Thursday, September 09, 2010


Dear Muslim Friends:

As you celebrate Eid al-Fitr ending your month-long holy fasting of Ramadan, I greet you on behalf of the Archdiocese of Cotabato, “Eid mubarak!”

We share in your joy as you visit your relatives, friends and neighbors. We share in your sentiments of charity as you give alms and help the needy and the poor. We, Christians, have similar values in our traditions that stem from the message and example of our Lord Jesus Christ.

I learned that the al-Azhar Permanent Committee for Dialogue among Monotheistic Religions in Cairo is reflecting on the theme: “Together in overcoming violence among followers of different religions.” The Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue in Rome is doing the same. How imperative this topic has been for us in the past several decades in our beloved Mindanao, especially as the search for peace hopefully resumes.

The month of Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr stir in your hearts deep religious sentiments of joy, of fellowship, and of charity. On our part we shall soon celebrate the season of Advent, a season for us of physical and spiritual sacrifice, a special time to combat our inner passions and act for the good of others. May we seize the moment of these spiritual experiences to pray and act together for peace. With the Almighty and most beneficent God, we can surely prevail over all obstacles and finally come to that just and lasting peace we all desire.

Once again, Eid mubarak!

+Orlando B. Quevedo, O.M.I.
Archbishop of Cotabato

Monday, July 12, 2010

On Bishop Francisco "Cisco" Claver, S.J.

(Funeral Mass, Loyola School of Theology, July 7, 2010)

I write this sharing two days after the Funeral Mass on Wednesday evening, 7 July 2010. I had spoken without notes and with only a general outline in my mind. Here and there this written piece might be embellishing a bit. But to the best of my memory, it is how I said what I wanted to say about Bishop Cisco Claver, S.J.

My brothers and sisters in Christ,

The Jesuit provincial, Fr. Jojo Magadia, asked me before the Mass if I, as a friend of Bishop Cisco, could speak briefly after Communion. At the chapel sacristy, Cardinal Dency Rosales also asked me if I could speak on behalf of the Bishops.

I am here not out of obedience to Fr. Jojo or to Cardinal Dency but I am here out of fear. I am afraid that Bp. Cisco might visit me tonight and complain, “Orly, my friend, you did not visit me while I was sick.”

But most importantly I am here because of love. At the Wake Mass for Bp. Cisco last Friday evening, I approached Fr. Catalino Arevalo, S.J. and before I could react he hugged me and said with a break in his voice,” How Cisco loved you!” I broke down in tears and held on to Fr. “Rev.” So I am here because of love.

My brothers and sisters, what does Bishop Cisco Claver mean to the Church in the Philippines and beyond?

During the Martial Law period, someone collected his homilies and essays together into one book with the title, “Even the Stones Will Cry Out.” During those very dark years in Philippine history, Bp. Cisco consistently, passionately and courageously denounced the injustices and contradictions of Martial Law. So great were the injustices especially against “the little people” (the “poor, deprived and oppressed”) that if he were silent, “even the stones will cry out!”

I think of Bishop Cisco’s significance to the Church in the Philippines in terms of those biblical stones. He expressed his mind and heart in his pastoral work and theological-pastoral reflections. These are like stones built upon one another that speak of who Bishop Cisco was as a person and as a bishop-shepherd, not unlike the stone rip-rapping and bridge that he built with his Bontoc hands along the creek on this university campus.

His pastoral work and reflections indeed are stones that speak out loud and clear about what lay deep in his mind and heart about the Church. Communion, Co-Responsibility, Participation, Discernment were his constant themes – heady theological themes that came alive concretely in the Basic Ecclesial Communities, particularly in the Diocese of Malaybalay and the Apostolic Vicariate of Bontoc-Lagawe.

He applied these themes in his treatment of social issues – people empowerment, politics, human rights, justice and peace, development, indigenous peoples, environment, land reform, the relationship between ideology and faith, the impact of culture on life, etc. etc.

In the turbulent years of the 1980’s when ideology effectively influenced the minds of many pastoral workers in Mindanao, I am convinced that it was he who turned the tide in the life and death struggle between ideology and faith.

He changed the Marxist structural analysis that was popular in those days by factoring in the reality of culture both in the causes of social problems as well as in the processes of social change. This insight from the anthropologist Bishop Cisco on cultural analysis made us aware of the abundant resources of our deep culture of religious faith.

I believe then that his seminal work on cultural analysis placed religious faith once more at the center of the Church’s response to the politically and ideologically laden field of Mindanao. For the Mindanao dioceses religious faith, untainted by ideology, became once more the measure of ideology itself as well as the dynamic motivation for pastoral workers towards social change.

One can discern the stones built by Bp. Cisco in the major pastoral letters and statements of the Philippine Bishops on social issues, in the writing of which he collaborated or was the principal writer.

These stones are especially discernible in the Acts and Text of the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines, held five years after that stunning and transforming People Power I Revolution at EDSA. Communion, Co-Responsibility, Participation, Discernment, Dialogue, Basic Ecclesial Communities, people empowerment – these are interweaving themes in PCP-II. As the final redactor of the PCP-II texts, I was more than delighted to retain verbatim most of the things that Bishop Cisco contributed in his easy but elegant and cadenced inimitable prose.

So what does Bishop Cisco mean to the Church in the Philippines? The stones will cry out.

May I now speak of Bishop Cisco as a friend.

In the past 30 years Cisco and I collaborated in possibly more than a hundred projects of reflecting, writing, speaking, in various parts of the Philippines, Asia, and Europe. We relished being in the same discussion panels, interviews, conferences and writing group. We shared our thoughts and brought them to the floor of the CBCP. We agreed on most issues, disagreed on a few, but were united on the issues that counted most.

