14 April 2012

Building Communities through Renewed Evangelization

A Pastoral Letter on our Diocesan Pastoral Plan (2012-2016)
 “Arise, a long journey lies ahead of you.” (1 Kings19,7)

Dear People of God:

Last year in November we held our First Diocesan Pastoral Assembly (DPA). We intended it to be the major ecclesial event in our diocese ten years after the First Diocesan Synod in 2000. Starting in 2010, for a span of a little more than a year, we have conducted extensive consultations and research, organized commissions and study groups, and involved every single parish, as well as church-based institutions and organizations in the diocese.

In the end, we were able to produce a comprehensive Diocesan Pastoral Plan for the next five years. In it we have defined our new vision and mission statements, reorganized our administrative structure to better reflect our pastoral priorities, and crafted goals and action plans for each of our eight pastoral commissions: Worship, Christian Education, Social Concerns, Temporalities, Ecclesial Communities, Family and Life, Youth, and Clergy and Religious (WESTECFLYC).

All these goals and plans may be summed up into two pastoral thrusts: building Christian communities and renewed integral evangelization. It is for the purpose of explaining these pastoral thrusts and articulating our hopes and dreams as a local Church that this pastoral letter is written.

Building Christian Communities

Church as Communion. One of the great themes that emerged from Vatican II is the reaffirmation that the Church is a communion, first with the Triune God, and then with each other in the sharing of the great mystery of God’s love. 1 Jn 1,3 expresses it most succinctly: "that which we have seen and heard, we proclaim also to you, so that you may have fellowship with us; and our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ".

Community of Disciples. The spirit of communion is expressed in the concrete in our being a community of disciples. “In community a Christian grows in faith. We are called as individuals, and each one must give a personal response. But Christ calls us to form a Christian community. He wants the Church to be a ‘communion of life, love and truth’ (Lumen Gentium 9), a ‘community of faith, hope and charity’ (Lumen Gentium 8).” (PCP II 89)

Structures of Communion. Thus, our first pastoral thrust is the building up of Christian communities. To accomplish this, we have instituted structures of communion. The Diocesan Pastoral Council is created and tasked to direct the implementation of the Diocesan Pastoral Plan. It is supported by an embedded Oversight Committee and the Pastoral Assistance, Research and Development Secretariat (PARDS). It is further complemented by two more bodies: the Clergy General Assembly and the Diocesan Council of the Laity, which serve as crucial mechanisms for generating ideas and feedback from both clergy and laity. Similar structures shall also be instituted in every vicariate, parish and barangay or sitio.

Communion of Communities. We further envision our diocese as a communion of communities. More than ever we put priority in the effort to build Basic Ecclesial Communities (BECs) or Saradit na Kristyanong Komunidad (SKK), and promote other established and emerging ecclesial communities and movements.

The rationale behind this is simple. The Christian community is the most effective setting for fostering the growth in faith of individuals. Here they find unconditional acceptance of who they are and encouragement to grow into the persons God called them to be. Here they learn the art of loving one another and dying to oneself. Most importantly, here they encounter the person of Jesus in the living Word and Eucharist, and in their gathering as the Body of Christ. However the parish community has grown so large and impersonal that it is no longer able to sustain the building of intimate and caring relationships among many of its members. Thus, we recognize the need for smaller communities of faith where deep friendships are more easily bonded, and individuals are more intimately familiar with their companions in their Christian journey, without however forgetting that these communities are part of the parish and not autonomous entities.

From our common experience and discernment, the “kapilya model” emerges as an effective model for BECs in the diocese. This is why the WESTECFLY configuration of commissions in our pastoral councils – from the diocesan level down to the barangays and sitios – is based mainly on the structure of BECs. However this does not mean that we may no longer explore other options and search for better ways of being Church. Nor should this mean that we limit our idea of small faith communities only to BECs.

We have to recognize too that in recent times, some ecclesial movements have emerged and proven themselves effective in providing conversion experience and spiritual nourishment to their members. They too are works of the Holy Spirit and just as important as the BECs in our local Church. Having said this, we also cannot deny the apparent tension among the varied orientations present in the people in our parishes, BECs and ecclesial movements.

However, an initial survey of active members in our BECs and other ecclesial communities indicates that their combined membership comprises not even 10% of the entire Catholic population in the diocese. Parish attendance at Sunday Masses has also been estimated at less than 20% of our Catholic population. There is just so much to be done, so many to reach out to, and too little point for competition. A better system of collaboration among our Parish Pastoral Councils, BECs and ecclesial movements will not only attract more members to our faith communities but also realize what has always been the hallmark of unity in the Church: unity in diversity.

Renewed Integral EvangelizatION

Formation as Evangelization. Our second pastoral thrust is pursuing renewed integral evangelization. Communities are not only built, they also have to be sustained. An effective and systematic formation program will keep our faith communities centered in Christ and passionate in mission. And the starting point and overall character of any Church formation program is evangelization, which basically means proclaiming the Gospel following Christ’s command in Mt 28,19-20: “Go, therefore and make disciples of all the nations. Baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Teach them to carry out everything I have commanded you”.

