Newsletter CLT 3 (November 2012



Interview with Daniel Franklin Pilario By Kristien Justaert
It is striking how much the view of Father Danny Pilario, professor at the St. Vincent School of Theology in the Philippines, and that of Maria Van Doren in Mexico (see previous newsletter!) have in common. The gospel verse quoted by Danny could be the motto for both their passion: " I have come that you may have life and have it to the full" (John 10:10)... CLT: How did you become interested by liberation theology? It is my social location that sensitizes me to the aspirations of liberation among peoples in the margins. I grew up in a small village in Central Philippines (Oslob, Cebu) – a place quite far and remote to which there was only one bus that plied the rough roads from the city each day. Access to economic, academic or cultural opportunities were also remote, so much so that many of my playmates did not even finish high school and merely ended as subsistence farmers or fishermen the whole of their lives. We are not only found in the geographic margins; we were also marginalized by a lot of other social forces both local and national – from the scorn city people have on our accent to condescending looks at our rural ways, from political warlords to economic monopolies – all these contributing to our marginalized habitus. When I was given the opportunity to study theology, it was these people – all of them my relatives, cousins and friends – who were foremost in my mind. When I worked in parish community organizing, the more their needs became clearer and the cries louder. I was confronted with this abject poverty right in front of me – right within my family. This location led me to liberation theology and its allied disciplines in philosophy and sociology. For me, the test of my academic work is when these friends in the margins who are close to my heart can find meaning in the discourse I am engaged in and can find solace in work that I do. CLT: What does 'liberation' for you mean? At the risk of being simplistic, ‘liberation’ is another word for a very spiritually-loaded term ‘salvation’. But to be honest, people at the grassroots do not talk so much of liberation. Maybe there are conscientized groups coming from Marxist-inspired movements who love to rattle off the term. But my friends do not even utter the word. What they dream about is a good life, a full life, life in its fullness – where each one is protected from others’ greed and there is enough for everyone’s need. I do weekend ministry in Payatas – the Manila dumpsite. My friends there do not talk so much about liberation. They talk about the food for the next meal, a sturdier house to protect them from wind and rain, enough money to send their children to school, a much needed cure for a loved one with terminal cancer or

thus. the First World countries as colonizers have the greater responsibility to rectify the situation of their former colonies.Newsletter CLT 3 (November 2012) 2 less typhoons to be able to harvest the crops. Is it widespread in the Philippines or is it rather marginal? If we think of ‘liberation theologies’ done among the poor in the grassroots – of people trying to reflect on their lives as they struggle for a better life – it is widespread. It should be this concrete. All these are basic human longings for Jesus to fulfill his promise: “I have come that you may have life and have it to the full” (John 10:10). as always. also working in a more effective and insidious manner. it should be the responsibility of all. I know of pastoral workers and lay ministers who traverse mountains and walk for hours just to reach far flung mountain communities to officiate in Sunday celebrations without a priest. call it grace or the Kingdom of God. all theologies should be liberation theologies since all theologies are explications of Jesus’ promise of life in its fullness. The developed countries continue to benefit from this arrangement. liberationist theology remains marginal in the Philippines. I have witnessed communities trying to read the bible and getting inspiration from it in the midst of pain. In fact. there is a need for liberation theology everywhere. we also experience the constant reminder from the hierarchy that a faithful theology should be one that tows the ‘Catholic teaching’ expounded by the Magisterium understood monolithically. not only in the Philippines or the so-called Third World. It has only changed its form (globalization). This medieval and modern historical project has not stopped in post-colonial times. etc. I have seen informal settlers trying to organize to get potable water or acquire land for their simple house – all inspired by their faith life. then liberation theology is a widespread phenomenon. From the view of the left. it is the same – “a good and full life”. Any theological direction that puts into question or attempts to reinterpret doctrines and directives in the light of contemporary events is considered suspect from the . In fact. there is a need for liberation (theology)? If liberation is understood in the above context. I have seen catechists who are hardly given their transportation allowances but do not stop in helping young people make sense of their faith in new contexts. At the risk of sounding simplistic. we have seen the collapse of the Marxist metanarrative in our times – the main resource with which liberation theology was promoted in the Philippines. There are several factors why this is so. CLT: Is liberation theology widespread in the Philippines or is it rather a marginal strand of theology? Do you think that in the Philippines. otherwise it is just empty talk. we could not help but think that the affluence of the colonials is achieved at the expense of the colonized. From the perspective of the right. Liberationist discourse should pervade First World theologies as it does in the Third World. The poor countries remain the victims. But if you think of professional theologizing. If liberation theology is an attempt to analyze the obstacles to a better life and a better world for all. For them. violence and disease. If what they do is theology. Call it liberation or salvation.

