Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Do you have God fearing?

I WAS recently involved in a whole day seminar-workshop at St Joseph parish in Mabolo, Cebu City. I must confess feeling an initial apprehension. After all, this was not our first meeting. Our first encounter gave me the impression of passive participants with a “polite” interest in the topic.

How wrong I was!

At the end of the day, one middling age lady, with an unkempt hair and an endearing natural roughness about her, captured the spirit of the meeting, her awkward expression even adding freshness: “Now I will ask those who will be running if they have the needed qualities: if they have God-fearing, if they are honest. We have to use our heads because it is us who choose candidates…”

And this was a woman who, at the start of the day, expressed some cynicism about elections. She was not alone. The other 25 participants manifested similar shifts in sentiments. The “masa,” pardon the expression, can be discerning, given the right mechanism for forming conscience.

Last year, Dilaab (Cebuano, “conflagration” or Tagalog, “tongues of fire,” i.e. “Dila” and “Alab”) was involved in nine circles of discernment with various groups and networks. Dilaab is a faith-impelled, volunteer-driven, and Church-based movement for a transformed Filipino nation. Our message is captured in the words of dismissal in the novena mass for the Santo Nino: “Go in peace and remember that a good Christian makes for a better citizen.”

Yes, you heard it right. Let me even add: “and a better leader.” This is the essence of heroic Christian citizenship and leadership.

The first circle of discernment occurred during the emergence of the HEARTS network in June 2008. For the first time, a nationwide network of 21 Church-based anti-corruption groups came into being. Several months earlier, during the CBCP January meeting, Bishop Artemio Rillera had actually expressed the need for such a network. God indeed answers prayers.

The penultimate circle of discernment was convened by Ricardo J. Cardinal Vidal of Cebu last December 10. This brought together the Visayan bishops or their representatives. The highlight was a portion of the speech of Benedict XVI before lay leaders:

“In a particular way, I confirm the necessity and urgency of the evangelical formation and pastoral accompaniment of a new generation of Catholics working in politics, that they be coherent with the professed faith, that they have moral firmness, the capacity of educated judgment, professional competence and passion for service to the common good.”

I did a google search on “pastoral accompaniment” since the Pope did not define it. Its common usage has to do with providing pastoral care to the sick or dying. It is still an apt term in reference to politics in this country.

The last circle of discernment last year was actually a gathering that reflected upon “pastoral accompaniment” in light of relationships between priests and Christians from different social sectors, like policemen and politicians. The result is a framework with seven elements. But that is another story.

This Papal insight has provided tremendous boost and direction to our fledgling effort to promote heroic Christian citizenship and leadership. How can we provide evangelical formation and pastoral accompaniment to a new generation of Catholics in politics? This is not an easy question to answer.

Part of the answer is to ask what kind of engagement the Church has in politics, particularly during elections. After all, has not someone defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and then expecting a different result?

As a result of historical circumstances arising from a dictatorship, our usual engagement of voters’ education and vote monitoring came into being. We have been at this for some time now. We have been focusing on having clean elections. It continues to be a necessary engagement.

On the other hand, there are surveys, like the April 2007 SWS nationwide survey, showing that Filipinos overwhelmingly (i.e. around 80%) intend the common good in their choice of candidates saying that “I will vote for a candidate if most will benefit from him or her even if personally I will not.”

So why the gap between this laudable intention to vote for candidates who will promote the common and the sad reality of Philippine politics that “has degenerated into an arena where the interests of the powerful and rich few are pitted against those of the weak and poor many” (CBCP 1997 Exhortation on Philippine Politics)?

It seems the missing link has to do with the campaign and election period. The vast majority who say they seek the common good are just not able to translate this into reality. What may be needed is a mechanism, a process and tools, for forming their consciences with regards specific issues so that they can really choose good and reject evil. After all, isn’t it common for priests to be asked: “Padre, just tell us whom we should vote for”?

In addition, there is the issue of whether there are candidates who qualify as “good” so that voters would not have to choose between lesser evils. Clearly a distinct engagement is necessary to complement existing Church efforts during elections.