Opinion & Analysis
When we are fully human9:14 PM, July 4, 2017
Philippines:Very often children are more 'human' than adults.
Children from a nearby urban poor community play in the murky waters of Manila Bay. (Photo by Angie de Silva)
The desire and longing to be free and fully human are perhaps the deepest and strongest needs of every person. All creatures want freedom. Birds want their freedom to fly, beasts to roam, monkeys to swing in trees, fish to swim in the seas.
Humans want to be free to walk the earth without chains, guards and fear. Personal freedom to speak the truth and political freedom are among the most important of all human freedoms.
What is it that makes us a human being? I often ask students who come to study college-level psychology, social work and other subjects at the Preda Foundation. I ask them to answer the basic question.
"Tell me in a few words the attributes of the human person that set us apart from other animals and make us uniquely human." I want them to focus on who and what we are. I am amazed as I am frequently met with embarrassed silence. What do you think makes us human?
The children at the Preda Home for Girls, with ages between six and 16 years, are pretty smart. They would raise their hands and speak up, and they have genuine answers. Their knowledge is what encourages and inspires them to be strong, resilient, brave and courageous in facing up and dealing with the most horrific things that happen to them — rape and other acts of sexual abuse.
Society has always unrated children, denied them their rights and dignity, and have used, enslaved, as well as physically and sexually abused them as if they were not human.
Many people do not see children — especially those not their own, the poor, skinny, malnourished, and sickly children of the streets, those in prison — as having rights. That's why so many are left to go hungry, uneducated and die of diseases before they reach ten years old.
In the Philippines, the Secretary of Justice justified the killing of young people on mere suspicion of wrongdoing because they were "not humanity," he said. There could be no crime against humanity if they were summarily executed. I wonder if that argument would hold up in the International Criminal Court.
The amazing fact seems to be emerging of a Catholic country that has lost it Christianity. Archbishop Socrates Villegas, president of the bishops' conference of the Philippines, says many Filipino "Catholics" love the trappings and processions and outward devotions of Catholicism but he worries profoundly about what lies underneath the surface. They say they are Catholics but are they Christians?
In asking how Catholic they are, the outspoken prelate said that they these people "declare faith, but agree that drug addicts should be shot ... and many approve corruption in government."
Some Catholic bishops are attacked online by thousands of critics. "When we speak, they want us muted, when we oppose they want us maimed, when we stand for life they want us dead," said Archbishop Villegas.
Sad to say, there are also many bishops who don't know what it is to be fully human and as a result fail to act for justice and truth and Gospel values. Many have been silent for so long they are now dumb. Fear is a powerful weapon.
But the children, even when they are threatened even by death, they find the courage to speak out. When given the freedom, protection and empowerment they need they can speak out for justice and truth especially when they are the victims of injustice, rape and abuse.
The childhood of Anna Darling, 15, was taken away by a male pedophile known and approved by her mother. Together they conspired to have Anna Darling turned into a sex slave. Fear kept her silent. She had nowhere to run to. Yet the pain became unbearable, and eventually she found a woman she trusted who listened to her and believed her.
She was rescued and after months of therapy at Preda, she began to heal. Soon she was ready and bravely asked to be able to testify against her abusers. The case is now in court, and justice, we hope, will be done — and seen to be done.
Anna Darling discovered and believed that she has rights, profound dignity, equality before God, that she was a child and the most important in the Kingdom of God. She was empowered and overcame her fear. She learned too, that her humanity is based on having reason and the ability to think for herself, to have knowledge of right and wrong, and to have free will to choose right over wrong. She also found that she has the unique human ability to communicate and speak out the truth and to love others.
Anna Darling used all five attributes of humanity to get justice. What a girl! If we could all be more reasonable, be actively thinking, knowing, choosing right over wrong, good over bad, truth over falsehood, speaking out and loving our neighbor what a different world we would live in.
Irish Father Shay Cullen, SSC, established the Preda Foundation in Olongapo City in 1974 to promote human rights and the rights of children, especially victims of sex abuse.
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