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OFWs promote the common good

MANILA, Philippines—Roman Catholics among the overseas Filipino workers should read the encyclical of Pope Benedict XVI entitled Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth).

There is much in this letter to all people of good will that refers to the life of an OFW. Its content should be communicated to all regardless of culture or creed.

Among the important insights in this encyclical (which means “letter”) is the love of benevolence or love for the common good that can inspire every OFW. Although some OFWs have written me disclaiming that they are “heroes” and that their only reason for enduring the sacrifices of working abroad is to support their respective families, their modesty should be rewarded by the truth pointed out by Pope Benedict XVI: that every human being is capable of seeking the common good, of loving with the love of benevolence.

It may be true that the immediate reason for seeking employment abroad is love for family. This does not preclude the fact, however, that an OFW can also directly want to help the country with the foreign exchange he remits. These remittances have helped the economy grow, especially during the recent global crisis.

Human love is complex: There can be different layers or grades of motivation. Gratuitousness (the word used by the Pope) or the love of benevolence can also motivate OFWs. They just have to be aware of the help they give to their country and then consciously will this good to accrue to their fellow Filipinos.

In the same manner, any businessman can aspire for reasonable profit without neglecting to use his business operations to serve the common good in one way or another. He has very many stakeholders whose welfare he can promote.

The first social encyclical of Pope Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth) is addressed—like all the other social encyclicals since Rerum Novarum of Pope Leo XIII in 1891—not only to Catholics but to all people of good will.

All the principles he espouses in the encyclical letter can be understood and accepted by any reasonable person, whatever his or her creed or culture. The very first principle is in the title itself: integral human development.

The present Pope borrows this concept from Pope Paul VI who in the encyclical Populorum Progressio written in 1967 first wrote about development that is for every man and for the whole man. Only development that includes every one and addresses all the dimensions of a human being (economic, political, cultural, social, and spiritual) can be considered authentic development.

No matter how high the rate of growth of gross domestic product (like the 10 to 12 percent per annum of China over the last 20 years), true development is not happening if hundreds of millions of people still live in dehumanizing poverty and/or if there is no freedom of the unborn to live, religious freedom, or freedom of speech even among those who have been liberated from material poverty.

The recent encyclical is a timely reminder for all of us that we have to do everything possible to address the problem of mass poverty in our country. Any Filipino who is living a comfortable life and has any talent or skill whatsoever cannot rest until she or he has done everything possible to help very concrete and specific poor individuals and families to rise above dehumanizing poverty through the creation of jobs, the provision of basic needs like housing and quality education for the children of the poor, skills training especially for the unemployed youth, the production of goods and services through the market that are especially tailored to the needs of the poor, etc.

These are among the varied ways by which each one can contribute to the common good, which the Pope describes in detail: “The more we strive to secure a common good corresponding to the real needs of our neighbors, the more effectively we love them. Every Christian is called to practice this charity, in a manner corresponding to his vocation and according to the degree of influence he wields in the polis.”

This clearly states that no individual can just pursue his so-called enlightened self-interest, no matter how legitimate. He must consciously look for ways of contributing to the common good of society. Fortunately for the OFW, what he earns has a double benefit: he helps his family and he helps the country by contributing much needed foreign exchange.

The Pope goes out of his way to clarify what is the common good. He reiterates the doctrine of the Church that the common good can never be equated with “the greatest good for the greatest number.” The common good is “the good of ‘all of us,’ made up of individuals, families, and intermediate groups who together constitute society.” As I have often pointed out in these columns, the common good is a social or juridical order which enables every single member of society to attain his fullest human development economically, politically, socially, culturally, and spiritually. The common good is not determined by majority vote. We can never allow an erring majority to victimize a minority. For example, God forbid, if the Reproductive Health Bill is approved by the majority of the members of Congress, such a legislation would never justify the evil of artificial contraception or the possible killing of a live fetus by an abortifacient under the guise of a contraceptive pill.

The concept of “integral human development” should also make us resolve to help all families in the Philippines attain a level of material progress that will no longer make it necessary for fathers or mothers to leave their children to work overseas in order to support their families.

This necessary evil is forcing numerous households to sacrifice their social and spiritual welfare in favor of economic progress. As long as this undesirable situation persists, every effort should be exerted by business, civil society, and the government to minimize the psychological damage done especially to children by the absence of one or both of their parents.

More frequent visits of parents, arranging for even daily telephone conversations, intervention by psychologists and psychiatrists for especially troubled adolescent children, and efforts to convince host countries to give visas to the immediate members of the families of OFWs can help these “heroes” who support our national economic development efforts to attain integral human development.

By Dr. Bernardo M. Villegas

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