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    "I have witnessed the affliction of my people in Egypt and have heard their cry of complaint against their slave drivers, so I know well what they are suffering.  Therefore I have come down to rescue themů  and lead them out into a good and spacious land." (Exod 3:7b-8a)

For this year, our country celebrates the Centenary of our political independence.  For all of us, this has profound significance in the past, at present and for the future.

Proclaimed a hundred years ago at Kawit, Cavite, the Declaration of Philippine Independence signaled the development of Filipino consciousness and marked the culmination of years of struggle for Filipino nationhood.  In that struggle, thousands of Filipino heroines and heroes, such as Fathers Gomez, Burgos and Zamora (GOMBURZA), the Fathers of Nationalism, participated to gain freedom from colonial domination.

At present, the Centennial celebration is a great occasion for us to thank our sisters and brothers who dedicated their lives, even to the point of dying, to preserve the heritage of freedom.  It also stands as a reminder to examine ourselves how far we have been worthy of that heritage, and how far we have contributed in sustaining it.  For our part as an institution, we apologize for the ambiguous stand some Church people held during the revolution, which partly explains the rise of the religious revolution.  It is with pride to recall the EDSA defined what struggle for freedom means to a nation "colonized" by its own leaders.

For the years ahead, the Centenary serves as an inspiration to confront and shape the future of our nation vis-Ó-vis the political values which its defenders of freedom stood for, and as a vehicle to reawaken the spirit of nationalism and love of country.

Aware of its multifaceted significance, we, the Filipino bishops, join our people in this centennial celebration of independence.  In the light of faith, we view this event as a milestone.  Freedom from external domination is consistent with God's will for us.  The Lord, after all, is a God of freedom who liberates his people from hegenomy (Micah 6:4).  In fact, he raises up leaders to bring them freedom (Judg 6:14), because he witnesses how much they suffer and hears their cry (Exod 3:7; Judg 4:3).

But we also wish to point out that true freedom cannot be limited to merely political independence.  Truth to tell, we are still in the process of liberating ourselves.  Today, our liberty is eroded not so much by foreign invaders, as by among the few, inequality and lack of participation, injustice and exploitation, deficient cultural values and mindset, destruction of the ecosystem, and deterioration of peace and order, to mention a few.  True freedom demands that we, especially the poor and the disadvantaged, are liberated from these evils (cf Gal 3:25-28).  It requires profound changes in our socio-economic and political structures, revolution of the heart (cf Jas 4:1), and, most important, liberation from sin (2 Chr 7:14; Rom 6:18; 1 Tim 1:15).  It dictates that we ourselves shape our history.

We wish to stress that true independence is synonymous not so much with the status of a newly-industrialized country (NIC), as with integral freedom (cf Mark 2:1-12):  "human dignity and solidarity are respected and promoted, moral principles prevail in socio-economic life and structures, justice, love and solidarity are the inner driving forces of development"  (PCP II, 253).  If we wish to rekindle as well as to remain faithful to the spirit of 1898 in the light of faith, we must continue to struggle toward total human development and liberation, going beyond the commemorative celebration.  In particular, we must change the way we practice politics, which is "the biggest bane in our life as a nation, and the most pernicious obstacle to our achieving full human development"  (CBCP, Exhortation on Philippine Politics).

It is with this spirit that we invite the people of God to participate in the celebration of the Philippine Centennial which reaches it summit on June 12th, but continues until December, 1998.  For the present limited purpose, however, such participation could be realized through the following sample agenda:  National: knowing Philippine history, displaying of the Philippine flag, buying Filipino products, living the Filipino bayanihan spirit, and preserving Filipino culture;  Cultural:  protection of unborn children, respect for the old and respect for indigenous people's culture;  Sociological :  attending to the handicapped, helping the poor, arranging medical services, and visiting prisoners;  Religious:  ecumenical encounters for prayer and unity, interreligious dialogue, centennial eucharistic celebration, and church bell ringing on centennial day (June 12th).

These sample agenda could be attended to, within the purview of fidelity to history, through talks, conferences, seminars, workshops, programs and activities.

We wish to encourage the parish priests, the parish pastoral councils, the basic ecclesial communities (BECs), other communities of faith, and the families to celebrate this event either as a parish affair, as a small community activity, or in coordination and collaboration with the civil government in the respective localities.

May the Virgin Mary who watches with maternal care over our country obtain from her Son the grace we need to make the centennial celebration memorable and meaningful.

For the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines:

Archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan
President, CBCP

March 16, 1998

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