St. John Paul II and Filipinos: Quotes from the Papal visits

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John Paul II at the Baclaran Church in 1981. Source: baclaranchurch.org

St. John Paul II visited the Philippines twice during his papacy and his speeches revealed his “love affair” with Filipinos and his special concern for the youth, professionals and the poor and the marginalized.

UNAFRAID OF A DICTATOR, INSPIRING FILIPINOS

Here are excerpts to his speeches during his Papal visits to the Philippines 1981 and 1995:

When he first visited the Philippines as pope, the country was under martial law.

In a speech in the presence of the brutal dictator on Feb. 17, 1981, John Paul II said fierce and brave words for Ferdinand Marcos and inspirational remarks to Filipinos who were at the time trying to dismantle his dictatorship:

Even in exceptional situations that may at times arise, one can never justify any violation of the fundamental dignity of the human person or of the basic rights that safeguard this dignity. Legitimate concern for the security of a nation, as demanded by the common good, could lead to the temptation of subjugating to the State the human being and his or her dignity and rights. Any apparent conflict between the exigencies of security and of the citizens’ basic rights must be resolved according to the fundamental principle—upheld always by the Church—that social organization exists only fοr the service of man and for the protection of his dignity, and that it cannot claim to serve the common good when human rights are not safeguarded.

People will have faith in the safeguarding of their security and the promotion of their well-being only to the extent that they feel truly involved, and supported in their very humanity.

It is my hope and prayer that all the Filipino people and their leaders will never cease to honor their commitment to a development that is fully human and that overcomes situations and structures of inequality, injustice and poverty in the name of the sacredness of humanity.

The moral resources of the Philippines are dynamic, and they are strong enough to withstand the pressures that are exercised from the outside to force this nation to adopt models of development that are alien to its culture and sensitivities.

I wish to praise the special qualities of the Filipino people, steeped in a solid Christian tradition of faith and love for neighbor. Throughout your history, you have heeded the appeal of the Gospel, the invitation to goodness, to honesty, to respect for the human person, and to unselfish service.

Your commitment to the ideals of peace, justice and fraternal love holds the promise that the future of this land will match its past history. But the challenge is great and it faces each individual of this land. Nο one is exempt from personal responsibility. Everybody’s contribution is important.

ON LAND REFORM AND FAIRNESS

Speaking before before landowners and plantation workers in Bacolod City (Feb. 20, 1981), he said:

To you people of Bacolod, and through you to all the people of the Philippines, who are sons and daughters of a nation engaged in the search for a better life for all its citizens, I repeat what I said once before : that “the world willed by God is a world of justice. That this order must be continually realized in the world, and even that it must always be realized anew, as situations and social systems grow and develop, in proportion to new conditions and economic possibilities, new possibilities and necessities of distributing goods”. The dignity of man and the common good of society demand that society be based on justice.

There are in today’s world too many situations of injustice. Injustice reigns when some nations accumulate riches and live in abundance while other nations cannot offer the majority of people the basic necessities. Injustice reigns when within the same society some groups hold most of the wealth and power while large strata of the population cannot decently provide for the livelihood of their families even through long hours of backbreaking labor in factories or in the fields.

Injustice reigns when the laws of economic growth and ever greater profit determine social relations, leaving in poverty and destitution those that have only the work of their hands to offer. Being aware of such situations, the Church will not hesitate to take up the cause of the poor and to become the voice of those who are not listened to when they speak up, not to demand charity, but to ask for justice.

Yes, human dignity must be promoted by the land. Because the land is a gift of God for the benefit of all, it is not admissible to use this gift in such a manner that the benefits it produces serve only a limited number of people, while the others—the vast majority—are excluded from the benefits which the land yields. It is not admissible that in the general development process of a nation there should continue to exist the injustice whereby progress worthy of man does not reach precisely those people who live in the rural areas, who in sweat and toil make the land productive, and who must rely on the work of their hands for the sustenance of their family.

It is not admissible that people who work the land must continue to live in a situation that offers them no hope for a better future. No, in giving the land to humanity, God had a different purpose, for his gift was a gift of love to humanity.

The landowners and the planters should therefore not let themselves be guided in the first place by the economic laws of growth and gain, nor by the demands of competition or the selfish accumulation of goods, but by the demands of justice and by the moral imperative of contributing to a decent standard of living and to working conditions which make it possible for the workers and for the rural society to live a life that is truly human and to see all their fundamental rights respected.

Likewise the workers, either duma-ans, sacadas or industrial workers, must be guided by a truly human and Christian concept of their task. Human labor remains the superior element in the economic enterprise, for through it man exerts his dominion over the material world for the building up of his own human dignity.

To all the sugar cane workers I say, as I say to all workers everywhere : never forget the great dignity that God has granted you, never let your work degrade you but remember always the mission that God has entrusted to you : to be, by the work of your hands, his collaborators in the continuation of the work of creation. See in your work a labor of love, for yοur daily work expresses love for yοur dear ones and yοur commitment to the well-being of yοur family. Be prοud to be workers of the land.

At the same time, know that the Church supports you in yοur endeavors to have yοur rights as workers respected. Ninety years ago already, the great social Encyclical Rerum Novarum spelled out very clearly that the worker is entitled to wages that give him a just share in the wealth he helps to produce, and that working conditions should be geared not to the ever increasing economic profit of the enterprise but to the inviolable dignity of man as an individual, as a provider for his family and as a builder of the society to which he belongs.

It has been the constant teaching of the Church that workers have a right to unite in free associations for the purpose of defending their interest and contributing as responsible partners to the common good. Such associations should be protected by appropriate laws which, rather that restrict their activities, should guarantee the free pursuit of the social welfare of all their members and of the workers in general.

THE POPE AND THE URBAN POOR

John Paul II spoke lovingly – not derisively, as many are used to doing – of and to the poor people of Tondo, Manila on Feb. 18, 1981:

The name Tondo is linked in a special way with the name of my predecessor Paul VI, the first worldwide pilgrim Pope of modern times. When he came here more than ten years agο, he blessed the beginnings of this parish in the middle of an area where human and Christian needs were many and deep. He pleaded for greater respect for the rights of the human person, fοr the dignity of the children of God ; he asked for greater awareness of the plight of the people on the part of civil and Church authorities.

Here in Tondo, and in other parts of this land, there are many poor people, and in them I also see the poor in spirit whom Jesus called blessed. The poor in spirit are these that keep their eyes on God, and their hearts open to his divine workings. They accept the gift of life as a gift frοm on high, and value it because it comes from God. With gratitude towards the Creator and mercy towards their fellow human beings, they are ready to share what they have with those in greater need. They love their families and children and share their homes and tables with the hungry child and the homeless youth. The poor in spirit grοw rich in human qualities; they are close to God, ready to listen to his voice and to sing his praises.

The first Beatitude tells the rich, who enjoy material well-being or who accumulate a disproportionate share of material goods, that man is great not by reason of what he possesses but by what he is—not by what he has but by what he shares with others. Poor in spirit is the rich man who does not close heart, but faces up to the intolerable situations that perpetuate the poverty and misery of the many who are constantly hungry and deprived of their rightful chances to grow and develop their human potential, who lack decent housing and sufficient clothing, who suffer illness for want of even basic health care, who grow desperate for want of employment that would enable them to provide, through honest work, for the needs of their families.

Poor in spirit indeed is the rich man who does not rest so long as a brother or sister is entrapped in ιnjustice and powerlessness. Poor in spirit is the one who holds political power and remembers that it is given for the common good only, and who never ceases to devise means to organize all sectors of society according to the demands of the dignity and equality that is the birthright of every man, woman and child that God has called into existence.

TWO-FOLD CALLING OF PROFESSIONALS, MIDDLE CLASS

The pope also showed concern for professionals and the middle class, and told them in no uncertain terms about their “two-fold calling”, at a speech at Araneta Coliseum on Feb. 18, 1981:

[M]illions of your fellowmen and women count on your services in order to live worthy lives in accordance with their human and Christian dignity.

You are people who have reached your present positions as a result of hard and serious efforts, both personal and collective. Personal efforts, in the sense that the studies which yοu undertook in order to obtain your professional qualifications certainly demanded of you sacrifice, self-discipline and intellectual rigor. It is only after you have reached the goal that yοu can properly appreciate the path that has led to it. One only reaps the fruits of what was well sown in the first place.

But you are also the result of a great effort on the collective level. For your families and your nation have had to invest great material and spiritual resources in order to train and perfect ever more numerous builders of society, with a solid intellectual and technical education.

You have a twofold calling. In the first place, you have to meet your personal needs and those of your families, through the exercise of your professions. In this you have sometimes experienced difficulties and frustrations and perhaps even discouragement. And yet you must not give up, knowing as you do that you are also called upon to make your contribution to the service of the common good.

When things are going well, never shut yourselves off from society for the sake of making money, gaining power or acquiring more knowledge ; do not retreat into a position of privilege. May you put your talents to good use by serving ever more generously the needs and aspirations of all your brothers and sisters in the Philippines. I am thinking in particular of that great number of people who, as a result of different circumstances—injustice, poverty, the need to make a bare living, the lack of cultural stimulus—have been unable to attain the levels of university training and education that you have enjoyed.

Thus there is a close link between your demanding professional activities and the hard toil of the factory worker, the life of the worker on the land, the self-denial of the housewife in her home. This is why your sensitivity to human and Christian values will be the source of a creative energy that will help yοu to place yοur skills and your activity really and effectively at the service of yοur people, in response to their needs.

The complete development of the people of yοur country, and the satisfaction of their spiritual and material needs, call for much effort on your part ; health-care for everyone ; the defense of the sacred nature of human life and its promotion ; the affirmation of the role of law in social and political relations if true order and real freedom are to be ensured ; the building of worthy housing, properly adapted to every family and every individual ; the education of youth by teaching directed towards the search for truth and its affirmation; the balanced and fruitful management of natural resources in order to ensure that everyone has a fair share of their benefits : all these are matters that concern you directly.

May your efforts in this direction always be sustained by inflexible integrity of conduct, in the midst of the professional problems that you meet. But even more, may they be inspired by a desire to help those who are most in need, so that your service will be ruled by the criteria of justice and truth, of freedom and integrity, and be crowned with love. Remember always that as Christians you are called to live in accordance with the principles that you have learned from Christ and his Church. You are called to live upright lives consistent with your Gospel principles.

John Paul II returned to the Philippines in 1995 to preside over the World Youth Day in Manila.

Pope John Paul II at the University of Santo Tomas in 1995.
Pope John Paul II at the University of Santo Tomas in 1995.

A POPE WHO MISSED THE PHILIPPINES

Upon his arrival on Jan. 12, 1995, he said:

For a long time I have looked forward to stepping on to Philippine soil once more. The Filipino people are never far from my mind and heart, and I reach out to embrace each one with esteem and affection. We are indeed old friends

A MESSAGE TO YOUNG FILIPINOS

That second papal visit also provided him a chance to again go to the University of Santo Tomas on Jan. 13, 1995. He told the students of UST and other young people of the Philippines:

Young people of the Philippines, the modern world needs a new kind of young person: it needs men and women who are capable of self–discipline, capable of committing themselves to the highest ideals, ready to change radically the false values which have enslaved so many young people and adults.

What does the Church look for in Filipino youth? For help in saving your own generation from the futility, frustration and emptiness in which so many of your contemporaries find themselves.

WONDERFUL FILIPINOS

John Paul II presided over what still is the biggest Papal Mass outside of the Vatican, during the World Youth Day on Jan. 14, 1995 at Rizal Park.

He told this to the millions there:

Increasing attention is being given to the cause of human dignity and human rights, and gradually these are being codified and included in legislation both at national and international levels. For this we should be grateful. But the effective and guaranteed observance of respect for human dignity and human rights will be impossible if individuals and communities do not overcome self-interest, fear, greed and the thirst for power.

You are very good young people. It is incredible but it is true. You are indeed very good young people. We need the Filipinos to inspire us. This is true. You are all wonderful.

Before leaving Manila for what was his last visit to the Philippines, John Paul II was not able to hide his special love for our country.

HIS LAST BLESSING TO THE PHILIPPINES

At the airport on Jan. 16, 1995, he clearly expressed his admiration for Filipinos and gave his blessing:

I take with me a thousand images of the Filipino people. I know your desire for greater justice and a better life for yourselves and your children. No one can underestimate the difficulties you face and the hard work that lies ahead. Above all, no one should pull back from the great demand of real and effective solidarity, a new solidarity between individuals, in families and throughout society. There has to be progress in sharing. There has to be a renewed sense of responsibility of everyone for everyone else; we are, each of us, our brother’s keeper.

My parting wish can be none other than the one I expressed for you when I came here almost fourteen years ago: may you always enjoy peace in your hearts and in your homes; may justice and freedom reign throughout your land; and may your families be faithful forever, united in joy and love! May God bless you all! God bless the Philippines! Mabuhay!

 

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