Love Thy Neighbor: My First Time To Pray For A President

Who among us have seen the face of God, I mean God’s real face? None of us have seen God personally, I suppose! But still, we believe and glorify Him particularly in our prayers, we talk to Him about anything, we think of Him, and at times He even appears in our dreams. In the Scriptures, God appeared to some chosen people in various forms. That’s what we’ve read/learned about Him.

Regardless of culture and religion, people see God and feel His presence in many ways. In our minds, though, we make God visible (even if he’s invisible), especially Jesus as depicted by artists as a person with kind eyes and heart, one who has great depth of excellent personality.

Jesus Christ commands us  to love God and our neighbors. As such, we can’t really say: I love God but I don’t love my neighbor or I don’t see God in my neighbor! But how do we see God in our neighbors, especially those who are not in sync with us, those whose opinions differ from us, those we see and perceive as indecent, crazy, ignorant, retard or arrogant? How can we see God in them? How can we follow God’s commandment to love them? There are so many challenges confronting the world these days especially in our country: poverty, illegal drugs, sex trafficking, violence, armed conflicts, terrorism, family’s torn apart and other related problems. How can we see God in our neighbors with these challenges? How can we love our neighbors when they are engaged in business of selling drugs, exploiting women, and other similar vices?

In the Philippines, President Duterte is known for his bold moves, radical plans and programs, “colorful” foul words and playful tactics, which makes him quite different from his predecessors. Because of this, some people just really hate him, no matter what.

The President, even if raised as Catholic, has been very vocal about his religious beliefs and disagreements with some of the Catholic Church practices, and even with some of its prelates whom he alleged as engaged in corrupt related activities. In view of these challenges affecting both parties, there seems to be no comfort zones between them as they have been pot calling the kettle black, so to speak.

I can understand where the President is coming from. Just like everyone, he has probably issues and challenges of his own, about his personal/official experiences, and family life. While his disagreements with the Church started even before his Davao City Mayor days when at odds with the Catholic Church because of its opposition to artificial family planning methods (birth control methods are accessible to couples in said place). Said conflict escalated during the campaign period when the Church obviously preferred another candidate. It will be recalled that the CBCP cautioned the public to elect a President who is visionary and exemplary for the country’s progress. Even after the election, the President is still beset with negative issues, including his leadership and management style. Some of my “friends” especially those who did not vote for him continue to attack him personally, charging him as indecent, rude, and calling him nasty names. But those close to him and the more than 16 million Filipinos who voted for him, they try to understand his way of life. They believe that despite the President’s weaknesses and shortcomings, he is the President, the hope for the majority of the people (the man of the poor) who can bring the “change” they’re longing for.

Most of us are Catholics. We have utmost respect in our religion and the hierarchy of the Church. The Holy Father (Pope Francis) is the rock of the Church. He gives us guidance as far as our Catholic faith is concerned. He encourages everyone to be evangelists, to spread the Good News, regardless. Thus, it is unfortunate and sad to note when Government and Church officials are in conflict with each other. Much as we would prefer a President, a great leader whom we can all emulate, what we have now is a President who is unorthodox, assertive, and outspoken on issues which some of us don’t empathize.

But how?  I believe there is need to disregard political affiliations and biases this time.  I hope the President, the Church leadership and likewise all of us especially those who refuse to like the President will try to open  hearts and see God in everyone, to be kind to understand each other and perhaps be real partners for change, particularly in the implementation of programs for the poor.  I may not agree, though, with some of the President’s policies and personal preferences but he is the elected President. He’s barely 4 months old in his post, perhaps starting to learn the do’s and don’ts of a “statesman”, including diplomacy and protocol (although he said, he’s not one but it seems he’s trying). We need to take a breather from all these hullabaloos, then wait and see on what’s going to happen in the next couple of years.

There is still hope for our President to adapt to his new environment and even improve himself as “President” of a nation with diverse cultural heritage. I don’t know the President  personally but I believe he has a soft spot in his heart, just like each one of us. The fact that his administration’s priority is to alleviate the lives of the poor which is the same goal as that of the Church is something laudable. Yes, there’s still hope. The President himself mentioned: “God placed me as President” for a reason!

I got the chance to read few months ago Fr. Joel Tabora’s (President of the Ateneo de Davao) article where he suggested to both the President and the church officials to “lower the tones of their mutual criticisms to promote reconciliation”, among others. Fr. Tabora stated : “the position that Mr. Duterte is taking can be interpreted to be a very powerful prophetic position, trying to help the Church also to reflect on itself and to reflect on its own ability to be the Church of the poor that it has for many years proclaimed itself to be”.

“He’s saying I’m not a saint, but you’re not saints either. So I think he’s saying “I have a love for the poor, maybe instead of knocking me down, maybe we should work together. Because if you continue to knock me down, I’m going to knock you down. I’m going to knock you down more”.

“So I think that this President is ushering in for us all who are Catholics a period of deep reflection on what we are saying about ourselves, and how we are actually implementing it.”

The Holy Father latest exhortation, Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love) encourages his religious flock to be more discerning and understanding. Instead of casting out people with imperfect manners, they should be more embracing, welcoming, and ministering to them the grace of conversion. Pope Francis noted that Jesus teachings serve as tenets of our daily lives, to love God and to love our neighbors with free and generous heart.

It is in the face of our neighbors, our brothers and sisters, that we see the image and the face of God, not only the faces of the poor and the destitute but the wayward as well. When we see someone, look straight at his face, don’t look away, to be able to recognize the face of God in him!

Through the intercession of the Blessed Mother, I pray that God will grant the President and every member of the Church, including all of us, true peace and love so that we may see the face of God in each other, make the right choices and necessary changes to be able to transform ourselves and our nation as well. I also pray that God grant the President the wisdom and grace to fulfill his promises, plans and programs for the poor,  and strengthen his faith in God and be reunited with the Church in the end. Amen.

I used to pray for world peace and for the Philippines specifically. But this is  #myfirsttimetoprayforapresident !  I thought he badly needs our prayers.

(featured image): thanks and cto!