Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Solidarity and Citizenship Building

IT’S an unyielding mystery to many observers of the Philippine scene how we Filipinos are so thin-skinned about any slur, real or imagined, that foreigners cast on us as a people; but when year in, year out, studies on corruption world-wide invariably place us among the lowest ranked, i.e., the most corrupt, of all the countries surveyed, we hear not a word of protest, not even a whimper. Possibly because we do not need those studies to tell us something we already know in our guts to be the unvarnished truth?

The mystery is deepened when we consider how we take inordinate pride in our being “the only Christian nation in Asia” (a title no longer ours since 2002 when East Timor became independent), yet somehow are not bothered much, if at all, by the negation of that proud claim by the corruption that has become so entrenched in our nation’s life. What this strange fact seems to point to is that we are all somehow willing accomplices in the crime of the guilty few among our people. But are we?

Lent will soon be upon us, a time of conversion, of renewal. It is as good a time to ask that question seriously for our renewal as a Christian people. Since our Alay Kapwa theme for this year is Citizenship Building and Solidarity towards a Culture of Peace and Integrity of Creation, we can’t do worse than make citizenship and solidarity the focal points of our effort at renewal. For in the noxious climate of corruption we live under these days, it is precisely the lack of authentic citizenship and solidarity that characterizes those among us who are notorious for battening, at our expense, off the poisoned fruits of corruption. It is the lack too in those of us who accept without a murmur of protest the destructive evil that their unfettered corruption is causing the nation.

Yet it is not just any kind of citizenship or solidarity that we must build to spur us on to action. Not sheer patriotism or nationalism. Not pride in ourselves as a people or love of country that puts loyalty to nation above everything else. Not any of these. Neither is the solidarity we seek just any kind of unified thinking or action, any kind of cooperative work or endeavor for a common end. The citizenship and solidarity we need and must build cannot but be Christian citizenship and Christian solidarity, that is, citizenship and solidarity that are solidly sourced in the faith of the Gospel and that impel us to work selflessly, mightily, for the common good. Such was the citizenship and solidarity that the late Pope John Paul II, in his time, exhorted us again and again to develop and nurture in ourselves.

How do we make this happen? Where do we begin?

Last year, at the start of the Lenten season, our bishops suggested that we come together and form ourselves into discerning groups—“communities of discernment” they called them—to see what the besetting problems of the nation are, to ask what we could do together about those same problems. Their suggestion did not, unfortunately, receive the wide response it should have gotten, even though we already have, ready-made, thousands of such communities of discernment in our BECs—these should by all means be mobilized for that purpose.

This year it has become even more urgent that we try again to do as they asked in view of our worsening political—and economic—situation.

General elections are scheduled for next year and the frenzied efforts by self-interested politicians to make them utterly academic by their determined attempts to change the constitutional charter before then—and only in order for them to remain longer in power—are all that we hear about these days. Are we to let them have their way? For their way is a big part of the corruption that we say we must do something about now.

In our discerning, we will most certainly find there is no one answer to the many evils our nation is suffering from. But in concentrating on the one sin of corruption, we should be able to see that our simple coming together in genuine Christian citizenship and solidarity is already an act that strikes at the roots of that destructive sin and the evil culture it has given rise to. For it is precisely the will to act together unselfishly for the common good from a strong sense of faith that is the necessary condition for the correcting of that unacceptable culture: That will to act for the common good negates from the very start what is wrong about the primary principle of the corrupt, namely, the putting of their private good before the common good of us all.

What specific acts will be decided in our coming together to discern how to move effectively against corruption in its many forms? That will depend on the creative imagination of the discerning groups we form. At this stage we can only suggest strongly that we do not forget the place of prayer in our communal action against our great evil—prayer for enlightenment and wisdom to do what is best by our people, prayer for strength, for courage, for heaven’s help. Now more than ever, we need the Spirit of Wisdom and Understanding to be with us.