Thu 21 Jan. 2010, 04:01 CAT
OUR politicians seem to be permanently wedded to lies and are overwhelmed when they hear the truth. There is no exaggeration or lying in everything that Bishop Paul Duffy said about the situation in the Western Province of our country. There is deep poverty in Western Province and one does not need a microscope to see it; all that one needs is to be with the people and one will see how they live.
One cannot claim to uphold the sanctity of life if one does not care about such very high levels of poverty, the poverty that today exists in Western Province.
It is not hatred alone which is contrary to the laws of charity but also indifference to the welfare of our neighbour. And economic justice requires that each individual has adequate resources to survive, to develop and thrive, and to give back in service to the community. Oppressing the poor in order to enrich oneself will lead only to loss (Prov 22:16).
There are more people today in Western Province than in any other part of our country who each day cannot meet the basic needs necessary for a decent human life. It is a strict duty of justice and truth not to allow fundamental needs to remain unsatisfied.
Speaking for the poor is not an easy thing. Speaking for the rich and powerful is usually something very easy to do. And there are many religious leaders in the world who have found it much easier to be close to the rich and powerful, to dine with them and defend them whenever their hold on power is threatened. Even in the Catholic Church there have been and there still are some religious leaders who have serious difficulties challenging the rich and powerful on behalf of the poor. And that’s why religious leaders like Bishop Duffy who always speak for the poor without fear or favour deserve our greatest respect and support. And the work of such men should be dedicated to all Christians in our country who, amid lack of understanding and in the blessedness of the thirst for justice, are preparing, in the manner of John the Baptist, for the coming of the Lord in the establishment of a more just, fair and humane society.
And this whole attack on Bishop Duffy reminds us of a phrase of Fidel Castro in the first few years of the Cuban Revolution: “He who betrays the poor betrays Christ.” Christ’s entire doctrine was devoted to the humble, the poor; His doctrine was devoted to fighting against abuse, injustice, and the degradation of human beings.
We must love everybody, but not everyone in the same way; you love the oppressed and downtrodden by liberating them and lifting them up; you love the oppressors by fighting them. Love has to be like a classifying device to become universal. It would be dangerous to minimise the elements of real poverty by “making spiritual” what in the Scriptures appears as a virtue, because it belongs to the poor. The poor are also the oppressed, the humble, the enslaved, and for the most part it’s the rich, the powerful and the violent ones who are to be blamed for causing this evil.
It should never be that the anger of the poor should be the finger of accusation pointed at all of us because we failed to respond to the cries of the poor for food, for shelter, for healthcare, for education, for the dignity of the individual. None can be at peace while others wallow in poverty and insecurity.
We need honest, sensitive and courageous religious leaders like Bishop Duffy to continue to be the conscience of society, moral custodians, and fearless champions of the weak and downtrodden. The joys and hopes, the sorrows and anxieties of the men and women of our time, especially those who are poor or afflicted in any way, should be the joys and hopes, the sorrows and anxieties of the followers of Jesus Christ. This is what Bishop Duffy is teaching us. And instead of insulting him, we should emulate his noble gesture.
What Bishop Duffy is saying about poverty in Western Province is not something he dreamt of, it is a reality that is there for all with eyes to see. And we sincerely believe that those who are trying to criticise Bishop Duffy for what he said know that they are not doing so out of honesty but out of fear of losing the next elections and consequently their government jobs and privileges. They are not concerned about the plight of the poor in Western Province, or indeed in any other part of that country for that matter. They are simply concerned about themselves, their own wellbeing.
What we need in this country is honesty. We need dialogue that is sincere and that seeks truth and goodness. That dialogue must be meaningful and generous offer of a meeting of good intentions and not just a possible justification for continuing injustice against the poor. It is dishonest to constantly blame those who speak out against injustice, against unfair treatment of the poor for all the political problems in the country.
It behoves us to value each life as a gift of God, help the poor to find meaning and value in their lives, and get themselves out of their current poverty.
To try and silence those who speak for the poor in fear that the poor will rise and not vote for those in power will not do. Today they can attempt to silence Bishop Duffy. But human life being what it is, the time will come when new voices they cannot now foresee will arise in the nation and seek to be heard. But whether our politicians, especially those in government, will hear and respond to such voices tomorrow depends in considerable measure on whether they learn to heed the cries of the voiceless today. This is why someone’s right to be heard is not just a procedural question or a matter of fair play. It has to do with the very nature of our national life itself.
Bishop Duffy is not the first Catholic bishop or priest to be denounced by those in government and their hired supporters. There have been many before him. One cannot tune out some without, at the same time, tuning out others. Once silencing finds its way into our national life, there will be others whose songs and stories will also be stifled.
In the Biblical tradition, God is known as the Holy One who speaks to human beings and who expects them to answer. Therefore, to silence someone, it could be said, is a type of blasphemy. It denies that person the opportunity to respond to God’s call, and it therefore denies God. To silence is to fashion a kind of idol, a false god who calls everyone but who does not expect everyone to answer.
These attempts to silence Bishop Duffy and others speaking for the poor will not work, by God’s grace the mouths of the mute will be unstopped, and one day all will sing the song of the poor together.
What Bishop Duffy is saying is nothing other than the church’s response to the demands made upon it by the de facto socio-political world in which it exists. What we have rediscovered is that this demand is a fundamental one for the faith, and that the church cannot ignore it. That is not to say that the church’s leadership should regard itself as a political leadership entering into competition with other politicians, or that they have their own political processes. Nor, much less, is it to say that our church leaders – our bishops, priests and nuns – seek political leadership. We are talking of something more profound, something more in keeping with the Gospel.
We are talking about an authentic option for the poor, of becoming an incarnate in their world, of proclaiming the good news to them, of giving them hope, of encouraging them to engage in a liberating praxis, of defending their cause and sharing their fate. The church’s options for the poor explains the political dimension of the faith in its fundamentals and in its basic outline. And because the church has opted for the truly poor, not for the fictitiously poor, because it has opted for those who really are oppressed and repressed, the church lives in a political world, and it fulfils itself as church although through politics. It cannot be otherwise if the church, like Jesus, is to turn itself toward the poor. Clearly, the course taken by Bishop Duffy has issued from his faith conviction. The transcendence of the Gospel has guided him in his judgements and in his actions. He has judged the social and political situation from the standpoint of the faith.
The church has not only incarnated itself in the world of the poor, giving them hope; it has also firmly committed itself to their defence. In this situation where just a few persons control economic and political power, the church has placed itself at the side of the poor and has undertaken their defence. The church cannot do otherwise, for it remembers that Jesus had pity on the multitude. But by defending the poor it has entered into serious conflict with the powerful and with the political authorities of the state. And that part of the church that has openly come to the defence of the poor has opened itself to attacks and persecution; that part of the church has been attacked and persecuted that put itself on the side of the poor of the people and went to the people’s defence.
Here again we find the same key to understanding the persecution of the church: the poor. Once again it is the poor who bring us to understand what is really happening. That’s why the church has understood these attacks, these persecutions from the perspective of the poor. Attacks and persecutions have been occasioned by the defence of the poor. It amounts to nothing other than the church’s taking upon itself the lot of the poor.
Labels: PAUL DUFFY