The Poor: Vision of the Philippine Church

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Fr. James H. Kroeger, MM

THE Church in the Philippines seriously attempted to take the wisdom of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) and integrate it into the vision and life of the local Church through the month-long Second Plenary Council of the Philippines (1991). The PCP-II document contains pivotal insights on what it means to be “the Church of the Poor,” insights as relevant today as when they were first spoken.

PCP-II noted: “In the Philippines today, God calls us most urgently to serve the poor and the needy. The poverty of at least half of the population is a clear sign that sin has penetrated our social structures. Poverty in the sense of destitution is not God’s will for anyone” (122).

PCP-II struggled to define what “Church of the Poor” means. “The ‘Church of the Poor’ is one whose members and leaders have a special love for the poor…. It is not an exclusive or excluding love in such a way that there is no room in a Christian’s heart for those who are not poor. For always, the Christian must love all persons…. Christ was able to love well-to-do people like Zaccheus and the family of Martha, Mary and Lazarus” (126-127).

“The ‘Church of the Poor’ is one where, at the very least, the poor are not discriminated against because of their poverty, and they will not be deprived of their ‘right to receive in abundance the help of the spiritual goods of the Church, especially that of the Word of God and the sacraments from the pastors’” (128).

The comprehensive document of PCP-II observes: “The ‘Church of the Poor’ is one that will be in solidarity with the poor. It will collaborate with the poor themselves and with others to lift up the poor from their poverty” (130).

As the Second Vatican Council taught: “The Church encompasses with her love all those who are afflicted by human misery and she recognizes in those who are poor and who suffer the image of her poor and suffering founder. She does all in her power to relieve their need and in them she strives to serve Christ” (LG 8).

“The ‘Church of the Poor’ means, in the words of Pope John Paul II, that: ‘Before today’s forms of exploitation of the poor, the Church cannot remain silent. She also reminds the rich of their precise duties. Strong with the Word of God, she condemns the many injustices which unfortunately, even today, are committed to the detriment of the poor’” (131).

“Pastors and members of the Church will courageously defend and vindicate the rights of the poor and the oppressed, even when doing so will mean alienation or persecution from the rich and powerful” (131).

Continuing the insightful catechesis of PCP-II, we read: “The ‘Church of the Poor’ will also mean that the Church will not only evangelize the poor, but that the poor in the Church will themselves become evangelizers. Pastors and leaders will learn to be with, work with, and learn from the poor. A ‘Church of the Poor’ will not only render preferential service to the poor but will practice preferential reliance on the poor in the work of evangelization” (132).
“The ‘Church of the Poor’ is one where the entire community of disciples … will have such a love of preference for the poor as to orient and tilt the center of gravity of the entire community in favor of the needy” (134).

“When the Church in the Philippines becomes truly this Church of the Poor, the poor will feel at home in her, and will participate actively, as equal to others, in her life and mission. The Church will then become truly a communion, a sign and instrument, for the unity of the whole Filipino nation” (136).

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