Paying tribute to our martyrs through love
Christians are obliged during Lent to honor those who have suffered as a result of gross rights violations
Activist priests lead the celebration of Mass on Feb. 24 after a nine-day fast to protest moves in the Philippine Congress to change the country's Constitution. (Photo by Angie de Silva)
The signs of the times that are mirrored in the devaluation of life in the Philippines' so-called war on drugs necessitate action-reflection-action among basic ecclesial communities especially during the Lenten season.
During this season of repentance for Christians, there is a need to really reflect on Jesus' passion and death. He has become a paragon of selflessness and genuine love. He challenges everyone to a supreme sacrifice.
This year's Lenten season opened on Valentine's Day. Aside from being the month of love, February is synonymous to patriotism in the Philippines.
During February 1872, three Filipino priests — Mariano Gomez, Jose Burgos, and Jacinto Zamora — were executed for demanding recognition of the Philippines as a province of Spain.
The three priests demanded equal status for Filipinos and Spaniards, Filipino representation in the Spanish Cortes Generales (parliament), the turning over of parishes to local clergy, and the recognition of human rights.
While the country's National Historical Commission commemorates this most horrible history of persecution, the country's church leaders seem to have already forgotten the contribution of the three priests in advancing freedom.
The sacrifice these three Filipino martyrs made can be a good subject for Lenten reflections. Their deaths manifested a love of country that is so profound. After more than a hundred years since their brutal execution, justice has not been meted out.
What is worse is that persecution continues against church people who identify with the cause of the poor and the oppressed. The most recent example was the brutal killing of Father Marcelino Paez in December after facilitating the release of a political prisoner.
The killing is reminiscent of the assassination of Italian missionary priest Tulio Favali, the beheading of Father Nilo Valerio, the disappearance of Father Rudy Romano, and the death Father Edgar Kangleon at the height of the dictatorship in the 1980s.
During those years, many church people joined the Christians for National Liberation, an underground organization of church people that was inspired by the martyrdom of the Filipino priests a century before.
Many of these Christians opted for the road less trodden by responding to the Gospel demands until they paid a heavy cost of incarceration, and even death.
Unfortunately, these details have already escaped the memory of many Filipino priests, bishops, and nuns these days. Even the recent assassination of Father Paez did not merit collective concern, reflection, prayers, and outrage among most church leaders, much less by ordinary Catholics.
In this season of love and repentance, the real symbol of love is Jesus hanging on the cross, declaring in his action that, "there is no greater love than to die for your beloved."
As Christians, we are obliged this Lenten season to feel the pain and suffering of our sisters and brothers who have become victims of gross and systematic rights violations in many parts of the region. Let us pay tribute to the martyrs of our faith in the most concrete acts of genuine love.
Mary Aileen Bacalso is secretary-general of the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances. For her commitment to the cause of the disappeared, the government of Argentina awarded her the Emilio Mignone International Human Rights Prize in 2013.