NEXT to the state (including its essential police and military apparatus) and excluding the anarchic, each-to-his-own corporate sector, the Roman Catholic Church has been the most powerful institution in the Philippines, even arguably in many Christian nations.
The world now faces one of its most serious crises since World War 2, with at least half a million souls likely to be infected by the coronavirus diseases 2019 (Covid-19) and 17,000 so far dying from its horrible symptoms. Millions of Filipinos will be going hungry because of the necessary house-per-house quarantine the government has imposed till mid-April.
Yet this second most powerful institution in the country, the Catholic Church is nowhere to be found. A recent photo, after the lockdown was imposed, of the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene or Quiapo Church, the epicenter of the Black Nazarene procession attended by at least a million devotees that is the yearly demonstration of the Church’s colossal hold on Filipino consciousness, speaks a thousand words.
The photo shows the massive steel gates of the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene shut, yet still with four poor faithful praying there, begging to enter. The church’s message of that photo: Sarado kami. Bahala na kayo sa buhay niyo.
The church is one of the richest organizations in the country, with its assets, including shares of stocks in the Bank of the Philippine Islands and several other corporations, estimated to amount to P100 billion. Next to our barangay (village) system, it has the largest network in the country, even in the metropolises, of parish priests and religious orders, usually manned by at least one priest and several helpers.
Why has the Church done practically nothing to help out in this epic struggle to defeat the threat of Covid-19 that reminds us of biblical, end-of-days prophesies? The likes of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), those leftist nuns, the Ateneo Jesuits, that nutty “running priest” have always been noisy claiming to “serve the people” by protesting human rights abuses by government.
Where are they now when tens of thousands of human lives are being snuffed out by a disease they are not doing anything to fight?
I posted on my Facebook page five days ago:
“Where is the Church? What are the CBCP, the Jesuits, Dominicans, etc., doing to help the country fight this virus and provide the poor with the food they need since they can’t work? Can’t the Archbishop of Manila sell some of his P20 billion shares in BPI to fund the war versus Covid?”
Most of the 100 comments agreed with my contention that the Church is shamelessly not doing anything much. One comment though pointed me to a link to the CBCP online newsletter that had the headline: “Caritas Manila Provides Covid-19 Safety Kits.” (Caritas is the social action arm of the Manila archdiocese.)
Guess what? That’s nearly fake news. What Caritas is doing is to ask for donations so it can purchase and distribute its “Caritas Ligtas Covid-19 kit” and “Caritas Manna Food Bag,” costing it claims P2,000 and P700. No donation from you Catholics, no kits.
The Catholic Church it seems has been for so long afflicted with this “donation” virus. I received for instance from the Ateneo Alumni Association a text message: “Ateneo asking for donations for Covid-19. Remit donations to BPI Peso Checking Account [redacted].”
What can the Church, its priests and nuns do? A lot. For starters, they can open their vast facilities — as La Salle has done — to house and feed the metropolis’ homeless, who could starve because of the lockdown. They can use their huge funds — target a specific amount, like P500 million — to provide the protective equipment needed by frontline medical staff caring for those infected by Covid-19.
It can prove they are as good human beings as atheists Jack Ma and the Chinese Communist Party by purchasing a million medical masks and distribute these in an orderly way through their parish churches. Each parish could even distribute packed meals to the poorest of their parishioners, who have no income because of the lockdown.
But I’m betting that for the Catholic Church, it would be merely business as usual. It would respond to this horrific Covid-19 pandemic as if it were just another typhoon or flooding and for it to activate its ask-for-donations routine.
The Vatican itself — in the middle of what is now the epicenter of the pandemic, Italy — has in fact sent the message to the Catholic world that Church will do nothing: It was surreal to watch its head, Pope Francis, walking lazily down an empty street in the Vatican, as if wondering where his flock had gone.
Historians have pointed out that it was the Black Death that killed nearly half of Europe’s population in the 14th century, which weakened the near-total hold of the Roman Catholic Church over the population in the many centuries before that. Christians lost their faith in a Deity and in the Church as the Great Bubonic Plague got to kill at least 50 million people in Europe, with the priests exhorting them to repent to be saved — the same exhortation a columnist in this newspaper amazingly gave — or pay for masses for their departed ones to go to heaven. The Church’s behavior at that time laid the ground for the Protestant Reformation, the Europe-wide revolt against the Vatican.
Can you imagine that: It is the atheist Chinese Communist Party which has mounted a massive effort to help its government to save Italy, the home of Catholicism in the world, from being overwhelmed by a plague, while the Pope could offer nothing but to ask his flock to pray the rosary on a specific day and time?