It was my great misfortune that when the CBCP writing group was about to draft the famous Statement of the Bishops after the 1986 Snap Elections I was in bed at the Heart Center of the Philippines. Cardinal Ricardo Vidal, the CBCP President, had asked me to moderate the Bishops’ session to evaluate the conduct of the Snap Elections. The results were a clear consensus. Widespread fraud in the elections everywhere except in one or two dioceses. What then must we say about the government that assumed power through indubitable rampant fraud? The moral principle was clear. Cardinal Vidal requested me to help write the Statement. I informed him that I had to go to the Heart Center. I gave him my notes for the content of the Statement. While reading the Final Statement at the Heart Center, I consoled myself in believing that Bp. Cisco and the other members of the writing team had indeed read my notes. [At today’s CBCP Plenary Assembly, 10 July 2010, Cardinal Vidal told me that upon receiving my notes, Cisco had remarked, “Good, now I do not have to think too much!” Cisco with his usual dry humor!]

But the basic response of the Statement to the government’s lack of moral authority was classic Claver: “Let us pray together, reason together, and act together” – a mantra on Communion, Co-Responsibility, Participation, Discernment that many subsequent CBCP statements would echo.

It was the anthropologist-Bishop Cisco who understood the 1986 People Power Revolution in terms of the converging values of Lakas and Awa. The People Power Revolution was the explosive irruption of Lakas-Awa, the power of compassion, of love shared, of love expressed in sacrificial, unselfish and generous service of solidarity for the sake of the common good, of a love based on deep religious faith that transcends religious denominations, becoming a massive force for social transformation.

After 1986 we both shared the idea that it was time for the Bishops to withdraw from the public arena and let the people activate their God-given charisms in political leadership.
But after a year of EDSA I, euphoria turned into dismay. The Bishops wrote their first letter on Corruption. Bp. Cisco gave it the title, “Thou Shalt Not Steal.” We also wrote a statement on Land Reform in response to the watering down of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP).

Only two or three years ago the CBCP wrote another letter on corruption, the second of its kind and during the term of a second lady president. This time it was my turn to give it a title. I chose, “Let Justice Flow Like a River.”

It is difficult for me to express what Cisco means to me. (Many have remarked that Cisco and I think uncannily alike. Perhaps.). We both want to stay in the back rows of the Bishops’ Conference. We exchange notes, share ideas, evaluate them, and either write them down or act on them. He was my social conscience. We lined up some collaborative writing projects regarding the Church in Mindanao in the 1980’s and regarding EDSA I, to “correct history” as he said. He asked me to begin the writing. Somehow I did not. But we did push each other into writing things down. I came out with outlines. He came out with books. God gave him immense talents. He shared them in service to the Church, ad maiorem Dei gloriam.

In one of our CBCP Pastoral Letters, we quoted Sacred Scriptures about a messianic time of grace when over the land and over the people Justice and Mercy shall embrace and kiss. At the passing away of Bishop Cisco, God’s justice and loving mercy have embraced and kissed – for him. He is with the Father. He is with Jesus whom he proclaimed in the Spirit with eloquent words, spoken and written, in all arena of human life.

I express the collective grief and deep condolences of the Bishops of the Philippines to the Claver family. You have lost a great brother. We have all lost a Filipino prophet without peer, truest priest, innovative humble shepherd, a very dear friend. Who can take his place?

As for me...farewell, Cisco, my dearest friend. Please don’t visit me tonight. Even now the rain continues to fall, the tears of nature flow…my tears flow….

+Orlando B. Quevedo, O.M.I.
Archbishop of Cotabato

Monday, May 31, 2010


President-Elect Noynoy Aquino ran his campaign with this catchy slogan. Like all slogans, it has both an element of truth and an element of oversimplification.

Corruption indeed is a cause of poverty. But it is not true that if there is no corruption, there would be no poverty. Poverty may also be due to misguided economic philosophies and development programs. Poverty may also be due to some extent to some cultural factors. Imbalances in the political sphere can also cause poverty. Destruction of the environment causes poverty.

Thus the campaign slogan is only partly true. As such it is unrealistic. It offers false hopes for a long suffering people.

Why is corruption so difficult to eradicate?

Corruption is a sinful attitude of the heart. It is the surrender of the heart to the temptation of power and wealth. Once the heart succumbs to a first temptation and gains access to some amount of money without being punished, it is easier to surrender to the next temptation. This is even more so when the gains in wealth and power are incredibly huge. The repeated acts of sin become an attitude of the heart. God is sacrificed on the altar of mammon.

But corruption is also embedded in social, economic, political structures. It is a social sin, a structural injustice, built up by repeated personal sins. The many personal sins of corruption build a structure within the economic, social, and political structures, embed corruption in it, and facilitate continuing corruption. The structure of corruption is also built up by imbalances in economic and political power. While powerless people can be easily convicted and jailed, this is not true for the powerful. Bribery, threats to life, and extortion are bedfellows in the structure of corruption.

Because it is both a sinful attitude of the heart as well as an unjust social structure, corruption in the Philippines, as elsewhere in many Asian countries, is firmly entrenched. It is also endemic in private and public life. It infects the whole social ladder, from top to bottom or from bottom to the top. Even elections for kabataang barangay positions are now afflicted by extravagant spending because of the promise of more money gained through one’s position.

No Philippine President has ever made a serious dent on corruption. Each presidential regime has its own anecdotal illustrations of corruption incidence, even if only two suffered legal consequences, sequestration of alleged ill-gotten wealth for one and conviction of plunder for the other. For others, various alleged scams were subjected to grandstanding investigations “in aid of legislation” but for this very reason there has been no conviction.

We are a society that in fact turns a blind eye to past grievous lapses of corruption. A quick scan of election winners will reveal how short our memories are and how easily we put aside moral judgments.

Given the nature of corruption as a personal sin and as a structure of sin and given our own propensity to disregard moral judgments, it is clear that corruption is not going to go away easily.

