Philippine Bishops Declare Three Days of Penance for President’s Blasphemy

“Repent and turn again so your sins may be blotted out...”

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte attends a business forum on June 5, 2018.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte attends a business forum on June 5, 2018. (photo: JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)

“If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14)

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines has called their nation to reparation for blasphemy through three days of fasting, prayer and almsgiving, beginning July 16. The bishops issued a statement on July 9, calling for “God’s mercy and justice on those who have blasphemed God’s Holy Name, those who slander and bear false witness, and those who commit murder or justify murder as a means for fighting criminality in our country.”

The statement does not specify offenders, but President Rodrigo Duterte had profaned God and ridiculed Catholic teachings last week in a speech to a scientific society. The Associated Press reported that the 73-year-old president, who claimed he was once abused by a priest, said, “Who is this stupid God? This (expletive) is then really stupid.” And also: “You were not involved but now you’re stained with an original sin … What kind of a religion is that? That’s what I can’t accept, very stupid proposition.”

It’s the most recent event but not unique behavior for the president. For instance, he used the same vulgarity against Pope Francis for causing extreme traffic congestion during a 2015 visit to Manila.


Who is the “Stupid” One?

The bishops stated that, “those who arrogantly regard themselves as wise in their own estimation and the Christian faith as nonsense, those who blaspheme our God as stupid, Saint Paul’s words are to the point: ‘For the stupidity of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.’” 

After an angry backlash, Duterte formed a four-man committee to reach out to religious groups. According to the Philippine Star, Archbishop Romulo Valles, president of the bishops conference, also met with Duterte privately and that he agreed to a moratorium on his attacks against God and the Church.

The national penance is not just for the insults and profanity, however. The president’s war on drugs has used extreme measures such as shooting suspects on sight. which have left thousands of suspects dead in clashes with the police. 


Power of Repentance

We cannot know whether Duterte was really abused, but we do know that such scandal has created great harm so that there are two victims: the physically abused and the Church, betrayed by sinful leaders. Through repentance, prayers and penance are laid before God to make amends and ignite Divine mercy and healing. God knows our wounds and their source and applies prayers and sacrifices to where healing is needed.

In the book of Jonah, we see that Nineveh was saved through national reparation. “The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth,” (Jonah 3:5). 

The understanding of the power of prayers and sacrifices for the Church and the world is why we have cloistered nuns and hermits who dedicate their lives to this. But what about us? We don’t live in the Philippines or in a cloister. And offenses against God are extensive in this world, so where would we begin and how could we then ever end? 

Yet, God does not ask us to do everything; he asks us to do something. We could join the Philippines on July 16, or perhaps gather a group or connect with a spouse or friend in some way to pledge a time reparation. We can also find ways in our own daily life to make reparation for our own sins and the sins of others. 

‘Repent and turn again so your sins may be blotted out, so there may come times of refreshing in the presence of the Lord, then He may send Jesus Who was ordained for you before Whom heaven must receive (and retain) until the times of restoration of all things, which God spoke long ago by the mouth of His holy prophets’ (Acts 3:19 to 21). 

Edward Reginald Frampton, “The Voyage of St. Brendan,” 1908, Chazen Museum of Art, Madison, Wisconsin.

Which Way Is Heaven?

J.R.R. Tolkien’s mystic west was inspired by the legendary voyage of St. Brendan, who sailed on a quest for a Paradise in the midst and mists of the ocean.