How Can the Catholic Church Help Solve the Issue on Drug Menace in the Country?

President DuterteThe current political situation that affects the country, particularly in matters related to killing of the suspected drug pushers and users which is the content of the headlines of the newspapers every day, tells us the seriousness of the crisis that the country is facing today.

In times and situations like these, the Church cannot help but be dragged into the stage. Why not? After all, it is only the Catholic Church that consistently defends emphatically the “right of man” and his dignity.

No other institution, even the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR), has ever done the defense of man’s dignity except the Catholic Church. It is therefore understandable why the Church has to be involved.

Killing is simply against humanity and against human dignity regardless if the person is a notorious criminal, drug addict or drug pusher. And killing is always a question of morality. The images of the slain alleged drug users and pushers, who are judged and condemned by the so-called “cardboard justice”, can always evoke “humanness” in us except to the person who has no emotion at all.

A person who still has conscience may always ask himself/herself, is this a kind of justice they deserve? And it will tell him/her that something is not right. I am sure, the Catholic Church feels the same sentiments and asks the same question. But this must not be a reason, on the part of the Church, to add more complexities to the already complicated and turbulent situation.

Church’s leaders then are challenged to find a way to respond to the situation without antagonizing anybody and without appearing as if defending evil of drugs in the society.

Realizing this situation, and the difficulty that it entails, a question that the Catholic Church in the Philippines must introspectively ask is: How can we respond to this problem? And this question has to be followed by another “How can we do it without antagonizing the government’s campaign against illegal drugs and at the same time not compromising the value of the message of the Gospel and the Church’s teachings?”

Needless to say, the right way of responding is — and must be — based on the Gospel values, that is, the way of Jesus. We in the Church should ask ourselves: How Jesus must have responded to the problem of summary killings and drugs in the country?

The talk of Cardinal Tagle during 2012 Synod on New Evangelization may serve as a summary and lesson for the Philippine Catholic Church on the right way to respond to the crisis:

“The Church must learn humility from Jesus. God’s power and might appears in the self-emptying of the Son, in the love that is crucified but truly saves because it is emptied of self for the sake of others. The Church is called to follow Jesus’ respect for every human person. He defended the dignity of all people, in particular those neglected and the despised by the world. Loving his enemies, he affirmed their dignity. The church must discover the power of silence. Confronted with the sorrows, doubts, and uncertainties of people she cannot pretend to give easy solutions. In Jesus, silence becomes the way of attentive, compassion, and prayer. It is the way to truth. The seemingly indifferent and aimless societies of our time are earnestly looking for God. The church’s humility, respectfulness, and silence might reveal more clearly the face of God in Jesus. The world takes delight in a simple witness – meek and humble of heart.”

In the words of Cardinal Tagle, the church must learn humility. And as to what would be the response of Jesus to this issue, Jesus would have been “attentive, compassionate and prayerful” as he had used to do.

It is only in following the example of Jesus that we can properly respond to the call of the time. Here, the Church can be a “church of silence.” The church of silence does not mean we do not care, that we are passive, that we are insensitive to what is happening around us. Rather it means “it is a church that is more humble, a church that listens, a church that doesn’t pretend to have all the answers, a church that can be as confused as other people in the disorder of their lives, a church that is reduced to silence – the silence of someone who contemplates, not the silence of someone who is angry.”

For every church’s leaders (bishops and priests), “it is the silence of someone who knows a lot of the mess of the human condition and dilemmas that people go through, the difficulty of finding solutions.

Sometimes, the most effective response the church can give to the people in difficulties is a silent presence that assures that we may not agree with everything you have done with your life, but we are here to share the pain and sorrow you are experiencing.”

To become a silent Church means we first feel the situation, we journey or walk with the people, we listen, we evaluate and then determine what is the right course of action that can be done, an action that is gospel-based and patterned after the example of Jesus. The way of Jesus is always accompanied by love, compassion, and justice filled with mercy. This should have always reminded us.

If we do not spend time listening, journeying with the people in the midst of the difficult situation, we tend to be ignorant and hypocrite. (President Duterte is not entirely wrong when he called us hypocrite). We pretend to know when in fact we don’t, and worse, we pretend to have all the ready-made answers when, in fact, we don’t understand.

