A Biblical Reflection on the IFI Annual Theme, “Make every effort to do what leads to peace…” Romans 14:19
IFI 115th Proclamation Anniversary
By: Fr. Chris Ablon
The illegal arrest and detention of the Rt. Revd Carlo Morales is already more than 100 days today. As I continually reflect upon our theme taken from the letter of Saint Paul to the Romans chapter 14 verse 19 that says, “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace…” The full text includes, “and mutual edification,” I cannot help but remember the very words of Bishop Carlo when we visited him at the Ozamis city police station the day after his arrest. He told us what happened on that fateful May 11 in the evening saying, “When the arresting officers got hold of Rommel Salinas, they told me that me, my wife and my driver can already leave. But since I learned that Rommel is an NDFP consultant to the peace talks and I am aware of my Church’s strong support for the peace process, and the fact that he was arrested while in my church car, I presented to stay with him until he is safe. I felt that he was my responsibility. It never occurred to me that I would be imprisoned for doing that.”
What a praiseworthy act. What must have been the reasons why Bishop Carlo was able to reach that decision? Rebecca Lawson of the Promotion of Church People’s Response (PCPR) in her reflection said that at that very moment Bp. Morales was confronted to make a decision. Either to secure himself and his wife and driver or to secure the very life of Rommel who at that moment was in clear and present danger. Had he decided to choose the easy way, Rommel might have become a victim of torture. Had Bishop Carlo chose his own safety, Rommel could have been a victim of extra-judicial killing. But Bishop Morales did not walk away when he was told by that military that he was free to leave. As a result, Rommel’s life was saved. As a consequence of saving Rommel’s life, Bishop was jailed with him, facing the ridiculous charge of illegal possession of explosives.
I agree. This act is reflective of a true disciple of Christ. Matthew 16:24 says, Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me’. I strongly feel that at that moment of decision Bishop Carlo chose to deny himself. In fact, it seemed that it never occurred to him that he was in danger. He only felt that Rommel was in eminent danger and that he needs to be there to save him. In so doing he truly carried his cross: the illegal arrest and detention. He has been carrying it for more than three months now. But one thing for sure, he has truly followed Christ.
Such example of Bishop Carlo is a very good inspiration for all of us as we reflect upon our theme, “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace…” found in the letter of Paul to the Romans chapter 14 verse 19. The full text contains, “and mutual edification.” It is very clear that one strong factor for his decision to stay with Rommel until he is safe is his evident conscious awareness of the peace talks between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) that was still vibrant at that time and to the IFI’s strong support to the peace process which was manifested in his words, “But since I learned that Rommel is an NDFP consultant to the peace talks and aware of my Church’s strong support for the peace process, and the fact that he was arrested while in my church car, I presented to stay with him until he is safe.”
The peace ministry of the IFI is undeniable. The IFI engagement in the GRP-NDFP peace process is already a part of our history as a Church. A subtitle in page 48 of our book Incarnating Our Heritage, Consolidating Our Faithful, Strengthening Our Response, says “Justice and Peace as Part of the Revolutionary Heritage”. In that book, we also learn that as early as 1991 after the failure of the very first attempt of the GRP-NDFP peace talks during the time of President Cory Aquino, the Supreme Council of Bishops issued a letter to President Aquino and to the NDFP to renew the peace negotiations. When the peace negotiations resumed in 1998 under the Ramos administration, the IFI and the NCCP jointly constituted the third-party depository of documents for the peace negotiations. The IFI was represented by OM Alberto Ramento and the NCCP was represented by another IFI bishop Rt. Revd Roman B. Tiples. The IFI ministry on the release of the prisoners of war already began in 1997 and OM Ramento, OM Millamena, Bishop Tiples, Bishop Calang actively worked on it. This includes the release of a Brigadier General of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. One of the most celebrated release was that of AFP Major Noel Buan. In the year 2000, OM Tomas Millamena went to Netherlands to appeal to the NDFP for his release. On April 06, 2001 OM Millamena with some clergy and staff of the central office joined several other peace advocates to welcome the release of Major Buan in Mansalay, Oriental Mindoro. Two days later, April 08, 2001 OM Millamena also took the lead in welcoming the NDFP peace panel from Europe. In the same month, he begun as independent observer to the peace talks in Oslo, Norway.
