What is independence but the freedom from the domination and control of others? Freedom is firstly an inner, non-material spiritual value. The desire for it is a natural right and when achieved, it is a joyful experience. The freedom to practice our religious beliefs and to be freed from chains and bondage, the freedom of expression and to live in dignity free from poverty and fear are the greatest values of being human. They are universal human rights.
Working for freedom and independence from all kinds of oppression, whether it be poverty, human right violations, discrimination, racism, sex slavery and exploitation, land grabbing or unjust imprisonment, is driven by spiritual motivation, not by political ambition or goals. It is a commitment to stand up for the moral and gospel values of human dignity and freedom.
The great Gandhi, a man of deep spirituality and conviction protested against British oppression and domination of India’s people. He campaigned and demanded freedom and independence. He was named the Father of the Nation. He was a rights campaigner, not a politician, yet his demand for freedom and human rights was wrongly branded as political interference, subversion and political meddling by the British authorities and he was vilified and jailed. He led a non-violent moral movement that won freedom and independence for the millions of oppressed Indians.
In the Philippines, the Filipino secular Catholic priests Mariano Gomez, José Burgos and Jacinto Zamora were garroted to death in Bagumbayan (now called Luneta Park) by the Spanish authorities after a mock trial with false witness. They were falsely accused of subversion on February 17, 1872, on fake charges of political subversion arising from the 1872 Cavite mutiny. In fact, they were human rights activists in a racial struggle against Spanish-born clerics but accused of political interference, a handy way to get rid of human rights advocates.
In Negros in the 1980s, the famous Catholic missionaries Fathers Brian Gore from Australia and Father Niall O’Brian from Ireland, diocesan Filipino priest Father Vicente Dangan and six lay church workers were unjustly accused and jailed by the Marcos regime, vilified with false charges as being political subversives who were wrongly accused of killing a mayor. The communist rebels admitted that they had done it but the priests and church lay workers were unjustly blamed to silence them from speaking out against social injustice. After many months, they were eventually freed. Nowadays, assassins have killed and are killing advocates of freedom and independence, human rights activists, media practitioners and priests and pastors to mention just a few.
In Mindanao, for more than 32 years, Father Fausto Tentorio was dedicated to helping the poor indigenous Lumad people in their struggle against mining interests that were grabbing their land and destroying their environment. He was murdered. His fellow missionaries Father Tullio Favali and Father Salvatore Carzedda were also murdered in North Cotabato and Zamboanga City respectively. They gave their lives for the freedom of the oppressed people. Their work for the poor was not political, it was humanitarian and done for justice and human dignity.
Father Marcelito Paez, 72, dedicated to human rights and justice for prisoners was shot and killed by assassins riding in tandem on a motorcycle in the town of Jaen, Nueva Ecija after visiting a jail to help win freedom for a political prisoner December 4, 2017. Father Mark Anthony Yuaga Ventura, a Catholic priest, was shot and killed after saying Mass in the northern Philippine town of Gattaran in Cagayan province on April 29, 2018. He was known to be active in supporting the indigenous people struggling for their rights against land-grabbers. Leading political authorities have vilified his life of service with baseless sordid allegations.
Sister Patricia Fox is to be deported for taking a stand for the rights of the indigenous people and supporting the rights of the poor and the oppressed. Her courageous spiritual commitment was branded as political interference when in fact she was living out her gospel values and spiritual mission to love and free the struggling Filipino. Deportation is the only thanks the government is giving her after 27 years of dedicated work.
Archbishop Óscar Romero was appointed archbishop of San Salvador, El Salvador in February 1977. From being a very conservative bishop, he saw the oppression when his best friend, a priest and human rights advocate, was brutally murdered by the government secret police. From then on, the archbishop changed and campaigned for human rights and justice for the poor through radio, articles, and sermons and defended the political prisoners who were being executed. He spoke out against violence and torture by the dictatorial regime in San Salvador. Many other bishops in El Salvador said he was too political and claimed that he was supporting the communists.
On many occasions, he said he was following the teaching of Jesus Christ who was executed for taking a stand with the poor and criticizing the injustice of the authorities. Then on March 24, 1980, he was assassinated while he celebrated the Mass. When Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio became Pope Francis, he recognized the true commitment and heroic commitment of Oscar Romero and he beatified him in May 2015. Then last March 2018, Pope Francis announced that Archbishop Romero would be made a saint of the Church on Oct. 14 in Rome.
The international synod of bishops in 1971 declared, “Action on behalf of justice and participation in the transformation of the world fully appear to us as a constitutive dimension of the preaching of the Gospel, or, in other words, of the Church’s mission for the redemption of the human race and its liberation from every oppressive situation.”
Working for children’s rights, the dignity of the poor and lifting up the wretched of the earth, the deprived and impoverished who are trampled by the rich, the refugees in their own land, feeding the hungry, speaking truth to power and defending the abused and exploited, helping orphans and widows, is the mission of Jesus of Nazareth. It is not political, it is showing mercy, compassion, understanding and giving life and freedom to Filipinos today.