Saturday, December 23, 2006

Celebrating the Joy of Christmas amidst Adversities

Very early this morning, while it was still dark and cold, I celebrated the Misa de Gallo together with over three thousand parishioners/church-goers. Not all could be accomodated inside the church, others were contented to watch on a large screen the proceedings inside. The theme for this morning's mass was: "Working for justice - a concrete expression of loving God and Neighbor." Throughout the nine days of the novena-preparation, we have taken as the overall theme Benedict XVI's encyclical "Deus Caritas Est" (God is Love). So each morning our homilies touched on various aspects of this overall theme.

I am just amazed how we Filipinos can continue to celebrate the joy of Christmas amidst the adversities of life. Many of those who come to Church are not really well-off. There are many among them who come from the poor and depressed areas of our parish. Others may not be poor but they are suffering from illness, and some are going through grief and loneliness. Yet they fill the churches and celebrate with joy the birth of our Lord and Savior.

I myself know what it feels to celebrate Christmas amidst adversities. Around this time 33 years ago, a the early years of Martial Law, I found myself locked in prison with other political detainees waging a hunger strike to protest the maltreatment of our fellow prisoners. Around this time 21 years ago, our family was in grief as we buried our mother who was brutally killed by a gang composed of off-duty military men.

Now we celebrate Christmas in a situation no better than before. Majority of our people are poor. The spiral of violence and death continues to escalate - with the continuing insurgency war, the political killings, and summary executions. We have a president who, in order to hold on to power, has lied and cheated and violated the civil and human rights of people , and attempted to change the constitution. The darkness that reigns under martial law continues even under this supposedly democratic republic.

Celebrating in the dark as the new day dawns is a beautiful symbol of Christmas. We celebrate the coming of the light that will defeat the power of darkness.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

First Day of Misa de Gallo - Remembering my Mother

Today is the first day of the Misa de Gallo - Christmas is in the air! Amidst the joyful atmosphere, this day brings back sad memories. This was day the day my mother was killed 21 years ago - by a gang of holduppers whose members turned out to be military men.

To mark my mother's death anniversary, I went out for lunch in a Thai restaurant. I just imagined her presence while eating alone. I celebrated a memorial mass for her in the community chapel.

My mother, Nicole, would have been 80 years old today. She was just 59 when she was felled by a gunman's bullet after coming from the bank.

I wrote this poem during the wake:

Elegy for my Mother

My heart turned to stone
as I watched you gasped
for the last time
your eyes blank
and blood oozed from a hole
in your head made pointblank.
My eyes couldn't even shed a single tear.
Numb, numb, numb,
this was the only way
I could survive this madness.

What used to be
mere newsreports and statistics
have finally hit home.

"This is God's unscrutable will"
Some pious people consoled me.
"Praise the Lord!"

But I do not believe in a God
who can mastermind the murder
of a helpless mother.

What a blasphemy --
to make God the prime suspect
for the crime committed
by men who were supposed to maintain
peace and order.

This is the will of a rapacious regime
that has spawned an army
of thieves and murderers.

I cannot imagine you now
as a mere pile of dust and bones
in a dark and lonely tomb.

I cannot regard you
as a mere memory.

Mother, I can neve believe
that a bullet could annihilate
everything that you have been
and will always be.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Biking for Peace

For the last 5 five years I have been organizing a Bike for Peace annually during the Mindanao Week of Peace. This morning over two hundred cyclists turned for the Bike for Peace. I was worried that only around 70 cyclists would turn up since the president has moved the holiday tomorrow and today is a working day. I was pleasantly surprised to see the bigger number. Archbishop Valles and 12 cycling priests participated in the 34 km bike ride within the city. I also invited Joey Ayala who came all the way from Manila to give a mini-concert before the bike ride. Unfortunately, he could not bike with us since he had to leave immediately for Manila before lunch.

