

In an answer to "those who ridicule our faith," the bishops again cited St Paul saying God choses the foolish to shame the wise and the weak to shame the strong.

In the exhortation, the bishops of Asia's most Catholic nation refuted allegations that they were "involved in political moves to destabilize the government". "We are not political leaders, and certainly not political opponents of government," they said, adding that the Church respects the elected political authorities as long as they "do not contradict the basic spiritual and moral principles we hold dear, such as respect for the sacredness of life, the integrity of creation, and the inherent dignity of the human person."

"When we speak out on certain issues," they said, "it is always from the perspective of faith and morals, especially the principles of social justice, never with any political or ideological agenda in mind."

The pastoral exhortation also expressed alarm over attacks on church personnel, with three priests killed in gun attacks since December. "What is new about priests being murdered for witnessing to Christ?" they asked. "What is new about servant leaders who are maligned because they have carried out their duties as shepherds configured to the person of their Chief Shepherd?"

The Philippine bishops also made use of the pastoral exhortation to re-assert the Church's vocation and mission to peace and to express solidarity with the poor, the displaced and the suffering, especially drug addicts who are labelled as "non-humans" and criminals, and innocent victims of the war on drugs.

Duterte came to power in the 2016 presidential election promising to kill criminals and urging people to kill drug addicts.

"Are we to remain as bystanders when we hear of people being killed in cold blood by ruthless murderers who dispose of human lives like trash?" the bishops asked, saying for every drug suspect killed, there is a widowed wife and there are orphaned children left behind.

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