MANILA - In a speech before Pope Francis, President Aquino alternately praised members of the Catholic Church who fought against martial law while criticizing those who kept silent about the abuses of his predecessor, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
In his speech after Pope Francis' courtesy call, Aquino reminded the public how the Catholic Church brought colonialism to the country's shores and how the Vatican II transformed the church into one that engaged not just in spiritual but also temporal matters.
Aquino said members of the clergy were among his family's strongest supporters amid the oppression they received from President Marcos during martial law.
He specifically cited Fr. Toti Olaguer, SJ "who, right in the heart of the dictator’s most secure prison, had the courage to speak the truth about Mr. Marcos’ abuses, even as he was being videotaped."
"Many others in the Church, such as Jaime Cardinal Sin, Bishop Francisco Claver, and Bishop Antonio Fortich, just to name just a few, truly lived their faith and acted as followers of Christ in being their brothers’ keepers," he said.
"The courage and daring displayed by the clergy solidified my belief: Especially during the Martial Law years, the Church of the poor and oppressed shone vividly."
However, he also questioned why some members of the clergy failed to champion the rights of the people during the Arroyo administration.
"Perhaps we had grown so accustomed to having this Church, always at the forefront of championing the rights of all, especially those of the marginalized, that we found it hard to understand its transformation. We were taught that the Catholic Church is the true church, and that there is constancy, for it upholds the truth at all times.
"Hence, there was a true test of faith when many members of the Church, once advocates for the poor, the marginalized, and the helpless, suddenly became silent in the face of the previous administration’s abuses, which we are still trying to rectify to this very day."
The President also noted that from being silent during the Arroyo administration, "some members of the clergy now seem to think that the way to be true to the faith means finding something to criticize, even to the extent that one prelate admonished me to do something about my hair, as if it were a mortal sin."
"Is it any wonder then, that they see the glass not as half-full, or half-empty, but almost totally empty. Judgment is rendered without an appreciation of the facts."
The President praised Pope Francis for issuing a warning against those in power who think of themselves as immortal or indispensable and the danger of becoming sowers of discord.
He described the Pope as a "kindred spirit."
"In your example, we see the wisdom of continuing to ask, 'Why not?' We see joy, a sense of authentic service, and an insistence on a true community of the faithful," he said.
The Philippines has long been the Church's stronghold in the region, with 80 percent of the nation's 100 million people members of the faith.
The high point of the pope's trip is expected to be an open-air Mass on Sunday at a park in Manila, with organizers preparing for up to six million people. With Agence France Presse