OP-ED OPINION: COLUMNIST-OPINION ON PAGE ONE – ‘God is alive and well at the UN’






UNITED NATIONS, New York: It is not easy for a visiting foreigner to take a heavy diet of American politics these days without feeling compelled to choose between what the US media says about President Donald Trump and what Trump says about his critics. I am not disposed to making that choice, so it was quite a relief for me to be invited to a conference on human trafficking at the UN, and talk to some old friends on the never-ending global fight for the family and human life.

It was also an opportunity to meet with the new Filipino Apostolic Nuncio to the US and Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the UN, who was hosting the conference. He is Archbishop Bernardito Auza of Talibon, Bohol, who was the Nuncio in Haiti before his UN posting. He is one of four Filipino nuncios in different parts of the world.

The others are Archbishop Adolfo Tito Yllana, Apostolic Nuncio to Australia, who has served in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, and Solomon Islands; Archbishop Francisco Padilla, Apostolic Nuncio to the Middle East, who has served in PNG and Solomon Islands (I met him two weeks ago in Kuwait); and Archbishop Osvaldo Padilla, Francisco’s older brother, who served in Panama, Sri Lanka, Nigeria, Costa Rica before his recent retirement.

The Santa Marta Group
The conference was in honor of the Santa Marta Group, which Pope Francis organized in 2014 to promote a strong collaboration between the Church and the law enforcement agencies in combating human trafficking, which Archbishop Auza described as the most terrible scourge in the world. Santa Marta refers to the new papal residence, which Pope Francis decided to use in place of the historic papal apartments, where previous popes until Pope Benedict XVI lived.

The Santa Marta Group is this year’s recipient of the Path to Peace award, given yearly by the Path to Peace Foundation, which was established by Cardinal Renato Martino, who was Apostolic Nuncio and the Vatican’s Permanent Observer at the UN from 1986 to 2002, before he was called to Rome to head the Pontifical Commission for Justice and Peace.

My wife and I and friends at the international pro-life and pro-family movement worked closely with Martino during the Cairo international conference on population and development in 1994 and the Beijing conference on women in 1995, when he became the Vatican spokesman on all relevant questions. Martino introduced us to the work of the Path to Peace Foundation.

Cory Aquino was an awardee
Since its creation, the award has gone to important world dignitaries, including women leaders. These include two UN secretary-generals—Boutros-Boutros Ghali and Kofi Annan; heads of state and statesmen like King Baudoin of the Belgians, Cory Aquino of the Philippines, Lech Walesa of Poland, Violeta Barrios de Chamorro of Nicaragua, Rafael Caldera of Venezuela, Carlos Menem of Argentina, Prince Hans-Adam 2nd of Leichtenstein, Simeon Saxe-Coburg Gotha of Bulgaria, Ray Rala Xanana Gusmao of East Timor, Grand Duchess Maria Teresa of Luxembourg, Sheik Haya Rashed Al Khalifa of Bahrain, Elias Antonio Saca Gonzales of El Salvador, Ambassador Maria Ann Glendon, Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein of the UAE, Queen Sofia of Spain, Cardinal Angel Sodano, Chaldean Archeparch of Mosul Paulos Faraj Rahho, Fra Andrew Willoughby Ninian Bertie and Fra Mathrew Festing of the Sovereign Order of Malta.


In 2014, my wife and I were visiting New York, and the nuncio at the time, Archbishop Francis Chullikatt, who had been previously posted in Manila, invited us to the gala dinner. This gave us a chance to meet the Queen of Spain.

Cardinal Nichols
My itinerary did not allow me to attend the gala dinner for the Group at the Pierre Hotel on Wednesday evening. But I had the opportunity to listen to an excellent address by Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster in the UK, and president of the Group, who spoke of the exemplary collaboration that has been achieved between the Catholic Church and the police organizations. This was not easy to do, but both sides saw the need to achieve what seemed impossible at first, for the sake of no less than 40 million victims.