The Bike for Peace was preceded by a Walk for Peace which was participated by students, NGOs, and office workers. By 8:00 am, when the walkers reached Rizal Park, the opening ceremony of the Mindanao Week of Peace started. Archbishop Capalla and other Muslim religious leaders offered prayers. Then Joey Ayala gave a 20-minute concert. We were able to depart at 9:00 am. It took us more than two hours to ride through the busy streets of Davao and delived the message of peace.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Sick Call

I have been having this cold, cough and slight fever for over a week. So no biking and no workout until I get better. But life goes on - I continue to teach, say mass and hear confession. I can't afford to stay in bed. Alfonso, our seminarian who was a medical intern before joing the Redemptorist, gave me some medicine to soften the cough and prevent pneumonia.

This afternoon, while preparing my powerpoint presentation for my class in Ecclesiology, the parish secretary called me and asked if I could answer a sick call since there was no other priest available. I didn't want to do it since I was not feeling well. Nevertheless, I went to the home of the sick person whose name is Aida - a former leader of a Basic Ecclesial Community in the parish. She was very weak and had difficulty in breathing. She has been suffering from Parkinson's disease for over six years and she feared that she was going to die any time soon. I heard her confession and administered the sacrament of the anointing of the sick.

Aida told me that she sometimes feel as if God has abandoned her. After all the years of serving the Lord and her community, she ends up spending the last years of her life this way. As she was speaking, the rosary beads fell from her bed. I tried to console her. I told her that like Jesus, she is going through the sorrowful mystery of her life. She had her joyful mystery before that. The glorious mystery is still to come. No one is exempted from suffering and death. But we will not suffer for ever and ever. We should not fear death. After Good Friday, there will be an Easter Sunday.

After saying the final prayer, her tears were gone and she looked very peaceful. She told me that she is not sure if she will still be alive tomorrow. But she is ready to face God.

When I went back to the monastery, I felt glad that I answered that sick call even if I was not feeling well. This was the time when Aida was most in need of a priest.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

The Gift of Healing

Alice came this afternoon and asked me to heal her. She is a volunteer catechist in our parish and also one of the leaders of the Basic Ecclesial Community in a nearby barrio. She told me that she had been diagnosed with cancer in the ovaries and which has metastasized to the nearby organs. It is terminal (stage 4) - she was told. She doesn't want to be operated on, nor is she willing to submit to chemotherapy. She has accepted the possibility that she could die soon but she is still hoping for healing. That's why she came to me. So we started with an hour's session this afternoon and we will be meeting twice a week - until she gets well or die. The chance for a cure for those in the terminal stage is slim.

Besides praying over her, I tried to find out what has been happening to her through the years and what was causing her a lot of stress. I taught Alice a meditation technique that she can do twice a day. I also taught her the proper way of breathing. We also discussed physical exercise (walking) she needs to do and following a diet of vegetables, fruits, fish. I told her to avoid sugary and fatty food.

In dealing with cancer patients, there are three dimensions of healing that we should look at - physical (body), psychological (mind), and spiritual (soul). All these are connected and they influence each other. That is why healing must be holistic. The problem with standard cancer treatment is that it focuses only on the physical dimension and relies solely on drugs (chemotherapy), surgery and radiation theraphy. No wonder doctors are often frustrated because very few survive. Most cancer patients can extend their life to a few months or a couple of years. Nowadays, being diagnosed with cancer is like being handed the death sentence.

Instead of looking at a particular part of the body or an organ that is affected by cancer, it may be helpful to understand the person as whole - the joyful and sorrowful mystery of her life, the frustrations, anger, grief, alienation, shattered dreams, failed relationship, etc. It is important to know here story. The body is affected by the state of the mind and the soul. The physical disease could be a symptom for the need for inner healing. The healing of the mind and soul may lead to the healing of the body. But even if it does not lead to physical recovery, the inner healing itself can already be considered as an achievement. Death will no longer be seen as a defeat.

One of the interesting findings in studies conducted among patients is that stress caused by sense of loss, anger, guilt and anxiety can lower the body's defense system and contribute to the growth of cancerous tumors.

