“I was Homeless and You Took Me In” (Matthew 25:35)
A Pastoral Statement on the Homeless
Pope John Paul II has called the attention of governments and of peoples to the plight of the homeless in his Lenten message for this year (l997). He reminds us that “the right to housing belongs not only to the individual as such, but also to the family made up of several individuals.” He stresses that “the family, as the basic cell of society, has a full right to housing adequate to its needs, so that it can develop a genuine domestic communion.” (L’Osservatore Romano, English Edition, N. 6; 5 February 1997, p.1).
This message of the Pontiff comes at a very opportune time for us here in the Philippines. It directs our attention to Christ-like solidarity with a large section of the poor in our country as we prepare for the Great Jubilee. In our country, millions of people have no home to call their own, and thousands of shanties have been demolished, while many more are being threatened with the same gloomy prospect in the near future. These demolitions have caused untold anguish and suffering to the people affected. Especially sad has been the effect of such demolitions on women and children.
Some demolitions have been done to carry out court orders or to remove dwellings from danger zones. Others have been done for cosmetic purposes, to remove or hide ugly sights from the eyes of foreign visitors. Still others are carried out to make way for recreational facilities for the rich. Most are done in the name of development, which however often turns out to be soulless.
The World Conference on Human Settlements, Habitat II, held in Istanbul in June, 1996 focused humanity’s attention on the need to seek an ever better harmony of development and economic progress with solidarity and concern for the less fortunate. And the Pope, as though speaking directly to our Philippine situation says, “It is not right for anyone–still less for public authorities responsible for the common good–to disregard the tragic situation of so many individuals and entire families forced to live on the street or to be content with inhospitable, makeshift shelters.” He adds, “Ensuring a suitable habitat for everyone is demanded by the respect owed to every human being and, therefore, is a measure of civilization and the condition for a peaceful, fraternal society.” (Pope John Paul II’s Angelus address on June l6, 1996, L’Osservatore Romano, English Edition, N. 25; 19 June 1996, p.1).
In the light of these words of the Pope, we appeal to the government to make sure that evictions are carried out in a truly humane manner and with adequate provision for suitable relocation. Many demolitions conducted supposedly to remove squatters from danger areas only move them to even more dangerous areas, and expose them to the elements. The affected people cry out that they are being transferred from danger zones to death zones.
It must be acknowledged that the government has at times responded with compassion to the situation of affected persons and groups. But often also, it is perceived to act without sufficient sensitivity to the plight of the poor, especially when the demolitions come without sufficient warning, without provision for adequate relocation sites, and with brutality.
We ask the people in government to scrupulously follow the provisions of law in the matter of demolitions. When relocation is necessary, let the evicted be relocated, whenever possible, in places near their sources of livelihood. Or, let the government with the help of private business and other concerned groups make provisions for employment and livelihood of those relocated. The government should also provide basic services in relocation places.
Our plea for the humane treatment and humane relocation of those evicted does not signify disregard for the property rights of others. We are aware of the unjust encroachment of these property rights by professional squatters and criminal syndicates who set up structures and lease land to others to the prejudice of rightful land owners. Such violators must be dealt with strictly, according to the law. But those who are forced by necessity to build temporary dwellings on government land or on the properties of others should be treated with greater consideration in view of the fact that God made the earth and everything in it for the use of all persons and families, and the right to use takes precedence over the right of private ownership (Laborem Exercens, no. 14, and Acts and Decrees of the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines, par. 301).
Closely connected with the problem of demolitions is the need for adequate housing. We recognize that providing adequate housing for every person and family is not the responsibility only of government but of the whole community. The Church itself has sought to do its share and provide low-cost housing for the poor according to its capability.
We wish to make a call to those who are in a position to supply low-cost housing to do so, or to continue doing so without, however, putting the price of houses beyond the reach of the people they are intended to help. For this reason we also appeal to the consciences of those in government and business to refrain from the giving and taking of bribes and from other corrupt deeds that increase the price of housing for the low-income groups and effectively deprive many of needed housing. Such acts of corruption certainly merit the condemnation of the Lord because they rob the public coffers and oppress the poor.
The task of providing adequate housing for all families is a long process. The poor themselves must take their part responsibly and not alienate, for example, the land or housing given to them. The conflicts spawned by the clashes of interests cannot be remedied by legal solutions alone. Other non-legal solutions which involve consultation and dialogue are also necessary and should be explored. We ask the government to find out and address the causes of homelessness, such as the centralization of business and livelihood opportunities in the cities, and the conversion of agricultural lands for recreational and business purposes. We propose that the government, the Church, poor people, NGO’s helping the homeless, agree to form a study body that will make a thorough analysis of the problems of homelessness, land and land use, eviction and resettlement, and recommend concrete solutions. The chairperson of this body should be acceptable to the government, the Church, the poor people affected, and the NGO’s.
We thank in the name of the Lord all those who have truly made efforts to help their homeless brothers and sisters, and we encourage them to continue their noble and praiseworthy work. Theirs will be the reward of the Lord, who will say to them, “Come, O blessed of my Father, for I was homeless and you took me in” (cf. Mt. 25:34-35).
For the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines:
+OSCAR V. CRUZ, D.D.
Archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan
10 July 1997
The Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines
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“I was Homeless and You Took Me In”