. This very situation of violence among our people should impact into the way we do theology. a practical theology – to counter the passivity of classical theology. contemplation and action. but also sterile. religious marginalization by the predominantly Christian Philippines. For instance. political marginalization by the government centered in Manila. what many consider morally desirable appears to be mere abstract. “practice is the criterion of truth.Newsletter CLT 3 (November 2012) 3 start.g. praxis and theory. Even as the Philippine church sides with the marginalized in its official documents (it calls Catholics to promote the “church of the poor”). We know that many of our theological categories are products of times of peace and stability. In these contexts. this distinction is but a false dichotomy. Mystical theology comes to be categorized on the passive side of the conceptual divide while liberation theology whose criterion is ‘praxis’ often falls on the activist side. and military violence on armed groups. In the little village where I come from. farmers and fisherfolks work the whole day. All these situations of structural violence breed everyday violence now experienced through kidnapping. . CLT: What is – according to you – the place for 'activism' within liberation theology (in general and/or in your own theology)? Activism and passivity are dual poles in classical philosophy and theology (e. What is supposed to be emphasized is not so much orthodoxy as orthopraxis – to counter the Magisterium’s concern for right belief. Moral theorists and community workers situated in the First World and in post-conflict societies all welcome the viability of restorative justice (vis-à-vis retributive justice) in their contexts. But restorative justice can only be possible when some basic conditions are met – most of which are not present in situations of continual conflict and protracted war. ideals. CLT: In your contribution on the colloquium of Concilium in May 2012 (on which we reported in our previous newsletter). economic marginalization of indigenous communities. religiously-motivated attacks. you focused on the Mindanao area of conflict in the Philippines.) often portrayed as contradictory opposites. etc. clan wars. a historical project. Mindanao is an experience of multiple marginalization: historical marginalization in colonial times. my contribution in this colloquium aimed to put into question the desirability of ‘restorative justice’ in mitigating the harshness of moral law. evacuation of peoples. They are actually rendered ineffective and sterile in situations of continuing violence. How does the context of violence affect your theology? Experience of actual violence as exemplified in the Mindanao situation makes poverty and marginalization acute. Liberation has been seen as a work of emancipation. “The proof of the pudding is in the eating”: some liberation theologians love to quote this famous phrase attributed to Cervantes. etc. Before sundown. they also use a Marxist thesis quite openly. it is a different story when this is pursued to its practical consequences.” But among grassroots communities. Or.

all in one. Here. too) starts when its discourse has become so esoteric that it is only the ‘experts’ who can speak it. A language only lives when the whole population speaks it. . its method –are the locus from which all theology should start. There are deviations. but one is sure that it is alive. Life on the rough ground is a mixture of everything – activism and contemplation. I have been with them as they sweat it out in the fields or navigate the sea. CLT: What do you consider to be the most important task for liberation theologies today and in the near future? The most important challenge/task of professional liberation theology today and in the near future is twofold: (1) how to listen deeply to the pains and dreams of the poor and ordinary people in such a way that they bear on one’s theology. liberation theology – and all theologies for that matter – needs to step back and be selfreflexive. prayer and action – one in all. For God chose to locate Him/Herself on the rough grounds. a language dies and is relegated to the archives to be studied by philologists. The rough grounds – its language. to share a glass of local wine or just to relax. no higher criterion. Elitism has always been a constant plague of all disciplines. The death of a discipline (and language. It is also the place where all theology ends. No preference. no precedence. These significant moments of ‘being’ (just to be there) form part of their ‘doing’ – just as their ‘doing’ (farming/fishing) is considered to be the source of their ‘being’. the farmer or the fisherman’s prayer is active just as his work is contemplative. I have witnessed how these hard activities under the sun are permeated with quiet contemplation and serene prayer – as they wait for the fish to eat their bait or as they spend time among the corn fields as the crops slowly grow. praxis and theory. Here the motto I have borrowed from Wittgenstein can be helpful to theology: “Back to the rough grounds”. for sure. among the margins of society! Needless to say. Here. develops it. The everyday lives of people erase the dichotomy and blur the boundaries set by the theoretical concerns of the academe. When this happens. its needs and concerns. all theologians should have been there and continue to be there before they even say a word. It is the same with theology. improves it. (2) how to express one’s theological reflection in a language that these same people can understand and make sense of.Newsletter CLT 3 (November 2012) 4 they all gather together in a small store to tell stories.

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