A Pastoral Letter of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines


Justice and Peace!

The Philippines is a developing country and, as such, its national leadership has been harnessing all available resources, among other purposes, to hasten the process of development.  It may happen that, in the rush towards progress, violations of certain human rights are committed.

Such violations run counter to the principles of truth and justice and have a detrimental effect on freedom.

It is in the light of this situation that the Bishops of the Philippines are issuing this Pastoral Letter, for it is their deep conviction that the Church’s mission of preaching the message of salvation must include the mission of giving witness before the world on the need for love and justice.  While this Pastoral Letter is primarily directed to our Christian faithful in the various institutions of our life, we would like to share our vision with all those who are similarly concerned.


The Church exists for one purpose, to continue Christ’s salvific work through the preaching of the message of salvation (GS, 3 ).  This message contains a call to man to turn away from sin to the love of the Father, to universal brotherhood in Christ and a consequent demand for justice in the world.  (Justice in the World, IPS, Vol. 16, 1971, pp. 382-383).

The Church knows that no renewal in Christian life would be true without a corresponding renewal in the area of justice.  For the simple reason that man’s relationship to his neighbour is bound up with his relationship to God, his response to the love of God, saving us through Christ, is shown to be effective in his love for and service to men.  Christian love of neighbour and justice cannot be separated.  For love implies an absolute demand for justice, namely, recognition of the dignity  and rights of one’s neighbour.  Justice attains its inner fulness only in love.  Because every man is the truly visible image of the invisible God and a brother of Christ, the Christian finds in every man God himself and God’s absolute demand for justice and love.”  (Synod, Justice in the World, TPS, Vol. 16, 1971,p. 382.)

Because Christian life and the practice of justice, as understood in the light of Revelation, are one and the same in the context of God’s plan, the Church “has the right, indeed, even the duty, to proclaim justice on the social, national and international level, and to denounce instances of injustice, when the fundamental rights of man and his very salvation demand it.  The Church, indeed, is not alone responsible for justice in the world; however, she has a proper and specific responsibility which is identified with her mission of giving witness before the world of the need for love and justice contained in the Gospel message, a witness to be carried out in  Church institutions themselves and in the lives of Christians.” (JW, TPS, Vol. 16, 1971, p. 383.)

Since love begets justice, the greatest injustice is the refusal of love to God and to our brother.  The foundation of all  justice is the merciful love of God for men in Christ Jesus, who is the center of history and God’s plan (GS 45; LG 42).  Injustice then is the denial of love to God Incarnate (Mt.  24, 31-46 ),  man’s refusal to adore and to obey.  In the same way, injustice is the refusal to love, to serve and to be in fellowship with our brothers.

Justice is authentically Christian when there is a loving conversion of life to the Father, a radical turning away from sin against God and our brother, a sincere openness to love and an acceptance of all men.

If we want to see love and justice in our midst, then we should respect the human person.  This respect for the human person without discrimination of age, sex, social standing, political color, race or nationality, requires the acceptance of the vision of man as the center and master of all creation (GS, 12; PT, 10) because by his origin and destiny he is far superior to all of creation (PT, 11).

As a human person, every man has the right to life and to the means necessary to living it with dignity.  (G, 27; PT, 11 ).  This right, flowing directly and simultaneously from his condition as a human person, is universal, inviolable and inalienable (PT, 9).  To this right is the ineluctable correlative duty of society and individuals.  Without the right to life and to a life worthy of the human person, all the other rights of the human person would be meaningless.  Without respect for human life, justice is inconceivable.

There is however an attempt against human life not only when life of persons is taken (homicide, direct abortion ), but also when, either by action or omission, man’s physical integrity is jeopardized.   Human life, whether our own or others, is a good of which we are merely the adminsitrators and for which we can not arbitrarily dispose of, without violating justice.

It is in the light of respect for human life that we should find the reason why the Church rejects vehemently the road of violence as a solution, the only solution, to contemporary injustices and sufferings.  Rejection of violence does not mean “solidarity with abuses and egoisms, individual and collective, unjust oppressions…  Its whole action aims at bracing the moral forces of individuals and groups, at promoting their education, the elevation of their human and Christian values …  to prepare…  in collaboration and peace…  the desired and necessary social changes.”  (To the Ambassador of Brazil, 14.11.68. O.R. 15.11.68 ).  She knows only too well that the establishment of justice is the most effective way of making violence disappear from our midst.

Neither is a claim for a just cause — defense of the oppressed–sufficient justification to use or advocate “violence and terrorism” as normal means to overthrow the established order, even when that order assumes an open, violent and unjust form of oppression that cannot be overcome or reformed by other means.  (Paul VI, General Audience, 21.10. 70. O.R. 22.10.70).  The more basic reason is stated in Populorum Progressio (n. 31 ):  “We know, however, that a revolutionary uprising — save where there is manifest longstanding tyranny which would do great damage to fundamental personal rights and dangerous harm to the common good of the country–produces new injustices, throws more elements out of balance and brings on new disasters.  A real evil should not be fought against at the cost of greater misery.”

The Church, therefore, because of its evangelical principle of “non-violence” will not accept as even possible a situation where her theological hope would see no other outlet except the destruction of other fellowmen.  For her “the solution to the sad, and even very sad situations,” of our times, is “neither revolutionary reaction nor recourse to violence…  For us, the solution is love.  Not weak and rhetorical love, but love which gives itself…  love which sacrifices itself.”  (Gen. Audience, 21.8.68. O.R. 22.8.68).

For the human person, the communitarian dimension of man is as essential as its individuality.  Man is born, is fulfilled and is saved within a community.  That is why, to live justice is to build the community.

The Christian message requires a love which results in collaboration and solidarity.  “As God did not create man for life in isolation, but for the formation of a social unity, so also it has pleased God to make men holy and save them not merely as individuals without bond or link between them, but by making them into a single people, a people which acknowledges Him in truth and serves Him in holiness.”  (GS, 32).

The Christian should know by Revelation that the true community is the one which is united with the head, Christ, from which flows out through joints and ligaments the vital impulse which supplies the body with energy, ensures its cohesion and produces its harmonious growth.

There is one important term of reference within this community:  the categorical acceptance of the priority of the human person over any other temporal reality. In the ultimate analysis, it is human nature which evaluates results and indicates all the roads to progress.  Social relationships can transform human groupings into a true community only when there is “a mutual respect for the full spiritual dignity of the person.” (GS, 23).

This mutual respect is certainly not merely the avoidance of transgressing the rights of others; it is, above all, the positive obligation of an efficacious love.  Efficacious because it continuously strives to create the proper condition where every man and all men can realize his personal and social vocation (MM, p. 23).

The tendency to join together to attain objectives which are beyond the capacity and means at the disposal of single individuals has given life to a wide range of groups, movements, associations and institutions with economic, cultural, social, sporting, recreational, professional and political ends, both within single national communities and on an international level (MM, 21).  In view of the growing importance of associations, Christians should strive to promote the various forms of associations in order to develop their social responsibility as individuals and to help insure the inviolability of liberty and human dignity which sometimes suffer due to an exaggerated sense of loyalty to the group.

More than ever before, the citizens of the political community should feel equally responsible for the realization of the common good among the various sectors of society (MM, 33).  “The Christian has the duty to take part in the search for developmental models and in the organization and life of political society…  It is for cultural and religious groupings, in the freedom of acceptance which they presume, to develop in the social body, disinterestedly and in their own ways, those ultimate convictions on the nature, origin and end of man and society (OA, 24).

In virtue of these principles of solidarity and its demands, human perfection requires solidarity with the entire humanity.  There is this universal dimension when, within the same country, there is a just equilibrium between works and benefits among the various sectors of production and among the different regions.  In the international order, there is solidarity when “nation meets nation, as brothers and sisters, as children of God” (PP, 43); when “through mutual cooperation, all people should be able to become the principal architects of their own economic and social development;” and when “people, as active and responsible members of human society should be able to cooperate for the attaining of the common good on an equal footing with other peoples.”

The reality of human solidarity, which is a benefit for us, also imposes a duty, both to men of today and to those who will come after (PP, 17).

The Church is fully aware that if she is to be credible in her preaching of justice, she should precede all others in the living example of a just institution, just in her word, in her sacraments and in her pastoral action.  Service to the cause of unity demands before hand signs of unity.

The Christian community finds in the Eucharist a permanent call to realize that unity in justice, in peace and in love.  For the Church the Eucharist is not only a sign of unity; it is also and above all, a source and cause of unity.  It will be the ultimate contradiction therefore to celebrate the Eucharist and remain at the same time unmoved and unconcerned in the midst of injustices and hatred.

The practice of justice should positively integrate all the relationships of man with authority, his liberty with his social responsibility.  Subsidiarity is precisely the norm by which relationship between authority and liberty are regulated.

“Just as it is wrong to withdraw from the individual and commit to the community at large what private enterprise and industry can accomplish, so too, it is an injustice, a grave evil, and a disturbance of right order for a larger and higher organization to arrogate to itself functions which can be performed efficiently by smaller and lower bodies (MM, 53).”  Thus Mater et Magistra describes the principle of subsidiarity.

Accordingly, the State should not take away from the parents the right and duty to educate their children, because such right belongs primarily to the parents.  However, in virtue of the same principle of subsidiarity, it is the obligation of the State to complete the educational work when the efforts of parents and other private entities are not sufficient, provided that the parental will is always considered (GE 3, 6).

