Who is the real Christian — Bishop Gabby Reyes or GK’s Tony Meloto?
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2008-07-06
Except for the fact that Bishop Gabby Reyes of Antipolo happens to be head of the CBCP Council of the Laity, he could not have undermined the Couples for Christ (CfC) and Gawad Kalinga (GK).

Hardly anybody believed the issues that Bishop Reyes raised against the CfC and GK. Many of his fellow Bishops in the CBCP did not even believe these issues and continued to support CfC and GK. Most Filipinos also saw through Bishop Reyes and his bias for the CfC breakaway group of Frank Padilla.

Bishop Reyes recently bought advertising space in the Inquirer in order to ventilate his rehash of the same issues that GK has veered away from its “evangelization” mission and was focused more on “nation-building” and social work. Buying an ad is normally resorted to by those who cannot get the support of media to publish or air their views — when media do not think that what a person has to say deserves precious space or airtime.

Finally, GK’s Tony Meloto decided to end his silence on these issues and clarified his position during a lecture (titled “I Want to be a Good Catholic”) he delivered at the Ateneo de Manila University last July 1st. Let me quote relevant portions of Tony’s lecture as it addresses the issues raised by the Pharisees.

The CfC-GK fight vs. the Pharisees: “When politicians fight, it is the poor who suffer. Ironically, when religious leaders fight it is also the poor who suffer, just like the CFC controversy where Gawad Kalinga became the central issue. My stand on this is clear; I will always be on the side of the poor. As a Christian, I believe that this is also the stand of Jesus. I have remained with CFC that is building the church of the poor.”  

The issue of Tony’s Catholicism: “As I turn the page to start a new chapter in my life, I want to make one thing clear. Contrary to allegations, I have not veered away from the Catholic Church and set aside my faith for social work. I have put my social work inside my faith. 

Christ, the Church and economics: “Central to my being Catholic is Jesus’ love for the poor. He saw the world through their eyes. His world-view was from the bottom up. His value system was always skewed in their favor – the last shall be first, the lowest shall be raised to the highest. The challenge for me is to care for them in a manner that will help them rise to their highest potential.

“When a country like Vietnam, deemed godless by us, is able to reduce poverty from 60% to 15% in 20 years and produce surplus rice with technology coming from the Philippines and export to us, what message are we giving to the world? That we love the poor so much that we want them to remain poor and to produce more of their own kind? True love for the poor is redemptive and transformative, not condescending or patronizing or accepting that poverty is their destiny. 

“One interesting issue raised about me was that I was talking too much about nation-building when I should be preaching about Kingdom-building. For me, there is no dualism: nation-building is Kingdom-building. We need to make every Filipino passionate nation builders. Our country needs more builders, not just more preachers. The Jesus of history that I know, before he became the transcendent Christ to us, was a carpenter and the builder of both a physical and a spiritual kingdom.”

A Christian nation compared to a non-Christian nation: “Since our independence from America, we have become more mendicant and mercenary as a people while our biggest Asian neighbor, China, is hitting 11% growth and on its way to improving their quality of human life and reducing corruption. This is another case of a godless society practicing the values that we preach as Christians; seeking the collective good and protecting the interest of the many from the exploitation of the few. I do not approve of some of their means to attain their end — imposing abortion to achieve their one-child policy and curtailing human rights in particular — but I do admire their success in curbing human greed which is our greatest failure in our version of Christianity and democracy.”  

Spirituality of patriotism: “Another concern raised about our spirituality for nation-building is our emphasis on heroism when the focus should be on holiness. I do not see how you can separate one from the other. To be holy in the Philippines is to be a hero for the poor. Given the influence of religion on us, we need a faith-based model as a blueprint for sustainable development. We find the feeding of 5,000 people with five loaves of bread and two fishes as the gospel’s version of the Bayanihan spirit, the Sermon on the Mount as the best template in building a just and caring society, and Jesus’ passion on the cross as the ultimate act of self-giving and the best model for heroism to build a nation.”

Essential Christ: “Love, not condemnation, softens the heart, opens the pocket, spreads abundance, restores trust, and builds peace. 

“Pope Benedict showed us authentic Christian witnessing on his recent trip to the United States. He came to the biggest producer and distributor of contraceptives in the world not to condemn but to love. And America loved him back. He did not arrive in glory as the supreme leader of the most powerful church in the world but in humility to ask forgiveness for the sex abuses of the clergy. This simple act of humility had greater impact on me than all the sermons that I have heard in recent times. Despite the embarrassing nature of his visit, I’ve never been prouder to be Catholic.” 

No conflict with Church teachings: “Let me set this straight before I am taken out of context. There is nothing wrong with the social teachings of the church; there is only our failure to practice them, clergy and laity alike. I cannot speak for the clergy; they have their own accountability to their vows as I have mine to my oaths as a citizen and as a believer. Admittedly, I feel trivialized and embarrassed when people joke about the clergy. While the public demands the highest level of morality and witnessing from our moral icons, the most that I can say oftentimes to defend their lifestyle or to explain their indiscretion is that ‘they are also human.’ I know that it is hard for them as it is for me.” 

Home and Church building: “Nation-building is about character-building. 

Oftentimes we are not conscious that the higher collective good is sacrificed for self and kin. Family is the common and most acceptable excuse for greed in a society that prides and thrives on strong familial ties. Family demands the highest value because it is an extension of the self. The poor is not seen from the perspective of a relationship, either as family or friend, but as an object of charity or as a servant. So we give them alms and orders — not respect or affection that are only bestowed on those we love or people we consider important. Doña Victorina was outwardly religious, pious, and devout but she was also a matapobre according to Dr. Jose Rizal. 

This is the heart of our problem as a Christian nation. We have not invested enough in building the church of the poor. We missed Jesus’ point of view and wisdom when he spoke about leaving family as a condition for discipleship. The poor not only deserve our attention but investing in them will catalyze economic activities, create opportunities, and build a safer environment for our children. Our greatest asset, our biggest market — the poor — is just waiting to be mentored, empowered, and harnessed as our engine for growth. The stones that were rejected will become the cornerstone for nation-building.” 

Now tell me, who do you think is the real Christian — is it Bishop Reyes or Tony Meloto? 

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