05/06/2015, 00.00
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Filipino Church blames secularism for fundamentalism, calls for an end to shedding blood in the name of God

by Socrates B. Villegas*
The president of the Filipino bishops' conference, Mgr Villegas, sends a message to the dioceses of his country, which is “large enough an archipelago for Christians and Muslims,” and where “we have managed to live [. . .] side by side” [. . .]. For him, “It is not enough to beam at news of Pope Francis”. People have to understand his call for peace and tolerance. Those who kill in the name of God commit blasphemy and should be disavowed.

Manila (AsiaNews) – To kill in God’s name – this is one of the most painful contradictions of our time! And it has turned many away from religion. In fact, whenever news networks flash reports on the deaths even of helpless civilians and innocent children resulting from religious conflicts – or at least from the violence of groups proclaiming one religious allegiance or the other – the question is often raised whether religion is part, if not at the heart, of the problem. This only strengthens secularist tendencies. Where religion is blamed for bloodshed and mayhem, the State endeavors to protect its population and to keep the peace by keeping demonstrations of faith and signs of religion to a minimum, if not suppressing its public display altogether. But enforced secularism only triggers religious militancy, and soon the cycle of provocation, confrontation and violence spins out of control, leaving in its wake the mangled bodies of victims who die, invoking Divine succor, slain by those invoking Divine commands.

Pope Francis has won the admiration of all, and continues to inspire. But it will not do for us merely to look up at him, and applaud. He means to show the way, and to prove to all that with a heart that is full to the brim with invincible love made possible only by as invincible a faith in a God of love, then one can sit peaceably at table with men and women who invoke God by other names and to break bread with them as brothers and sisters. It is not enough to beam at news of Pope Francis breaking barriers. We must join him in bringing forth the fruits of faith!

Tolerance is not good enough, for toleration is ‘letting be’, and is perfectly consistent with being indifferent if not secretly spiteful of the other. It is not tolerating the other that is the Christian precept, but a welcome of the other, particularly those that the Scriptures call the ‘anawim . . . the poor of the Lord, they who have none else to defend them. In the Old Testament, God’s people, particularly in times of difficulty, recognized that God could work through the hands even of pagan rulers. God, they understood, was far more generous than their pettiness, and presided in majesty high above all divisions that humankind set up between themselves. Jesus is the incarnation of the supreme welcome of the other. He did not only tolerate society’s outcasts. He sought them out and sat at table with them. He did not only avoid picking a fight with Romans. He healed the centurion’s servant after praising him for his faith. And the welcome he extended to the Greeks who sought him out as the fateful days of the Passover drew near gave him occasion to discourse on his mission and that of the community he was leaving behind. The Fathers of the Church ardently believed that the Logos of God was more than any category or class could contain, and they wisely thought of logoispermatikoi...germs of truth that would be found beyond the visible confines of the Church.

The Philippines is large enough an archipelago for Christians and Muslims. There have been hurtful incidents, painful events for which Christians and Muslim alike must ask for each other’s forgiveness. But all these years, we have managed to live not only side by side, but to deepen in our appreciation of each other’s spiritual and cultural treasures. Many Muslims have attended schools and colleges run by Catholic religious congregations in the Philippines, and many Muslims have welcomed a partnership with Catholics in initiatives for the poor and the hard-pressed. We can still show the world what it is for us all who worship one God how he sons and daughters can live as one.

God is the ultimate motive for charity! Human goodwill is not enough; it is fragile, it is tossed about with changing moods, it is thoroughly afflicted by that deeply rooted malady of the human condition called sin. Religion cannot be the reason for conflicts. It cannot justify in any way assaults against life, offenses against liberty, crimes against the dignity of others. “In the name of God, most gracious and most merciful . . .”, an immensely powerful and beautiful invocation, well known to Muslims all over the world, but not unfamiliar to Christians as well. In the Old Testament, as God passed by the prophet who had concealed himself in the cleft of the rock, he revealed his name: “The merciful, the compassionate.” They who truly worship a merciful and compassionate God certainly blaspheme God when, in his name, they raise their hands against their brothers and sisters. Nothing should be more pleasing to God, no offering more acceptable than that all his sons and daughters should live together with the mercy and compassion by which He wishes to be known!

I return to Pope Francis’ example –the prophet of our times truly sent by God. He seeks out every opportunity to pray with persons of other faiths. He welcomes every chance to dialogue with them on issues that matter to the world. He is welcoming because he truly loves. And that is the key to it all. One of the ancient hymns of the Church captures it well: Ubi caritas et amor, ibi Deus est! . . . Where charity and love are, there God is! It should not matter as much that we call him by different names. And the narratives that are sacred to us may be different. We will respect these differences; we will rejoice in them and be enriched by them. But we must recognize that when we can live in love, dialogue in love, pray in love and make room for each other in love, there God’s face is resplendent!

No, religion is not the cause of the misery the world suffers. It is rather because God’s face is eclipsed by political and economic agenda, ideologies and affiliations that we have been scourged by hardly atrocities without precedent. It is because the men and women who make decisions allow the arrogance of office and the intoxication of power to dull the mercy and compassion by which alone God is worshipped and glorified.

What will save the world from all the cruelty and hatred, the destructiveness and the recklessness that have visited so much misery on so many is a return to religion, an earnest quest to seek the face of God my our brothers and sisters in genuine worship of that God who chooses to be known as All Merciful, All Compassionate.

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