In our religious lives, we are often told by our priests, pastors and our friends, or most of the time by the laypeople, to simply pray for and reflect on our miseries when we should rather look at the thoroughness of our experiences and social realities, and find the courage to act. We are taught to pray every day but it should not be just to escape on the real situations of our people. We have to ask: Is our faith a flight from reality? Surely not.
The Gospel clearly leads us to a mission, saying:
“Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow his steps.”
And yet, here we are today: We are only butt hurt and offended when a posturing strongman calls our God stupid. But when the corpses of people created in His likeness are piling up on the streets, we become deaf and blind— being unable to reflect on the real world. And recently, he had called the criminals to rob the bishops and if they will react and fight, kill them.
The collapse of our faith is not manifested when a tyrant calls our God stupid, because it has already had happened in the past, at a time when the Son of God challenged the ruling establishments during his time on Earth, when He and his faithful followers committed themselves to the sufferings of people, an act of violence, which for St. Oscar Romero, a people’s martyr, “wills to beat weapons into sickles for work.”
Bishop Oscar Romero, during his pilgrimage on earth, had displayed an act of love for the people— a love which led Christ to the violence of the Cross, a love that would seem violent but radical enough to challenge a tyrannical rule that wreaked havoc on and brought miseries to the people in his time, a love that discomforts the comfortable and demonstrates how a life-giving vocation should be fulfilled.
During his period of immersion in far flung areas in El Salvador, where militarization was greatly present due to the connivance of state forces and landlords and landgrabbers, he witnessed the dire situation of the rural poor and peasants suffering from landlessness and displacement and spate of murders committed by security forces. His reflection on the real experiences of the people of God invigorated his mission to link arms with the oppressed, the people whom Jesus faithfully served.
Despite death threats coming from the Salvadorian authorities, Romero and other missionaries had continuously sided with the oppressed, especially with those who lived in the countryside, and outspokenly joined their struggles against militarization, corruption in the bureaucracy, and the continuing attacks on the rural poor for defending their lives and land.
Romero continuously defied the reign of terror, even filling the airwaves of radio stations with strong stance against extrajudicial killings committed by the death squads formed by right wing politicians. In 1980, months before his death, he called out the US Government headed by then Pres. Carter for funding the war machine of El Salvadorian government and supporting its reign of terror.
He had been at the most vulnerable moment in his life during the very core of communion between God and the people and his most adored rite, the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. His homilies and religious responsibilities stirred various emotions and responses. For the toiling masses and his supporters, his evangelical mission was an eye opener that could mobilize the people to uphold God’s social justice and bring about alternatives to the order that had drawn discontent from the peoples, but for majority of the privileged Catholics, including the acolytes of Salvadorian government, Romero was a blasphemy to God and the anti-thesis of subservience to the Vatican.
Just like the other missionaries and Church people who showed solidarity with the poor, Romero was also persecuted by state forces and elite Salvadoran Catholics, branding him as an “enemy of the state” and therefore a communist sympathizer.
During the worsening socio-political climate in El Salvador when electoral frauds were met with series of peaceful protests, Romero went out of his cathedral pulpit and fearlessly heightened his militancy denouncing the massacres and disappearances of community leaders and human rights defenders committed by joint forces of military and police.
The faith of Romero and other faithful was violently dismissed and so the existence of the God they worshipped. Hundredths of priests and laypeople were persecuted to death.
But these did not stop the commitment of Romero to carry forward the cross of struggle, to propagate the “violence of love” which Jesus showed to us thousands of years ago. No matter how they were called unchristian and how their God was blasphemed, was dismissed, and was called names, he did not focus on the pessimistic dismissal of such claim. Rather, he showed the real meaning of Christianity: Seeking to serve, and not to be served. Beyond the realm of prayers and spiritual charism, he became an activist for the people.
On March 24, 1980, Romero led the celebration of Holy Mass at a small chapel in a church-run hospital dedicated for the terminally ill where other priests were gathered as part of a monthly reflection on priesthood. Seconds after stepping away from the lectern where he held his sermon, Romero was shot to death by an unknown assailant.
St. Oscar Romero lived-out his faith with El Salvadorian people. In the Philippines, there were many Filipinos who had offered their lives not just for independence but for justice, lasting peace ad fullness of life. Fr. Gregorio Aglipay and his comrade clergy and lay people like Isabelo delos Reyes, Aurello Tolentino, and many Christian Filipinos had offered their lives for concrete and absolute independence of the Philippines from the hands of the Spanish and American colonizers.
Like St. Oscar Romero, many Christians life Methodist Felomina Asuncion, Deacon Carlos Tayag, Fr. Zacarias Agatep, Fr. Jeremias Aquino, Fr. Frank Navarro, to name a few, became martyr of the national democratic movement during Martial Law. Like St. Oscar Romero, Pastor Edison Lapus, Fr. William Tadena Bishop Alberto Ramento, Fr. Tito Paez, among others, had offered their lives against extra-judicial killings, desaparicedos and illegal arrest and detention with trumped up charges and gross human rights violations.
