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An Open Letter to Pope Francis; Please Read It Before Coming to the Philippines

ear Pope Francis, your much anticipated visit to the Philippines is just a few days away. We expect that  you will have been adequately briefed about the Philippines by the time you arrive. However, there might be a few things your Vatican handlers might have missed—or intentionally "forgot" to mention to you so we hope this letter reaches you in time for your historic visit.

Before anything else, welcome!

The first thing you'll notice is that the Philippines is teeming with people. And it is not just because they are out to see you, everyday Metro Manila and most major cities in the country strain under the weight of a population that has exploded to a hundred million people, and shows no signs of slowing down in any significant way; thanks in large part to your church's opposition to any form of contraception. If you get the chance, make it a point to deviate from your "well planned" agenda and visit a slum area—don't worry there are a lot of them in Metro Manila so you shouldn't have any problem finding one. Go into their humble dwellings. Take in all the squalor that these poor souls are forced to live in every day of their lives. When you return to the Vatican, go back and reassess the church's stand against contraceptives. Even if this is the only change you can bring about during your entire papacy, you will have helped the country immensely.

Next, turn your attention to the Philippine clergy. Your bishops and cardinals act like aristocrats. Some priests travel to and thro in expensive vehicles and fly 1st-class on airlines. You have bishops, archbishops, and Cardinals who live in lavish palaces enclosed behind high walls. Based on your pronouncements, these go against the humility and simple lifestyle you espouse. While you are here, we ask that you institute meaningful and lasting changes that will truly bring the Philippine Catholic Church in line with your vision. 

In our previous article we noted the number of priests and bishops officiating in a decadently lavish wedding. You need to prohibit such lavishness inside your churches and forbid your clergy from any involvement in over-the-top, crass displays of wealth. Instead we suggest you focus your entire church in the Philippines back on the poor—God knows there are millions and millions of them here.

Lastly, we hope you can confront some of the darker legacies of the Catholic Church in the country. As part of the colonizing power that ruled the Philippines for over 400 years, abuses too numerous to enumerate were committed by individual members of the clergy as well as by the church as an institution. Many Filipinas were raped or seduced by priests so that today, a lot of Filipino mestizos trace their ancestry back to a Spanish priest.

And let us not forget that the Catholic Church was also actively involved in the suppression of the Filipino's longing for independence from Spain. Parish priests served as the "eyes and ears" of the colonial government, at times even violating the seal of confession by passing along to Spanish authorities information divulged during confessions. A few weeks ago, the country celebrated the 118th death anniversary of our national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal. His death by firing squad in 1896, was in large part due to the efforts of the Catholic clergy.

We feel the Church must apologize to the Filipino people for these wrongs. We know that as pope, you have acknowledged and apologized for other past wrongdoings of the church so there should be no reason why you cannot do the same for us (the Quirino Grandstand, where you are scheduled to say mass on the 18th of January, is just a stone's throw away from Rizal's monument). Not only will an apology bring you even closer to the Filipino people who already adore you dearly, it will also bring closure to wounds in our culture that have remained open for over a century. Published 1/9/2015


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