The President-elect needs all the help he can get to make good on his slogan. He would need a miracle to get rid of corruption in his six years of office. Good intention and good example are not enough. We have the example of the Cory Aquino regime to demonstrate this. Will her son have the same experience? He should have people around him who are incorrupt and who can personify his slogan: Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap. The first question then is: who will serve as his cabinet members, his closest advisers? Do they pass the test of integrity?

Of course we believe that with God everything is possible. That is our faith. In Church language, we need contemplation and solidarity, prayer and cooperation.

Solidarity would dictate that in the battle against corruption, all of us have to be united, striving to be persons of integrity in our areas of responsibility and refusing to connive with others in acts of corruption. In solidarity we need to denounce what we see are corrupt systems in public and private life that ensnare and trap people into corruption. In solidarity we need to work with our leaders who want to establish structures of integrity and justice.

If we believe that with God all things are possible, then prayer for wisdom, guidance, and courage and integrity would be necessary. Through solidarity and prayer miracles do happen.

+Orlando B. Quevedo, O.M.I.
Archbishop of Cotabato
May 30, 2010

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Peace in Southern Mindanao: Beyond the Rhetoric, Hope

Christian politicians generally have a skewed view of the peace process between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. Their view reflects that of the great majority of Christians all over the country. It consists of the following:

(1) The ill-fated MOA-AD sacrificed national sovereignty and territorial integrity for the sake of peace;
(2) The present peace negotiation between the GRP panel and the MILF is a repeat of the same;
(3) Like the previous peace talks, the present attempt is characterized by lack of consultation and transparency;
(4) Any “midnight” signing must be forestalled;
(5) The fundamental solution to the conflict in southern Mindanao is not a peace agreement, but a comprehensive no-nonsense economic development program.

Such a view, no matter how skewed and incorrect, has been used in the election campaign by politicians at the local and national level as an issue to gain votes from Christians in Mindanao. At the national level among the more prominent were Senators Noynoy Aquino and Mar Roxas. The rhetoric was strident and shrill. No Christian politician dared to go on a limb to defend the present peace talks for fear of losing Christian votes. The rhetoric has successfully glossed over the truth, despite some clear presentation of the government position by the GRP group.

Under the Noynoy Aquino regime, will the peace process progress despite the election campaign rhetoric? There are signs of hope:

(1) Instead of biding his time and even before he takes his oath of office, the president-elect has chosen his primary peace negotiator;
(2) Ging Deles, a person-oriented but hardworking technocrat basically known for her peace advocacy, is familiar with the peace-conflict terrain in southern Mindanao.

These are signs of good will and good intention on the part of the incoming chief executive.

On the part of the MILF, that it has reportedly established a common ground with the MNLF is promising. I also hope that the wisdom of the late Chairman Hashim Salamat who wanted, I believe, to establish peace within the parameters of what he realized as irreversible historical and geographical developments would continue to influence the Bangsa Moro leaders who carry on his legacy.

But the pitfalls regarding the peace process are legion. The incoming Congress (Senate and House) is filled with personalities that generally opposed the MOA-AD. The temptation is strong for the incoming administration to start from zero and not to follow in the footsteps of a peace negotiation that it perceives not only as a “failure” but also a “betrayal” of the Constitution. The primary government negotiator might want to hew closely to the bidding of principals who have expressed mistrust regarding previous peace talks and even tried to discredit them in favor of economic development. It would seem that there is a wall of negative perceptions and feelings that the primary negotiator might have to break through. Her courage to stand up for her convictions is a great asset.

My unsolicited advice to the next GRP peace panel would be the following:

(1) Be open to the positive gains of previous negotiations and do not start from ground zero;
(2) Internalize the results of the wide consultations that have been conducted and be guided by them;
(3) Be open to the principle of self-determination and probe how such a guiding principle could be implemented in fidelity to the spirit of the Constitution while transcending or amending its letter;
(4) Consult the people and political decision makers whenever necessary and always be transparent;
(5) In the face of possible provocations, be persevering, patient and resolute until a fair and just final peace agreement is done;
(6) Both groups in the peace process are believers in the one true God of Peace; while working for peace, do not forget to pray for peace.

+Orlando B. Quevedo, O.M.I.
Archbishop of Cotabato

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Called to bring Hope, Missioned to Renewal


May I express my deep gratitude to the organizers for inviting me to speak at your Catholic Education Week. I am deeply honored and privileged to speak before you, realizing that I come from a country that is economically “down under.”

I wish to bring an Asian perspective to the theme of Catholic Education Week, “Called to Bring Hope.” The theme flows, I understand, from the message of the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, at the 24th World Youth Day in Australia. He encouraged young people all over the world, saying: “If Jesus has become your hope, communicate this to others with your joy and your spiritual, apostolic and social engagement…. spread this hope around you.”

I believe that it is this hope in Jesus that Pope Benedict XVI would refer to in his seminal social encyclical, Caritas in Veritate (June 29, 2009). There he speaks to us of hope in taking on a particular social mission, saying:

… we must adopt a realistic attitude as we take up with confidence and hope the new responsibilities to which we are called by the prospects of a world in need of profound cultural renewal, a world that needs to rediscover fundamental values on which to build a better future (no. 21).

Hope in Jesus towards a profound cultural renewal – might this not be the mission of education for our times? I ask this because obviously Australia is a multicultural society and cultures different from ours can sometimes be, unfortunately, the object of discrimination and bias, even of exclusion and alienation, as we so experience in the Philippines with regard to Muslim Moros and indigenous peoples.

Today one Australian newspaper brings this reality of culture to its readers with three news reports on racial abuse, on traditional lands, and on population and migration policies.

Allow me then to reflect with you about this educational mission of cultural renewal from the perspective of an Asian. I take this perspective of Asia not only because it is what I know best, but also because in the past three days I have seen a considerable number of Asians in Melbourne.