The saints and martyrs of the ancient and the modern world had suffered on the violence of the cross.
In front of the national television and behind the presidential podium, President Rodrigo Duterte, after a series of tirades against the Church, called God stupid and questioned the scriptural passage of creation, saying “Who is this stupid God? This son of a bitch is stupid if that’s the case.” This controversial statement drew flak from the Catholics, immediately changing their profile pictures on social media like Facebook showing the words “My God Is Not Stupid”.
Days after, the war against the Church people intensified. There was an exchange of words between them and the Palace, contributing to the culture of fear which has heightened the chilling effect to all the critics of the administration.
But before the President has focused on the Catholic church, he has already had waged his war against the ordinary people longing for reforms beneficial to all. The series of attacks against the Church people just came after the gruesome numbers of people killed and harassed in the drug war, martial rule in Mindanao and militarization in the countryside, and government’s persecution of social activists and political dissenters.
The omnipotence and omniscience of God can never be dismissed by a posturing strongman who has a messiah syndrome. God must be asking now: When the oppressed were agonizing and seeking refuge because of the reign of terror, where were you?
Have we empathized with the victims of state repression and extrajudicial killings long before the President hurled distasteful and divisive remarks on the faith of Christians? What have we done to condemn and stop such unchristian and inhumane attacks on the people?
We’ve already had made our God stupid when we chose to stay in the sidelines, and, even more so, when we have participated in the terrorist tagging of those radical disciples who courageously immersed in far flung areas and identified themselves with the marginalized.
Do we just come in defense only when our faith is put under attack? The Christian leaders must also carry out the call for justice to all victims of state violence. The Roman Catholic Church ad Evangelical Church leaders tend to condemn all forms of violence. It is really the real problem we have to face because in the first place, the present Philippine system is a violent one. It is a system ruled by oppressors and exploiters with the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Philippine National Police, their paramilitary-auxiliary forces or force multipliers and private armies conspire to suppress the people’s struggle who are fighting for justice and lasting peace.
It is true that there revolutionary forces engage in armed struggle. They forces are so-called no-state actors in the Philippines. Filipinos should not condemn revolutionary causes. The Philippines revolution had produced heroes and heroines, martyrs and even saints for independence.
The continuing revolution that is happening in our country at present is relevant and just. If the oppressed and exploited Filipino people have no one to help them, who will defend them? It is also just and proper for them to have protectors and they are the army of the people who are fighting a just war.
We and our Church leaders, including Luis Cardinal Tagle, have made our God stupid when we chose to commit sin of omission or abandon our moral obligation, an act that most privileged Christians do. Believing that our collective prayer is enough and that we are fated and destined to face the miseries unleashed by the current regime is a sin also. By this, we have failed Jesus who rebelled against the structural evils during his time on earth and who denounced those who benefited from the sufferings of others and those who monopolized the resources of the world for selfish gains.
Our inactions amidst the spate of killings against the leaders of the national democratic movement and economic woes have failed our God. We have failed to use our deliberative will to fulfill our life-giving vocation and to share our suffering with that of Christ’s when he struggled with the oppressed and dispossessed.
For what good is our lamentation when we have placed the lives of our brothers and sisters in danger despite seeing how the tyrant and his acolytes have deliberatively decided to go against the thesis of life and take us to war? We have placed our faith in a vacuum— in a place where Christ doesn’t dwell—- instilling into the minds of our brothers and sisters that our battle for a humane society must be devoid of politics. Have we ever asked who sent us murders? Who ordered our sufferings? Who brought these upon us? Is it God?
Protest is the diametric opposition of apathy. It is an act of righteousness which revealed the magnificence of Christ’s mission to the powerless.
He immersed with and showed love for the oppressed, abused, abandoned, sick, alienated and outcasted. He challenged religious practices, made public speeches, talked personally to people, and spoke truth to power. He stormed in the places where injustice became rampant and where people were subjugated to the rule of tyrants. He even overturned tables and drove people out of a room in a temple court to condemn the greedy religious hypocrites. (John 2:13-25)
Jesus rebelled against an exploitative system. He prayed to God, being an active invitation to resistance and not a passive reaction to oppression and exploitation. He was slandered, mocked, intimidated, tortured, and imprisoned—- the same experiences the people of God undergo today—- but he still chose to fulfill his mission. His love and activism for us brought him to the crucifixion. His disciples carried forward his militancy, courageously challenging an environment permeated by injustice. They remained faithful to Christ’s mission of emancipation and salvation.
Let us be moved by the suffering of people. Ignoring them is to show contempt for God whose love for humanity is unceasing that he gave us his only begotten son Jesus Christ. Our faith is never a flight from reality. The people want to see the fullness of our faith, of our experience. Where have we hidden it? Let Jesus be seen by the people, be seen in our struggle- a place where he truly dwells.
Our silence has permitted and enabled the reign of tyranny that I have to ask: Do we value the life sanctified by our communion with God? By being silent on the rampant killings today, we are crucifying Christ again; we are crucifying the sons and daughters of God. Do we need to experience terrible suffering first before we save the lives of the people set to be crucified by the self-proclaimed God?