Cardinal Jaime Sin

Archbishop of Manila who saw his duty as being 'to put Christ in politics'

Jaime Lachica Sin, priest: born New Washington, Philippines 31 August 1928; ordained priest 1954; Titular Bishop of Obba 1967-72; Titular Archbishop of Massa Lubrense 1972-76; Archbishop of Manila 1974-2003 (Emeritus); named a Cardinal 1976; died Manila 21 June 2005.

In the Philippines, the only and most devout Catholic country in East Asia, cardinals have long had enormous influence on national politics, sometimes notoriously so. Jaime Sin, Archbishop of Manila from 1974, who was named a cardinal in 1976 (at the age of 47 becoming the youngest member of the College of Cardinals), was well aware of this.

Having been a parish priest who rose to become a bishop, he was initially reluctant to take on the role of leader of the Catholic Church in the Philippines. He even joked that, given his name, the Pope would never dare appoint him a cardinal. Also, his name revealed his ethnic origin. He was a Sino-Filipino, again something which did not endear him to all his fellow believers. Still he did not hide the fact and instead used it to ward off any potential inter-racial friction, as well as try to improve the long-strained relations between Manila and Beijing.

Yet, if that could be construed as interference in politics, Sin's real test came when, as spiritual leader of the Philippines, he had to contend with the rising popular discontent with the dictatorial, martial law regime of President Ferdinand Marcos and his wife, Imelda. True, they paid great lip service to the Catholic faith but did they serve the true interests of the people of the Philippines, especially when they brutally suppressed all opposition to their rule?

Eventually Sin decided to speak out in support of Cory Aquino, the widow of the assassinated opposition leader Benigno Aquino, in calling for an end to martial law. This led to massive popular demonstrations, often, significantly, led by nuns whom in such a devout country the riot police dared not attack. The outcome was what has been called "People Power". President Marcos fled the Philippines in February 1986 and the country reverted to democratic rule.

After that, Cardinal Sin prayed for peace and national reconciliation, whilst himself retreating to what seemed to be his preferred role as a pastoral leader.

Yet, again, he felt challenged a dozen years later. Joseph Estrada, who in 1998 was elected President by popular vote, turned out to be morally corrupt in office, which led to widespread discontent. Once again, Sin was unable to remain silent and, when he spoke out, the population followed in another demonstration of People Power. Estrada had to step down, albeit reluctantly, in 2001.

Like it or not, Jaime Sin played a major role in Philippine politics during the past three decades. Yet it is not just because of that that his death will be deeply mourned. For most Filipinos, he was a truly inspiring spiritual leader of the nation. On his retirement as Archbishop of Manila in 2003, he said, "My duty is to put Christ in politics. Politics without Christ is the greatest scourge of our nation."

Judy Stowe