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Martin Luther King Jr., our Catholic priests, justice and freedom.



In Washington, DC, I visited Martin Luther King Jr.'s monument. It was a huge and imposing stone-carved image of him who led the civil rights movement (1950's -1960's) in the United States for black people to enjoy equal rights under the law - the true price of freedom. Along the way were his many historic statements. I particularly love this one: "True peace is not only the absence of tension, it is the presence of justice."

Martin Luther King, Jr. was not a politician or a lobbyist. He was a minister of God who just undertook the most basic thing that must be done. Simply, he "saw wrong and tried to right it"(borrowing Ted Kennedy's words in remembrance of his brother, Robert Kennedy).The whole message of his life was to courageously and peacefully fight for what is moral and principled even against all odds. And for doing so, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. He is now internationally revered as a great freedom fighter.

I cannot help but see the relevance of his life's lesson to the Philippines today. Here, at the forefront of the struggle against injustice are also ministers of God, particularly those belonging to the Catholic Church, like Bishop Pablo David , Fr. Robert Reyes, Fr. Albert Alejo and Fr. Flavie Villanueva - all of whom have received death threats because of their condemnation of the extrajudicial-killings of young and old people in the Duterte administration's "drug war."

Because of the thousands of "may-you-rest-in-peace" prayers they may have said for the dead, even Reverend Luis Antonio G. Cardinal Tagle, astounded by the situation's enormity, asked: "We want to believe that you do not rejoice in their death. But there are so many of them?"

If President Duterte thinks that his steal-and-kill declarations against these bishops and priests will silence them, he will be disappointed. Theywill not buckle under pressure. The more they see oppression, the more they will act dauntlessly against it. And in so doing, they are courageously speaking and vicariously acting for all of us.

Their aspiration is, in John F. Kennedy's words, not "the peace of the grave or the security of the slave," but "the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living, the kind that enables men and nations to grow and to hope and to build a better life for their children."

Martin Luther King, Jr. and all these Filipino priests have one common standard: Jesus Christ who told the truth, was hated by earthly rulers, and died by crucifixion. And His cross today stands out as the symbol of the sublime paradox of all time: victory in defeat. They can sacrifice themselves for a greater purpose. And that is why they never tire castigating the people's true enemies, including abusive politicians and government officials.

Our Catholic priests and bishops are freedom-advocates, highly active at moments in history when our values and democratic ideals are threatened or eroded by deceit, immorality, gimmickry, greed, manipulation, and fear.

The Marcos regime tried enticing, directly and indirectly, Cardinal Sin to its side. But, though cordial and civil, Cardinal Sin always followed what was right and just. He called on the Filipino people to surround and protect some military men who, in February, 1986, turned against President Ferdinand Marcos. Millions of Filipinos responded. A bloody and corrupt regime ended.

And during Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's presidency, Fr. Joaquin Bernas of the Society of Jesus (SJ) wrote critically about her administration. As a result, the good priest, law dean and professor, constitutionalist, and columnist was tagged by Justice Secretary Gonzales as the "guru of destabilization." Fr. Bernas SJ, ignored it, making the "powers that be" look even more inept.

Our Catholic priests act, not to destroy, but torestore, straighten, or bring to fruition a decent and just society, faithfully following in the footsteps of "the truth, the way, and the life" when HE said: "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them." (Matthew 5:17)

And fulfilling the law's true essence - justice, charity, and liberty - hurts all despots whose aim is to shatter the same law wherever they may be,replacing it with their own whims and caprices. It is they who desire to abolish the law so that its goodness will be unfulfilled.

Let us pray for our fearless Catholic priests.


Atty. Mel Sta. Maria
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Title Annotation:Opinions and Editorials
Publication:Manila Bulletin
Date:Apr 5, 2019
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