At present, we witness the continuing peace ministry of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente from the National level down to the diocesan levels throughout Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. We find the IFI men and women alongside other sectors in society shouting in the streets, “Resume Peace Talks Now! Address the Roots of the Armed Conflict! Continue Peace Talks Towards a Just and Lasting Peace!” We see our bishops, priests, deacons and lay actively working with other churches in the Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform (PEPP) and establishing regional ecumenical formations to advocate for peace. The Right Revd Felixberto L. Calang of the Diocese of Cagayan de Oro attended the third round of the formal peace talks in Norway and the fourth round in Rome as an independent observer. Consequently, our present Obispo Maximo XIII His Grace Rhee M. Timbang is one of bishops who are instrumental of the releases of Prisoners of War in the Caraga region. In this endeavor he engaged many times with the then Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, our President. Our Churches led by our bishops, priests and sectoral leaders are equally engaged in the advocacy for peace.
It is but fitting therefore that year 2017 is declared by our Church as “The Year Of Peace”. Thus, we adopted the theme, “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace…” found in the letter of Paul to the Romans chapter 14 verse 19. The full text contains, “and mutual edification.”
Interestingly, in Romans chapter 14 the Christians in the church in Rome are apparently dealing with the differences in practices brought about by the fact that the membership is a mixture of Jewish and Gentile descent. Among many differences, two are specified: On food and days of obligation. There are those who believed they may eat all kinds of foods while others believe that some foods are unclean and should not be eaten. Also, there are those who believed that some days are holier than others while some believe that all days are equally holy. Debate erupted inside the church.
In his letter, Paul admonished them not because they have differences. Having differences was not the issue. He admonished them because they despised each other because of their differences. He admonished them to stop throwing judgement to each other’s camp. He encouraged them to accept each other without judgement. Instead of despising each other, and build each other up! Because after all, “…the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the holy spirit” (v17). Moreover, Paul invites them to care more about the greater things that binds them together as one. He reminds them that Jesus is the Lord of all. As written in verses 8-9 “If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living”. And also in verse 11, “For it is written, ‘As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.” In the Lord Jesus, we are one. And it is very appropriate that Paul in a way, summarized his message to the Church in Rome by saying, “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and mutual edification.”
3. MAIN THESIS
Today, the GRP-NDFP peace talk is facing with a huge challenge. After the cancelled round 5 meeting in Oslo last August of this year, the peace talk has been stalled. There are reasons to be concerned that the “gains of the past four formal talks and numerous back-channel negotiations – from steps forward in the Comprehensive Agreement for Social and Economic Reforms (CASER) to a bilateral ceasefire and the reinstituting of the Joint Monitoring Committee (JMC) – would go to waste with the present atmosphere” as expressed by the 6th Ecumenical Church Leaders Summit on Peace last August 8-10, 2017, especially with Martial law being implemented in Mindanao, with the all-out war policy of the US-Duterte Regime and with the aerial bombardment as the emerging state response to threat of terrorism among others.
Today, more than ever, The GRP-NDFP peace talks must be supported to full fruition because it seeks the mutual edification of all Filipino people. We as IFI therefore is once again challenged to invigorate our advocacy for peace. How do we invigorate our peace ministry? Let us be inspired by our theme: “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and mutual edification” – Romans 14:19.
a. “LET US THEREFORE MAKE EVERY EFFORT” – Our approach for peace ministry must be holistic. This means that we must work as one and must do everything for peace. Make every effort means we must utilize all forms and avenues for advocacy. In our Church there is no debate on food, what to eat and not to eat because it seems we will eat anything and everything under the sun. But is there no debate on whether we march the streets or not? On whether we protest or not? While there are those amongst us who say that we should walk the streets and shout our protests, there are those who say that we must only pray. There are those who believe that we must only attend to the business inside our churches. I think the admonition of Paul is perfect in this respect. We must accept one another without judgement. Those who only want to pray must not judge nor despise those who wants to march the streets. On the other hand, those who march the streets must not judge nor despise those who only wish to pray. What is important is when we march, we march for peace. When we pray, we pray for peace. So, whether we march or we pray, we call for peace. More importantly we mean the same peace, a durable and enduring peace, the peace that is based on justice.
Make every effort also means all sectors of the church must be engaged in working for peace. The ordained & the lay shall work hand in hand to support the GRP-NDFP peace talks. And we must also work hand in hand with all like-minded individuals and groups that advocates for peace. We must enjoin ourselves in ecumenical, interfaith and multi-sectoral advocacy efforts for peace.
b. “TO DO WHAT LEADS TO PEACE” – Our attitude for peace ministry must be intentional. This means it must be clear to all of us that peace ministry is our work as a church. It is not consequential. It is not just following the trend. To do what leads to peace means It is a part of our reason for being. The book Incarnating Our Heritage, Consolidating Our Faithful, Strengthening Our Response has affirmed that justice and peace is part of our revolutionary heritage as an IFI. Therefore, it must be well thought of, well studied and well planned. This entails massive educational activities in our churches because only those who truly understand will work untiringly until the work is done. This entails thorough integration with the marginalized sectors of our society because the clearest definition of peace in our times dwells in the hearts and minds of those at the bottom of our society – the most violated, the most oppressed. This entails courageous engagement both with the Government of the Republic of Philippines and the National Democratic Front. Not that we will stay in the middle, for if we must build bridges we must begin from one side and seek to reach the other side. As we engage them, we begin from the side of the people. This entails deeper and wider studies and reflections on the biblical imperatives of peace and the IFI history and faith heritage. So that, authentically as Iglesia Filipina, we can truly be faithful witnesses of God’s love in the world.
c. “AND MUTUAL EDIFICATION” – Our orientation for peace ministry must be inclusive. This means that peace is for everybody without discrimination. We are proud to say that the IFI is celebrating the 20 years of the ministry of women clergy in our Church. And we take pride to say that we have issued a statement accepting the LGBTQ+ in our church. There will never be real peace if it is only for the few. That is why we are conscious that to achieve lasting peace there must be justice. Therefore, the peace that we are trying to pursue must be able to respond to the troubles of the marginalized. We must be able to respond to following questions: What is peace for the Moro people? It is self-determination. What is peace for the Maranao? It is their safe return to Marawi and begin to build up their homes and lives! What is peace to the Lumads? It is self-determination and ancestral domain! What is peace to the farmers? It is land to till and agricultural development! What is peace to the workers? It is decent living wage and job security. What is peace for urban poor? It is decent housing and livelihood. What is peace for the youth? It is free, nationalist & scientific education! What is peace for the small businessmen? It is national industrialization and economic development. What is peace for women & children? It is the end of all forms of violence and exploitation.
This is one reason that we should support the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reform (CASER) in the GRP-NDFP peace talks. Because CASER seeks to address the root cause of the armed conflict which is poverty & injustice brought about by the current semi-feudal and semi-colonial social and economic system. It seeks to dismantle the structural violence and build the edification of all Filipino people.
Mutual edification reminds us of the biblical peace, Shalom – the total well-being of a person. In the social milieu, the total well-being of society as stipulated in the book of prophet Isaiah chapter 65 verese 17 to 25.
17 For I am about to create new heavens
and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered
or come to mind.
18 But be glad and rejoice forever
in what I am creating;
for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy,
and its people as a delight.
19 I will rejoice in Jerusalem,
and delight in my people;
no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it,
or the cry of distress.
20 No more shall there be in it
an infant that lives but a few days,
or an old person who does not live out a lifetime;
for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth,
and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed.
21 They shall build houses and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
22 They shall not build and another inhabit;
they shall not plant and another eat;
for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be,
and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.
23 They shall not labor in vain,
or bear children for calamity;[a]
for they shall be offspring blessed by the LORD—
and their descendants as well.
24 Before they call I will answer,
while they are yet speaking I will hear.
25 The wolf and the lamb shall feed together,
the lion shall eat straw like the ox;
but the serpent—its food shall be dust!
They shall not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain,
says the LORD.
When we say inclusive, it means to take into consideration the “excluded” section of our society. It means when it comes to the issue of peace and the peace process, we do not only listen to the experts and the decorated academicians who graduated from the prestigious universities of the first world countries. It means that we do not only listen to those who have the means and access to the internet and is heard loudly on the Facebook. It means that we intentionally listen to those who are not allowed to talk, and to what they are not allowed to say. It means that we listen to those voices who are loudly shouting in the streets but are not heard. To the cries of the Lumads who have countlessly evacuated. To those Maranaos who are afraid that they will be tagged as Maute or Isis or terrorists. To the parents of Kian and the more than ten thousand killed in the anti-drug campaign of Duterte. And many more.
In conclusion, let me just repeat Romans 14:19, “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace… and mutual edification”. And that this theme challenges us three things:
(1) Our approach for peace ministry must be holistic. This means that we must work as one and must do everything for peace.
(2) Our attitude for peace ministry must be intentional. This means it must be clear to all of us that peace ministry is our work as a church.
(3) Our orientation for peace ministry must be inclusive. This means that peace is for everybody without discrimination.
PRO DEO ET PATRIA! Let us work as one! Let us work for peace! In the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen!