17 July 2016

And many who profess faith

And many who profess faith in God find it
Just to despise one evil and cheer another, so we
Pray for the time when the few who cry for life
Become many, and mass murders, a thing of the past.

This War on Drugs will Fail

This war on drugs will fail because it is founded on the wrong principles.

Human life is expendable.
uman rights are only for the law-abiding.
The ends justify the means.
Due process is a technicality that can be flouted.
ear is a rightful tool for law enforcement.
everity of punishment deters crime.
he rule of law is binding only when it serves prevailing doctrine.
hose who oppose the war are to be counted as enemies.
thics and faith are irrelevant to the issues at hand.
he death of innocents is acceptable collateral damage.

29 April 2016

Change is coming?

I have a premonition, it is strong but not certain;
the signs were there, not too subtle warnings.
We chose fear over hope, because we were tired
of broken promises, so we turned mortals into gods
and bid them to save us. All they asked was that
we ignore their faults and laugh at their humor.
We are a nation of faith, of course, we believed.

26 March 2016

Do we need a Parish Pastoral Database?

The presentation of the highlights of the 2014 Diocesan Pastoral Database at the Clergy General Assembly and at a meeting of the Diocesan Council of the Laity last February revealed some interesting features of the current state of our Local Church life and ministries.

Since it is already 2016, some explanation is in order as to why we are still talking about 2014 data. In January last year, we sent parishes an updated questionnaire which if accomplished would compose their respective Parish Pastoral Database for 2014. While a number of them readily responded, the majority took a long time in sending their reports. As of December 31 last year, a total of 35 out of 47 parishes sent their 2014 pastoral reports. We hope we could do better with the response time this year.

The following are some of those highlights and insights:

1.   We noticed a slight downward trend in the number of baptisms and confirmations. From 17,147 in 2012, baptisms were down to 16,912 in 2014; from 5,753 in 2012, the number of confirmands dropped a bit to 4,760 in 2014. Is this proportional to the decreasing population growth rate in the country? Maybe. On the positive side there is an incremental increase in the number of church weddings – from 1,820 church weddings in the diocese in 2012, that number grew to 2,005 in 2014. Does it mean that we are slowly gaining ground in our campaign for more couples to avail of the sacrament of matrimony?

2.   Among Church organizations, Marian groups recorded the most number of devotees: Miraculous Medal (3,142 members), Visita Domicilaria (1,582), and Legion of Mary (1,023). However there were also some that lost significant membership over the years, these include older groups like Adoracion Nocturna Filipina and the Daughters of Mary Immaculate, and even relatively recent ones like the Adorers of the Holy Trinity and Alliance of Two Hearts. We haven’t asked yet the lay leaders and clergy spiritual directors of concerned organizations as to how they have been responding to the issue of their dwindling membership.

3.   The Legazpi Catechetical Ministry (LCM) serves a commendably wide outreach. The parish with the most number of students in catechism classes was Guinobatan (28,980), next the parishes of: Libon (15,239), Tiwi (13,500), Panal (12,180), and Pioduran (11,590). The ranking may still vary as some parishes with traditionally strong catechetical programs such Legazpi Port, Albay Cathedral, and Daraga failed to send in their report.

4.   For the diocese’s flagship anti-poverty program, TADA (Tanganing an Dukha Atamanon), the parishes with the biggest collection during its first three years of implementation (2012-2014) were the following: Libon (Php 121,461.00), Bigaa (Php 29,496.00), Guinobatan (Php 29,235.00), Cabasan (Php27,961.25), and Camalig (13,942.50). All of them were centro or urban parishes, except Cabasan, a parish in Cagraray Island, Bacacay. If a small island parish could be counted among the top five in terms of amount raised for pro-poor projects, what would keep other parishes from doing the same or better?

5.   Sadly a number of parishes still failed to meet the standards for salary and other benefits for their personnel. While almost all parishes have functioning Pastoral Councils, majority of parishes are yet to organize their Finance Council.

6.   Twelve parishes have achieved a complete barangay to BPC (Barangay Pastoral Council) ratio. By order of number of BPCs organized, these were: Ligao, Camalig, Malinao, Mauraro, Tabaco, Cabasan, Rapu-Rapu, Cotmon, Lidong, Badian, Bigaa, and Balogo. BPC organizing is essential in completing the diocese’s “structures of communion”, a network of aligned support structure for sustaining SAKOPs (Saradit na Komunidad nin Pagtubod), our model of basic ecclesial communities.

7.   The Diocesan Commission on Family and Life made it their priority to organize down to the level of barangays to better deliver their programs and services such as Natural Family Planning, Pre-Cana Seminars, and Marriage Counseling. In 2014, they have achieved a total of 273 BCFLs (Barangay Commissions on Family and Life) out of 720 barangays in the diocese.

8.   The parishes with the most number of youth ministry members were the following: Tiwi, Sto. Domingo, Tabaco, Ligao, Malabog, Cotmon, Fatima, Camalig, Malinao, and Bigaa.

9.   The parishes with the most number of vocations (seminarians) for the diocese in 2014 were the following: Ligao, Malilipot, Rapu-Rapu, Panal, Libon, and Guinobatan. Again, the ranking may still vary as some parishes with observably large number of seminarians, like Bacacay, Tabaco, and Oas, failed to send in their report. The diocese expects to hit the mark of having “100 living Bacacayano priests” sometime this year.

For our 2015 Diocesan Pastoral Database, we hope to improve further in identifying our outreach, i.e., the number of people served by our ministries, defining the depth of participation of lay collaborators, and instituting transparency and accountability in managing resources. The processes leading to the Second Diocesan Pastoral Assembly (DPA2) that include validation, feedback-giving, and evaluation will give us a sharper and more nuanced understanding of our diocese’s pastoral situation in the last four years in view of our strategic planning for the next five years.

But do we also need a comprehensive Pastoral Database for each parish? The same rationale that justifies a diocesan-level database applies as well to parishes: evidence-based pastoral decision and policy-making. The numbers may not tell us the whole story but they do tell a significant portion of it. Keeping an eye on the numbers, ears on the ground for feedback from parishioners, and a nose for opportunities for collaboration and sharing of resources with other parishes and organizations – will enable parishes to understand better what needs to be done and hopefully creatively craft effective responses to their respective pastoral needs.

As we continue our mission of building a renewed Local Church, we are guided by the light of the Truth who is Christ and the truth of our pastoral realities.

The Second Diocesan Pastoral Assembly

The first Diocesan Pastoral Assembly (DPA) in the diocese was held in 2011. It was a year-long process of study, consultation, and planning – involving clergy and religious, and lay leaders in all parishes and other Church organizations and institutions. The end result was a five-year Diocesan Pastoral Plan. This year, the fifth year of the plan, we embark on yet another year-long diocesan-wide planning process: the DPA 2.

As we start this wide-ranging processes, several questions come to mind: Have we reached out enough to the peripheries? Did the situation of the poor, families, and the youth improve over the last 4 years? Have we achieved the ministry goals we set out to do? Should we open up new parishes? Shoud we break-up or set-up new commissions? How could we capture the lessons learned and effectively apply them? What skills, knowledge and mindsets do we – clergy, religious, and laity – still need to possess? Do we have enough resources to support our vision? Are they properly allocated to support our priority pastoral programs?

We would like to answer most, if not all, of these questions. That is why we have designed DPA 2 to achieve these objectives: (1) study present and future needs in pursuing renewed integral evangelization, learning from the experience of the implementation of the Diocesan Pastoral Plan after the First Diocesan Pastoral Assembly in 2011; (2) craft a comprehensive manual of policies after a review of the Acts and Decrees of the Diocesan Synod in 2000 and other pastoral and administrative guidelines and policies existing in the diocese; and (3) set the pastoral direction and priorities of the diocese for the period of 2017-2021, drawing inspiration from the Jubilee Year of Mercy.

