Interview with Archbishop José S. Palma, Vice-President of the CBCP
The important role women play in the life of the Church, the close collaboration between lay people, priests and bishops and the current spirit of cooperation with the Muslim minority make the Church in the Philippines a model of communion and peaceful coexistence among the faithful of different religions. Archbishop Jose S. Palma, Vice-President of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines, spoke of this with pride, during the Filipino Bishops' visit ad liming Apostolorum. The following are extracts from the interview.
The Philippines is an exception in the religious context of the Far East since Christians are in the majority, unlike other regions where Muslims and the faithful of other religions predominate. The Catholic majority strives to cooperate and live together with the Muslim minority. Could this be a model for the whole of Asia?
In the Philippines interreligious dialogue has always been a way of life in regions where Christians and Muslims live together in the same place, whether we are the majority or the minority. In Provinces like Sulu, Tawi-tawi, Lanao, Maguidanao and Basilan, with the lowest Christian population, in our Catholic schools hospitals and various social services the majority of the beneficiaries are Muslims. We also have institutionalized programmes and activities such as the Bishops-Ulama Conference, headed by Archbishop Capalla of the Archdiocese of Davao. Its main objective is to promote interreligious dialogue with our Muslim brothers and sisters. Another programme is the SILSILAH Movement established by Catholic Missionaries (PIME) which offers courses on interreligious dialogue in Zamboanga City. We also have youth camps, peace-building programmes and activities for both Christians and Muslims. In the spirit of inter-religious dialogue, Christians and Muslims alike respect and even support each other in our religious celebrations: Ramadan, Advent, Christmas, Lent, Holy Week and Easter.
Lay people play an important part, especially women, who represent the majority of the lay faithful. What is their actual contribution?
The lay faithful are part and parcel of the Church's strength. The quality of the faith and Christian life of the faithful implies the character of the life and faith of the Church in the Philippines. From the many spiritual and pastoral programmes that have been implemented to encourage lay formation and greater participation in ecclesial life, we also expect the lay faithful, especially women, to continue to share with the whole Church in the Philippines.
As we all know and as John Paul II taught us, among the fundamental values linked to women's actual lives is what has been called a "capacity for the other". Women preserve the deep intuition of the goodness in their lives and of those actions which elicit life, and contribute to the growth and protection of the other. This intuition is linked to women's physical capacity to give life. In the Philippines most women still consider it a privilege to be mothers and women are given a dignified place in society. In our country, Filipino women have active and significant roles, especially in the family. Many of our women distinguish themselves by holding important positions in the field of politics, education, science and economic endeavours.
Do the bishops count on the presence of lay people in order to oppose the continuous new legislation contrary to the dignity of human life? I am referring to abortion and euthanasia.
Yes, we in the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) definitely count on the lay faithful to oppose laws that favour abortion and euthanasia. The CBCP specifically denounced the persistent anti-life programme called the Reproductive Health Bill. With the help of many of the lay faithful who are experts in their own field (e.g. medical doctors, experts in demography or in constitutional law, in studies on poverty and the country's financial system, etc.), the bishops are able to provide the Catholic faithful with catechesis plus a lot of material that points out the immorality of these anti-life bills. At this point in time we are inspired by the way the lay faithful continue to resist immoral teaching and manifest their dislike of it through awareness programmes for the rest of the Filipino people.
From mission Church to missionary Church: how did the transformation come about?
First of all we must recognize that all of this is the work of the Holy Spirit for "unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labour in vain" (Ps 127:1). But we pay tribute to the different missionaries and various religious congregations that came to us to share the Good News. For so many years the work of evangelization by these missionaries, the establishment of different missionary structures such as parishes, universities and schools, catechetical programmes, Christian formation of families, the administration of the Sacraments and the preaching of the word of God indeed transformed this mission Church in the Philippines into a missionary Church. Moreover, the Filipino people in general are God-fearing people. Infants are readily given for Catholic Baptism, and grow up under church-going parents and institutions with a Catholic orientation. Thus while there is still so much to be desired to raise them in the Christian values, the general atmosphere for their growing up is not characterized by religious indifference or animosity to the Church. Despite economic difficulties most Filipino families love to celebrate liturgical solemnities and the religious feasts associated with their patron saints. We thank the Lord that in the last few decades, we have as a result more vocations to the priesthood and religious life of people who are now working as Church missionaries. By the grace of God, we too have become a missionary Church sharing the Catholic faith with other countries.
There are many Filipino emigrants all over the world. Does the Church in the Philippines manage to take care of them or are they entrusted to the care of the communities that welcome them?
Both. The Catholic Church in the Philippines makes efforts for the emigrant in other places just as we also promote programmes for the communities that welcome them. Since 1955, the Catholic Church in the Philippines through the CBCP's Commission for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People (ECMI) encouraged the creation of a diocesan commission. This in turn finds much personalized care through our parishes and Basic Ecclesial Communities. We also have various programmes and activities especially for the children of our overseas Filipino workers. We have priests, women religious and social workers who regularly visit schools, particularly our Catholic Schools who seek out students whose parents are abroad in order to give them the pastoral care they need. Through the help of these programmes we are able to reach out to them and they are made aware of the care the Church offers. We also continue to have the Apostleship of the Sea with its special task of praying for the people abroad. The Catholic communities that welcome our Filipino migrants also offer them care, especially through the ECMI of the Bishops' Conference. As an answer to the rapidly growing pastoral, spiritual and social needs of people on the move, the above-mentioned Episcopal Commission regularly sends priests to various countries in coordination with the Bishops' Conference of that circumscription, which is asked to give pastoral care to our Filipino emigrants.