Integral Evangelization. It is also the lifelong process that includes initial faith proclamation, catechesis, and on-going formation in Christian living. This means that the Gospel is “directed to stirring a person to conversion of heart and life and a clinging to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior; to disposing a person to receive Baptism and the Eucharist, and to strengthen a person in the prospect and realization of new life according to the Spirit” (Christifidelis Laici 33).

The Second Plenary Council of the Philippines (PCP II) in 1991 describes this essential function and mission of the Church as “integral evangelization.” Taking the spirit and letter of Paul VI’s Evangelii Nuntiandi (9), PCP II understands the proclamation of the good news of our salvation from sin in three ways: 
  1. integral liberation: liberation from sin and everything oppressive to man;  
  2. total human development: progress in all human dimensions, personal and communitarian; and  
  3. renewal of society: promotion of justice, peace and integrity of creation. (cf. PCP II 192) 
Renewed Evangelization. Another recurring theme since Vatican II and PCP II, and in our Diocesan Synod in 2000 is "renewed evangelization".  John Paul II, in Novo Millenio Ineunte (29), spoke of a “program for all times”, centered “in Christ himself, who is to be known, loved and imitated, so that in him we may live the life of the Trinity, and with him transform history until its fulfillment in the heavenly Jerusalem”, but which “must be translated into pastoral initiatives adapted to the circumstances of each community”.

Thus, our Diocesan Pastoral Plan appropriates the timeless mission of evangelization into particular pastoral initiatives such as developing catechetical modules and formation programs for all ages – children, youth and adult. They cover the areas of liturgy, doctrines, spiritual renewal, social teachings, family and life, and Gospel values, among others, and employ available tools of information and communication technology. The efforts may seem diverse and disjointed at present as each commission aims to develop a formation program pertinent to its area of concern, but in time we hope to consolidate them into a comprehensive, integrated and developmental program of formation.

Crucial too in evangelization is our witnessing in terms of our stewardship and accountability in the administration of resources, finance and power, not to mention our concern for the poor and the renewal of society.

Preferential Options and Directions

While community building and renewed evangelization are directed toward all, we have also identified particular groups for whom we would like to exercise our preferential option: they are the family, the poor and the youth.

We would like our families to become life-giving domestic Churches; the poor to become empowered, able to exercise their rights and chart their own destinies; and the young to become effective evangelizers and dynamic servant-leaders.

It is providential that on the first year of implementing our Diocesan Pastoral Plan, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) has declared this year the Year of Mission, and Pope Benedict XVI has already announced his plan to proclaim a Year of Faith starting this October. These celebrations add further motivation to move forward and the assurance that we are on the right track.

With God’s grace and under the protection of our Mother of Salvation we will see our plans accomplished, our diocese renewed and our mission pursued ever more faithfully. We are grateful for our being called to share in God’s grand plan of salvation. To Him be the glory now and forever. Amen.

Given this 5th of April 2012, Holy Thursday, at the Diocesan Chancery in Legazpi City.

Bishop of Legazpi

PASTORAL LETTER NO. 03, Series of 2012

Rev. Fr. Rex Paul B. Arjona 

07 April 2012

An Ancient Homily on Holy Saturday

The Lord descends into the abode of the dead

From the Office of Readings for Holy Saturday

Something strange is happening—there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.

He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve, he who is both God and the son of Eve. The Lord approached them bearing the cross, the weapon that had won him the victory. At the sight of him Adam, the first man he had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone: “My Lord be with you all.” Christ answered him: “And with your spirit.” He took him by the hand and raised him up, saying: “Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”

I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. Out of love for you and for your descendants I now by my own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead. Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot be separated.

For your sake I, your God, became your son; I, the Lord, took the form of a slave; I, whose home is above the heavens, descended to the earth and beneath the earth. For your sake, for the sake of man, I became like a man without help, free among the dead. For the sake of you, who left a garden, I was betrayed to the Jews in a garden, and I was crucified in a garden.

See on my face the spittle I received in order to restore to you the life I once breathed into you. See there the marks of the blows I received in order to refashion your warped nature in my image. On my back see the marks of the scourging I endured to remove the burden of sin that weighs upon your back. See my hands, nailed firmly to a tree, for you who once wickedly stretched out your hand to a tree.

I slept on the cross and a sword pierced my side for you who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side has healed the pain in yours. My sleep will rouse you from your sleep in hell. The sword that pierced me has sheathed the sword that was turned against you.

Rise, let us leave this place. The enemy led you out of the earthly paradise. I will not restore you to that paradise, but I will enthrone you in heaven. I forbade you the tree that was only a symbol of life, but see, I who am life itself am now one with you. I appointed cherubim to guard you as slaves are guarded, but now I make them worship you as God. The throne formed by cherubim awaits you, its bearers swift and eager. The bridal chamber is adorned, the banquet is ready, the eternal dwelling places are prepared, the treasure houses of all good things lie open. The kingdom of heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity.