Pastoral Message for the Archdiocese of Lingayen Dagupan
Archbishop Socrates B Villegas
March 10, 2020
The epidemic of godless fear of the unknown is spreading and we must return to the basics of our Catholic faith.
Let us not leave God out of the threat of COVID 19. Our first combat gear against all sickness is prayer. There is no cure without God willing it. We cannot win over sickness without God.
Remember always—God has powers beyond the human sciences. The puzzle of COVID 19 must not be faced without faith in God and without trust in the power of prayers; even as we trust in the power of human intelligence for medical inventions. More than any other time, we need God the most. People need the Lord. The world rests in God’s loving hands.
Let the words of the Lord to Jairus about his daughter echo for each of us “Do not be afraid; just have faith and she will be saved.” (Lk. 8:50).
Prayer and Penance
The COVID 19 is an invitation for greater prayer and more penance. Be informed through media about the disease but do not forget to pray. If you choose to stay at home, pray the rosary at home with the family. Do not let a day pass without family rosary. Our Blessed Mother in many of her apparitions have taught us that prayers can stop wars and natural catastrophes.
Do not forget La Naval de Manila and EDSA 1986. If we stopped tanks by the rosary and our forefathers defended the Catholic faith at the Battle of Manila Bay in 1646 praying the rosary, why do we still ignore or doubt the power of the rosary to stop all sickness and disease?
The mystery of COVID 19 is attacking not just our medical health but our spiritual lives and Catholic values as well. Be wary and be wise.
The core of our faith is communion in love and mercy. We are now being advised to live in isolation and suspicion of one another. From looking for the face of God in one another, we are now advised to look at our neighbors as infected carriers. They are threats not brethren. Look.
The name of God is Emmanuel, God-with-us. He touched lepers and allowed sinners to touch Him. He showed love by His presence. He is not distant. God has become our neighbor. Ang Diyos ay nagkatawang kapwa. (God took the form of man.) And now we are now being asked to avoid contact for fear of contagion; stay away and keep far. It is a subtle attack on the message of the Gospel. The very sacrament of Christ’s Eucharistic Real Presence is being seen as an avenue for contagion instead of healing. Do not allow the emergency situation to determine our behavior under normal situations.
Catholic means universal. Universal is the opposite of racist and separatist. The different one is my brother and sister. At the center of the universe is God not myself. We are being led to close borders and lock out; but as we lock out, we really lock ourselves in. The face mask is the security of some but we insist to proclaim “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me (Ps.23:4).
Faith and social responsibility are twins. Our faith dictates that we work for the reign of God’s kingdom. It is part of social responsibility not to spread misinformation and stop alarming gossips. Now we are dealing with sickness and disease as if God has nothing to do with it or cannot do anything about it. We insist to say “Our help is in the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth”. (Ps 124:8).
In the moral principle of proportionality, we recognize that all actions have both harmful and helpful, positive and negative, destructive and constructive aspects. In choosing to close our church doors, stop liturgical assemblies or stay away from prayer gatherings, are we really achieving a greater good?
The times demand caution but not to the extent that the caution numbs us and leaves us motionless in anxiety. Neither can we be reckless as to ignore the mysterious disease; in fact, the oratio imperata begs the Lord to deliver us from this disease.
We must heed the advice of scientists and medical experts. God uses the Department of Health authorities too to guide us. We pray for them. Resist panic and fear. Heed the recommendations about hand hygiene and hand contacts. Priests and EMHCs must insure they do not contaminate others by their careless disregard for basic hygiene.
Do not forget faith with prudence, hope with mercy and love with discipline—our time tested Catholic virtues.
Between being recklessly imprudent and being a paralyzed alarmist, there is virtue.
We Have the Means
We priests need to renew our apostolic faith that God has entrusted to us the sacraments of healing through baptism and penance for sins. The anointing of the sick is from Christ the healer Himself.
With the threat of COVID 19, the poor are the most vulnerable–living in cramped spaces, surviving on meager income, deprived of health benefits and facilities of hygiene. More help must be given to them in our parishes; more care must be available to them. They who have less in life must have more of our concrete love. Do not forget the poor.
In the public forum how to face this mysterious disease, let us proclaim to this cynical, skeptical, pessimistic and at times agnostic society that God has the answer to all our needs. Nasa tao ang gawa… pero huwag kalimutang nasa Diyos ang awa. ( Man does the work …but let’s not forget that mercy comes from God”.)
Do not leave the God of mysteries out in the puzzle that is COVID 19. This is the best time for every priest to be close to God’s people who are anxious and suffering. Remember how the plagues made San Roque a saint. Remember how San Carlos Borromeo served Lombardy during the plague. Remember Saint Damien who became leper with lepers for love of the Lord. Shine forth in pastoral charity. Saint John Paul II said at the opening of his papal ministry “Do not be afraid. Open, I say open wide, the doors for Christ.”
Hope in the Lord
I cannot but recall Charles Dickens’ lines… It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way…”
Let God shine forth in this.
What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword? Nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (cfr Rom 8:35,39).
When sickness and anxieties, pain and hurt, loss and isolation overwhelm us Lord, may your Holy Spirit guide us in peace into your comforting love!
Catholic Business Journal thanks Joy Maloles Keehn, a devout Catholic and an accomplished financial advisor in northern California , for sharing this personal note regarding Archbishop Socrates B Villegas and his pastoral letter: “I would like to share with you a Pastoral Letter that I received. In a time of fear and panic, the wise words of this bishop from the Philippines is food for the soul and keeps our eyes focused on what is most important. “Archbishop Soc”, as he is popularly known, was a young priest when I first met him. He was then the assistant to the late Cardinal Jaime Sin of Manila, who lead the historic peaceful revolution to overthrow Marcos in 1986. Let us share these words of truth to all. May God’s peace, that transcends all understanding, be with us all.”