Voicing concern that the far-away conflict in Europe will have consequences in Asia, the Catholic bishops of the Philippines, one of the world’s most populous Catholic countries, will join Pope Francis’ consecration of Russia and Ukraine to the Immaculate Heart of Mary on March 25.

The Permanent Council of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines decided to join the consecration at their March 16 meeting, the Philippines’ bishops’ news site CBCP News reports. 

Msgr. Bernardo Pantin, the Secretary General of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, said the bishops will pray the same act of consecration as the pope in their dioceses.

Pope Francis will consecrate Russia and Ukraine to the Immaculate Heart of Mary on March 25 in St. Peter’s Basilica. On the same day, Cardinal Konrad Krajewski will also preside at an act of consecration in Fatima, Portugal. Krajewski, the papal almoner, was one of two papal envoys recently sent to Ukraine.

March 25 was the day in 1984 that John Paul II consecrated Russia and the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. It is also the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord.

The Philippines bishops’ conference has asked dioceses to hold a special second collection at all Masses this Sunday for refugees and others displaced by the war, calling this “an act of solidarity with the suffering people of Ukraine.”

Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of Caloocan, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, discussed the situation in a letter, the Philippine Daily Inquirer reports. Despite the country’s distance from Europe, the bishop said, “we have every reason to be apprehensive about these global developments.”

Considering the Asia-Pacific region, he said, “we can only hope that Russia’s sudden shift to an expansionist geopolitical policy does not motivate any of its allies from doing the same thing on their neighboring country.”

The bishop’s letter alluded to territorial disputes with China, which has asserted a claim over the West Philippine Sea. China has refused to recognize the 2016 judgment of the International Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague in favor of the Philippines. China has repeatedly trespassed in the territorial waters of the Philippines. 

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“We are conscious of the fact that, in just the past few years, the peace and security of some of our own national territories have been among our major domestic concerns, especially in the West Philippine Sea, where an ally of Russia has already set up its own military installations, despite all our protestations,” said the bishop.

He worried about the “fearful scenario” of a world war of Russia and its allies against the U.S. and its NATO allies in Europe.

President Rodrigo R. Duterte. . Ace Morandante, Wikipedia Public Domain.
President Rodrigo R. Duterte. . Ace Morandante, Wikipedia Public Domain.

The Philippines’ controversial president Rodrigo Duterte has said the country remains neutral and has described Russia’s president Vladimir Putin as his friend, ABS-CBN News reports. He previously described the Russian invasion of Ukraine as “suicidal.”

Church leaders have strongly condemned Duterte’s brutal war on drug-related crime. Since Duterte's rise to power in 2016, some 30,000 people are feared to have died in extrajudicial killings. 

Duterte has a history of criticizing the Catholic Church. In December 2019, he said people should “kill and steal” from Catholic bishops, saying they “serve no purpose” and do nothing but criticize. The president has claimed to have been a victim of sexual abuse by an American missionary, a Jesuit priest from the California Province of the Society of Jesus.

Duterte is limited by law to a six-year term which ends in 2022. 

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David, the president of the Philippines’ bishops, said that the international situation should be a factor in voters’ choices in the upcoming elections.

“This is now turning out to be the more important global context that should determine the way we will choose a new set of leaders for our country in the coming elections,” he said. “This too we must pray very hard for.”