IN most, if not all, of his statements and daily engagements, Pope Francis has always unequivocally placed his concern for the poor at the center stage. In his Lenten Message for 2014, for instance, he exhorts the faithful to follow and imitate Jesus “who sought out the poor and sinners as a shepherd lovingly seeks his lost sheep” so that in doing so “we can open up new paths of evangelization and human promotions.”
But even more directly in his first apostolic exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium”, he sees faith in Christ who became poor and who has always been close to the poor and the outcast as “the basis for our concern for the integral development of society’s most neglected members.” He posits that “a mere glance at the Scriptures is enough to make us see how our gracious Father wants to hear the cry of the poor.” Which is why, “each individual Christian and every community is called to be an instrument of God for the liberation and promotion of the poor, and for enabling them to be fully a part of society” which demands that every Christian “be docile and attentive to the cry of the poor and to come to their aid.”
The Episcopal Conference of the Philippines has been along the path for quite some time already. In 1975 it launched a Lenten campaign called “Alay Kapwa” precisely to substantiate all religiosities during Lent with concrete offerings for the poor. The Second Plenary Council of the Philippines (PCP-II) of 1991 has “canonized” preferential option for the poor. And a good number of pastoral letters had been issued in pursuit of the cause of the poor. In their Lenten Message issued two days before Ash Wednesday this year, the bishops exhorted the faithful “to reflect on poverty, particularly the types that contradict God’s Kingdom as well as those other types that promote and establish the Kingdom.”
With this premise, a rather thick shadow surrounds the plight of the poor in this country for ages now. Admittedly, the poorest majority in this land are the farmers whose bigger segment, ironically, still do not own the land they till. Last February 6 a good number of farmers again trooped to the national headquarters of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) for the nth time. Their legitimate cry is for the government and the citizenry to do something for the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program Extension with Reforms (CARPER) which is set to expire on June 30 this year. If nothing is done about it, this program will fold up with still over a million hectares of agricultural land covered by CARP that will not be transferred to legitimate beneficiaries.
Cases such as this makes the cause of the poor not central but, sadly, peripheral.