The Cultural Situation

In this reflection I take “culture” to mean generally and simply “a way of life”, a set of beliefs, values, attitudes, customs and traditions that are shared by a group and distinguish it from another. It is transmitted from one generation to another through language, rituals, institutions (e.g., family, and schools), laws, art, and tools of social communication. Thus we have Thai culture, Filipino culture, Chinese culture, Australian culture, American culture, an indigenous people’s culture, a culture of the poor, a culture of the young, culture of a dominant group, etc. In my own experience I find the culture of the poor one of simplicity. Even their prayers are direct, concrete, and specific. I remember one Bible Service in a Basic Ecclesial Community in one of the villages of my diocese during the long years of Martial Law. Civilian militias of the Marcos dictatorship had raided a village because of the suspected presence of armed subversives. Not finding them, the raiders took away chickens and pigs from the village people. In their Prayer of Intercession during the Bible Service, one lady prayed, “Let my pig which have been taken away from me die of sickness before the raiders eat it, let us pray to the Lord.” I did not know whether it was a curse or a prayer. Then I recalled the Magnificat of Mary, who declared that the Lord “has filled the hungry with good things and the rich he sent empty away.” With this thought, I responded “Lord, grant our prayer.”

Asia is known to be a rich mosaic of ancient cultures and languages. When I was a theology student in the 1960s many American classmates used to say that we Asians all “look the same.” We really don’t, even though appearances often mislead. Languages separate us. National costumes differ. Even the way we Asian Catholics worship differs from culture to culture. Thais, Vietnamese, Chinese, Koreans and Japanese celebrate Mass or relate to the sacred with more awe, silence and solemnity. Filipinos, Malaysians, and Indonesians seem to have more joyful Masses and have a sense of more carefree fellowship with the sacred. (I wonder if the Filipino, Vietnamese, and Indian priests in the St. Patrick’s Cathedral presbytery would agree with me). The way we think and value things also differ. Some observers say, for instance, that Westerners think in a linear way from point A to point B. But Asians think in a circular way arriving at the same point B.

We Asians despite our cultural differences do share some common values, very different from non-Asians. Using a relatively recent study of values held by certain cultures, it is possible to make the following observations regarding Asians:

1. Asian peoples and societies generally accept a structure of inequality as a given social and political reality.

2. Asians are generally low on an individualism index, tending more towards community and clan and are usually not inclined to be individualistic. Nuclear families, extended Asian families, and close family kinship are the general rule for cohesive harmony and security and even for the family’s social advancement.

3. Women in Asian societies are expected to play roles that are more home and children oriented and less career or profession oriented Men are expected to be more competitive, assertive and even aggressive and women to be more caring, gentle, and compassionate.

4. Asians have a high desire for certainty, have less tolerance for ambiguity and unstructured situations. We look for strict rules and believe in absolute religious truths.

5. Saving “face” or the avoidance of shame is one of the major dynamic inner forces that drive the typical Asian toward self development.

The many cases of suicide in some Asian countries are not due to despair or depression but due to lose of face – school children who because of failure in school are ashamed to face their parents, a husband who has lost considerable amount of money feeling too ashamed to face his wife, a young unmarried lady who learns she is pregnant and is ashamed to tell the truth to her parents. Examples abound.

From another perspective Pope John Paul II summed up the observations of Asian Bishops at the 1998 Synod of Bishops for Asia in the following way:

The people of Asia take pride in their religious and cultural values, such as love of silence and contemplation, simplicity, harmony, detachment, non-violence, the spirit of hard work, discipline, frugal living, the thirst for learning and philosophical enquiry. They hold dear the values of respect for life, compassion for all beings, closeness to nature, filial piety towards parents, elders and ancestors, and a highly developed sense of community. In particular they hold the family to be a vital source of strength, a closely knit community with a powerful sense of solidarity….

All of this indicates an innate spiritual insight and moral wisdom in the Asian soul, and it is the core around which a growing sense of “being Asian” is built. This “being Asian” is best discovered and affirmed not in confrontation and opposition, but in the spirit of complementarity and harmony (Ecclesia in Asia, 19986, no. 6)

One outstanding aspect of Asian cultures is our sense of the Transcendent:

A deep sense of the sacred still prevails among Asian peoples. We point to the finger of God in the significant events of our lives. (Natural disasters, floods, drought, earthquakes are due somehow to God’s inscrutable will. Asians can only say, “Leave it to God” - in Pilipino, Bahala na sa Dyos. We are not afraid to speak openly of God and his mysterious ways. We often go to holy places, visit churches, masjids (mosques), and temples for worship or for temporary refuge, silence, solitude from the busyness of life. We are deeply appreciative of men and women of God-experience. The sense of the divine is deeply ingrained in our Asian cultural psyche (Orlando B. Quevedo, O.M.I, “Today’s Culture and Consecrated Life,” FABC-OCL Seminar, Hua Hin, Thailand, November 17, 2009)

I might ask if the values I have mentioned resonate well with mainstream Australian culture. Perhaps the answer is yes and no, to lesser or greater degree.

The same value study previously cited has the following value description of Australians:

You have a very high level of individuality with the individualism index at 90%, the highest score of any country behind the United States at 91%. You also have greater equality between societal levels, gender, and within families. Further your desire for certainty is much lesser than the world’s average. This would mean that Australians are comfortable with less law, less structure, and less absolute truth, more individual freedom.

Is this true?

Moreover an information sheet by the Australian Foreign Affairs is rather noteworthy. It observes that Australians have commonly shared values, particularly respect for individual dignity and rights regardless of culture, religion, or gender. It has also been said that egalitarianism has become, in the era of multiculturalism, a lived Australian value – a fact that contrasts starkly with the glaring social, economic, and political inequalities in many Asian societies.

The Need for Cultural Renewal

The Asian cultural map is truly striking in its rich kaleidoscope of varying ancient cultures. It is from this cultural reality that the Church in Asia underscores inculturation and the solidarity of diverse cultures as a vision of the Church.

Surely the desired ideal of cultural unity in diversity is an objective as well for a multicultural society like Australia.

But in all cultures there are values that, in the light of our Catholic religious faith, are ambivalent or at worst negative. Take, for instance, the Asian value of strong family-centeredness. How a mother of father or one of the children would sacrifice by venturing abroad at great risk and work for three to five years sometimes under dehumanizing conditions in certain foreign countries! And the reason for this sacrifice is the family. So that with money earned abroad the family might have a better future or that other members of the family could go to school. I remember a Filipina in Italy. Armed with a chemistry degree, she taught for several years at a university in the Philippines. But she wanted to send her children to the best schools in Manila and she could not do that on her teacher’s salary. She applied to be a domestic helper in Italy and she got a job. From university teacher to domestic helper, all for the sake of her family.

But the same value becomes negative when the good of the family comes first before the public good and becomes the cause of corruption in public and private life. Certainly a purification of values would be necessary.

In certain Asian cultures, the renewal of values might require the rooting out of exclusive ethnocentrism and caste-ism that generate biases, discrimination and oppression. Or the dismantling of traditional structures of patriarchy and other forms of social injustice that keep large sectors of society subservient, marginalized, and oppressed.

Social analysis and faith discernment would be needed to judge what values have to be purified and renewed. Surely this is also necessary for Australia in the task of cultural renewal.

A Globalizing Post-Modern Culture – Secularism and Relativism

There is yet another major dimension, not intra-cultural but intercultural. The call to cultural renewal sounded by the Pope Benedict XVI concerns emerging global values.

In 2004 the Plenary Assembly of the Federation of Asian Bishops Conferences in Daejeon, Korea sounded out an alarm regarding the negative features of globalization:

Of even greater significance, economic globalization is also bringing cultural globalization in its wake. Since the middle of the 20th century Western secularism has been strongly influencing Asian societies. But at no time has the secularizing process, now with significant post-modern spirit of individualistic sense of freedom, been more rapid and effective in reshaping the value systems of Asian families than in the last two decades of the 20th century. The bearers of this change are economics… and the on-going revolution in mass global communications that has truly made the world a global village (Final Document, no.21).

We recall that the philosophies of the Enlightenment in the 17th and 18th centuries proclaimed the primacy of reason and rejected religious faith and authority. The emergence of Modernism, coincided with the era of scientific revolution. European intellectuals began to deny divine revelation or “God’s meta-narrative.” Armed with reason and science, Modernism rejected “traditional” religious beliefs and asserted a “meta-narrative of human scientific progress.”

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries came what might be called the post-modern philosophies of Karl Marx and Friedrich Nietzsche which emphasized subjectivity rather than objectivity. As a consequence they rejected the universality of all meta-narratives whether that of human reason or of religious faith. Skepticism regarding social and moral norms was the order of the day.

The evolution of Western intellectual thought historically followed this trajectory. Today the emerging global technological culture exhibits the world view of the postmodern spirit. It rejects objective truth and gives primacy to personal subjectivity. It professes incredulity at all meta-narratives that claim absolute truth. It believes as true only what the self interprets and constructs in personal narratives. Having rejected all dogma, it ironically presented one universal dogma, namely, truth is relative. Hence pluralism regarding truth. Someone has called this type of pluralism as an ideology of “whateverism.” (On this issue of modernism and post-modernism as developed in terms of “the rise and fall of disbelief in the modern world,” Alister McGrath, The Twilight of Atheism, 2004, pp. 144-169, 217-237, is a highly readable scholarly presentation).

On the other hand from a positive point of view the post-modern spirit has highlighted individual human dignity, autonomy and human rights so characteristic of the West. It has also pointed out the importance and necessity of personal historicity, personal narratives and subjective experience, including feelings, in integral human growth towards maturity in Christ. Today these dimensions of the person are important in discerning the movement of the Holy Spirit in one’s life.

The Marginalization of Faith and of the Sacred

While recognizing some of the positive dimensions of the post-modern spirit, the origins and the emphases of western intellectual thought nevertheless gradually overhauled many cherished fundamental values related to God, the world, the human person and human relationships. Its notable effect is the marginalization of religious faith and the sense of the sacred. In brief, post-modernism represents a world view that in many ways contradicts the view of our own religious faith, anchored as it is in God’s meta-narrative found in Sacred Scriptures, interpreted and taught by the Church.

Admittedly this is a simplified way of considering the post-modern spirit. But it might be helpful towards understanding the emerging and globalizing culture of secularism, subjectivism and relativism that is now a matter of great anxiety for the cultures of Asia. It also helps us to understand why the Popes of the last five decades, particularly Pope John II and Benedict XVI, have inveighed so frequently and forcefully against subjectivism, relativism, individualism, nihilism, and consumerism. The clash of cultures is in fact between that of this world and that of the Gospel.

Here the prayer of Jesus to the Father for his disciples becomes profoundly relevant:

I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world anymore than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may truly be sanctified (Jn. 17: 14-19).

Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, echoes the prayer of the Jesus as he exhorts the Christians in Rome:

I urge you to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will (Rom. 17: 1-2).

Education as Bearer of Hope in a Crisis of Values

The clash of cultures expresses itself concretely in a crisis of values. Economic globalization and cultural globalization together with profound scientific and technological development, disseminated by the tools of social communication, have affected human life throughout the world. Economically and socially the gap between rich and poor has widened. Massive migration of workers from poor countries has put great pressure on their families in their countries of origin and on policy makers in countries of destination. While multiculturalism and ethnic as well as religious pluralism enrich different cultures, they also bring in new challenges. People also speak about the clash of civilizations. Indeed, we observe tensions of value both within cultures and also between cultures.

