CBCP: Poverty as ‘social scandal’ must be dealt with responsible action

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MANILA, Jan. 28, 2014—Noting the perennial problem of poverty in the country as a “social scandal,” the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) in a pastoral letter on Monday exhorted the faithful to be more sensitive to the plight of the poor while shunning the tempting allure of material wealth and riches. 

“While we gratefully recognize advances in Philippine society in such areas as basic education, fundamental aspects of the economy, the struggle for elusive peace in Mindanao, the war against corruption, and in all the shameful slime uncovered in connection with the now unconstitutional Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), we cannot help but admit with Pope Francis that twenty-eight percent of our people still ‘are barely living from day to day,’” the bishops’ collegial body said in a letter signed by CBCP President and Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas. 

“The income gap between our rich and poor has not closed: the richest ten percent of our population is earning ten times more than the poorest ten percent, with the income of the richest families soaring way beyond the income of the poorest,” the 120-strong CBCP said, noting the Family Income and Expenditure Survey released by the National Statistical Coordination Board in 2012. 

The CBCP called on the lay faithful to act as responsible citizens instead of blaming the government for the societal upheavals faced by the country. 

“This is a social scandal for which we cannot just blame government. We need to understand our role in it, our personal responsibility for it in our individual lives and shared cultures, and return to Jesus,” it said. 

Excluding the poor 

In acting against poverty, the bishops called on the faithful to fight the “economy of exclusion”— one that gives prime importance to wealthy and influential individuals while neglecting the plight of less fortunate members of the state, the CBCP noted. 

“It is an economy which pampers the wealthy with mansions, multiple cars, yachts, helicopters, exotic food, outstanding education, state-of-the-art gadgetry, influence and power, but excludes others, especially the poor, from regular jobs that generate more than subsistence, from liberating education, minimum health care, decent and safe housing, and modern modes of communication,” it said. 

“It concentrates decision making in the wills of an entrenched elite, and reduces participation of the poor in these decisions to empty formalities,” the CBCP added. “It serves the interests of the global economic elite, as these benefit the local elite, defends these interests with political, military and media power, and disenfranchises poor people who stand in their way of their rights – even of their right to life.” 

“Indigenous peoples are pushed off their lands, their defenders are killed. Meanwhile, laws enacted to close the gap between included and the excluded, the wealthy and the poor, the powerful and the disempowered, the housed and the homeless are sluggishly implemented or implemented in the breach,” it added. 

‘Idolatry of money’ 

The greed for money is also among the foremost reasons behind the societal upheavals faced by the country, the CBCP said, noting the need for humans to be reminded that “it is not humanity that serves money, but money that serves humanity.” 

“If in the pursuit of private interest, money has taken over life, has co-opted substantial time in our loving and space in our thinking, is more demanding than family, more consoling than friends, determines what is right and what is wrong, is able in importance to push God into a corner, if not into oblivion, for as long as I can push my interests to the exclusions of others’, money has become an idol,” it said. 

“Before this idol, both humanity and divinity are sacrificed,” the CBCP added. 

While the Church recognizes the need for physical riches to fulfill an individual’s personal and familial needs, it noted that “private property is encumbered by a ‘social mortgage’ and must contribute to the common good.” 

“Money is a means. It is not an end. It is certainly not God. Avarice is idolatry.  Selfishness is a sin.  The return to the joy of encounter with Jesus cannot force conversion. But it does invite it,” it said. 

Need for action 

The bishops’ collegial body urged the faithful to see the poor not just as “curious ciphers on a statistical report” but as a manifestation of Christ who “makes Himself one with the poor.” 

“It is the fundamental encounter with Jesus that must guide our response to the poor…From His Cross, Jesus gazes into our eyes and touches our hearts with love. It is his love which calls forth our response in love. It is his love which allows us to admit our personal faults in our shared social woundedness,” it said. 

“An honest assessment of our ways of dealing with the poor whom God brings in our lives – our neighbors, our colleagues, our students, our employees, our parishioners, our political constituencies – is called for, especially when these ways impact not just on individual lives but on the common good. To the poor, we owe love as God loved us first. That entails not just sentimentality. That entails justice,” the CBCP added. 

Responding with love 

Injustice, poverty, and all other manifestations of “evil” exist for humans to respond to them with love, it noted. 

“We do know for certain that while God permits much evil he also wished to overcome evil – but only with our cooperation. He wants our active love to show his love. He wants to draw from us love in response to all these evils,” the bishops said. 

“There is no Christianity without love. There is no love without justice. There is no integral proclamation of Christianity without effective action for justice. The Church’s mission of redemption is tied up with liberation from injustice and oppression,” they added. (Jennifer Orillaza)

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