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Of Grand Temples and Empty Pews

January 26, 2015 · 

Of grand temples and empty pews
Rural Missionaries  of the  Philippines
barangay chapelThe essence of Christianity is to live the way Christ did-to go to the poor and to live with them, to serve the people, to take the cudgels for the deprived and the oppressed, to “smell like the sheep” in the words of Pope Francis. Jesus Himself, was one of the poor, born of a peasant couple, in a lowly manger, in the well known story of nativity of all time.

Christ organized the poor and took the lowly in His fold to confront the tyrants of His time. He took the path of suffering and challenged the rest of us when He asked: “can you drink the cup of suffering that I must drink?” was maligned, vilified and punished by crucifixion because He sided with the poor against their tyrants?

The parallelisms in our time cannot be ignored: there is ostentatious display of wealth and power by a few amid the massive poverty and suffering; there is entrenched corruption, cheating and deception; there is so much violence perpetrated by the powers-that-be against those who struggle to assert their rights to life, for living wages and jobs, land and genuine land reform, food, and livelihood; the righteous are maligned, vilified, arrested, killed and disappeared when they fight for the attainment of genuine social justice.

And where do most Christian churches stand?
If it is an indication of the state of things, just look around the line of Christian churches and religious houses dotting the long stretch of highway where the Hacienda Luisita stands. 17 peasants, professionals and religious leaders were murdered, just around their backyards, and not a whimper was heard from most of these religious houses. Pope Francis says “any church community, if it believes it can forget about the poor, runs the risk of breaking down.”

We heard of bishops castigating priests and nuns under their jurisdiction, who had opted to take the cause of the victims of injustice. We met men and women of the cloth shun any tinge of activism because they bite the propaganda that these are left elements, ergo, communists. Did they understand the meaning and implications of these brandings? They watch the agony and miseries of the poor with crossed hands.

We even encounter a few of them cavorting with the powerful, lending their religious, supposedly morally upright image, to defend the wicked. And still we saw a few more men and women of the cloth run to their refuge of ivory towers and comfort zones, building grand temples or doing safe charity work, careful not to rock the boat.

The silence and apathy of the mainstream church sends a confused signal to the rest of the flock who yearn for moral guidance and discernment from their religious leaders. We hope that the church’s indifference to the cries of the poor and the weak may one day not bring empty church pews-because by then, many have opted to build the church of the poor. The Church of the Poor is one that will be in solidarity with the poor. It will collaborate with the poor themselves and with others to lift up the poor from their poverty (PCP II # 130). In the words of Pope John Paul II: “Before today’s forms of exploitation of the poor, the Church cannot remain silent….” 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 (PCP II # 131).

And again, from Pope Francis, who is the head of the church: “We must go out…, carry the Gospel with zeal into the suburbs and outskirts of the city, into the hearts of those who live without hope. We cannot remain with arms crossed before a city that ask hope of us. Sow the seed of the Gospel by word and by witness. Show them our love which is God’s love.”

We are blessed with Pope Francis’s visit to the Philippines on January 2015, to be specifically with the poor, the survivors of typhoon Yolanda. By word and praxis, Pope Francis shows the way for the rest of us.
Come share God’s love for the rural poor.

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