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A time of pain and grace

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The Philippine Bishop’s pastoral letter of apology this past week to the people and the nation titled “A Time of Pain, A Time of Grace” admits that seven Bishops accepted monetary gifts of as much as 8.258 million from the government gambling agency - Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) at the behest of the former President even though the Church condemns gambling. Besides, it is illegal because the Constitution forbids any government funds or property be given to any Church or representative thereof. “Government funds cannot be used for the promotion of a specific religion”.

The money was given for the prelates to buy vehicles and they did - expensive sport utility vehicles which they said were being used for charitable purposes. One bought a low cost second-hand four wheel drive. They have already started to return the vehicles. So it is a time of Pain for the Church Hierarchy as a whole as the pastoral letter of the Catholic Bishop’s Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) says even if only seven bishops accepted the money out of a total of 133 Bishops. Retired outspoken anti-gambling Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Oscar Cruz said it is the “Worst Wound”, self-inflicted as may be, suffered by the Church since he was made a Bishop in 1976.

The problem lies deeper since the gifts are from the former President Gloria Arroyo-Macapagal, (now a congresswoman), to the Bishops to allegedly win their influence and support when she was in danger of being impeached for election fraud. The Bishop’s letter said that the donations were received with the pure desire of the bishops to help the poor, however, “they failed to consider the pitfalls to which these grants could possibly lead them”.

This is especially embarrassing for the bishops coming at a time when former President Arroyo-Macapagal is being charged with plunder for looting this so-called charity fund. Evidence has been presented to the investigative committees of both the House and the Senate alleging that former president Arroyo-Macapagal approved the use of even greater amounts of the charity funds, Php 325 million pesos for the election campaign of 2010 that is now being called plunder, graft, and malversation in the case before the Ombudsman.

It’s also the Time of Grace to return to the roots of Christian faith and for the hierarchy to dedicate itself to the struggle of the poor and the oppressed against those who plunder the national wealth. No decent person should ever take donations from a corrupt oligarchy and ruling elite that crush the hungry and the poor. It is the Time of Grace to look on the crucified Christ and realize that he was criticized, vilified, tortured and given the death penalty for opposing the corrupt practices of the authorities in his time and not collaborating with them.

There is nothing wrong with collecting donations to help the poor, even Jesus and his apostolic band of brothers and sisters had a collection purse. The only mistake they made was to entrust it to Judas, the betrayer. Money can corrupt and corrupts most of the time. We can become attached to possessions, wealth and security in this world and what it can buy us - prestige, privilege, entitlements, power and position and we can forget it can bring misery and harm.

Will great wealth give us true respect, love, spiritual happiness and peace of mind and heart? Not unless we are using it for the well-being of others in need such as the hungry, the victims of abuse and human rights violations, famine relief, educating the poor, and working for justice and the dignity of deprived and exploited people. This is the heart of the Gospel and the social teaching of the Church. We would do well to heed it. The Bishops may realize this already. During a Senate inquiry, Archbishop Orlando Quevedo of the Archdiocese of Cotabato said: “We will examine our vocation and commit a long journey to personal and social transformation. “What a blessing that will be, let’s hope it will not be a journey without end, but over sooner than later.

We must do all we can to use the resources of goodness and honest work to help those poor robbed of a life of decency and dignity.

By Father Shay Cullen




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