Clearly we discern here the relevance and necessity of the educational process. Education after all is not merely the imparting of knowledge but also the transmission of cultural values cherished by generations. It has also to sift the ephemeral from the fundamental, the merely temporal from the perennial. In the light of the crisis of values, we might ask what kind of cultural renewal is expected of the educational enterprise.

I believe that educators are called to bring hope:

• to young men and women who are searching for the fundamental meaning of their life;
• to those who find themselves in the periphery of a culture they are not fully at home with;
• to those who by reason of poverty are deprived of access to the wellsprings of cultural development and of scientific and technological knowledge;
• to those who thirst for more than security and stability and crave for the serenity that quenches the innate thirst of the human soul for ultimate truth;
• to those who long for authentic community and fellowship beyond their family circles and their small circle of friends;
• to those who aspire to read more deeply the signs of the times and to reach the answers to questions of human joy and suffering, of justice and peace, and of human destiny;
• to those who want to know lasting reasons for their own hope.

Love as the Driving Force for Cultural Renewal

Education then is called to bring hope, to assist, to guide, slowly, evocatively and gradually young men and women to the ultimate fulfillment of hope.

In fact, Canon Law says:

Since a true education must strive for the integral formation of the human person,
a formation which looks toward the person’s final end,
and at the same time toward the common good of societies,
children and young people are to be so reared that they can develop harmoniously their physical, moral and intellectual talents,
that they acquire a more perfect sense of responsibility and a correct use of freedom,
and that they may be educated for active participation in social life.

Succinctly, here we have the axiomatic fourfold description of Catholic education; holistic and integral, developmental, personal, and social.

However for a person of faith there is one key moral value of development and growth to human maturity that the educational process has to inculcate. This key moral value is authentic love.

Caritas in veritate, charity in truth – this is the resounding theme of Pope Benedict XVI”s social encyclical which begins thus:

Charity in truth, to which Jesus Christ bore witness by his earthly life and especially by his death and resurrection, is the principal driving force behind the authentic development of every person and of all humanity. Love – caritas – is an extraordinary force which leads people to opt for courageous and generous engagement in the field of justice and peace. It is a force hat has its origin in God. Eternal Love and Absolute Truth…. Charity is at the heart of the Church’s social doctrine (Caritas in Veritate, nos. 1-2).

Charity as “the principal driving force behind the authentic development of every person and of all humanity” -- how could the educational process make learners become deeply aware of the “interior pulse to love authentically” which, as the Pope states, is a “vocation planted by God in the heart of every human person”?

One has to realize that mere self-development through education is incomplete; love is not merely love of self. Beyond self-perfection is self transcendence; love is authentic (love in truth) to the extent that it reaches out to others, particularly to the poor and the needy, in the manner of Jesus, who is God’s compassion.

This is why the Spirit of Love, who is also the Spirit of Wisdom and Knowledge, of Understanding and Counsel, is really the principal educator, renewing, transforming, and guiding. His role in the educational process is an absolute requirement. In the renewal of the mind and heart, in the search for meaning, it is the Holy Spirit who reveals “the dearest freshness deep down things.” This of course entails faith, the eyes of faith.

Educational Implications

What then might be the implications of this mission to renew culture and its values in the face of a crisis of values?

Allow me to respond with a brief personal view of education towards cultural renewal in the light of our faith.

A vision of education as an evangelizing instrument in the renewal of culture is necessary. Without a vision, education would be myopic. We might recall a statement from the Old Testament that without a vision, a people will perish. I believe such of vision of education should include the following major dimensions:

• The work of education is a vocation and a mission;
• This vocation is to draw out from the human person his / her innate vocation to love in truth.
• Beyond simply actual professional training, education must teach perennial values about God, the world, the human person and human community;
• Its aim is to build community out of cultural and economic diversity;
• It assists in the liberation of the human person from the poverty of not having and not knowing to the richness of being more.
• It has to be a vehicle for ultimate meaning and for ultimate truth.

With this vision, education would indeed be a hope bearer resonating with the spirit of that valiant woman of Australia, Blessed Mary MacKillop, who expressed what it means to be a disciple of Christ: “Wherever we are, whoever we are, whatever we do, we are called to relieve suffering and bring hope.”


Deep down, the modern heart wants to hear the “good news.” Is this not the fundamental meaning of the Gospel, the evangelium?

Evangelization is after all the mission of announcing the Good News.

In sum, in its task of evangelization, Education has to announce and communicate the Good News, not words or ideas, not mere knowledgew or skills, not laws or structures, certainly not causes or ideologies.

The Good News is a Person who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life – the sum of all human values, a Person beyond all persons, totally extraordinary in the way he lived, died, and rose from the dead. He has a face. He has a name, Jesus of Nazareth.

He is the one about whom Augustine, that once great pagan sinner and philosopher and later the magnificent African truth-searcher, theologian, and profoundly holy man would exclaim, “My heart is restless until it rests in You.”

Thank you for your patient listening and endurance.

+Orlando B. Quevedo, O.M.I.
Archbishop of Cotabato, Philippines
Secretary General, Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences
Melbourne Catholic Education Week
March 16, 2010

Monday, March 15, 2010

Today's Culture and Consecrated Life


Culture is a pervasive reality. It impacts all dimensions of life, social, economic, political, and religious. We are born into it, we grow and work in it, we live and die in it. We cannot escape it. There is no human reality that is culture-free.

Born into a culture and formed in it, we are influenced by various other cultures for better or for worse. As a human-divine institution the Church both influences and is also influenced by peoples and their cultures. With its own Gospel culture the Church interplays dynamically with the culture of a people in whose midst it is deeply inserted.