At the end of these processes, we hope to produce two important documents: the Diocesan Pastoral Manual, a compendium of synodal decrees and approved pastoral, administrative, and finance policies in the diocese; and the Diocesan Pastoral Plan 2021, a strategic pastoral plan of the diocese involving every pastoral commission, vicariate, parish, and other relevant bodies for the period 2017-2021.

If we successfully conduct these processes and come up with the projected output, will these ensure already that our vision of a renewed Local Church become reality? The answer lies in how much DPA 2 has raised the level of awareness, collaboration, and commitment of every faithful in the diocese. At the end of the day, policies and plans are but support mechanisms to what is already there at the heart of the Church: the mission to follow Christ and preach the good news. And in the Jubilee Year of Mercy, we hope to spread the Gospel of Mercy to every aspect of our Church life.

Simbahan na maheherakon, padagos an misyon!

13 January 2016

SILAG Voters Education

In the Diocese of Legazpi, the voters education module for the 2016 elections is called “SILAG”. Silag is a Bikol word that means “transparent”. It also stands for “Social Initiative for Local Accountability in Governance”, the overall program framework for people’s empowerment and good governance advocacy of the Social Action Center (SAC). The SILAG brand, already present in a few SAC Legazpi projects such as partnerships with line agencies and local government units, and capacity-building trainings for grassroots organizations, now extends to its Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) election campaign.

In crafting this module, we applied some lessons learned from our long institutional track record in community organizing and election advocacy, and drew inspiration from other voters education projects. The result is a campaign whose methodology expands from the usual moralistic preaching into a more audience-driven learning, whose advocacy transcends beyond the elections into the much broader arenas of good governance and people empowerment, whose support structure improves upon the current stand-alone PPCRV model into a synergistic movement that maximizes the strengths of the Church’s structure and network, including its partners in government and civil society.

Session 1, “Kita Man an Dangogon (Let Them Listen to Us this Time): Setting-up a People’s Local Governance Agenda”. We thank Simbahang Lingkod ng Bayan’s “Kuwentuhang Bayan” for articulating our kindred desire to make the election season not just an exercise in discerning the qualifications of candidates but also in raising the quality of dialogue between candidates and voters by encouraging communities to express their own agenda of pressing community concerns and the common good, instead of just waiting for candidates to present their platforms of government.

Session 1's objective will be accomplished by PPCRV units when they gather the output of all vote-ed workshops conducted in parishes in a city or municipality into easy-to-remember five, seven or ten-point agenda, and present them to candidates for adoption in their respective platforms. The adopted local community agenda in turn will be the basis for measuring and demanding accountability from winning candidates as they take on the task of governance later.

Session 2, “May Marhay Magsayuma (It’s Better to Say No): Challenging Barriers to Empowerment and Good Governance”. We are also grateful for the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) “One Good Vote” module for the consistent and impassioned campaign against vote-buying and selling. We adapted the “One Good Vote” spirit into our local language and setting in order to come up with a session that challenges the most resistant barriers to HOPE (honest, orderly and peaceful elections), such as public cynicism, vote buying, and political dynasty.

The participants’ commitment against vote-buying is reinforced with a sticker campaign in homes, offices, and vehicles. The sticker says: “Kami Pamilyang Kristiyano, Dai Nababakal an Boto” (We are a Christian Family, Our Votes are Not for Sale).

Session 3, “Banwaan Pagturuwangan (Solidarity for Community Development): Promoting People’s Participation in Local Governance. To this mix, we add the message that this election need not be a zero-sum game if your favored candidates don’t get to win; that PPCRV volunteers need not easily despair in case vote-buying becomes rampant and massive again despite their best efforts; and that no matter what happens, the election season still opens up windows of opportunity for genuine people’s participation in local governance – provided we do our part.

Session 3 raises awareness on various participatory mechanisms, especially provisions in the Local Government Code for non-government and civil society organizations’ participation in local development councils (at least 25% CSO membership) and local special bodies. Section 108 of R.A. 7160 mandates that “within a period of 60 days from the start of organization of local development councils, the nongovernmental organizations shall choose from among themselves their representatives to said councils”. The session also includes information on the Bottom-Up Budgeting initiative and the Local Poverty Reduction Action Team (50% CSO membership).

SAC Legazpi intends to follow-up its PPCRV campaign with post-election projects and activities within the SILAG framework such as organizing, accreditation assistance, and capacity-building of grassroots groups, so they can effectively participate in and influence local governance processes.

In a big picture perspective, elections are part of the value-chain of good governance. The other parts of the chain include policy-making and the budget process, people’s participation, transparency and accountability, and effective and efficient service delivery, among others. The clearer we recognize the role of elections in this value-chain, the better for our people to get the best value out of it, which means making elections truly a means for sustainable community development, inclusive growth, and nation-building. This should be the end game of any voters education project.

12 January 2016

Seven Developmental Works of Mercy

In Misericordiae Vultus, the bull of indiction or official decree for the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy this 2016, Pope Francis reaffirms the central value of mercy for the Church. “Mercy is the very foundation of the Church’s life. All of her pastoral activity should be caught up in the tenderness she makes present to believers; nothing in her preaching and in her witness to the world can be lacking in mercy. The Church’s very credibility is seen in how she shows merciful and compassionate love” (MV 10). Further, He asked that the 2016 Jubilee Year be a time to reflect upon and live out both the spiritual and corporal works of mercy.

In light of this mandate, the recently concluded Diocesan Anti-Poverty Summit – the culmination of the Year of the Poor in the Diocese of Legazpi – framed our Local Church’s anti-poverty development agenda according to the so-called Seven Developmental Works of Mercy. These are the following:

Goal 1: Improve health-seeking behavior and access to quality healthcare among the poor

Goal 2: Strengthen initiatives to improve quality of life through education

Goal 3: Provide opportunities for socio-economic development for the poor

Goal 4: Protect the rights and dignity of women, children, the unborn, and other vulnerable sectors

Goal 5: Promote genuine people’s participation in good governance

Goal 6: Care for our common home and build safe and resilient communities

Goal 7: Strengthen institutions that care for the poor and foster collaboration for development

Why developmental? Development refers to the transformation of societies and people’s quality of life, taking into account complex and intersecting realities, and often involving long-term goals. When development puts the protection of natural ecosystems as a priority so that providing for the needs of the present would not be at the expense of future generations, it is called “sustainable development”. In the language of the Church, when development pertains to the growth of human persons and communities in all aspects of life – physical, social, economic, moral, spiritual, etc. – it is called “integral development”.

In Pope Benedict XVI’s social encyclical Caritatis in Veritate, he devotes an entire section to expound on Pope Paul VI’s body of social teachings on the Church’s engagement in the work of development. For Pope Benedict XVI, “testimony to Christ's charity, through works of justice, peace and development, is part and parcel of evangelization, because Jesus Christ, who loves us, is concerned with the whole person. These important teachings form the basis for the missionary aspect of the Church's social doctrine, which is an essential element of evangelization” (CV 15).

The Seven Developmental Works of Mercy is a local initiative. It does not cover the entirety of the Church’s varied and vast social apostolate. Rather, it is based on a reflection of the diocese’s current programs and capacity for development work, and more importantly, on the needs of poor and marginalized people within its jurisdiction. It may sound like a recent innovation, but it is actually situated well within the Church’s tradition of social teaching and action.

Next steps after the summit are the following: organize clusters of collaboration around each developmental work of mercy, and build the capacities of institutions and partnerships in order to realize their respective goals; define further key result areas, social indicators, and viable targets; and craft needed policies and an overall action plan. Once finished this will take the form of a Diocesan Anti-Poverty Development Action Plan until 2021. These processes will take place in 2016 and within the context of the Second Diocesan Pastoral Assembly (DPA 2) – the second wave of diocesan-wide consultation, reflection, and planning to come up with a pastoral strategic plan for the period of 2017 to 2021.

However, these necessarily technical processes should not overwhelm the essence of the developmental works of mercy: that is, the Local Church practicing what it preaches about the Gospel demand to take care of the least, the last, and the lost, and becoming the Church of the Poor.

As always, the words of Pope Francis inspires our efforts. “In this Holy Year, we look forward to the experience of opening our hearts to those living on the outermost fringes of society: fringes which modern society itself creates. How many uncertain and painful situations there are in the world today! How many are the wounds borne by the flesh of those who have no voice because their cry is muffled and drowned out by the indifference of the rich! During this Jubilee, the Church will be called even more to heal these wounds, to assuage them with the oil of consolation, to bind them with mercy and cure them with solidarity and vigilant care. Let us not fall into humiliating indifference or a monotonous routine that prevents us from discovering what is new! Let us ward off destructive cynicism! Let us open our eyes and see the misery of the world, the wounds of our brothers and sisters who are denied their dignity, and let us recognize that we are compelled to heed their cry for help! May we reach out to them and support them so they can feel the warmth of our presence, our friendship, and our fraternity! May their cry become our own, and together may we break down the barriers of indifference that too often reign supreme and mask our hypocrisy and egoism!” (MV 15).

A Franciscan Benediction

May God bless you with discomfort
at easy answers, half–truths, and superficial relationships,
so that you may live deep within your heart.

May God bless you with anger
at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people,
so that you may work for justice, freedom, and peace.

May God bless you with tears to shed
for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, and war,
so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and turn their pain into joy.

And may God bless you with enough foolishness
to believe that you can make a difference in their world,
so that you can do what others claim cannot be done.


15 November 2015

Firesetter at 37

Lord, I praise you for the strength
of mountains, the longevity of trees,
though I wish them not for myself.
Neither the urgency of streams,
predisposed to seek the lowest level.
Rather I pray for the patience
of bees, working together to share
the fruits of their labor in ways
even they can’t fully contemplate.

9 November 2015
Balay Buhay sa Uma Bee Farm
Bulusan, Sorsogon

02 April 2015

The Pact of the Catacombs

Shortly before the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council, 40 bishops met on the night of 16 November 1965 in the Domitilla Catacombs outside Rome.  In that holy place of Christian dead they celebrated the Eucharist and signed a document that expressed their personal commitments to the ideals of the Council under the suggestive title of the "Pact of the Catacombs". It also goes by the title "Pact of the Servant and Poor Church". Among the bishops gathered was Dom Helder Camara, Archbishop of Recife, Brazil and icon of justice and freedom in Latin America. The statements' counter-cultural ideals and latent radicalism however might have limited its impact to only a dedicated few. Yet in the ensuing years, the little pact of minority bishops gradually caught fire, inspiring the rise of liberation theology, the orthodoxy of the Church of the poor, and the praxis of building basic ecclesial communities as agents of Gospel-based change in individuals and society in many parts of the world and beyond Catholic circles.

We, bishops assembled in the Second Vatican Council, are conscious of the deficiencies of our lifestyle in terms of evangelical poverty. Motivated by one another in an initiative in which each of us has tried avoid ambition and presumption, we unite with all our brothers in the episcopacy and rely above all on the grace and strength of Our Lord Jesus Christ and on the prayer of the faithful and the priests in our respective dioceses. Placing ourselves in thought and in prayer before the Trinity, the Church of Christ, and all the priests and faithful of our dioceses, with humility and awareness of our weakness, but also with all the determination and all the strength that God desires to grant us by his grace, we commit ourselves to the following:

1.      We will try to live according to the ordinary manner of our people in all that concerns housing, food, means of transport, and related matters. See Matthew 5,3; 6,33ff; 8,20.

2.      We renounce forever the appearance and the substance of wealth, especially in clothing (rich vestments, loud colors) and symbols made of precious metals (these signs should certainly be evangelical). See Mark 6,9; Matthew 10,9-10; Acts 3.6 (Neither silver nor gold).

3.      We will not possess in our own names any properties or other goods, nor will we have bank accounts or the like. If it is necessary to possess something, we will place everything in the name of the diocese or of social or charitable works. See Matthew 6,19-21; Luke 12,33-34.

4.      As far as possible we will entrust the financial and material running of our diocese to a commission of competent lay persons who are aware of their apostolic role, so that we can be less administrators and more pastors and apostles. See Matthew 10,8; Acts 6,1-7.

5.      We do not want to be addressed verbally or in writing with names and titles that express prominence and power (such as Eminence, Excellency, Lordship). We prefer to be called by the evangelical name of "Father." See Matthew 20,25-28; 23,6-11; John 13,12-15).

6.      In our communications and social relations we will avoid everything that may appear as a concession of privilege, prominence, or even preference to the wealthy and the powerful (for example, in religious services or by way of banquet invitations offered or accepted). See Luke 13,12-14; 1 Corinthians 9,14-19.

7.      Likewise we will avoid favoring or fostering the vanity of anyone at the moment of seeking or acknowledging aid or for any other reason. We will invite our faithful to consider their donations as a normal way of participating in worship, in the apostolate, and in social action. See Matthew 6,2-4; Luke 15,9-13; 2 Corinthians 12,4.

8.      We will give whatever is needed in terms of our time, our reflection, our heart, our means, etc., to the apostolic and pastoral service of workers and labor groups and to those who are economically weak and disadvantaged, without allowing that to detract from the welfare of other persons or groups of the diocese. We will support lay people, religious, deacons, and priests whom the Lord calls to evangelize the poor and the workers by sharing their lives and their labors. See Luke 4,18-19; Mark 6,4; Matthew 11,4-5; Acts 18,3-4; 20,33-35; 1 Corinthians 4,12; 9,1-27.

9.      Conscious of the requirements of justice and charity and of their mutual relatedness, we will seek to transform our works of welfare into social works based on charity and justice, so that they take all persons into account, as a humble service to the responsible public agencies. See Matthew 25,31-46; Luke 13,12-14; 13,33-34.

10.  We will do everything possible so that those responsible for our governments and our public services establish and enforce the laws, social structures, and institutions that are necessary for justice, equality, and the integral, harmonious development of the whole person and of all persons, and thus for the advent of a new social order, worthy of the children of God. See Acts 2,44-45; 4;32-35; 5,4; 2 Corinthians 8 and 9; 1 Timothy 5,16.

11.  Since the collegiality of the bishops finds its supreme evangelical realization in jointly serving the two-thirds of humanity who live in physical, cultural, and moral misery, we commit ourselves: a) to support as far as possible the most urgent projects of the episcopacies of the poor nations; and b) to request jointly, at the level of international organisms, the adoption of economic and cultural structures which, instead of producing poor nations in an ever richer world, make it possible for the poor majorities to free themselves from their wretchedness. We will do all this even as we bear witness to the gospel, after the example of Pope Paul VI at the United Nations.

12.  We commit ourselves to sharing our lives in pastoral charity with our brothers and sisters in Christ, priests, religious, and laity, so that our ministry constitutes a true service. Accordingly, we will make an effort to "review our lives" with them; we will seek collaborators in ministry so that we can be animators according to the Spirit rather than dominators according to the world; we will try be make ourselves as humanly present and welcoming as possible; and we will show ourselves to be open to all, no matter what their beliefs. See Mark 8,34-35; Acts 6,1-7; 1 Timothy 3,8-10.

13.  When we return to our dioceses, we will make these resolutions known to our diocesan priests and ask them to assist us with their comprehension, their collaboration, and their prayers.

May God help us to be faithful.