What greater duty does any person of integrity have than to speak the truth about that which is morally wrong, unjust and despicable? To speak one’s mind, to challenge injustice, abuse, exploitation, torture and the unlawful taking of life is a serious obligation. It is a constitutional right to do so supposedly without fear of retaliation and persecution. There is always the threat, fear and acts of retaliation against those brave and courageous people who speak the truth to power. History is full of heroes who were arrested, tried in a court, condemned, and put to death for speaking the truth, challenging injustice and oppression, taking a stand against what is clearly wrong and immoral.
When we look upon a crucifix we see there an innocent man that believed and practiced the great values of equality, rights of all, justice, truth, freedom and dignity of women and children. We see there a person who stood his ground. He taught the truth, healed the sick, championed the poor and challenged corrupt oppressive authorities. He was plotted against, betrayed, falsely accused of subversion, libel, and blasphemy. He was arrested, jailed, tortured and put on trial, wrongly condemned, and given the death penalty.
He is a person we can admire and imitate and those who are true believers in the values he taught and lived and died for will do likewise. They will proclaim the truth and oppose wrongdoing by individuals, groups, institutions or government. This is to follow that example and live out a courageous unselfish commitment.
Hundreds of people living out that commitment to justice have suffered. Many had their lives taken away or destroyed by the forces they challenged, questioned, and opposed while working for human rights and social justice. It is a privilege and honor to fight for justice and defend the right to life and dignity and to be persecuted for it.
The four Philippine bishops, several priests, a religious brother and lay people who are being charged with sedition and libel by the authorities can count themselves blessed and privileged to follow in the footsteps of Jesus of Nazareth. They are all seen to have advocated the right to life and security and have spoken out in protest at the killing of many people by death squads and police raids on suspected drug users and dealers. However they are being charged with sedition, more or less as Jesus was.
He said to His disciples, “If the world hates you, you must remember that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, then the world would love you as its own. But I choose you from this world and you do not belong to it, this is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you, ‘No slave is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you too.” John 15:18-20
Whatever the outcome of the charges against the Church people, the outspoken bishops, priests and laity- one shocking thing is clear: there are so few bishops, priests and lay people speaking out. Many are asking, who else is standing up for human rights, besides these people and brave media people and rights advocates?
Columban Fr. Shay Cullen lives and works in the Philipines.