Indian Catholic News

Philippines needs more shepherds to defend flock

Should we wait for more blood on our altars before we march from our parishes to the halls of justice?

 
A priest carries a cross during a march in Manila on May 17 to protest the spate of attacks on church people in recent months. (Photo by Jire Carreon)
By Mark Saludes
Manila: 

Shepherding is among the oldest occupations in the world, beginning about 5,000 years ago in western Asia. A shepherd would put his life in danger to protect his flock.

If a sheep got separated from the group, the shepherd would search for it and not come back without the lost sheep. Once found, the shepherd would use his crook to hook and recover the fallen animal. If any predator threatened the flock, the shepherd would use the crook as a weapon to protect the congregation and fight any menace without hesitation.

The crook has been used as a religious symbol of care by the Catholic Church. It has become the crosier or the pastoral staff of Catholic bishops.

The bishop's crosier or crook or staff symbolizes his being the shepherd of the flock of God. It signifies his authority and responsibility over the Catholic community under his canonical jurisdiction.

In the Philippines, Catholic bishops are using the shepherd's crook to draw back those who have gone astray from the faith and to guide the flock to the right path.

Only a few of our church leaders are using the crook to hit hard at adversaries of the faith, the promoters of killings and impunity, and the murderers of the church's gallant knights.

Many of our bishops are only tapping a soft blow with their not-too-lengthy press statements, theological reflections, and do nothing at all, especially if their dioceses are not affected by a pressing issue.

Another Catholic priest was gunned down recently while preparing for the celebration of Mass in the northern Philippine province of Nueva Ecija. Father Richmond Villaflor Nilo was killed on June 10 inside a chapel in Zaragoza town in the Diocese of Cabanatuan. He was the third Catholic priest to be killed in the country in the last six months.

The killings of the priests were condemned by religious leaders around the country. The bishops of the dioceses where the killings happened issued strongly worded pronouncements. But out of the 86 dioceses in the Philippines, few other bishops have really made strong statements against the killings and against the individuals who endorsed the acts.

To say that Filipino bishops do not speak out against killings is an overstatement. They claim to be against the culture of death and are supposed to defend the sanctity of life. But instead of loud shouts, we hear whispers. Instead of outrage in the streets, we see protests inside churches.

Concrete actions from Catholic Church leaders to press authorities to solve and prevent the killings are lacking. Statements remain soft, cautiously written, wanting or even insignificant.

This culture of silence, or should I say culture of softness and carefulness, among church leaders is nothing new. Many have been silent even as President Rodrigo Duterte's war on drugs has killed thousands of people.

Bishops have been denouncing the spate of drug-related killings, but only a handful mobilized their flock to put more weight to the protests.

We have already tried the soft and gentle way to urge the government to act on the killings and to diplomatically appeal to the president to stop endorsing them. Soft and cautious press releases seem not to work. Catholic Church leaders have to do more by organizing and mobilizing the flock to collectively defend the faith.

Should we wait for more dead priests before we decide to get out of our comfort zones and stand against tyranny? Should we wait for our priests to be shot before we utter stronger words of condemnation?

Should we wait for more blood on our altars before we stand, congregate and march from our parishes to the halls of justice?

As Catholics, it is our duty to pray for the realization of justice, peace and integrity of creation. As followers of Christ, it is our mission to defend life even with our own lives.

Filipino Catholics need a shepherd who can dare use the crook to hit the fox that is preying on the flock.

Mark Saludes is a freelance journalist who covers social justice issues for ucanews.com.

Source: UCAN

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