The Philippine Misereor Partnership and the Global Common Good

[Address to the General Assembly of the Philippine Misereor Partnership, Inc [PMPI], Tagum, March 1, 2016]

It is a great privilege for me to address you. I would like to thank Ms. Yoly Esguerra, the Philippine Misereor Parnership National Coordinator, for her kind invitation. Before university administration took over my life, I was very much involved in the movement for the upliftment of the urban poor. As head of the Sambayanang Kristyano ng Kristong Hari in the National Government Center of QC during the 80s, we fought alongside the Samahan ng Maralita Para sa Makatao at Makatarungang Paninirihan (Sama-Sama) and the Community Organizers of the Philippines Enterprise (COPE) against unjust and inhumane demolitions and for the increase in affordable housing stock for the poor. We found powerful allies in Jaime Cardinal Sin, the Bishops’-Businessmen’s Conference, and the Institute on Church and Social Issues (ICSI). The result of this constellation of people’s organisations, NGOs, and the Church was the Urban Development and Housing Act of 1991 (RA 7279). Parallel to this, we also had a vibrant skills and livelihood development center, the Sentro sa Ikauunlad ng Kasanayan at Hanapbuhay (SIKHAY). All of these efforts at the development of the urban poor sector were to a great extent funded by Misereor, even though at that time the Philippine Misereor Partnership had not yet been founded. I am happy to take this opportunity to thank Misereor for the help it extended our groups then, and for the help it continues to extend to development groups in the Philippines. In thanking Misereor, I thank not only the Catholic Community of Germany but also the People of the Federal Republic of Germany for continuing to extend this humanitarian assistance to our people in admirable solidarity.

Paul VI’s Populorum Progresio and Misereor

Misereor has been supporting the development of peoples throughout the globe for over 50 years. Much of its driving spirit is inspired by a Church document whose golden anniversary we shall mark next year on March 26th, Pope Paul VI’s Populorum Progresio: On the Development of Peoples (PP). In this document, contrary to the pious and cynical who think that the Church should stay inside its churches and pray to its private God, the Church asserts its role in the development of peoples: “The progressive development of peoples is an object of deep interest and concern to the Church. This is particularly true in the case of those peoples who are trying to escape the ravages of hunger, poverty, endemic disease and ignorance; of those who are seeking a larger share in the benefits of civilization and a more active improvement of their human qualities; of those who are constantly striving for fuller growth” (PP, 1). With this concern of global poverty, the Church calls for a response in compassion: “The hungry nations of the world cry out to the peoples blessed with abundance. And the Church, cut to the quick by this cry, asks each and every man to hear his brother’s plea and answer it lovingly” (PP3). That resonates with Jesus’ compassion on the crowd that had gathered to listen to him proclaim the Kingdom of God but were now hungry; it also resonates with the inner spirit of Misereor. Jesus said, “I have compassion on the crowd who have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat” (Mk. 8:2). In Latin, Jesus’ words are: “Misereor super turbam… I have compassion on the crowd…” Compassion: not condescending pity, but, from the depths of one’s humanity, cum-pati, to suffer with. Compassion: the passion of Jesus expressing the suffering with – compassion – of the Father for humanity. Compassion: the love of the Father in the Son through the Spirit expressed gratuitously for humanity in the Cross and resurrection that is humanity’s upliftment and core dignity.

It is grounded in this divine compassion that the Church’s concern for the progress or development of peoples continues: “True to the teaching and example of her divine Founder, who cited the preaching of the Gospel to the poor as a sign of His mission, the Church has never failed to foster the human progress of the nations to which she brings faith in Christ” (PP, 12). This is progress based not simply on peoples’ economic wealth and power, their acquired productive, educational and military capabilities, and their abilities to sway national and international policies based on self-interest, but is based on its ability to call forth, effect and foster an authentic humanity.  “The development We speak of here cannot be restricted to economic growth alone. To be authentic, it must be well rounded; it must foster the development of each man and of the whole man. …’We cannot allow economics to be separated from human realities, nor development from the civilization in which it takes place. What counts for us is man—each individual man, each human group, and humanity as a whole’” (PP,15). Important words: “each man” and the “whole man,” “each individual man,” “each human group,” and “humanity as a whole”: that is humanity in all its individual richness, that is the human individual in his social fullness. The compassionate concern in development or progress therefore is not just for what a society produces, what wealth society owns, how economically productive a barangay or fishing village is, but how each individual thrives humanly, bodily and spiritually, individually and communally, ultimately, before God. For this, an ability in wisdom to reflect on the shallowness or depth, on the falsehood or the reality, on the shortcomings or achievements of man-in-society and on society-in-every-individual is based on a new, dynamic humanism. “If development calls for an ever-growing number of technical experts, even more necessary still is the deep thought and reflection of wise men in search of a new humanism, one which will enable our contemporaries to enjoy the higher values of love and friendship, of prayer and contemplation,  and thus find themselves. This is what will guarantee man’s authentic development—his transition from less than human conditions to truly human ones” (PP, 20)[1].