The call to consecrated life, formation in consecrated life, the living of the evangelical counsels, community life, spirituality and mission are all impacted by culture. For this reason the present seminar is important and necessary.

Looking at the topics to be discussed, it would seem best for me to provide a description of today’s culture, from which the various speakers could start. Surely there will be some overlapping but there is some benefit from a certain degree of repetition.

What is “Today’s Culture”?

In this presentation the analogical term, “culture” is used to mean generally a “a way of life” or a set of values, attitudes, beliefs, customs and practices that are shared by a group and distinguishes it from another. Culture is transmitted from one generation to another through language, rituals, institutions (e.g., family, schools), laws, art, and tools of social communication. It can refer, among other things, to a certain social group (e.g., the culture of the poor, of the elite), nationality or race (Thai culture, Indian culture, Chinese culture), ethnic group (dalit culture, adivasi culture, the culture of the dominant group), or age group (youth culture). In fact arguably there is a certain culture of consecrated life based on values, beliefs, and practices commonly held.

Other than the question of culture in general, the further question is what is today’s Asian culture?

We are faced with the fact that Asia is characterized by a rich variety, a brilliant mosaic, of ancient cultures and languages, Malay, Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese, Myanmar, etc., each with its own recorded and unrecorded historical roots in time immemorial. Moreover, there have been many inter-cultural developments through trade and commerce, conquest, migration, marriage, mass media, education. While a particular culture may be dominant in one country, it might in fact exhibit such intercultural mix.

In addition today cultural observers speak of an emerging global culture that emanates from the West and is increasingly bearing upon traditional Asian cultures through the process of economic globalization and the rapid advances of technology and science.

When speaking of today’s Asian culture, we take all these observations into account. They speak of cultural heterogeneity in Asia.

Positive Characteristics of “Asian” Culture

Given the rich kaleidoscope of Asian cultures, can we speak of an Asian culture? At the macro-level it is possible to observe commonalities which one could label as Asian cultural values. Reflecting deeply through the years on Asian cultures in its dialogue with the various cultures and peoples, the Church has identified various cultural characteristics generally common to Asians.

In 1998 at the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for Asia, the Asian Bishops spoke about such cultural commonalities which Pope John Paul II’s post-synodal exhortation echoes:

The people of Asia take pride in their religious and cultural values, such as love of silence and contemplation, simplicity, harmony, detachment, non-violence, the spirit of hard work, discipline, frugal living, the thirst for learning and philosophical enquiry. They hold dear the values of respect for life, compassion for all beings, closeness to nature, filial piety towards parents, elders and ancestors, and a highly developed sense of community. In particular they hold the family to be a vital source of strength, a closely knit community with a powerful sense of solidarity. Asian peoples are known for their spirit of religious tolerance and peaceful co-existence….Many people, especially the young, experience a deep thirst for spiritual values….

All of this indicates an innate spiritual insight and moral wisdom in the Asian soul, and it is the core around which a growing sense of “being Asian” is built. This “being Asian” is best discovered and affirmed not in confrontation and opposition, but in the spirit of complementarity and harmony [Pope John Paul II, Ecclesia in Asia, 1998, no. 6].

Cultural Values that Foster Consecrated Life

From the above we perceive cultural values that can promote consecrated life in Asia, from vocation discernment to formation, from the living of evangelical counsels to spirituality and mission.

A sense of the sacred still prevails among Asian peoples. We point to the finger of God in the significant events of our lives. We are not afraid to speak openly of God and his mysterious ways. We go to holy places and shrines, visit churches, mosques, and temples for worship, or for temporary refuge, silence, solitude from the busyness of life. We are deeply appreciative of men and women of God-experience. The sense of the divine is deeply ingrained in our Asian cultural psyche. This is certainly a major reason for the steady increase of vocations in Asia, both to the priestly and religious life.

Perhaps it is our poverty as a continent that promotes frugality, simplicity, hard work, and dependence on God. But certainly such cultural values correspond quite well with the faith and trust in God that the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience express.

The Asian sense of community with its corollary values of complementarity and harmony rather than individualistic assertion and confrontation finds realization in the community life of consecrated persons. Close-knit family relationships, filial piety and respect for elders would likewise promote relationships in the formation process as well as harmony within the religious community. One can cite folklore and stories among Asian peoples of the close relationship between teacher, guro and disciple.

Cultural Values that Hinder Consecrated Life

Yet in Asian cultures we also find values, traditions and practices that are anti-Gospel and hinder the living of consecrated life.

As a preliminary remark, what the Asian Bishops observed some 23 years ago in the 1986 FABC Plenary Assembly in Tokyo on the Laity and reiterated at the 2004 FABC Plenary Assembly in Korea on the Asian family would have to be very seriously considered in relation to consecrated life in Asia. The Asian Bishops observed:

Perhaps the greatest challenge to the Church in Asia is that posed by the Asian family. The Asian family is the cellular receptacle of all of Asia’s problems, poverty, repression, exploitation and degradation, divisions and conflicts. The family is directly affected by the religious, political, economic, social and cultural problems of Asia, by the problems relating to women, health, work, business, education, etc. [For All the Peoples of Asia, 1992, p. 184; Final Document, 2004 FABC Plenary Assembly, The Asian Family towards a Culture of Integral Life,” no. 48].

Close family relationships, we know, are ambivalent. They can be a driving force for great personal sacrifice on behalf of the family, as in the case of migrant workers, many of whom work under contracts and in working conditions that could rightly be called “new slaveries.” But such close-knit family relationships are also often at the root of intermittent violence between families and clans. They are likewise the reason for endemic corruption in Asian societies, where the family comes first before the public good.

In the context of poverty, families can look at consecrated life as a step-up in the social mobility. Vocational motivation can be quite problematic. The concern for family can also become an overwhelming source of tension for a member of the community. In the close-knit Asian family we in the priestly and consecrated life do not seem really able to “leave father, mother, brother or sister” for the new family of faith. We still seem to be primarily attached to our family by blood.

