Monday, April 25, 2011

Commentary : The ‘Pact of the Catacombs’

By Denis Murphy
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Posted date: April 20, 2011

AS VATICAN Council II drew to a close in 1965, 40 bishops met at night in the St. Domitilla Catacombs outside Rome. In that holy place of Christian dead they celebrated the Eucharist and signed a document that expressed their personal commitments as bishops to the ideals of the Council. Later another 500 bishops signed the document. Forty six years later, Google knows about this Pact of the Catacombs. But most Catholics I talked to, including Jesuits and a person working in a religious news agency, knew nothing about it.

The bishops were led by Archbishop Helder Camara of Recife, Brazil, one of the widely respected 20th-century
champions of justice and peace. Cardinal Roger Etchagaray, who later served as honorary president of the Pontifical Council, Justice and Peace, also signed.

The content of the Pact is not as dramatic as its setting in the catacombs. It spells out in some concrete detail how the bishops intended to live Vatican II as bishops.
The bishops promised to live as ordinary people in matters of housing, food and means of transport. They will avoid any appearance of being rich men, especially in matters of dress. They will not own real estate or bank accounts in their own name, but will place everything in the name of the diocese or of charities and social works.
They asked to be addressed simply as Father, and not with titles which signify prestige, such as, Eminence, Excellency or Monsignor.

They will, whenever possible, entrust the financial and material administration of their dioceses to competent lay people. “We wish to become less administrators and more pastors and apostles.” They promised they will not pamper the rich in order to get their donations.

“We will dedicate whatever is necessary of our time, reflection, heart, means etc. to the apostolic and pastoral service of people and groups of workers and of the economically weak and underdeveloped, without prejudice to the other people and groups in the diocese.”

They promised to do their utmost so that “those responsible for government and public services make, and put into practice, laws, structures and social institutions required by justice and charity, equality and the harmonic and holistic development of all men and women, and by this means bring about the advent of another social order, worthy of the sons and daughters of mankind and of God.”

They promised to help poor dioceses around the world and “will demand that the plans of international organizations no longer manufacture proletarian (poor) nations in an ever richer world, but permit the poor to overcome their misery.”

They committed themselves to share their lives with their brothers and sisters in Christ and to re-examine their lives with them. They will try to be more present and welcoming, and to be open to all whatever their religion. The bishops promised to publicize this Pact on returning home and asked for the people’s understanding, collaboration and prayer.

* * *

When I showed the Pact to others, there were different reactions. One man wondered why the document wasn’t more widely discussed over the last 46 years. He thought someone must have blocked the distribution of the Pact. “It was too radical. It would have upset the Church,” he said.

Another man thought that many bishops had tried to observe the Pact. He had noticed a difference.

A woman, a former sister, thought the bishops promised too much. She said they should have just promised to get out of their residences, walk the streets of their dioceses and talk to the ordinary people. Everything else would have followed, she said.

What do readers think of this long hidden document?

The Catacomb Pact against pomp and ceremony in the Church

On November 16, 1965, close to the end of Vatican II, around 40 conciliar Bishops met at the
Catacombs of St. Domitila to sign a semi-secret pact intended to do away with the richness, pomp, and
ceremony in the Catholic Church. The names of the Bishops present are not known.

References to this pact were made here and there in works on the conciliar "Poor Church," under the suggestive title of thePact of the Catacombs. The only place we have found its complete text transcribed is in the Chronicle of Vatican II by Boaventura Kloppenburg, O.F.M. He titled the document Pact of the Servant and Poor Church.

We select the highlighted parts in the original to bring to our readers' attention.

At right is a picture of the frontispiece of volume V of Kloppenburg's Second Vatican Council; at right below, photocopies

of the Portuguese original text. At left below, we present our translation.
We, Bishops meeting at Vatican Council II, being aware of the deficiencies of our life of poverty according to the Gospel, encouraged by one another in this initiative in which each one wants to avoid singularity and presumption [that is to say, each one wants to be anonymous], .... commit ourselves to the following:

1. Regarding housing, foodand means of transportationand everything concerning these things, we will seek to live in accordance with the common average level of our people.

2. We renounce forever wealth and its appearance, especially in clothing (expensive materials and brilliant colors), and insignia of precious metals (such things should, in effect, be evangelical).

3. We will not possess either movable or immovable properties, or bank accounts in our names. If it is necessary to possess some property we will place it under the name of our diocese or other social or charitable works.

4. Whenever it is possible we will confide the financial and material administration of our diocese to a commission of competent laymen conscious of their apostolic role, given that we should be pastors and apostles rather than administrators.

5. We refuse to be called in speech or writing by names or titles that signify grandeur and power (Your Eminence, Your Excellency, Monsignor ...). We prefer to be called by the evangelical name of Father.

6. In our comportment and social relations, we will avoid everything that can appear to confer privileges, priorities, or even a preference whatsoever to the rich and powerful (for example: banquets given or received, special places in religious services) ....

9. Conscious of the demands of justice and charity and their mutual relations, we will seek to transform the works of "beneficence" into social works based on charity and justice to assist all [that is, not just Catholics] in all their exigencies, as a humble servant of the proper public facilities ....

(Boaventura Kloppenburg, "Pact of the Servant and Poor Church," in Concilio Vaticano II, Petropolis: Vozes, 1966 pp. 526-527).

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

President Benigno Aquino III Asked to End the Calvary of the poor

19 April 2011. Women carrying a heavy wooden 30 feet cross led five thousand crowd from Plaza Miranda to Mendiola to ask President Benigno Aquino III to end their calvary as they re-enacted today the passion and death of Jesus Christ. With them were members of Task Force Anti-Eviction (TFAE) including Urban Poor Associates (UPA), Community Organizers Multiversity (COM), and Community Organization of the Philippine Enterprise Foundation (COPE).

Photo Slide-show:

This Lenten season marked the 25th year of Kalbaryo ng Maralitang Tagalungsod. “Kalbaryo” shows that the sufferings and death of Jesus are repeated in the sufferings of the poor, and his resurrection is repeated in the efforts of the poor to free themselves from the scourge of poverty.




(Videos of the Calvary were also posted on Maypaki's blog. Just click here.)

Felomina Cinco, president of Nagkakaisang Mamamayan ng Legarda said, “25 years of Kalbaryo we are still poor. We are still threatened with demolitions. We are still victims of injustices. We are still struggling to get the support of the government to give us land security.”

“We carry this huge cross even if it pains us because it is nothing compared to our day to day sufferings and nothing compared to the thought of losing our homes. This suffering is what we want the president to see because we believe he has the power to change our lives and so that he will realize that this is the time to act and solve the issues of the poor. ”

This year’s theme “Homes free from demolitions and resilient to disasters with secure livelihood and sustainable future,” reflects UPA’s 2009 study that every hour two urban poor families lost their homes and in a week 277 families were evicted from their community. In the same year, thousands of urban poor lost their homes due to typhoon Ondoy. Recently a series of fires broke out in urban poor areas.

TFAE said the government is just finding more and more ways to evict people or drive them away from the city, including the clean up of Manila Bay which will displace 129, 606 families. But the spirit of the urban poor never wavers because they know that the president just like a mother will play a big role to provide them with decent housing and a sustainable future.

Around 10 AM the group had their contemporary prayer, children performed manong pawikan, and the highlight was the reading of Kalatas which contains the results of the technical working group created by the president to study the concerns and proposals of the urban poor.

Written in the Kalatas are urban poor issues with specific solutions like the revocation of Executive Order 854 in Lupang Arenda; Building of Medium Rise Buildings to house informal settlers in Navotas Fishport; Implementation of a proposed development plan in Baseco; and implementation of the housing design by Palafox Architects in 5 esteros in Manila.

In the Kalatas the group asked the President to continue the moratorium on evictions and to issue an Executive Order about the covenant he signed during the campaign period on March 6, 2010 and the promises he gave in a meeting with urban poor and housing rights group last December 23, 2010.

In parting Jose Morales, President of Ugnayang Lakas ng Apektadong Pamilya (ULAP) said, “We utter everything through our prayer. All together we kneel and pause for a 2 minutes silence for our personal requests to the Lord. But all of us only want two things: a happy family and a place free of demolitions.”

Kalbaryo as a tradition has united the urban and rural poor in seeking to build a society of justice and prosperity for all. Anti-poor policies and strategies are still in existence, hence the continuous creation of slums in urban areas. If no serious action is taken, such tragedy will mean the poorest are getting poorer. The urban poor want a stop to government unjust actions. The Kalbaryo is a gentle way of reminding us of our obligations to our brothers and sisters. -30-

Kalatas (click image below to enlarge):

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

MEDIA ADVISORY: Kalbaryo ng Maralitang Taga-Lungsod 2011

Attention: News Editor, News Desk, Reporters and Photojournalists

This Lenten season will mark the 25th year of Kalbaryo ng Maralitang Tagalungsod on April 19, Holy Tuesday with the theme “Homes free from demolitions and resilient to disasters with secure livelihood and sustainable future.”

Some 5000 or more urban poor people and others from all over Metro Manila are expected to gather at Plaza Miranda beginning at 8:00 AM.

Around 9:00 AM, the urban poor will start the march from Plaza Miranda to Mendiola This will be led by 50 women carrying a 30 feet cross as women carry the biggest burden in times of eviction. The procession will have a trail of crowd following the seven men wearing Christ mask and carrying small crosses that symbolize the Passion of Christ, but each corresponds to the issues of the poor, in particular their housing rights.

There will be a program of contemporary prayer, children performances and the reading of Kalatas which contains the results of the technical working group created by President Benigno Aquino III to study the concerns and proposals of the urban poor.

“Kalbaryo” shows that the sufferings and death of Jesus on his journey to Calvary are repeated in the sufferings of the poor, and his resurrection is repeated in the efforts of the poor to free themselves from poverty.

Urban Poor say, “We will be bringing clocks to signify that this is the time ‘Oras na!’ that the government must act on the calvary of the poor.”

Photo ops: During the procession, urban poor women will carry a cross measuring 30 feet. The Via Crucis, Children’s performances, and the big crowd bringing placards and clocks.

Date: April 19, 2011 (HOLY TUESDAY)

Time: 8:30 to 11:00 AM

Venue: Plaza Miranda to Mendiola

Please Cover.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Commentary : It’s up to the President

By Denis Murphy
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Posted date: April 04, 2011

“THE BEST laid plans of mice and men often go astray,” wrote the Scottish poet Robert Burns. He had spent the afternoon plowing his fields and by accident had destroyed the home of a small mouse and its family. He watched them flee in terror. In the poem he shows compassion for the poor mice who must now spend their winter in the cold, instead of in the warm underground home the mouse had planned for them. With just a few small changes the poem can be understood to be about poor people evicted from their homes and about all poor people and their plans.

A plan was made last Dec. 23 by the powerful (including President Aquino and his Cabinet members) and the weak (the urban poor and their allies) to bring together the best minds in the country, in order to solve one of its main problems, namely, the increasing number and pauperization of our urban poor people. By mid-March the plan was slowly unraveling.

The plan had started with a moratorium on all evictions declared by the President, in order to give time for the parties to the agreement to study the strengths and weaknesses of several land and housing proposals of the poor. The results would be discussed by a panel of experts appointed by the President from government, civil society (such as Mapua Institute of Technology), the Church, independent experts (architect Felino “Jun” Palafox, Dr. Esteban Godilano and Mary Racelis) and urban poor leaders. The panel would recommend to the President the actions they thought he should take on the proposals.

In brief, the poor asked that the families living on Manila esteros, Lupang Arenda, R-10 Road, Manggahan Floodway, Laguna Lake, Navotas Fishport, Baseco and Parola be allowed to stay where they are and that the communities be upgraded and the people be housed in a decent fashion. The plan would benefit 280,000 poor families who are living in these areas, well over one million men, women and children. The plan harms no one.

Why is the plan not working? There is more than enough guilt to go around. The failure of the appointed committee to play a key role is one reason. The committee never met. The members were never notified of their appointments. Perhaps, due to the absence of this prestigious body, agency heads and others didn’t come to meetings when invited. The best minds never met together and never had a chance to cut to the heart of the problems faced.

Also as often happens in governments and other bodies the people in charge are reluctant to give up old ways of doing things, even when these ways have proved ineffective. They are guilty of what can be called “intellectual laziness.” Albert Einstein wrote, “the greatest inconvenience of peoples and nations is the laziness with which they attempt to find the solutions to their problems.”

A good example of this laziness at work can be seen in the government’s ways of relocating evicted families to far distant sites, in the case of Calauan, Laguna, up to 100 kilometers away. There are no jobs, so regularly 30-40 percent of the families return to the city and to slum areas. Also the government never recovers the money spent on these distant housing efforts, because the people don’t want to be there, don’t have much money and don’t care to use the little money they have to amortize the lots and houses they received. Billions of pesos have been lost. The government cannot create thousands of jobs in wilderness places. By contrast poor families who found a solution through the Community Mortgage Program, a solution they chose, repay government at a rate of over 70 percent. Why does government insist on following its thoughtlessly cruel and fiscally unwise practice of distant relocation? As in so many things Einstein may be right: the great obstacle to development is intellectual laziness. The old ways haven’t worked. Let’s try new ways, the people suggest.

The people themselves are part of the problem. Sometimes they are stubborn; sometimes they are not sure what they want, and they aren’t well organized. The Department of Interior and Local Government which was asked by the President to coordinate the whole work has been caught in a political whirlpool of intrigue and suspicion.
Some people felt that guilt for the program’s seeming failure reached even to the President, because he didn’t appear to back the program with the power of his office.
But then the tide seemed to turn, slowly at first but in a determined way, thanks to the efforts of many inside and outside government who see value in the people’s plans.

Among its first recommendations to the President, the study group (TWG or Technical Working Group) advised the government to give 1,000 families in the Navotas Fishport the land they live on. It recommended that an executive order of a former president be scrapped, paving the way for families along the Manggahan Floodway and in Lupang Arenda to enjoy land tenure security and upgrading. It recommended Baseco be fully developed for the people living there. This is in line with the President’s promise to the poor to upgrade all the lands proclaimed.

More recently the TWG has recommended that buildings designed by Palafox Associates architects be built on certain Manila esteros, provided it is physically possible to do so. Private architects say such construction is very possible. People are optimistic.

It is up to the President. It would be of tremendous significance if President Aquino backed the plans suggested by the poor people, especially since many powerful persons do not want him to support such plans. It might become the norm.
(Denis Murphy works with the Urban Poor Associates. His email address is

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