The Quality of our Compassion and the Common Good

Almost 50 years after its issuance, the words of Populorum Progresio still ring true. After more than 50 years of Misereor’s engagement in development work, they invite us to deeper reflection on where we are as agents of transformation, first, among ourselves individually, then within the communities in which we operate, then within the national, regional and global communities. Individually, what is the level of our personal integrity as human beings, our ability to appreciate life, to forge lasting friendships, to love passionately, to work professionally, to come together with others in dialogue, to care thoughtfully for the City of Man? What is the quality of our relationship with God, the depth of the joy that comes from the encounter with Jesus[2]? What is the quality of our relationship with the communities which we serve? As developmental workers, do we instrumentalise the suffering of others as convenient occasions for personal employment? Do we take advantage of the acute need of others to advance our personal interests? Or with Jesus can we in any way say, “Misereor super turbam,” – I have compassion on the crowd. What is the nature of my compassion? Is it condescending pity or authentic “suffering with”? What is the determining hope of my compassion? Is it hope based on calculating reason, on the manipulation of need towards power, on the inevitable progress of humanity in history, or is it hope based on faith? Do I hope that my communities will eat more, drink more, breath more, work more, earn more? Is that it? Or do I hope that they will thrive fully as human beings – along with all other human beings. Is this my agenda forced on them? Or does it belong to my agenda to call forth from them today this free commitment to the whole human being flourishing in the fullness of human society? In this free commitment are they given to the pursuit of their particular needs, or do they in solidarity commit themselves in compassion to the attainment of the common good – as God wills?

Expressed differently: in working with the poor do I organize them towards self-interest and selfishness, or do I work with them towards selfless service of the common good?

We come together today in Tagum as the Philippine Misereor Partnership, Inc. (PMPI). Populorum Progressio continues to echo in the teachings of the Church. Pope Francis challenges us to return to the joy of the Gospel is based on this brand of new humanism. In its light, he says, “The great danger in today’s world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and anguish of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience. Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interest and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades…” (EG, 2).  In a world where consumerist materialism on the one hand and religious extremism on other push society to a life-draining secularism, the humanism of Francis presumes God and invites us to hear the God of compassion looking on the desolation, frustration and sadness of contemporary human culture. In this compassion, Francis sounds his stinging condemnation of global consumerist economy: “Just as the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we have to say ‘thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills” (EG, 54). Based on this humanism, Francis condemns the unbridled consumerism fuelled by science and technology and their powerful principals, that ignores the Creator, abuses and destroys the environment, the “common home” created by God for all, causing or intensifying the exclusion of the poor in the peripheries.[3]

We are a loose partnership of 160-strong organizations dedicated to development: church organizations, people’s organizations (POs), and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). We are today focused on four main concerns: first, peace and human rights; second, climate change and disaster risk reduction; third, sustainable agriculture; and fourth, anti-mining, esp. large-scale mining. That is an impressive force for development, especially since the issues you address are actual and pressing.

Issues of peace and order are pressing in Mindanao. The Muslim-Christian, Muslim-Filipino conflict is the world’s longest running conflict. There is an internationally-witnessed agreement between the Government of the Philippines and the Moro Independence Liberation Front (MILF), the Comprehensive Agreement Bangsamoro. The failure of the Philippine Congress to pass a corresponding Bangsamoro Basic Law to correct historical injustices visited on Filipino Muslims undermines the influence of Filipino Muslims committed to religious inclusiveness and integration into the Filipino State, and strengthens incipient movements aligning themselves in solidarity with the religiously-exclusive global Islamic State. This is a serious challenge to peace and order in the entire Philippines and region. Peace and order is however also challenged by the NPA insurgency, and by those who take advantage of and exploit the most vulnerable of our population, the Indigenous peoples.

Climate change is a reality. The globe is warming due to excessive carbon emissions. The glaciers are melting, the sea level is rising, the weather patterns no longer predictable. Throughout the world extreme weather conditions plague large populations, especially the poor. In 2012 we suffered Typhoon Pablo; in 2013, Typhoon Yolanda; in 2014, Typhoon Glenda. All were devastating. All call forth from us not only better disaster risk reduction management, but serious action to stop global warming through lower carbon emissions – a call which must impact not only on our country, but especially on large industrialized countries like the United States and China.

