Carvajal: Sense and sensitivity

Break Point

In the first Sunday of Advent’s gospel, we hear Jesus telling his disciples to be watchful and alert. At the Mass I attended, the officiating priest took off on the subject from his scary experience of bumping into a tricycle with “…my Land Cruiser as I failed to be watchful. Fortunately, nobody was seriously hurt and ‘my Land Cruiser’ suffered no serious damage.”

It was a repetitive but otherwise on-point sermon. But I felt myself cringing every time he said “my Land Cruiser” instead of just “my car.” A Land Cruiser is a rich man’s car that no simple priest should boast owning when majority of his parishioners are struggling financially.

He repeated referring to “my Land Cruiser” so many times it looked to me like he wanted to make sure the audience knew he owned one. Anyway, the Land Cruiser did not sharpen his sermon. Instead it dulled its edges by eliciting the question how the Catholic Church could be of, for, and with the poor when this priest (and how many others?) drive a luxury car.

On a similar vein, the following day a friend requested me to pass on the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines’ (CBCP) statement on the bombing of a Eucharistic Celebration at the Mindanao State University. It killed four people and injured more than two scores of others. It was definitely by any standard a dastardly act that must be condemned by any morally upright person.

CBCP, therefore, did well to condemn the bombing. But I did not pass the statement on as requested because I had misgivings on the way the statement referred to the victims. CBCP specifically identified them as Christians, extolling them as martyrs of the faith. Why can’t the victims be just human beings who do not deserve to die in the hands of others? Why refer to them as Christians and risk being accused of implying the perpetrators are of another faith?

Killing humans, is always wrong. But it should be enough that the victims are human beings for the crime to be condemned by decent society. I thought specifying the victims as Christians (although true and correct) was rather insensitive of the bishops in a country where the relationship between Christians and Muslims still leaves so much to be desired.

From the two incidents, I gather that the Church (of priests and bishops) is losing its sensitivity to issues that divide Filipinos into, among others, rich and poor, Muslims and Christians. In an earlier column I called for us humans to find common ground for peace and friendship in the mere fact we are humans. We cannot afford to highlight the division between rich clergy and poor parishioners, between Christians and Muslims, between mainstream society and indigenous communities on the former’s edges.

What words imply matters. There was no need to specify the car as Land Cruiser and the victims of the bombing as Christians. A little more sense and sensitivity will help forge us into a truly human community.


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