One of the fundamental duties of civil authorities is to coordinate social relations in such fashion that the exercise of one man’s rights does not threaten others in the exercise of their own rights nor hinder them in the fulfillment of their duties.  Civil authorities should likewise maintain a careful balance between coordinating and protecting the rights of citizens, on the one hand, and promoting them, on the other.  It should not happen that certain individuals or social groups derive special advantage from the fact that their rights have received preferential treatment.  Nor should it happen that government in seeking to protect these rights, becomes an obstacle to their full expression and free use.

Justice and common good are indissolubly linked; this is so because of the condition of human society.  Common good touches the whole man, the needs both of his body and of his soul.  Hence, viewed in the light of the principle of totality, it includes not only those which are economic in character but also those which promote the spiritual well-being of the citizens.  For this reason, Mater et Magistra says that “the common good of all embraces the sum total of those conditions of social living whereby men are enabled to achieve their own integral perfection more fully and more easily.”  (MM, 65)

Therefore, social order has  a dynamic character:  “it is in constant improvement.  It must be founded on truth, built on justice and animated by love; in freedom it should grow everyday toward a more humane balance.”  (GS, 26)  The dynamism of a society in continuous search for new forms of realizing justice, of practicing liberty and of achieving the common good — all these are therefore also in the divine plan:  “God’s spirit, who with a marvelous providence directs the unfolding of time and renews the face of the earth, is not absent from this development.” (GS, 26)

Material reality, because it affects the concrete human existence, should also be the object of justice.  Man is suddenly becoming aware that by an ill-considered exploitation of nature he risks destroying it and becoming in turn the true victim of this degradation.  Not only is the material environment becoming a permanent menace– pollution and refuse, new illnesses and absolute destructive capacity –but the human framework is no longer under man’s control, thus creating an environment for tomorrow which may well be intolerable.” (A Call to Action:  Apostolic Letter of His Holiness Pope Paul VI, May 14, 1971).

One of the demands of justice is the conservation and construction of our physical environment.  Justice requires that man’s earthly city be truly a habitat worthy of man.  As the center and master of all creation, man is the administrator of the things of the world.  Any neglect or outright misuse of the material things strikes directly against his vocation and threfore is unjust.  Man should urgently be convinced that the world was made for him and for his community.

Earthly goods are meant to promote the total perfection of man.  Consequently, the egoistic appropriation of created goods, of the goods of production by individuals or by any group, is unjust.  Material goods then have a universal destiny, and this is the basis of the right to work and to property.

Work is a badge of liberty and not of slavery.  Every man has a right to work and to human conditions for development .  He is entitled to exercise this profession and live from it for himself and his family.  He has furthermore the right to self-defense, to protest against injustices.  But at the same time he has the obligation to be responsible in his work.  For there can be injustice on the part of the employer as well as on the part of the worker:  the first by exploitation, the second by being irresponsible.  (GS 26, 67, 71; OA, 14, 15, 18).

It is unjust to create conditions which result in unemployment or force the workers to accept any employment at whatever price.

While it is true that man has a natural right to property, it is also true that, by its very nature, private property has a social quality which is based on the law of the common destination of earthly good.  “The right of every man to use material goods for his own sustenance is prior to every other right of economic import and so is prior to the right of property.  Undoubtedly, adds Our Predecessor, the right of property in material goods is also a natural right.  Nevertheless, in the objective order established by God, the right to property should  be so arranged that it is not an obstacle to the satisfaction of the unquestionable need that the goods, which were created by God for all men, should flow equally to all, according to the principle of justice and charity.” (MM, 43)

There is also injustice when some of the major phenomena of our time like urbanization, industrialization and utilization of the biosphere are at the service of only a handful of people.  The injustice is then committed not only against the men of today but also against the men of tomorrow.

Urbanization affects society to a large degree.  While it brings with it technology, planning, and industrialization, at the same time, it causes mass exodus from the countryside, concentration of populations, and serious social disequilibrium.  Far from being a means of development, urbanization is turning out to be simple business.  Frequently it becomes an occasion to exploit the natural anxiety of having a house of one’s own.

Our urban plans do not always take into account the proper human environment which permits family growth.  On the contrary, urban plans are used in a number of occasions to force into the people the means of birth control.  Our urban laws — if justice is to be a reality in this field  — should take into account the vital environment.

Industrialization is another modern phenomenon with ambivalent consequences for society and men.  While new forms of culture are brought about, thereby creating certain conditions which enable man to live a life in accordance with his dignity, at the same time, it brings about also a new and worse slavery and exploitation of men. It is just when industrialization leads to a reasonable degree of economic independence for the country.  Finally, industrialization is just when there is respect for the inalienable rights of the person. (OA, 8).

Real action for justice calls for a change in outlook.  To bring about this change, it is necessary to promote an efficacious education to justice:  the overcoming of individualism, the conversion of the heart, the capacity of criticism and reflection about situations, with regard to the dignity of the person, the sense of universal brotherhood, etc.

This education takes place within the family and other social institutions.  It is important to reactivate the principles of justice that are found in the social teaching of the Church.


part 2


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