Sustainable agriculture is a serious challenge. We depend on agriculture for food. But we must produce food without undermining the productivity of our soil, without further destroying our forests, without further destroying biodiversity, without spraying which is toxic not only for pests but for human beings.. Our agriculture must protect the environment, public health, human communities and general animal welfare.

Large-scale mining under the 1995 Philippine Mining Act is utterly disastrous. It devastates the environment, impoverishes the communities it affects for generations, alienates the mineral patrimony of the people to foreigners for practically free, and it cruelly pits representatives of vulnerable IP communities against one another, destroying the harmony of our indigenous cultural communities.

All these concerns are worthy foci of your development activities. Violent conflict yearns for peace; the protection of the environment calls for a change in human lifestyle, sustainable agriculture calls for agricultural technology that respects the environment, the insular environment and affected vulnerable communities demand the eradication of large-scale mining.

But the questions may still be raised: What is it that brings us together today? Why are we members of the Philippine Misereor Partnership. Is it the well-known generosity of Misereor and our hope for our various development projects to continue to benefit from that generosity? Is it a funding application that is still pending, or a funded project that needs to be continued, if not expanded? Is it the conviction that through active membership in the PMPI the chances of approval for our projects increase appreciably? While Misereor funding may be essential for your projects, it would be sad if funding were the only warrant for your being here today.

I hope that what really brings us together is an experience of compassion that resonates with the compassion of Jesus and is the soul of Misereor. “Misereor super turbam!“ he said. “I have compassion on the crowd.” For Jesus, that was compassion not just on an amorphous crowd, but on the entire humanity in the face of each individual person, especially the smallest and least in human society. For Jesus, the success or failure of one’s individual life, eternal blessedness or eternal salvation, pivots morally on one’s relationship to the least in society with whom Jesus identifies: “Whatever you have done or not to one of these the least of my sisters and brothers that you have done to me” (cf. Mt. 25:40,45). It pivots also on one’s ability in discipleship to appreciate the mission of Jesus in compassion, which we in faith ultimately share. “I have come to bring life, and to bring life in abundance,” Jesus said.  “I have come to bring life, and life to the full” (Jn 10:10). I hope there we come together in such compassion for humanity that we hunger and thirst for justice, not just for certain individuals but for the fullness of life for all in society. That is ultimately the social justice for which we yearn in compassion, the fullness of life in a shared common good through which all in society and each individual can flourish optimally as human beings.

Global Challenges Challenging Us

I hope that in this compassion we are able to appreciate some of the disturbing “signs of the times” pertinent to the human community today. Leaning on the recently published Jesuit paper in Promotio Justitiae entitled “Justice in the Global Economy”[4], allow me to list some: Despite significant advances in the world against poverty, there are still over a billion people today mired in abject poverty. Despite significant successes in wealth creation, inequality has been steadily rising. Despite talk or even laws recognizing the rights of the marginalized, discrimination against indigenous peoples and marginalized ethnic minorities persist. Meanwhile, women are more prone to poverty and unequal economic opportunity than men. The nature of work is rapidly changing. The private sector has become increasingly important. The sustainability of current consumption-based economic practices is questioned. The violence that plagues our present age often has economic roots. The role of the media, both commercial and social, has become increasingly significant. Many local grass-roots communities pursue innovative efforts. A new global civil society is emerging. Some governments and local businesses have shown openness to engaging concern for sustainable development. A new understanding of sustainable development is emerging. The rising corporate responsibility movements is also a sign of hope.

This paper discusses the major global challenges of today as: the challenge of severe poverty, the social wound of inequality, the risk of modern-day financialization, the injustice of violence, the unattended fragility of our common home. All of these major global challenges are reflected in our Philippine situation. The worst poverty in the Philippines is in Muslim Mindanao. Severe inequality intensifies nationwide as political, economic, cultural and religious power is concentrated in a few. The technical intricacies of financialization gives tremendous power to those who can manipulate new financial instruments over those who cannot. The environmental laws in the Philippines are so formulated that they do not protect the environment but protect the interests of those who harm the environment.[5]

In appreciating the signs of the times and in willingness to address today crucial global challenges to humanity based on a depth understanding of Jesus’ “Misereor super turbam,” we appreciate: Jesus has compassion on the crowd whose humanity is undermined either individually or collectively. This is the heartbeat of our authentic humanism. I hope we find resonance – or even unity – in a Christian and human vision of this humanity in the common good – the common good that includes our particular concerns yet transcends them in intensifying concern for the common good of all of humanity today in the world today. This is urgent as globalization brings bright blessings and dark curses. I hope we find our unity in a shared solidarity. Pope John Paul II described solidarity as the commitment to advance the common good.

