THE LATEST THINKING
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More than the symbolic rite of feet washing, we need concrete and humane actions in solidarity with those who suffer.
The image of a pope washing and kissing the prisoner’s feet on an annual Maundy Thursday ritual is of a huge significance to the Christian world. The act is a symbol of humility having the pope reenact a scene in the gospel, Jesus washing the feet of his disciples.
This year, Pope Francis performed the ritual to the inmates of a Rome prison Regina Coeli. Twelve prisoners were requested to participate in the act including a Buddhist, an Orthodox Christian, two Muslims, and a Filipino Catholic.
“Everyone always has the opportunity to change lives and one cannot judge,” the pope said in a mass, the fourth time he celebrated in an Italian jail.
Pope Francis had introduced a change to the Holy Week ceremony since his election in 2013. He moved the feet washing ritual outside the walls of Vatican.
Cognizant of the power of symbolism, the vicar of Christ has sent a strong message to the world. Well, mostly to a people who could hardly identify the difference between the world of physical states and the world of subjective experience of which most folks call the spiritual world.
Having a Filipino prisoner included in the religious rite also means a lot to the Philippines with 80 percent of the population are Catholics. Not for Filipino pride, having a Philippine citizen incarcerated in an Italian prison, but because the act symbolizes the hope Filipino prisoners had been deprived of. That they too, despite their crimes, are human beings longing for a second chance.
The Philippines’ criminal justice and penal system have been in shambles from years of neglect. Prisons and community jails are overcrowded and made worse by the government’s obstinate war on drugs sending tens of thousands in jail without trial and conviction.
President Rodrigo Duterte’s justice system can be summed up like this: kill the drug addicts and small drug dealers, free the big-time drug lords. Forge an alliance with the president, then you are free; criticize, you rot in jail.
Duterte had linked Senator Leila De Lima, a long-time critique, to the illegal drug trade of which the latter had been detained without trial. But the story does not end there.
The president who promised to end the drug trade released the self-confessed drug lord Kerwin Espinosa who testified before the Philippine Senate. The Department of Justice also dropped the case of another drug lord Peter Lim, sending a symbolic message it is all right to sell drugs in bulk but always a crime to sell in small packs and tiny sachets.
In this upside-down world where the weak are sent to prison or killed and powerful get away with their guilt, we need not a symbolic rite alone, we need a direct action in solidarity with those who suffer.
It should be more than the symbolism of feet washing but the washing of guilt by concrete and humane actions. Urge legislators and leaders to implement reforms and improve the justice system.
Some of the most vulnerable in the Philippines have turned to religion in the uncertainty of Duterte's drug war and there...