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The road to justice and equality

Giving back is the only route to a clear conscience and reconciliation with the oppressed

The road to justice and equality

The rich and poor divide is most obvious in the slums of Manila where thousands of urban poor settlers scavenge through dump sites to survive. (Photo by Vincent Go)


Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila raised eyebrows in Cebu during the International Eucharistic Congress in late January when he spoke directly about the greed and corruption of politicians who are so much a part of today's throwaway society of greed, corruption, materialism and waste.

"Politicians, will you throw away people's taxes for your parties and shopping, or guard them as gifts for social service?" he asked.

When elected, politicians consider public treasures as their own piggy bank and plunder it wherever they can without being caught, he said.

The cardinal's statement against corruption and thievery is only touching the painful wound of poverty and low wages suffered by 99 percent of the 100 million Filipinos. 

The painful truth is that the Philippines is just part of the great global inequality that is driving more money into the bank accounts of the super rich and ripping it from the hard working poor and middle class people and driving hundreds of thousand into demeaning poverty in slums.

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There are 62 multibillionaires on this planet who have more wealth than the poorest half of the entire planet's population. Oxfam found that since 2010, the wealth of the richest 62 people — according to the Forbes' billionaires list — has risen by 44 percent while the wealth of the poorest 3.5 billion people fell by 41 percent.

It's hard to imagine and harder still to understand how they got to be so vastly wealthy and still continue to increase their wealth by the second.


Shrinking wages

Meanwhile the wages of most people have shrunk in the past 25 years. 

The lowest paid of all are women, while the most exploited and abused are young girls, many of whom are trafficked into the sex industry.

The Philippines is a very wealthy country with minerals, rich agricultural land, and resources galore. Yet 1 percent of the population own or control it all.

If that is ever questioned or challenged, then the military and police will remove the protester, permanently. The use of death squads is common among politicians to get and retain power and wealth.

How does such gross inequality face up to Christian beliefs and values? It doesn't. There is no contest. Such social injustice is in direct contradiction and is opposed to all that the Gospel teaches us and for which Jesus of Nazareth fought for and died.

We are all equal before God and are equal members of God's family, but others are deprived of that equality by greed and selfishness. Truly these are the sins of the world, a world where justice for the poor is paramount and is at the heart of human society. 

Jesus, a humble son of a carpenter, confronted the inequality and mistreatment of the poor of his time that he ignited the ire of the ruling elite. If only he had not spoken out so openly and truthfully and harshly against those politicians and rulers of his day, he might have worked on much longer and given us greater knowledge, wisdom and inspiration.

The elite set out to shut him up permanently especially when he condemned them as corrupt. He compared them to putrid tombs of the dead that only look beautiful outside. Jesus confronted the money moguls of the temple, the Wall Street of his day, kicking over their tables and ended their dirty money business in the house of God.

The Eucharist is his goodbye dinner by which he wants us to make him present among us and remember his mission and go out and put it into action by word and deed.

Cardinal Tagle did not get that truthful or confrontational in his sermon, but it was a good start. He will soon get the spirit of Pope Francis who has been more outspoken against the unjust system of wealth generation and against the corrupt form of capitalism that fleeces people with high prices, low wages, and corrupt practices.

The Philippine church, for one, has to divorce itself from dirty donations and gifts. Unless the rich become like the wealthy man Zacchaeus in the Gospel who confessed, repented, and vowed to pay back four times what he stole, the rich will be like Dives who spurned Lazarus, the dying beggar, at his gate and went to hell for his sins of greed and avarice.

True repentance and giving back is the only road to a clear conscience and reconciliation with the oppressed. That too is the way to a more just society.

The Catholic Church, as an institution, is undergoing a revival mainly because of the worldwide popularity of Pope Francis who leads a simple lifestyle and who carries a message that lifts up the hearts and spirits of people. He strives to make real the social values and teachings of the Gospel.

The institutional church must be less dogmatic and follow the way of Pope Francis or become irrelevant in the modern world. 

Irish Father Shay Cullen, SSC, established the Preda Foundation in Olongapo City in 1974 to promote human rights and the rights of children, especially victims of sex abuse.

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