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The dignity of a human being

One of the worst dishonors is when people in search for justice are excluded from society's systems

Edita Burgos, Manila

Edita Burgos, Manila

Updated: June 06, 2018 05:43 AM GMT
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The dignity of a human being

Filipinos from all walks of life join an anniversary celebration of the 1986 'People Power' revolution in February. Belief in the dignity of all persons regardless of race, creed, and social status is giving someone the same merit as all the others. (Photo by Basilio Sepe)

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Much has been written and said about upholding the dignity of the human being. The Catholic Church itself has said that, "the ultimate source of human rights is not found in the mere will of human beings." 

"In the reality of the state, in public powers, but in man himself and in God his creator ... these rights are 'universal, inviolable, inalienable,'" said Pope John XXIII in his encyclical Pacem in Terris.

And yet, for more than 11 years, I have seen, I have heard, I have experienced how people whose rights have been trampled upon and who are vocal about seeking that these be returned to them, are brazenly treated with indignities by those who are supposed to protect them.

One of the worst dishonors is when people in search of justice are excluded from some of society's institutions and its systems. 

Belief in the dignity of all persons, inclusive of every human being at whatever stage of life he is in, from a fetus to an octogenarian, regardless of the state of wellbeing or physical weakness, race, creed, social status, or potential, whether able to care for himself or not, is giving someone the same merit as all others. 

This belief elicits a unique way of relating with all persons, a distinctive acknowledgement of the dignity of every person. Simply said, the moral behavior is that we respect and treat all persons with dignity.

Being a victim myself along with my family, the logical inclination is a natural aversion towards the perpetrators and collaborators. Thus my main dilemma was how to live as a Christian, one who should love and forgive.

The deeper challenge is that more than just being a Christian, and a Catholic — I am a definitive promised Secular Carmelite. 

How should I keep my promise to tend towards evangelical perfection in the spirit of the evangelical counsels of the beatitudes considering the characters and situations into which my life has been drawn after the abduction of my son?  

The supposed protectors are the oppressors. The "godless" (activists are branded so) are the charitable. Silence and solitude, the desired disposition of a Carmelite vis-a-vis the necessary noise to remind people that Jonas, my son, is still missing.

And yet where temptation is aplenty, grace likewise overflows. ("Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound." — Romans 5:20)

After the abduction of my son, a young man driving a maroon car would follow me. One afternoon, this man was seated near the gate of the house of prayer where I served. It was the height of summer and the heat would be unbearable at noontime.

Taking pity on the young man (who was obviously military) I invited him to enter the house of prayer and wait for me there instead of sitting exposed to the sun outside the gate. I thought, he too was God's son and deserved to be treated as such. Of course he didn't come in. Head hung down, he left quietly, and that day no one followed me. 

Identifying corpses is one of the more painful experiences I undergo. As I rush to the scene where a dead body is recovered, my prayer would be "let it not be Jonas." But even when I see that the corpse is not Jonas, I cannot rejoice. 

I would see the torture marks and know how the torturers were like beasts to this boy. Harold Kushner's description of Man, "Little less than gods, a little more than beasts, but somehow we are both," is so true.

Yet even with the pain caused by this reality, there would be grace to keep calm and to ask my companions to say a short prayer asking for forgiveness to God for the "beasts" for they too are God's children. 

We have no illusions that each person's act of charity or witnessing would result in any major changes. The grace is to remember that all persons should be treated with dignity as all are made in the image of God. 

And if the opposition exhibits a behavior that is contrary, remember that they are not our teachers and we are not like them. There is only one teacher, and He has taught us to love. 

Edita Burgos is a doctor of education and a member of the Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites. Her son Jonas Burgos was abducted by gunmen — believed to be soldiers — in April 2007. He is still missing.

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