The common good is not a least common denominator binding cause organizations against opponent organizations, the shared platform of a political majority against a political minority, nor even the shared life of a dominant religion asserted against the idiosyncrasies of minority religions. It is rather “the interconnected set of social values that are shared by all of a community’s members to at least the degree required by their common humanity. It is a good that simultaneously benefits the community and each of its members” (JGE, 4.1). It is the set of conditions through which each and all members of a society can flourish optimally as human beings at a particular time in history. It is therefore a set of conditions that changes continually with historical changes in the political, economic, social, cultural and religious conditions, calling forth from each of us and all similarly minded persons and institutions discernment, discussions and negotiations on what the common good demands and how it is to be achieved. Among similarly minded institutions may be may be the Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines (CEAP), whose schools and universities, whose research and social outreach and advocacy activities as its Madaris Volunteer Program may complement your work.   Coming together in a Philippine Misereor Partnership may suggest this: far beyond an arena of mere competition for funds, a forum of open discernment, rational planning and coordinated action towards the common good. May you share a blessedness reserved for those who hunger and thirst for justice (cf Mt. 5:6,9), most especially for social justice, which calls for the common good and is a condition for lasting peace. Even when you find persecution in pursuing the common good, may you find blessedness (cf. Mt. 5:10), for yours is the kingdom of heaven.

Challenge to Respond in Partnership to Global Injustice

Misereor super turbam…I have compassion on the crowd” Jesus said, inviting us, as Misereor has, to have compassion on the crowd, the human family worldwide, even beyond our national borders. We thank Misereor for its history of witness to this compassion globally. It is against this history that Germany, its diverse confessional and faith communities and its civil society, under the leadership of Chancellor Angela Merkel, extended humanitarian assistance to the human refugees fleeing violence and death in Syria and to them breathtakingly opened its borders and its homeland. The world was profoundly edified. Today, “Blessed” be Germany in its courageous witness to the common good of humanity! “Blessed” be its leaders, even as today they suffer persecution from those who have no insight in the common good! Today, needy as we are, yet looking on the suffering of the millions of refugees, I suggest we too express our compassion for them in whatever way our means allow. I suggest we too express our support for leaders who decide beyond national interests for the common good. The refugee problem is not just a German or Syrian or European Union problem; in our shared humanity it is our problem. Our government and our faith communities may join in this manifestation. But especially those who are helped by Misereor may wish to express their compassion in a reciprocity that is realistic, creative and life-giving.  With the communities we serve, as a Misereor Partnership of the Philippine Church and the Filipino People with the German Church and the German People, we may wish to go beyond our neediness to now make a contribution to global justice and world peace. We take our cue and consolation from our Gospel: Blessed are the poor, wherever they are… Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice, be they in the Philippines or in Germany…. Blessed are those persecuted for the sake of justice, be they in Mamasapano, Tampakan, Leipzig or Berlin… Blessed are you who care for the least of my sisters and brothers, whether you still their hunger or clothe their nakedness or shelter them from ignorance, discrimination, prejudice, hatred, or bombs. Reject the darkness; remain in the light: yours is the kingdom of God! (Cf. Mt 5:5-10; 25: 31-46).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] “The ultimate goal is a full-bodied humanism. (44) And does this not mean the fulfillment of the whole man and of every man? A narrow humanism, closed in on itself and not open to the values of the spirit and to God who is their source, could achieve apparent success, for man can set about organizing terrestrial realities without God. But “closed off from God, they will end up being directed against man. A humanism closed off from other realities becomes inhuman.” (45)

True humanism points the way toward God and acknowledges the task to which we are called, the task which offers us the real meaning of human life. Man is not the ultimate measure of man. Man becomes truly man only by passing beyond himself. In the words of Pascal: “Man infinitely surpasses man. (46)” PP, 42).

[2] “The joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus” (Evangelii Gaudium [EG], 1).

[3] Cf. Laudato Si, Encyclical Letter of the Holy Father FRANCIS on Care for Our Common Home, esp. 69-78.

[4] “Justice in the Global Economy: Building Sustainable and Inclusive Communities” in Promotio Justitiae, n. 121, Jan 2016. http://www.sjweb.info/documents/sjs/pj/docs_pdf/PJ_121_ENG.pdf

[5] Please see: https://taborasj.wordpress.com/2015/09/30/laudato-si-and-the-legal-framework-for-environmental-protection-and-advocacy-in-the-philippines/

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About Joel Tabora, S.J.

Jesuit. Educator
This entry was posted in Address, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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