Lack of understanding of the situation leads us to unleash unfriendly words, damnatory words, words that condemn, thus making us self-righteous. Cardinal Tagle warned:

“Sometimes bishops, especially in their official statements sound more like the church is the sacrament of damnation rather than the sacrament of salvation. We are supposed to continue in time the saving work of Jesus and his mercy. Jesus did not come to condemn and that’s most of us are doing.”

As a Church and as social institution here in this country, we have to acknowledge the three realities concerning drugs: first, that illegal drugs are dangerous to a human person. Having witnessed the magnitude of the drug problem, as the number of slain persons attested, it can then be said that it is really a serious problem that the Filipino society is facing.

Second, that majority of the drug users and those who are in prison are Catholics. This tells us the vast spaces that evangelization has not yet reached, the hopelessness and meaninglessness of the human soul which leads people to exchange God for ephemeral and illusory experience of heaven made possible by drugs. And third, we have to accept that proliferation and drug use is all the more a grave threat to the faith. A church leader who does not see the bad effect of drugs to the faith and the faithful is a fool!

Now while the Church has a moral obligation to denounce the evil of summary killing, it should not be forgotten that it is not the main issue. We have to remember that this is just an effect of the main cause, which is drugs. There can be no summary killing related to drugs if there is no proliferation of drugs in the first place. Here, if we truly listen, and if we are truly walking and journeying with the people, and if we truly “smell like the sheep”, we could have understood the real situation of the Filipino society. Consequently, if we truly understand the situation, the first question that we should ask as a response: “What can we do to help and stop the drug use?”

“So far, what have we, Church people, done to stop its proliferation even to the Catholic faithful and community?” The answer to this question is terrifying. It is so because, for the first question, the answer is that “we do not know what we can do.”

We often think and excuse ourselves saying that it is not the duty of the Church to address this issue. In doing so, we make ourselves outsiders. And we immediately condemn the inhuman way of the government of solving the problem but offering no solution. That is why, we do not understand the issue. And because we do not know our flock, we also do not know that we allow them to sell their souls to the evil of drugs. And since we do not know this, we tend to condemn without listening, feeling, journeying and understanding the despair of the Filipino souls affected by drugs.

So what have we done as Church people to stop the proliferation of drugs? Frankly, nothing. The Church has prison ministry, visiting the prisoners. True! But let us not forget: This is not a solution to the problem. While prison ministry is a noble ministry, as it helps the prisoners to find God in their lives and endeavor to change for the better, if the Church sees this as a solution, it is absolutely missing the point.

We have to address the problem of drugs so that there will be no people in jail due to drugs so that there will be no lives destroyed.

This leads us to the important question: How can the Church help solve the problem on drugs? For me, the first thing that the Church can do is to acknowledge the problem of drugs and condemn it as evil. Second, [let us learn from Cardinal Tagle]: the Church must be humble.

Humility in the Church entails acknowledgment that we have not done anything to help stop the issue on drugs, and our faithful are majority of the victims. That the Catholic Church is the guardian of faith and moral and defender of human dignity is already given. But the real question is how have we defended our people from falling into the evil of drugs?

Third, we as Church should learn to listen, or transform ourselves from self-preserving church into a “silent and listening church.” When we are not silent, we have a difficulty to listen.

As a result, we give immediate judgment and damnatory words which are neither helpful not constructive. Instead of becoming a herald and bridge of unity, we instead become a cause of division.

Church leaders, particularly the bishops who are too vocal in their criticism, should spend time to listen and see the reality of the problem. Instead of constructing sound arguments, which also sound as an attack against the government, they should spend instead their time creating a sound plan to assist addressing the issue. In order to stop bloodbath, we help the government convince the people to leave drugs forever. If there are no drug users and drug pushers, no one will be killed.

Let us not forget that the president promised during election his campaign against drugs and his acknowledgment of it as evil. He is true to his words and we can’t blame him for that.

Lastly, we as Church, must work together and do concrete and practical actions that we are capable of. This is a challenge for everyone. For instance, bishops and priests should include in their homilies, preaching, and catechesis the evil of drugs. They should condemn drug use and drug pushing as evil as they send many lives to jail, while others are destroyed or killed. This issue on drugs can therefore be used as a “tall pulpit” where bishops and priests can reach and preach to their people. [To my knowledge, I have never heard a priest or a bishop speaking about the evils of drugs].

Another practical thing that we can do is to have a visible campaign ads, through the initiative of the Church people, encouraging and reminding people the dangers of using drugs. For instance, the campaign “Say NO TO DRUGS” is a government campaign. I wonder why a parish priest cannot do the same campaign in his parish.

Another thing is for the Church to intensify family guidance and counselling and the openness to accept those family members who are into drugs. The Church, since she cannot afford to build and support drug rehabilitation institutions, can grab the opportunity to convince the drug users and pushers to surrender while it is not too late. This can be our best way of helping the government’s campaign.

We have to find a “Catholic way” of responding to this problem without compromising the Christian virtues and principle. Of course, it is our duty to protest to anything that disrespects of human life, immorality, violence and so on, but we don’t have to respond violence with violence, rudeness with categorical condemnation of a person as if he is equated with demon. Indeed, nobody has a right to condemn a person if the accuser has not loved the person first.

Speaking of responding rudeness, we, in the Church, will always be defeated. To be rude is not our way and in talking with a rude person, we will always be in a situation that can cause jeopardy and scandal. We would also do well if the Church leaders stop talking as if they are in competition with the president in grabbing for an attention. They should stop talking like politicians of the world but as true shepherds of the flock. “A Christian – whether a layperson or a cardinal,” Cardinal Tagle said, “must nurture humility. We are too quick to explain, explain, explain without first listening to the cries. Sometimes the best response is silence, compassionate silence.”

In this difficult situation that we are in, let us be reminded that the only weapon of the Church is love. It is not by the power of the sword that the Church has won her triumph; even the high valour of the Crusades petered out in sterile vanity. But the humblest service of the missionary, the loving-kindness of the least of the Missionary Sisters of Charity, is never in vain. We must beware of getting too proud and unleashing derogatory, unkind and condemnatory word instead of expressing it in firmness through compassion.

It is really scandalizing when our leaders are playing and behaving like foxes and lions in today’s situation when, in fact, they are called to be humble in spirit and play like a meek lamb. Violent people and those who respond violence with violence do not live longer in peace. In one way or another, it is futile. You can’t fight rudeness with rudeness. The Church outlasts her persecutors in the world – the Caesars, the Neros, the Napoleons, the Mussolinis, the Hitlers.

It is not by violence that she does it, but by patience, consistent living of the Gospel and fidelity to the Lord expressed in humility. Let us be converted into humility. Perhaps that’s what we truly need today.

The example of Jesus, followed by saints and Popes, like Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis, who are quick to ask for forgiveness and grant forgiveness, the simplicity of Cardinal Tagle are very inspiring. The Church must always look not for that which separates but for that which unites.

Jesus said: “You are the salt of the earth.” Nothing threatens Christianity so much as a lack of fervour in loving here and there within the Church. There is no other kind of politics that the Church can involve herself except the “politics of humility,” and there is no other effective guide and way that the Church can help solve the problem of the country today except the way of Jesus, the Way of love, Mercy and Compassion. (Alfe B. Alimbon, Diocese of Mati | T4 seminarian, REMASE)

There is one comment

  1. Dolly Dalisay Banzon

    Thank you for this great and very balanced article. I personally feel that the problem that caused the wedge between some Catholics and the Church is in part due to what Cardinal Tagle said: “Sometimes bishops, especially in their official statements sound more like the church is the sacrament of damnation rather than sacrament of salvation.” I feel that the rift started with the harsh and accusatory tone of condemnation by an Archbishop and the effect was that the people, tired of living in danger of being killed even by their own family members, women and children being raped by drug addicts, people being robbed or kidnapped, forced them to side with President Duterte’s effort to put an end to it all.

    My heart goes more to the victims of drug addicts and drug pushers, in as much as, I try to understand and forgive the culprits. We all have to remember, though, what the Bible says: “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23) and even the Catechism of the Catholic Church cites instances of legitimate defense. But I agree that we as Catholics should really seek a solution that will benefit us all — saints and sinners alike.

    I just wish, also, that some bishops and priests stop speaking to Rome, but rather, be really concerned for Mother Church and her people. I wish and pray that they become more humble and prayerful like Cardinal Tagle.

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