Philippine bishops seek forgiveness for silence on concerns about Duterte

Catholic Archbishop of Davao, and president of Catholic Bishop’s Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), Romulo Valles (C) with fellow bishops Pablo Virgilio David (L) of the archdiocese of Manila, and Antonio Ledesma of the archdiocese of Cagayan de Oro (R) at a press conference in Manila on Jan. 28, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 29 January 2019
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Philippine bishops seek forgiveness for silence on concerns about Duterte

  • The church is highly influential and an important source of moral guidance in the Philippines
  • It is known for speaking out in times of crisis and to rebuff doctrinal challenges

MANILA: In a rare move, the largest group of Catholic bishops in the Philippines has sought forgiveness for its lengthy silence over “disturbing issues,” such as the president’s bloody war on drugs and his attacks on the church and its doctrines.
The church is highly influential and an important source of moral guidance in the Philippines, where about 80 percent of a population of 105 million are Roman Catholic.
Although known for speaking out in times of crisis and to rebuff doctrinal challenges, the bishops’ silence over President Rodrigo Duterte’s lambasting of the church and God, as well as his bloody crackdown on drugs, have raised questions about their unity and commitment to values.
“Forgive us for the length of time that it took us to find our collective voice,” the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) said in a pastoral letter, issued late on Monday.
“We too needed to be guided properly in prayer and discernment before we could guide you.”
In the letter headlined, “Conquering Evil with Good,” the bishops admitted silence over “disturbing issues about which you may have felt you urgently needed our spiritual and pastoral guidance.”
It was not immediately clear why the CBCP issued the letter, which followed a plenary assembly.
It opposed efforts led by Duterte’s allies to lower the age of criminal liability for children, and said it had seen a “culture of violence has gradually prevailed in our land,” referring also to a deadly church bombing on Sunday.
The popular Duterte’s tirades against the Catholic church are now famous. A self-confessed victim of sexual abuse by a priest, Duterte has called God “stupid,” characterised as “silly” the doctrine of the Holy Trinity and accused bishops of concealing their homosexuality.
The bishops said they understood the need to fight crime and drugs, but were concerned “when we started hearing of mostly poor people being brutally murdered on mere suspicion of being small-time drug users and peddlers,” while bigger players were left alone.
Police say they have killed more than 5,000 people, all in self-defense, while trying to arrest drug dealers and deny that any were executions, as alleged by human rights groups.
Some bishops have taken individual stands against the crackdown, denouncing it in sermons, issuing pro-life statements and supporting marches and calls for church bells to be rung in protest, but these remained sporadic efforts within the church.
Asked about the letter, presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said Duterte was serving and protecting the people.
“Rather than attack the president ... I’d rather they issue a statement that they are praying for the president to succeed in his endeavour,” he said.


Taste of kindness: Buddhist monks serve iftar at a Dhaka monastery

Updated 21 May 2019
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Taste of kindness: Buddhist monks serve iftar at a Dhaka monastery

  • The monastery’s generosity has not gone unnoticed by the fasting Muslims

DHAKA: As the clock strikes 6 p.m., Shudhhanondo Mohathero hurries to the kitchen to alert his army of 15 monks that they have less than 40 minutes until iftar. 

Soon, people will begin queuing outside the Dharmarajika Bouddha Bihar, a Buddhist monastery in Dhaka, where Mohathero hands out free food packs to fasting Muslims who are too poor to buy a meal to end their fast.

It is a tradition that 89-year-old Mohathero started 10 years ago when he assumed responsibility for the temple’s upkeep.

“Since the early days of the monastery, we have received tremendous support in celebrating different Buddhist festivals from our Muslim friends. So I thought it’s time to do something in return,” Mohathero told Arab News.

Built in 1951, the monastery, which is located in Basabo in the eastern part of Dhaka, has been involved in various social welfare activities. Since the start of Ramadan this year, almost 200 food packs have been doled out every day, with plans to double the number by the end of the month. The 15 monks who live in the monastery prepare the food boxes for iftar.

At a cost of around 80 cents, which is funded by the temple, each box contains traditional Bangladeshi iftar items such as puffed rice, boiled and seasoned chickpeas, jilapi (a deep-fried sweet pastry), beguni (deep-fried eggplant) and dal bora (a fried item with smashed lentils and dates).

“In previous years, our junior monks used to prepare iftar at the monastery. This year, however, we are starting to outsource the items due to the sheer volume,” Mohathero said. 

“Since the early days of the monastery, we have received tremendous support in celebrating different Buddhist festivals from our Muslim friends. So I thought it’s time to do something in return.”

Shudhhanondo Mohathero, Chief monk of Dhaka’s Buddhist Monastery

The monastery’s generosity has not gone unnoticed by the fasting Muslims.

“I have been receiving iftar from the monastery for three years. Since my husband works as a daily-wage laborer, this iftar has made our lives very comfortable,” Asma Khatun, a local resident, said.

Another devotee, Sharif Hossain, said that iftar from the monastery “is like a divine blessing.”

“After losing all my properties in a river erosion, I moved to Dhaka just a few months ago and started living in a slum. I can finally feed my family with the iftar provided by the monks,” he said. 

Talking about his experience being part of a project that builds communal harmony, Prantar Borua, an apprentice monk at the temple, said: “We feel proud and happy to be doing such an extraordinary thing. It’s a small contribution to the community, but it’s the best we can do at this moment.”

The monastery’s generosity has won praise from the Bangladesh authorities, too.

“It’s a nice initiative from the Buddhist community, especially at a time when the world is experiencing many hate crimes and interreligious conflicts. It upholds the spirit of religious harmony,” Abdul Hamid Jomaddar, joint secretary of the Religious Affairs Ministry, said.

“Our government believes in the coexistence of different religions, which is the beauty of this secular land,” he added.