This was the challenge posed by Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle to all candidates vying for electoral posts in the upcoming May 13 polls.
“Our people long for a true shepherd. We can learn from Jesus. The shepherd is the way rather than the stumbling block for people to reach green pastures. A good shepherd knows his sheep and offers the supreme sacrifice of giving up his life. He will endanger his life so that the sheep will be saved and will have life in abundance,” Tagle said in yesterday’s “discernment recollection” at the Sacred Heart Center in Cebu City.
About 800 people attended the morning session which was intended for voters while candidates listened to Tagle’s reflections in the afternoon.
The 55-year-old prelate, who will be the lone Filipino cardinal-elector in next month’s conclave to elect Pope Benedict XVI’s successor, celebrated Mass in the morning. He then drew applause and laughter from the audience several times with his wit and humor as the recollection master.
(Tagle avoided answering media questions later about the Pope’s resignation and would only smile when pressed for comment. )
At the start of his talk, when the audience stood up to applaud, he joked, ‘You may remain standing,” putting everyone at ease immediately, the better to absorb a serious one-hour reflection on the need to listen deeply with empathy to other people, and be attentive to the will of God.
Tagle said anyone who wishes to have a seat in government should be willing to listen well like a good shepherd.
“When we talk of listening, it is not just opening an ear and a brain to words. The most profound way of listening is when I’m able to empathize or being able to penetrate the world of the other person. From that world, I begin to understand and I begin to love,” he said.
“The reverse of listening is not just the lack of attention. Maybe the other person is not connecting to the other. Because I failed to appreciate the condition of the other, I am deaf to them,” he added.
In the afternoon session, which was off limits to media coverage, the same message was delivered to candidates.
Among the candidates who attended were Acting Cebu Gov. Agnes Magpale, Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama, Councilor Eduardo Labella, former Representatives Raul del Mar and Nerissa Ruiz, former senator John Osmeña, and Liberal Party’s gubernatorial candidate Hilario “Junjun” Davide III.
Tagle admonished candidates to avoid being “false shepherds” which the Lord promised to go against.
“As the Lord says through the Prophet Ezekiel, woe to you shepherds of Israel who have been pasturing themselves. Should not shepherds pasture the flock? You consumed milk, wore wool, and slaughtered fatlings, but the flock you did not pasture. You did not strengthen the weak nor heal the sick nor bind up the injured,” Tagle said.
“You did not bring back the stray or seek the lost but ruled them harshly and brutally. So they were scattered for lack of a shepherd, and became food for all the wild beasts,” he went on, citing passages in the Old Testatment.
Tagle said the Lord had vowed to go go against false shepherds who don’t take care of their flock.
“The false shepherd is a stranger. He is not united with the sheep. He does not know the sheep and the sheep do not know him. You, false shepherd, are instrumentalizing the sheep to serve yourself,” he said, discussing the Bible’s warning about false leaders.
The cardinal advised candidates to know their constituents and their conditions.
“As Jesus said, a false shepherd is a hired person. He is the one who takes care of the sheep but his real interest is his pay. When danger comes, the false shepherd runs away and saves his life and exposes the sheep to danger. While running, he could hear the sheep being murdured, but he will say ‘they are not mine. Im here for the pay,’” Tagle said.
He reminded candidates to pattern their programs of governance after what the Lord wills.
‘SHEEP’ NOT EXCUSED
Meanwhile, he said voters cannot just point a finger at their leaders. Tagle said citizens are equally accountable and should do their part to help government leaders.
He said people are “shepherds” to one another in different roles such as parents to their children, teachers to their students and spouses to their partners.
In the same account in Ezekiel, Tagle showed how God also evaluates the flock as rams and goats.
“Not everyone are sheep. There are goats. There are bullies, using their size and their shoulders to bump off others,” said Tagle.
Each individual will have to answer for his actions before God.
The cardinal also advised voters and candidates to devote quiet time to reflection.
“We face an important exercise as citizens who espouse and follow the teachings of the Lord. This requires really a lot of sacred space,” he said.
Tagle focused his talk on the importance of listening.
“I’m sure all of us also have experiences of not listening. I think we would humbly admit that we encounter difficulties in listening. We get hurt when other people do not listen to us. Before we expect them to listen, we have to ask ourselves, am I also good in listening? Or am I becoming an expert in non-listening?” he said.
Fr. Carmelo Diola, executive director of Dilaab, said the way Philippine elections are conducted is one root of graft and corruption because many politicians view elections as “an investment while public servcie has become a business.”
“It’s part of the culture to buy votes. When they win, they make bawi (recover what they spent),” he said.
The recollection was organized by Dilaab Foundation Inc. and the Couples for Christ.