‘I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.’ (Martin Luther King, 28 August 1963) [Video of full speech here. Text here.]
Martin Luther King delivered his famous ‘I have a dream speech’ in a particular context. Some southern states of the USA still practiced segregation, ie, separate facilities for white and black people, those for the latter always inferior. This had its origins in the history of slavery in the Americas, the original slaves having been brought from West Africa.
King’s oration wasn’t a political speech. It was an expression of his Christian faith – he was a Baptist minister – demanding justice for all Americans. He was addressing specific issues that have a universal resonance. I have a dream that my four little children will one day . . .
On Monday 9 May Filipinos will elect thousands of officials to everything from the Presidency down to local councilors. The votes of the people will have an impact not only at home but elsewhere. Roughly ten percent of Filipinos are working overseas. Some have gone to other countries as migrants, have settled there and, in many cases, have become citizens of their new country, welcomed and cherished as such. But countless Filipinos have gone overseas as workers, not as immigrants, often exploited by those they work for and by Filipinos in some of the agencies that ‘facilitate’ their going abroad.
Government policy, whether national or local, can often determine whether someone will stay at home, be able to find work, live in a decent house, and send his/her children to good schools.
Vatican II’s Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes, says in No 73: There is no better way to establish political life on a truly human basis than by fostering an inward sense of justice and kindliness, and of service to the common good, and by strengthening basic convictions as to the true nature of the political community and the aim, right exercise, and sphere of action of public authority.
In No 75 the Document states: All citizens, therefore, should be mindful of the right and also the duty to use their free vote to further the common good. The Church praises and esteems the work of those who for the good of men devote themselves to the service of the state and take on the burdens of this office.
In other words, running for office, voting for elected officials at every level of society and serving in office are meant to be expressions of a living Catholic Christian faith. This does not mean that Catholics should vote as a bloc. As Gaudium et Spes says in No 74: The people who come together in the political community are many and diverse, and they have every right to prefer divergent solutions . . . It is clear, therefore, that the political community and public authority are founded on human nature and hence belong to the order designed by God, even though the choice of a political regime and the appointment of rulers are left to the free will of citizens.
In other words, voting responsibly, keeping the common good foremost in mind, is for Christians meant to be a profoundly Christian activity. In your editor’s view, this is far more important a Christian activity than being, for example, a reader at Mass. It is important that those with the faith and ability to do so proclaim the word of God at Mass. But those with that gift are relatively few. All Catholic Christians of voting age have an obligation laid on them by God himself to be involved in the political affairs of the nation by voting for candidates at every level whom they truly believe to be willing and able to work for the common good, citizens who have a dream.
May all of us share Dr King’s dream, a universal, Gospel one, that our children will be judged not by their social status, not by where they are from, but by the content of their character. A citizen’s vote can help fulfill that dream.
Pope Francis visits Tulay Ng Kabataan Foundation, Manila, 16 January 2016