A Dialogue for Peace – Joint Pastoral Letter – Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines


Peace be with you.

Our greeting is a blessing, a prayer, a hope that the Peace of Christ may indeed become a reality for all of us. For today in the Philippines we live in deep conflicts, in all too glaring absence of peace. We greet you also in these words as our solemn affirmation for the need to dialogue for peace.

We, pastors and flock, have the sacred truth from Christ to preach His peace, to strive to effect His peace, in the concrete world of our day-to-day life. But what does the Peace of Christ mean for the conflictive issues that today threaten to ruin us as a people? What should we be doing as bearers and doers of the Gospel of Christ, as effective agents of His Peace?

Our Mission

Our basic mission as Church is to proclaim in word and deed the good news of salvation in Christ, in season and out of season. And it is most fitting that we remind ourselves of the fact in this Jubilee Year, the 1950th anniversary of our Lord’s redeeming death and resurrection. In the fulfillment of our mission, we need no reminder of the truth that Christ, as Vatican II puts it, “gave His Church no proper mission in the political, economic or social order” (GS no. 42) and hence it cannot and should not be “identified with any political community nor bound by ties to any political system” but is “the sign and the safeguard of the transcendental dimension of the human person” (GS no. 70).

The purpose Christ has set before His Church is a religious one. But “out of this religious mission itself come a function, a light, and an energy which can serve to structure and consolidate the human community according to the divine law” (GS no. 42).

It is this structuring, this consolidating of our society according to the divine law that is our concern here. For it is precisely this aspect of our mission that is at the root of our current problems with government.

Our Present Situation

At our annual conference in Baguio last month, we, your Pastors, took a hard look at our difficulties with government, at the reasons behind them. It is not our intent to detail them all here. But in our reflecting together, we came to the clear conclusion that we should speak our minds out on our present problems, firstly, on the arrest and detention of priests, religious and Church workers in our social action programs, and secondly, on the deeper issues that undergird the action of the military against the Church.

1. Arrests and Detentions

Over the past half year, a number of priests, sisters and lay workers have been arrested or put on an arrest list on charges of rebellion and subversion. We make no judgment whether these Church people are indeed guilty or innocent of the charges against them. But this much we can say:

a) We have in the recent past rejected violence as an effective human and Christian solution to the problem of communities and nations. We still do. Criminal acts can in no way be justified as the way to liberation. If these priests, religious and lay workers are guilty of these and similar criminal acts of which they are accused, let them suffer the consequences of their acts. We do not exempt them from the ordinary demands of law merely because they work for the Church.

b) Individual and group of Bishops have repeatedly called the attention of the proper civil and military authorities on instances of arrest and detention with disregard for due process. We ask therefore, that, in the case of arrest and detention of these church’s personnel as in any other, strict adherence to due process be fully observed. Let them be charged and tried in open court, not declared guilty, treated as guilty, from mere suspicion.

c) We also ask that all their rights, human and civil, be respected at all times; that they should not be tortured or maltreated while under detention.

d) And finally, we ask for an immediate review of the present legal definition of subversion, and more importantly, once a reasonable understanding is arrived at, a consistent and strict implementation be followed.

2. The Deeper Issues

Important as it may be, this issue of arrest and detention is merely one of the many symptoms of deeper issues that touch closely both government and Church. These are the issues of poverty and development, and the issue of dissent from unjust laws and from the policies and practices of government.

a) Poverty

Poverty is the economic condition of life in which the vast majority of our people live. Notwithstanding attempts at alleviation, it continues to grow more deeply. The structures built into the social system are at the root of this recalcitrance to change for the better.

The government has initiated a massive program of economic development aimed at correcting problems of poverty. But a number of its key developmental priorities, like heavy reliance on multinationals and its favoring of their needs over those of the people; its attention to tourist facilities and service, like lavish film festivals, over the services it can and should provide to rural areas, do not appear to lessen the number of our poor which is growing daily – their destitution more acute.

Economic corruption, both in the area of public administration and in the area of private business, is a major, though not the only, cause of the growing poverty of our people, because such corruption not only deprives the poor of benefits due them, but also heightens their already much battered sense of justice.

b) Dissent

Legitimate dissent is all too easily construed in the government we have as rebellion and treason, as subversion in its conveniently amorphous definition. Yet, there are many aspects of the current political system that invite the dissent of the ordinary citizen. For one, the injustices and the corruption we noted above in the developmental policies and programs of the government; for another, the increasing militarization of the country, either for national security purposes or for enforcing socioeconomic projects which sometimes are questionable and doubtful as to their wisdom.

Insurgency – counter-militarization – is the response of segments of Philippine society that despair of any possibility or righting such wrongs as we have just described. Other groups feel that they cannot obtain the reins of power for themselves save through violence.


Are the issues we speak of above purely of a political nature so that we can say, as the government claims, that they are beyond the scope of the Church’s concerns? Or do they fall under our stated task of structuring and consolidating our society according to the divine law?