The healing of cancer patients can no longer be left just to medical practitioners - the doctors, nurses and drug companies. Psychologists, priests, spiritual healers and other practitioners of alternative medicine should also be involved.

During the early years of my priestly ministry I really did not believe in this kind of healing. I thought that this was the business of those in the medical profession. But there were times when I administered the sacrament of the anointing of the sick and prayed over patients that were seriously ill and given up by doctors. Many of them got well. So I adopted an open mind and began studying holistic/spiritual healing. I learned different methods of healing (pranic, reiki, etc.). When I was studying in Berkeley and in Rome, I became more involved in healing ministry. I have healed many people with all kind of diseases - including cancer. My friends jokingly said that I have a double doctorate - a doctor in theology and a quack doctor. But since I returned to the Philippines, I have not done a lot of healing because of my busy schedule - teaching, pastoral work, peace advocacy, conducting seminars, etc.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Flowers, food and candles on the grave

Yesterday and today a lot of people all over the country went to the cemetery to remember their beloved dead. As usual they brought along with them flowers, food and candles. I am one of the few who didn't go to the cemetery. My parents and sister are buried in Iligan - that's almost 500 kilometers from Davao. So I didn't buy any flowers and candles but I went out for dinner alone in a Japanese restaurant to celebrate All Souls' Day. As I ate alone, I remember my loved ones who have gone ahead of me - my sister Nilda who drowned in 1967, my close friend Magno who drowned in 1979, my mother Nichol who was killed by military men in 1985, and my father Antonio who died of heart attack in 1993.

As we celebrate the feast of All Souls' there are some questions that people ask:
Why bring flowers to the grave? Can the dead smell their fragrance?
Why bring food? Can the dead eat?
Why light candles? Can the dead see these?

Flowers, food, candles on the grave - what do they signify?

Bringing flowers is an expresion of our love and affection for our dear departed. Death has not diminished our love for them.

Sharing food is an expression of the bond of fellowship, intimacy, and unity which death has not cut off. There is a continuing connection between the dead and we the living. That is why we pray for them and they pray for us.

The lighted candle symbolizes the risen Lord - Jesus Christ- who shines in the darkness of our grief. He is the source of our hope. He assures us that someday, we will be reunited with our loved ones in the home of our heavenly father - in the life to come.

Celebrating the Feast of All Souls therefore signifies that we have not forgotten our beloved ones who have gone ahead of us, we continue to love them, we affirm our continuing link with them and we express our faith and hope that the Risen Lord who is the light of the world will someday reunite all of us.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Celebrating the gift of life

I woke up early this morning and biked up the mountain of Busay. I came back to the Holy Family Retreat House by 7 am and after a quick shower and breakfast joined the priests and parish workers for morning prayer. After the prayer everyone started singing: happy birthday to you. I also received some text messages from friends and my sisters.
I am celebrating my 52nd birthday here in Cebu on the third day of our "colloquium" conference for Redemptorist priests and lay workers involved in parish, church and retreat ministry. I am one of the facilitators and organizers of this event.
Before noon, I walked to the nearby Redemptoristine monastery and had lunch with the nuns. I had actually invited myself when I met them after mass yesterday. They all kissed my cheek when I entered the convent. We had a videoke-singing session after lunch and I sang 4 songs including Moon River, Love Me Tender, Annie's Song and If. I went down later to Bo's coffee shop. While drinking my capuccino, I remembered the time when I was in a bar in Rome drinking cappucino alone on my 40th birthday and no one knew it was my birthday so I didn't receive any greeting or kiss - that was may loneliest birthday. I came back to the Retreat House in time for the evening mass. After dinner, I went out for pizza with the Davao Redemptorists and the parish staff.
I am looking forward to some belated birthday celebration with friends when I go back to Davao this Sunday.

I am full of gratitude for the gift of life that the Lord has given me, and for the gift of friends who remember me today.

