Below is the full text of Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas’ pastoral letter for Christmas Day. Villegas, also president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, denounces the killings of thousands as President Rodrigo Duterte wages a war on drugs.
Beloved People of God in Lingayen-Dagupan:
Christmas is a feast of BEAUTY. It is the feast of God, the source all goodness and beauty, who came down and became like us to make us all beautiful again. Yes, He came to make us beautiful again after a dark and sinful chapter of our lives – original sin. When you see beauty, remember that beauty comes from God. All good things, beautiful things, great things come from God. Only God can make us beautiful. His only will for us is goodness and beauty.
Look at the beauty of the Child in the manger with His mother, who is the most beautiful woman ever created, watching over His baby. Look at the touching tenderness of Joseph adoring in quiet ecstasy the God of all creation whom he has been tasked to protect. Look at the sparkling eyes of the shepherds caught in awe at the sight of the newborn in the manger.
How beautiful is the love of God for us! How beautiful is the Christmas story.
Christmas comes to us as a feast of beauty, but we are not blind and numb to the UGLINESS that has come upon us. We have Christmas, but there is blood spilling on our streets and sidewalks. We have Christmas and we party, but there are now more than 5,000 families mixing Christmas carols with their quiet tears because a loved one has been stricken down by a bullet. Their noche buena is bland and tasteless because the bitter taste of death is too strong to forget. There are Christmas carols in the air but there is blood by the garbage dump and even inside jails. There is a Christmas parol by the window at home but the unresolved murder at home outshines our Christmas lights.
This blood spilling is ugly because it is not the plan of God for His people. Murder is ugly. Extrajudicial killing is ugly. Our land must flow with milk and honey (Exodus 33: 3), not with blood from violence and murder crying from the earth for justice (Genesis 4: 10).
Is the world becoming more and more an angry society? Like many other parts of the world, we vote our leaders not with diligent prudent reflection but from anger. Anger has become so common and ordinary that the culture of revenge is slowly enchaining us. Anger pushes us to pursue the illusion that we must kill in order to defend life.
Living in anger, we start to live in fear. We fear for our lives and our family’s lives. We fear that the good name preserved for decades will be destroyed by calumny, malicious gossip, and trumped up charges. We fear, and in fear, we allow ourselves to be silenced. We bury our heads in the sand and pretend that all is well. Christmas brings us pain, not just joy. Let not the Christmas feasting become like morphine to numb us and make us forget.
‘Christmas is hope’
Fear and anger are indeed strong human feelings, but greater than anger and fear is HOPE. Christmas is not a story of anger and fear. Anger and fear came from Herod not from Christ. Christ brings hope; Herod sows anger and fear. Christmas is Christ not Herod. Christmas is hope, hope stronger than fear and anger.
Christmas looks at our frightened eyes and, in an eyeball to eyeball duel, knocks down all our fears with Christ’s light of hope. Christmas looks into the eyes of our hatred and rage to melt that madness with tenderness and compassion. The light of Christmas shines on our country, now plagued by a culture of revenge, to heal all raging hearts with the balm of God’s kindness. This country cannot reach greatness under a blanket of fear and anger but under a mantle of hope and love.
Christmas is hope. We have hope. Christmas is the time to renew our faith in God and faith in the greatness of the Filipino.
Do not let anger kill you. Do not let anger push you to nod in agreement with murder.
Do not let fear intimidate you. There is no peace for the coward. There is no happiness for the lazy.
For the beauty that Christmas restores to us, we thank the Lord.
For the ugliness of anger and fright that we have brought to the world, we stand up in battle and bring hope to our brothers and sisters.
For the hope that the country greatly needs, let us take the challenge.
Let the rivers of hope flow. Let the lighthouses in the dark night shine out and guide. May we all be in that river! May we all be that lighthouse!
Merry Christmas my beloved ones!
From the Cathedral of Saint John the Evangelist, Dagupan City, December 25, 2016
+SOCRATES B. VILLEGAS
Archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan
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