Bernardo M. Villegas
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Pope Francis Is No Communist (Part 3)

          One aspect of “re-envisaging” the social function of property is the way we apply this principle to the globalization and anti-globalization issues that characterize our era.  In Paragraphs 121 of Fratelli Tutti, he asserts:  “No one then can remain excluded because of his or her place of birth, much less because of privileges enjoyed by others who were born in lands of greater opportunity. The limits and borders of individual states cannot stand in the way of this.  As it is unacceptable that some have fewer rights by virtue of being women, it is likewise unacceptable that the mere place of one’s birth or residence should result in his or her possessing fewer opportunities for a developed and dignified life.”  The developed countries especially must not completely close their borders to the millions of hapless citizens of other countries who are suffering from the ravages of civil wars, natural disasters and other calamities that force them to immigrate to more hospitable environments.  It is also intolerable that natural-born citizens of a nation will persecute immigrants in their own lands, as is happening in the United States where Asian Americans are objects of hatred and violence.  Pope Francis is appealing to these natural born citizens of developed countries, whether in America or Europe, to practice preferential option for the poor, not only as individuals but also as nations:   “Development must not aim at the amassing of wealth by a few, but most ensure ‘human rights—personal and social, economic and political, including  the rights of nations and of peoples.  The right of some to free enterprise or market freedom cannot suppress the rights of people and the dignify of the poor, or, for that matter respect for the natural environment, for ‘if we make something our own, it is only to administer it for the welfare of all.’“  Clearly, these words in no way are advocating the abolition of private property but the responsible use of property for the international common good.

         The word is “re-envisage” is very appropriate in this case because there is now “a new network of international relations (that were hardly present when the other Popes wrote their respective social encyclicals)…there is no way to resolve the serious problems of our world if we continue to think only in terms of mutual assistance between individuals or small groups.  Nor should we forget that ‘inequity affects not only individuals but entire countries; it compels us to consider ethics of international relations’.  Indeed, justice requires recognizing and respecting not only the rights of individuals, but also social rights and the rights of peoples.   This means finding a way to ensure the ‘fundamental right of peoples to subsistence and progress…”  This re-envisaging the social function of property has been especially highlighted by the sad circumstances of the ongoing pandemic in which hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people, are falling seriously sick and dying of COVID-19.  It would be the height of  social injustice for countries who own the intellectual property rights to the vaccines that have been developed with their own capital to hoard these vaccines only for the use of their own citizens and to refuse to share them with the poorer countries. 

      Pope Francis gives special attention to the plight of immigrants.  In paragraphs 129 of Fratelli Tutti, he describes present day realities about the absolute need of some suffering individuals to immigrate to foreign lands.  In his words:  “Complex challenges arise when our neighbor happens to be an immigrant.  Ideally, unnecessary migration ought to be avoided; this entails creating in countries of origin the conditions needed for a dignified life and integral development.  Yet until substantial progress is made in achieving  this goal, we are obliged to respect the right of all individuals to find a place that meets their basic needs and those of their families, and where they can find personal fulfilment. Our response to the arrival of migrating persons can be summarised by  four words:  welcome, protect, promote and integrate. For ‘it is not a case of implementing welfare programmes from the top down, but rather of undertaking a journey together, through these four actions,  in order to build cities and countries that while serving their respective cultural and religious identify, are open to differences and know how to promote them in the spirit of human fraternity.”

         Not prone to remain at a theoretical or abstract level, the Pope recommends “certain indispensable steps, especially in response to those who are fleeing grave humanitarian crises” (like those fleeing from Syria or Venezuela).  The specific measures he identifies are:   increasing and simplifying the granting of visas; adopting programmes of individual and community sponsorship; opening humanitarian corridors for the most vulnerable refugees;  providing suitable and dignified housing; guaranteeing personal security  and access to basic services; ensuring adequate consular assistance and the right to retain personal identify documents; equitable access to the justice system; the possibility of opening bank accounts and the guarantee of the minimum needs to survive; freedom of movement and the possibility of employment; protecting minors and ensuring their regular access to education; providing for programmes of temporary guardianship or shelter; guaranteeing religious freedom; promoting integration into society; supporting the reuniting of families; and preparing local communities for the process of integration.

         From these words of Pope Francis about the openness to immigrants, let me comment on  the reverse process of emigration, the point of view of countries like the Philippines that are the sources of overseas workers who are addressing the acute need for workers by those countries in Europe and Northeast Asia that are suffering from very low fertility rates and the consequent rapid ageing of the population.  The Philippines is among the few emerging markets that can still boast of a young and growing population with relatively high literacy rates.  There are over 10 million Overseas Filipino Workers in close to 200 countries.  These OFWs are highly appreciated by their host countries, especially in such humanitarian services like medicine, nursing, caregiving and other personal services requiring the so-called soft skills.  In a world of mutual assistance, our role is precisely to provide these workers to these depopulating countries where the senior citizens (that can account for as much as 30 percent of the total population) have increasingly no one to take are of them in their old age.  It was pitiful to see many of them dying in big numbers in the homes of the aged in some European countries during the height of the pandemic because of the shortage of nurses and other health workers.

   It was especially moving to hear Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York City praise Filipino health workers saying that the City would not have survived the COVID-19 pandemic without the “incredible work and sacrifice” of the Filipino nurses and health workers. He uttered these remarks during the recent celebration of the Filipino-American History Month.  Filipino immigrants are the second largest Asian community in the U.S and there are 80,000 of them in New York City.  Filipinas and Filipinos constitute one-fourth of the immigrant nurses in the U.S.   These words of praise and thanksgiving of Mayor de Blasio have been replicated in many other cities all over the world.  Our OFWs will be in increasing demand as more countries age in the coming decades.  Some extreme believers in Artificial Intelligence and Robotics think that countries like China and other rapidly ageing countries can make do without young people by turning to high technology.  They forget that the greatest need of human beings for human happiness is the human touch.  No robot can ever take the place of a human being in alleviating the sufferings and demand for attention by an ageing and sick person.

         Our sending OFWs to other countries will not be costless to our society.  Increasingly we are suffering from “brain drain” in some critical sectors of the economy, especially in the heath sector.  The generations of the millennials and centennials will increasingly suffer from an acute shortage of domestic helpers who abounded during the generations of their parents and grandparents.  Increasingly, they have to adapt the same lifestyle of developed countries in which married couples and their children have to do all the housework.  This is, however, a sacrifice that we must be able to endure for the international common good, as Pope Francis calls it.  It is clear that our service to the global common good is our providing them with the young work force they need.  This means that we have to make sure that we do not suffer their same fate, that is low fertility rates and the consequent rapid ageing of society.  We must continue to nurture the pro-life and pro-children culture that has been our tradition.   We should avoid like the plague developing a contraceptive mentality among the young couples so that we can always maintain a fertility rate of at least 2.1 babies per fertile woman so that we can avoid committing demographic suicide as most developed countries have done. I usually tell the young professionals that I mentor that it will be a patriotic duty for them when they get married to strive for at least three children per married couple so we can always maintain the so-called replacement rate of 2.1 per fertile woman!  (To be continued).