It is also true that Asia is characterized by the great social and economic distances between the rich and the great majority of the people who are poor. Those who are called to consecrated life bring with them a culture of the poor and a culture of the rich. Friendships, and perhaps cliques, in consecrated life are often based on ethnic terms and economic class. Surely the tasks of formation and building community would have to take these divergent cultures into consideration.

In many Asian cultures patriarchy as a social attitude that considers men as superior and women as subservient has far reaching attitudinal effects. This is true for social life in general as well as for priestly and religious life. [As I observed at the recent Second Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for Africa last month, patriarchy is probably less general in Asia than in the African continent. But the problem in both continents remains serious]. Formation in consecrated life can react to patriarchy by overemphasizing the opposite behavior. A balanced gender formation can provide a vibrant, healthy and dynamic sense of equality in dignity and complementarity in men and women in consecrated life.

An Emerging Global Culture?

Reflecting on today’s pastoral challenges various church assemblies in Asia have pointed at a present social and cultural phenomenon – the emergence of a global culture. Thus the FABC Plenary Assembly in Korea in 2004 observed:

Of even greater significance, economic globalization is also bringing cultural globalization in its wake. Since the middle of the 20th century Western secularism has been strongly influencing Asian societies. But at no time has the secularizing process, now with a significant post-modern spirit of individualistic sense of freedom, been more rapid and effective in reshaping the value systems of Asian families than in the last two decades of the 20th century. The bearers of this change are economics… and the on-going revolution in mass global communication that has truly made the world a global village [Final Document, no. 21].

What is this cultural phenomenon which we might call a post-modern culture?

It is an off-shoot, even a reaction, to the modern spirit. The modern spirit developed among European intellectuals, like Voltaire, in the 17th and 18th centuries. This was the era of the Enlightenment and scientific revolution. It proclaimed the primacy of human reason and rejected religious faith and authority. It denied divine revelation or “God’s metanarrative”. The philosopher, Rene Descartes, sought absolute certitude through reason immune from faith. Armed with reason and science, Modernism rejected “traditional” religious beliefs. It asserted a “metanarrative of human scientific progress.”

But in the late 19th and early 20th centuries came the philosophies of Karl Marx and Friedrich Nietzsche. They rejected all “metanarratives” as absolutely universal whether that of human reason or that of religious faith. They were skeptical about social and moral norms. Kant’s “Critique of Pure Reason” was really a critique of the claims of objective truth in the Age of Reason. Other philosophers like Martin Heidegger exalted personal subjectivity rather than objectivity.

The emerging global technological culture exhibits the world view of the postmodern spirit. It rejects objective truth and gives primacy to personal subjectivity. It professes incredulity to all metanarratives that claim absolute truth. It believes that truth is of the moment and in time will change. It believes as true only in what the self interprets and constructs, i.e., in personal narratives. It is individualistic. Therefore truth is relative. Hence, pluralism regarding truth is a “dogma” of postmodernism. Someone has called this type of pluralism as an ideology of “whateverism.”

I admit that this is a simplified way, perhaps even simplistic way, of considering the post-modern spirit.

There are indeed many positive things that it has contributed. “It is bringing into Asia a greater awareness of individual dignity, autonomy, and human rights so characteristic of the West. It creates and promotes global solidarity almost instantaneously in times of great disaster. It has made knowledge of the world and of the human person to grow by leaps and bounds. The application and sharing of that knowledge has generally and significantly improved human life” [2004 FABC Plenary Assembly, Final Document, no. 22].

I would also add that the postmodern spirit has highlighted the importance and necessity of personal historicity, personal narratives, and subjective experience, including feelings, in integral human growth towards maturity in Christ. In a course on spiritual direction that I once attended it was important for me to know the place of feelings in discerning the movement of the Holy Spirit in my own life.

Impact of Postmodern Culture on Values

It has been observed that the emerging global culture is uprooting families from their traditional cultures. Neo-liberalism, materialism, secularism, consumerism are being brought into the sanctuaries of homes even in the grassroots through local TV and radio programs “that ape the media programs served by the West whose values and portrayal of family and life gradually become normative for viewers and listeners” [Ibid.. no. 24].
We can see also see how cinema and the lives and loves of the rich and famous add to the trivialization and subsequently the rejection of values once held sacred regarding love, marriage, family and permanent commitments.

Tools of social communication that are meant to enhance communication become hindrances to unity. They disturb the discipline that harmonious community living requires. They are “wants” that become “needs.” Simplicity and frugality are jeopardized. Silence, solitude and the sense of the sacred are disturbed by the ubiquity of instruments of social communication.

The emerging global culture is likewise creating a new kind of poor, those who, in the language of Pope John Paul II, “who do not know” – the poverty of knowledge, of technological knowledge and of access to that knowledge. Poor countries and poor families are further marginalized by this new form of poverty.


Such is presently the post-modern world into which Asia is entering at a rapid pace. It has been developing for more than a century. It is materialist, secularist, individualistic, and relativist. It disdains authoritative religious and moral norms. What is necessary is not absolute moral or doctrinal truth. Truth is that which people believe in as rooted in subjective experience.

A religious thinker (I don’t’ remember who) has said that we live chronologically in a postmodern world, but as Catholics we are not postmodern in the pejorative sense described above. We do believe in God’s metanarrative, in absolute truths, in objective truth learned by reason and faith, in the “traditional” values of marriage, family and permanent commitments.

This brings us to the reminder that Jesus gave at the Last Supper. We are in this world but we are not of this world.

+Orlando B. Quevedo, O.M.I.
Archbishop of Cotabato, Philippines
FABC-OCL Seminar, Hua Hin, Thailand
November 17, 2009