09/09/2019, 13.00
PHILIPPINES
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Bishop David tells Duterte that Christianity is not colonialism

by Pablo Virgilio Siongco David

In 2021, the Filipino Church plans to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the first Christian proclamation in the country. President Duterte is against the celebrations, saying that Magellan “brought the cannon and the cross”. For the Bishop of Kalookan, the Christian faith the conquistadores brought inspired Filipinos “to dream of freedom and democracy". In his view, “God can indeed write straight even with the most crooked lines.”

Manila (AsiaNews) – What the Filipino Church will celebrate in 2021 is not colonialism but 500 years of Christian faith, which “the natives of these islands welcomed as a gift, albeit from people who were not necessarily motivated by the purest of motives," writes Mgr Pablo Virgilio Siongco David (pictured), Bishop of Kalookan and vice president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP).

Two days ago, Mgr David did not mince his words in his response to Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte. On Friday, the latter had criticised the celebrations for the important anniversary. “Why would I give something for the celebration?” Duterte said. “When Magellan came here, he brought the cannon and the cross,” Duterte said. “But because the cross is there, the natives immediately embraced them,” he added.

In his statement, the Bishop of Kalookan takes apart the president's argument, who has found support among other Asian leaders. "The same Christian faith that the conquistadores tried to use in order to pursue their colonial purposes in our country also inspired our revolutionaries [. . .] to dream of freedom and democracy,” writes the prelate.

The bishop points out that the natives did not equate Christianity with colonialism. Instead, “Our own ancestors were intelligent enough to accept what was good and reject what was evil”. In fact, "At some point, the faith that they had embraced was no longer alien to them. It had succeeded in taking root on the fertile ground of our innate spirituality as a people.”

The same Christian faith that the conquistadores tried to use in order to pursue their colonial purposes in our country also inspired our revolutionaries around three and a half centuries later to dream of freedom and democracy. It is the same Christian faith that eventually motivated them to defend the basic human dignity of the Indios and to desire to put an end to tyranny and colonial rule.

The Spanish missionaries had taught the natives to chant the Pasion during the Holy Week. Unknown to the authorities, the same Pasion which was about the suffering Messiah offering his life for the redemption of humankind had inspired our heroes to offer their lives for the redemption of our country—at the cost of their own blood, sweat and tears. (See Reynaldo Ileto’s Pasyon at Rebolusyon.)

We were of course bitterly divided during the time of the transition: between the pro’s and the anti’s, between those on the side of colonial politics, and those who dared to be on the side of revolutionary politics. Division is not always a negative thing. As St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:19, sometimes “there have to be divisions… in order that those who are approved among (us) may become known.” Or think about what Jesus said when he spoke like an angry prophet of doom, “I have come to light a fire on earth; how I wish it were already ablaze. Do you think I have come to bring peace on earth? No not peace but division…”. These are unpleasant words that we’d rather not hear, especially when we make unity into an absolute value. People forget that unity can sometimes be negative too—when it is about uniting around an ungodly purpose. No wonder God sowed division on the builders of the tower of Babel, so that he could later genuinely reunite them in the Spirit through Pentecost.

Our own ancestors were intelligent enough to accept what was good and reject what was evil in what the Spaniards had brought with them when they came to our land. They also eventually learned to distinguish between the missionaries who had totally allied themselves with the colonial politics of the conquistadores and those who were critical of it, those who had the courage to defend the rights of the natives against the abuses and cruelties of the colonial masters.

The mere fact that we eventually repudiated colonial rule but continued to embrace the Christian faith even after we won the revolution could only mean that the natives did not equate Christianity with Colonialism. At some point, the faith that they had embraced was no longer alien to them. It had succeeded in taking root on the fertile ground of our innate spirituality as a people.

Let us, therefore, make it clear: what we will celebrate in 2021 is not colonialism but the Christian faith that the natives of these islands welcomed as a gift, albeit from people who were not necessarily motivated by the purest of motives. God can indeed write straight even with the most crooked lines.

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