I like to think of myself as a hardworking person. Not that I couldn’t do better, but I try my best to keep up with correspondence and the administrative work of HLI while traveling and attending various meetings and events. Though it’s a blessing to do this work, it can be exhausting at times.
But trying to keep up with Dr. Ligaya Acosta on a mission trip to the Philippines puts claims about “working hard” in a whole new context. I don’t know if I’ve ever met anyone with her combination of energy, faithfulness, and joy. And she puts these great gifts to good use in fighting for life and family at home in the Philippines and all around Asia and Oceania.
All this is to say that she keeps me very busy during my visits here, and this one is no different. As you can see on HLI’s photo stream on Facebook, it has been another whirlwind of presentations, meetings, and travel around the archipelago nation of almost 90 million. Of special note has been an emotional stay in Tacloban City. The resilience of the people here is incredible, considering that a little over three years ago the town was almost completely destroyed by Typhoon Haiyan. Thousands died, with many bodies not being found for weeks or months, or at all. Almost no structures were left standing as the sea rolled over the town and hundred mile an hour winds buffeted everything above the water. Ligaya’s two teenage sons clung for life to palm trees, and as she was traveling for HLI at the time, she did not know their fate for days, when her daughter was thankfully able to reach the devastated area.
The signs of this terrible storm are still evident, but they no longer define the city. Many buildings have been rebuilt. Ligaya’s own home, which was completely destroyed, has finally been rebuilt, and they kindly welcomed me as a guest only days ago.
The faith of the people in Tacloban was amazing! I have never felt so welcomed. When I arrived last Sunday in time for Holy Mass at San José Catholic Church, nearly 800 people where outside to welcome me. There were so many young people and children. Everyone wanted to say hello and thank me for visiting. I was very touched! The faithful are joyful and their love of the Lord is so contagious. I experienced the same the following days at Santo Niño Catholic Church and Holy Infant College. It was the same with my meeting with Archbishop John Du, who asked me (HLI) to return as soon as possible to work with his priests, seminarians and lay leaders. He was very gracious and complimented the tremendous work of Dr. Ligaya.
So the faith of the Philippines, which has also been buffeted by storms of a different sort, has not failed. It has, however, been shaken. Sadly, many in the Church have decided to take the go-along-to-get-along approach with the rapidly secularizing culture and political powers that take their marching orders from wealthier nations. As we’ve said before, what often begins as a dialogue can seamlessly turn to complacency toward, and then even an embrace of, destructive ideas.
Yet here I meet strong priests and bishops, and thus also strong Catholic laity who know that their shepherds “have their backs.” That is, when the clergy are strong, the people are strong, and ready to stand against the many compromises that lead to death and decay of faith. I see that here in full churches and joyful praise in Tacloban and other cities, and it is encouraging. There are many here who, looking at the US and other countries, know that the freedom to practice our faith will not long remain if we are afraid to preach the Gospel without fear or apology.
This brings me to some interesting developments back home in the United States. Those who oppose the killing of unborn children in the womb—that is, all faithful Catholics—have seen a series of political victories lately. Indeed, we have seen more than many thought likely so early in the Trump administration. This isn’t to say that everything has been a win or that we don’t have problems with some decisions, it is to say that Mr. Trump has been keeping several of his campaign promises to get the government out of the business of helping the industry that murders babies in the womb.
On Thursday, the House of Representatives took a good step forward in passing a bill that will remove most funding from Planned Parenthood domestically this year (international funding was cut off early with the reinstated Mexico City Policy). This obviously isn’t over, but it is a very positive development as the bill heads to the Senate. Sadly, we are still left to wonder how much unanimity, or at least healthier debate, there could be in the debate over health care if one party wasn’t so committed to funding the abortion industry with other people’s money, over their objections.
On the same day, President Trump signed an executive order on religious liberty that leaves open many questions that we had hoped it would close, at least for the duration of his administration. In it we find praiseworthy statements about faith and freedom, and a commitment to protect the rights of religious institutions and people to speak on political matters without punishment. This is all good. But as I said in our statement yesterday:
Reading the text, and considering the fact that it was timed to be signed at a moment when attention would be focused on the House AHCA bill, it is not clear that this is the executive order that Christians facing legal persecution in this country were hoping for. We welcome the provision that would protect the political speech of religious groups, but the greatest threat we face today is from a judiciary and various governmental bodies who have decided to rewrite the First Amendment to exclude the fundamental right to religious expression and beliefs. The Order seems ambiguous on the nature of the threat we face today, so we will pay close attention as it guides the actions of the Executive Branch.
I return from the Philippines next week and we will indeed be paying attention. Please continue praying for me and for HLI’s missionaries around the world, as well as for all who are fighting for life, family, and authentic freedoms here at home. Work hard by all means for these same ends, by all means, but we begin and end everything we do in prayer, asking that we’re truly doing God’s will rather than our own. Work faithfully, not just hard.