The fact is that these issues are not merely and narrowly political problems. They do fall under the religious mission of the Church for the simple reason that there is a way of working for development, there is a way of dissenting from unjust laws, a way that is either in accordance with or, on the contrary, in contravention of the law of the Gospel. It is a Gospel which includes working for justice as a “constitutive element” of our preaching (Cf. Bishops’ Synod of 1971).

We are only too aware that the specifics of action for development and justice according to the Gospel will always be a problem in any Church community and, hence, a matter of continual and constant faith-discernment. But whatever those specifics are, they have to be worked out within the general parameters set by the Gospel of truth and charity; of respect for human dignity and rights; of sharing and concern for the common good (Cf. GS 26, 27, 29, 41); of freedom and responsibility.

Hence, we will have to reprobate any action or program that runs counter to the primary values of the Gospel: the torture and murder of citizens simply because they are of a different political persuasion from that of present or would-be powerholders; the silencing of people, the suppression of media, merely because they speak the truth of our national situation; the increasing use of arms and violence, both by forces on the right and on the left, in the pursuit of their ends of power; and closer to home, the use of Church funds, the manipulation of Church programs, for the political purposes of ideological groups.

Our Response

In the light of the saving mission of the Church, it becomes necessary to address ourselves to all who are concerned with the problems that threaten the very foundations of the peace and security which Christ desires we all share and enjoy. (We are coming out with pastoral guidelines and instructions for our priests, religious and lay workers on the matter.)

1. We call on our people, men and women of faith: You are engaged in the task of perfecting the society in which we live (EN, 73). No society can long stand and succeed without the earnest cooperation of all its members. By the Gospel you have received, you are mandated to obey the laws of the land in so far as these are truly just and conducive to the attainment of peace in the community. In your living of Christ’s Gospel, you correct and transform the secular order. Hence, you must be ever vigilant in safeguarding your God-given rights, not allowing anyone to trample upon them (AWG, 2). for these rights spring from your dignity as human beings and as children of the Father, and they must be the basis of our peace, of our action for peace.

2. We call on our priests and religious: We are to be exemplars in Christian leadership, charity and service, drawing strength and direction from the life, word and service of the Lord, as we give expression to our own social apostolate.

In our service to our people, in the social apostolate, especially, we must take into careful consideration the social teachings of the Church. If there is anything clear in their thrust, it is that every pastoral effort must lead people to Christ; every pastoral action must be truly ecclesial, stemming from faith, building up the community of believers.

We take a clear “preferential option” for the poor, supporting them in their assertion of their common dignity, in their defense of their rights, especially when these are violated by the powerful. But let our action be always in line with the spirit of the Gospel; let it lead to love, not hatred; to forgiveness, not violence.

To this end, we must not allow ourselves to be used, in our action for justice, by political ideologies of any color that, in theory and practice, deny the Transcendent any place in human living, and subordinate human freedom and dignity to their all-consuming drive for power.

And finally, let us seriously take to heart what Pope John Paul II said at Puebla, Mexico, in 1979 and repeated to us in Manila in 1981: “You are priests and religious; you are not social or political leaders or officials of temporal power… Let us not be under the illusion that we are serving the Gospel if we dilute our charism through an exaggerated interest in the wide field of temporal problems.”

3. We call on our government officials and the military: You are the avowed guardians of peace and order, the enforcers of law and justice. In the interest of the people, whom we must all serve, it is of the utmost importance that you seek out, in all possible objectivity, the root causes of the social disturbances of our time and apply genuine remedies to them, not mere promises and palliatives of empty propaganda.

In so complex a society like ours, dissent, when legitimate, should be treated as a healthy indicator of the people’s commitment to the grand task of nation-building and, therefore, should not be readily interpreted as subversion on the part of those who act according to their constitutional freedom. In the spirit of brotherhood, we ask you to accept a certain pluralism of positions in the way our people strive for justice according to their faith. If real public opinion is to be formed only in a free market of ideas, the process cannot take place adequately without the government’s respect, in its restrained use of power and authority, for freedom of speech and the means of communication.

In the interest of peace and justice, of true prosperity, let us work together for full human development, which in the words of Pope Paul VI, “in order to be authentic, must be complete and integral” and must “promote the good of every man and of the whole man” (Populorum Progressio, no. 14).

4. Finally, we wish to address a reminder to ourselves, Bishops of the Church: We reiterate our constant need for conversion, re-echoing the maternal concern of Our Lady of Fatima for us all, her children – lay people, religious, priests and bishops. We renew our commitment to put ourselves more intensely at the service of our people. And we do so in the strong faith that out of the darkness of conflict, we will, with God’s help, generate the light that will guide us in our tasks for peace. Through word and example, may we lead our people along the path of peace to the Lord of Peace.

In the tender compassion of our God. The dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace. (Lk. 1, 78-79)

To all of you, we impart our pastoral blessing.


For the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines:



Archbishop of Davao


February 20, 1983

First Sunday of Lent




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A Dialogue for Peace – Joint Pastoral Letter – Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines