Dr. Emiliano Hudtohan

Educator, Business Writer, Industry Expert and Entrepreneur

A nation of mercy and compassion

Manila Standard Today

July 28, 2014

Column: Green Light


In preparation for the visit of Pope Francis to the Philippines in January 2015, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) declared the Philippines “A Nation of Mercy and Compassion.” The CBCP is encouraging the faithful to be in communion with Pope Francis, the apostle of the poor.


On February 26-28, 2015 De La Salle University will host the 9th International Conference on Catholic Social Thought (CST) and Business Education.  It is apropos that the DLSU Management and Organization Department, “the heart and soul of management,” is the lead organizer because it also seeks to “bridge faith and management practice.”


These two upcoming events have one thing in common; the poor are included in their agenda. This article is not a discussion on the political-economic dimension of poverty alleviation. I wonder if poverty rate that has slightly improved from 26.3 percent in 2009 to 25.2 percent in 2012 can grow faster if the theological-cultural issues are addressed.


From a theological-cultural perspective, I believe the misinterpretation of ‘charity and poverty’ in Philippines was shaped by our 400 years of Catholic experience. The foregoing commentary I do as a Lasallian with a doctorate in religious and values formation from DLSU.


Church of the Poor

More than two decades ago, the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines (PCP II) declared the Philippine Catholic Church as the Church of the Poor. Fourteen years later, Bishop Bacani admitted in the East Asian Pastoral Review (2005) that “The Church [of the Poor] in the Philippines has, to our shame, also remained unchanged in some respects. Due to weakness in formation and education, the lack of defined diocesan pastoral directions and programs, and deficiencies in structures, many prescriptions of PCP-II have not been implemented.”


For example the Church of the Poor calls for “Pastors and leaders who will learn to be with the poor, work with and learn from, the poor…and tilt the center of gravity of the entire community in favour of the needy” (PCP II, 125-361).


Bacani concluded, “In order to make authentic our commitment to becoming a Church of the Poor …we shall seek to liberate ourselves from mentalities, values, behavior and lifestyles that discriminate against the materially poor. We shall listen to them and with them create conditions in which they are heard and can enjoy the blessings of God’s creation.”


Collateral damage

The many wonderful blessings that Catholicism brought to the Philippines can not be denied.  But the collateral damage it has done to our pre-Spanish [Maharlikan] culture is a historical fact and the current ‘Catholic charity-poverty’ practice poses as an obstacle to our national poverty alleviation programs.

Poverty is misinterpreted and is reinforced by the idea of ‘vow of poverty’ as a sacred and solemn promise to renounce material wealth.  The vow itself is a virtuous act, but the avowed Catholic renunciation of material well-being has led to a misunderstanding of poverty; it does not drive the poor to be sustainably prosperous and abundant.


The gospel proclamation of ‘Blessed are the poor’ for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven further reinforces the notion of poverty as an ideal physical state in exchange for a future reward.  On the other hand, charity as a Catholic virtue motivates a believer to give because God is glorified by helping the poor.


At the time of Cardinal Gaudencio Rosales, Archbishop of Manila (2003-2011), he established the Pondong Pinoy and there is at the chapel entrance a boy in tattered clothes with an out-stretched palm begging for alms is displayed for coin-drop.  The charitable act is focused on the mendicant receiver.  This image is etched in the heart of the giver. The poor is helped through alms but will remain such.


Grassroots development

Our Maharlikan root and Catholic faith resulted to a Filipino that is neither Maharlikan nor Catholic, a demonstration of a process in Emergenetics (Browning and Kagan), where nature and nurture produce a genetic mestizo who is a folk-Catholic (Belita), a split-level Christian (Bulatao), and an inculturated believer (PCP II, 219; de Mesa; and Mercado).


In all these, charity and poverty are interpreted according to the notion of a Filipino believer.  Charity as a virtue is giving, giving makes one mabait and maawain. Poverty as virtue is perceived by the receiver as relying on God’s providence and the people around who are an extension of His goodness and mercy.  The cycle of dependency spirals and the backbone of poverty is nowhere to be broken.


The 2015 visit of Pope Francis provides a neo-revival of the age old spiritual works of mercy. CBCP announced that “The most distinctive way to prepare spiritually for the coming of Pope Francis is for the Philippines to become a people rich in mercy…trust in God’s mercy is part and parcel of our traditional Filipino Christian culture.”  Thus, the faithful are asked to make an act of mercy such as giving food to a hungry beggar and alms to the poor.  The PCP II calls for transformation in 1991 is revived with the coming of Pope Francis. Alms giving in the Church of the Poor continues to operate in a paradigm of co-dependency that is spiralling towards total dependency.


Damage control

I presume Catholic businessmen are now enlisted to practice their craft not only as a profession but as a vocation.  Should the interpretation CST continue to be anchored in false hermeneutics of these two Catholic virtues, the cycle of poverty will continue and future corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs will jeopardize the empowerment of the poor.


There is a danger that philanthropic giving (CSR) will reinforce the mendicant posture of the poor beneficiaries. Utmost care must be exercised even with corporate social initiatives (CSI) so that community needs are addressed in enterprise development.


If enterprise development from the bottom of the barrel [among the poor] is to be established the models of Kotler’s corporate shared value, Orly Buenviaje’s community organizing, Nenita Cura’s community organizational development, and Mary Jean Netario Cruz’ social optimum development will be useful in viewing poverty alleviation from the perspective of the poor community.


Collective consciousness

The Catholic Church, as articulated by Pope Francis in Evangelii Gaudium is challenged to put forward a 21st century hermeneutics on what charity and poverty are supposed to be. The 9th International Conference on CST and Business Education is an opportunity to “bridge faith and poverty” by linking global CST with local Philippine poverty issues, and in particular empower the Church of the Poor here and now.


My prayer is that a collective Catholic consciousness based on a renewed understanding of “charity and poverty” and of “mercy and compassion” will liberate the Church of the Poor. Our Maharlikan DNA was enriched by our Catholic heritage and together they drive our relationship with the poor.  Charity, poverty, mercy and compassion are human values of a virtuous person.  They have a physical and metaphysical dimensions which, when properly understood, will lead us to an authentic hermeneutics of CST.

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