A Call to Greater Commitment to Human Flourishing, Social Justice and the Common Good

May 15, 2020

The faculty of the LS Department of Theology would like to humbly offer this reflection as a contribution to the dialogue on the current COVID-19 situation in light of the Christian faith and the Church's Social Teaching. As theologians in love with God and committed to our people, we cannot help but invite all of us to reflect not only upon the practical challenges before us, but also the values of the Kingdom of God that should guide and direct our way forward.  

A Call to Greater Commitment to Human Flourishing, Social Justice and the Common Good: A Statement for Leaders of Government and Business 

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the inadequacies and injustices of our present political, economic and health systems. We laud our brave healthcare professionals for tirelessly taking care of our COVID-19 patients in spite of the great risk to life and family. We applaud our other essential frontliners for helping ensure the fulfillment of the basic needs of communities. We commend those government agencies and officials whose efforts mitigated the effects of the pandemic on their constituents. We acknowledge with gratitude those business owners and leaders who cared for their workers and stepped up to fill gaps in needed supplies and service delivery. However, much remains to be done, from the national to local levels, particularly for our more vulnerable sectors.

This pandemic has illuminated the connections among the various societal problems we are experiencing: “We are faced not with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather with one complex crisis which is both social and environmental. Strategies for a solution demand an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature” (Pope Francis, Laudato Si’, 139). We thus call on our leaders to resist the urge to seek a panacea as if our complex problems can be attributed to one or two issues. The way forward will require persistent commitment toward justice and authentic human development.

Given the challenges of the current situation, it is important we not lose sight of the values that inform the vision of our constitution and the responsibility entrusted to our civic and business leaders. This vision should guide all of us towards a more just sharing of resources and greater accountability to one another and the gift of our country.  As theologians in love with God and committed to our people, we cannot help but invite all of us to reflect not only upon the practical challenges before us, but also the values of the Kingdom of God that should guide and direct our way forward.

As the government prepares for the re-opening of the economy, we call on our economic managers to develop an economic blueprint that truly promotes the common good and is inclusive of the needs of the poor and vulnerable of our society. As Jesus told his followers, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me” (Mt 25:40). While our frontliners are hailed as heroes and being shown appreciation during this crisis, it is also worth noting that these same frontliners are among those with the most stressful or hazardous working conditions, receiving only minimum pay and benefits. We thus call on the economic and business leaders to plan projects that fund and prioritize the rights of workers to job security and safe working conditions, as well as a living wage that enables them to support themselves and their families. 
 
We also urge private business leaders to engage in businesses that promote the dignity and well-being of their employees. We remind them business is a noble vocation, “provided that those engaged in it see themselves challenged by a greater meaning in life . . . to serve the common good by striving to increase the goods of this world and to make them more accessible to all” (Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, 204). The pursuit of profit is necessary for business to be sustainable. However, we implore business leaders to remember that “Once profit becomes the exclusive goal, if it is produced by improper means and without the common good as its ultimate end, it risks destroying wealth and creating poverty” (Pope Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate, 21). 

We also call on our lawmakers to enact laws that rectify the imbalances of our society and provide adequate social security for the poor and the vulnerable sectors. We ask them to “invest in healthcare as the primary common good” (Pope Francis, 12 May 2020) by increasing the budget of the Department of Health to enable the government and private health sector to build enough hospitals with adequate facilities and equipment, hire more health professionals and pay them fairly, and provide low-cost medicine and affordable treatment for the underprivileged of our society. We also ask that careful consideration and resources be given to assist schools as they prepare to help students resume their education in a way that is accessible and inclusive. A comprehensive distance learning strategy should guide the schools’ response to the pandemic and build a more flexible and inclusive educational system that can also be part of our post-pandemic future. While technological advancements have made online learning possible, many learners remain at a great disadvantage, with a significant fraction of the population not having internet access and connectivity. As Pope Francis asserts, education is an inclusive movement that reaches out to those who are excluded due to poverty. Inclusion is “an integral part of the Christian salvific message” (Address to the Congregation for Catholic Education, 20 February 2020) and it is necessary for the creation and promotion of a just and inclusive society that leaves no child behind. 

We want to emphasize that we cannot return to “business as usual” in the running of the affairs of our economy. The pandemic is an opportunity for our country to re-orient the economy to serve the well-being of all. It is unconscionable and scandalous that while we have 15 Filipino billionaires, many ordinary Filipinos continue to live in abject poverty. With Pope Francis, we reject an economy of exclusion in which the powerless are instrumentalized and discarded. With him, we also reject an economy in which money is idolized and in which the financial system rules rather than serves. 

Social justice is a basic principle enshrined in our Constitution. We call on all of us to reflect on this basic tenet of our constitution and ask how faithful we are in supporting the human flourishing towards which this principle guides us. Our leaders in government and the private sector must take this principle to heart and integrate it at the core of their service to the nation. Justice is also a constitutive dimension of the Christian faith (1971 Synod of Bishops, Justice in the World, 6). We call on Filipino Christians to be more socially involved in the task of transforming “all the strata of humanity” according to the Gospel (Pope Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi, 18). Too many of our people continue to suffer because of the lack of our collective care and concern for the good of all. We owe it to one another as created in God’s image (Gen 1:27) and as each other’s keeper (see Gen 4:9-10) to create a just and inclusive society in which each and every person is given the opportunity to live the fullness of life (John 10:10). All of us are called “to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with God” (Mic 6:8). Only through our concerted efforts to promote justice and kindness can we become signs and instruments of the realization of God’s Kingdom.