Nichols’ main address was re-echoed and supported by Commissioner Kevin Hyland of Britain’s Independent Anti-Slavery Commission, Argentina’s Federal Police Chief General Commissioner Nestor Roncaglia, Dr. Hilary Chester, Associate Director of the anti-trafficking program of the US Catholic Bishops Conference, and a hands-on religious worker, Sister Melissa Camardo, SLC, director of development for Life Way Network, who gave valuable insights on rebuilding trust among victims and healing.

There were doubts in the beginning that the Catholic Church and the police organizations could work together, said Nichols; but with sufficient goodwill on both sides, they were able to build trust not only between the two institutions, but above all between the police authorities and the victims. It is not unusual for human trafficking victims to be distrustful of everybody else and to fear that the police would see them as perpetrators rather than as victims of crime. This is where the Church has done so much to build “bridges of trust” between the police and the victims, said the religious worker.

It’s working in Argentina
The federal police chief of Argentina said the collaboration is working in his country, and should work in other countries as well. The partnership is apparently being tried in many other countries, presumably including the Philippines. In fact, there have been some anti-human trafficking workshops where representatives of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) sat together with officials of the Department of Justice. But as highly encouraging as the work on human trafficking may have been, so much more obviously needs to be done in the area of prevention, apprehension, prosecution and punishment of offenders.

Nichols quoted Pope Francis as saying human trafficking is “a wound in the flesh of humanity,” which we won’t be able to tackle “unless we learn again how to weep.” For this reason, a more determined international action is obviously needed not only to protect and heal the wounds of victims but also to punish habitual and incorrigible offenders. Has the time come perhaps to put the crime of human trafficking under international law in the same category as genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and aggression?

Learning from Santa Marta
At the same time, we should be able to learn from the Santa Marta experience. If the collaboration between Church and police has reduced the volume of human trafficking in at least 34 countries, can it not possibly have the same effect on President Rodrigo Duterte’s anti-drug campaign, which has already killed thousands of drug suspects, without creating any dent on the drug problem at all? Will the Philippine National Police, if not DU30 himself, reach out to the CBCP with a concrete proposal for cooperation?

Many of my friends at the UN are convinced the problems concerning Korea, China, Russia, Syria, Iran and Israel, etc. will not quickly blow over, but the problems about the family, human life and marriage will be permanent ones. These are consistently under attack from the most powerful forces. Most of my friends are devoted Catholics but are terribly dismayed that certain quotations attributed to the Pope tend to make them feel more orthodox than the Vatican. One of them said it was becoming more difficult to function as a Catholic trying to push the Catholic viewpoint among nonbelievers.

God is alive and well
The latest one quoted to me was a statement attributed to the Pope by an alleged Chilean survivor of clerical sex abuse. The man identified as Juan Carlos Cruz was quoted in The New York Times issue of May 22, 2018, as saying the Pope had told him, “that’s not a problem. You have to be happy with who you are. God made you this way and loves you this way, and the pope loves you this way.”

My friend pointed out that although the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches Catholics to treat people with homosexual tendencies with respect, compassion and sensitivity, it also says one must recognize that a “deep-seated” inclination toward homosexuality and the commission of homosexual acts are themselves “intrinsically disordered” and “contrary to the natural law” and to the will of God.

What the Church teaches, to the best of my understanding, said my friend, “is that we must struggle against our worst defects to the very best of our abilities. If despite our most sincere efforts, we remain with our worst defects, then we place ourself and all our defects at the mercy of God. Have mercy on me, a sinner. But it can never be right for me to tell God, this is what I am, this is how you made me, even though God made only two sexes, and I and I alone have decided to belong to a self-created sex.”

This conversation left me feeling that despite the well-advertised presence of atheists and apostates in the UN, God is very much alive there. / [email protected]BY FRANCISCO TATAD ON 

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