CBCP head warns vs ‘shabu of bishops’

Paterno Esmaquel II
Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas also challenges bishops 'to reach out to those who are angry at us'

NO TO 'SHABU.' Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas, president of the CBCP, tells bishops to reach out to the poor. File photo from EPA/Nat Garcia

MANILA, Philippines – In their first meeting for 2014, the head of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) challenged prelates to make their prayers bear fruit by serving the poor.

Otherwise, he said, prayers will become an “escape from pastoral realities,” like the addictive drug “shabu.”

“The fruit of prayer is always greater charity for the poor,” said Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas, president of the CBCP, in a speech for the bishops’ 3-day plenary assembly beginning Saturday, January 25.

“If prayer does not increase love, it must be only a soliloquy. If contemplation does not lead to action for justice and charity, it might have really become the shabu of the bishops, an addictive flight from reality,” Villegas said.

He echoed a key message of Pope Francis: for Catholics to reach out to the world’s “peripheries,” and for priests to live with “the smell of sheep.” (READ: Pope to prisoners: I’m at your service)

Villegas said this in the face of criticism that many Filipino priests live luxuriously – in Asia’s most predominantly Catholic country that is also one of the poorest.

‘Reach out to critics’

NEW OFFICIALS. CBCP president Archbishop Socrates Villegas (1st from right) and other new CBCP officials take their oath during a Mass before the opening of their plenary assembly on Jan 25, 2014. Photo by Roy Lagarde/Rappler

In his speech, Villegas said: “It is the encounter with Jesus in prayer that must guide our response to the poor. The poor are not just curious ciphers on a statistical report. The poor are not just the unlettered, the unwashed, the uninitiated, the uneducated, the unhealthy, the naked, the exploited, the trafficked, and the infirm gazing into our eyes for human recognition.”

“They are those about whom Jesus said, ‘Whatever you have done or not done to one of these the least of my brothers and sisters that you have done or not done to me.’ Jesus makes himself one with the poor. From his Cross, Jesus gazes into our eyes and touches our hearts with love. It is his love which calls forth our response in love as bishops of the flock,” the CBCP president added.

He also said bishops should reach out even to critics. He made this challenge as the Catholic Church marks the Year of the Laity. (READ: Choose society over the altar – CBCP head)

“We need to reach out to those who are angry at us bishops, those we have disillusioned and those we have misled or confused by our excessive misplaced prudence or unbecoming lifestyle,” Villegas said.

He added: “The Year of the Laity is not only for the supportive and loyal laity but for the critical and distant ones – more importantly those who disagreed with us on the (Reproductive Health) law, those who hurl accusations at us, fairly or unfairly. They are children of God, too, our brothers and sisters, members of our flock also.”

“We can do this if we are soaked in prayer as contemplative shepherds of the people freed from fear and rejection, carrying the mark of Christ scourged, crucified yet risen.” – Rappler.com

Paterno Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.