Funny, I am 52 yet I really don't feel that old. The way I feel today, is the same way I felt 25 years ago. Maybe, I feel wiser but not older. I hope I will still be able to celebrate my 100th birthday.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Celebrating 25 years of Priesthood

This evening the Redemptorist community in Davao celebrated the anniversary of ordination of 3 Redemptorists: Fr. Flan Daffy (50 years), Fr. Allen O'Brien (40 years) and yours truly (25 years). After a dinner of turkey, steamed fish and calamare, we had a program where the postulants and seminarians sang and danced. Each of the jubilarians were also asked to share their thoughts and reflections. I gave a powerpoint presentation of my life over the last 25 years - with photographs interspersed with poems. I ended my sharing with this poem:

Silver Jubilee
"those who die in the congregation will receive a crown of glory in heaven" - St. Alphonsus de Ligouri

Twenty-five years ago
when my hair was thick and wavy
and my tummy was flat and firm,
I stood before the altar
with no one by my side.
I made a promise to the Lord
to be a faithful priest
in the company of the sons of Alphonsus
for better or for worse, in sickness and in health
until I receive the crown he promised.

Twenty-five years later
with no hair on my head
and with an explanding waistline
I remain a faithful priest
in the company of the sons of Alponsus.
I kept my promise all these years.
I slept alone and loved the Lord and the people
with all my heart and soul.
I preached the good news of the kingdom
and worked for justice and peace.
I formed not my own family - but the family of God -
the Christian community.

Twenty-five years or more from now.
When not a single hair will grown on my head
and I look like a prisoner on death row,
when my tummy will be wider than my chest
when I can no longer bike
and a pretty nurse will push my wheelchair
I will remain a faithful priest
in the company of the sons of Alphonsus.
I will keep my promise
until I receive the crown he promised.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

PD 1081: Remembering Martial Law

I woke up early this morning to celebrate the six o'clock mass in the church. After the mass I went out to the lawn for taichi. Then I joined the community for the morning prayer. During the prayer of the faithful, one of the seminarians prayed for the victims of martial law. I became aware that I was one of those he was praying for today, the 34th anniversary of the declaration of martial law by President Ferdinand Marcos. The tattoo in my arm- a clenched fist in chains with the number 1081 - won't allow me to forget. PD 1081 - that's the presidential decree declaring the state of martial law.

Early in the morning thirty-three years ago, on the first anniversary of martial law, I was picked up by military agents in Cebu. I was interrogated and tortured for a week and imprisoned for seven months. The psalm that I wrote later sums up my experience and those of others:

Psalm from Prison

From this dark and lonely cell
I cry out to you
Lord, hear my groaning!

I don't know where I am
I don't know whether it's night or day.
I don't know what will happen next.

My throat is sore, I cannot scream anymore.
My finger is swollen, I cannot clench my fist.
My ribs are broke, I cannot stand erect.

I hate the sight of water I can no longer bear a single drop.
I loathe those cigarettes that penetrate my skin.
I dread the sound of foosteps and the opening of the door.
I prefer this darkness that face the glaring light.
I can just imagine what they are going to do next.

They said only I can end my suffering
if I cooperate with them
and sign the confession they manufactured
and bear false witness against myself
and those that oppose this diabolical regime.

How much longer, O Lord, can I hold on?
How much longer can I maintain my sanity?
How long will they keep me in this limbo?

Will I ever see again the sun?
Will I ever see again the faces of those I love and serve?
Or will they make me disappear forever?

Lord, deliver us from these kidnappers and murderers
who are trying to maintain peace and order.
Deliver us from these mercenaries
whose obsession is to defend national security --
the security of this bloodthirsty and power-hungry dictator,
the security of his cronies and their big business interests,
the security of his alien lords and their bases and investments.

O Lord my God.
I know that you are neither blind nor deaf.
Your mercy and compassion endures forever.
You have always been a subversive God.
You scatter the proud, you depose the mighty
your empty the rich, you lift up the lowly
you free the oppressed, you fill the hungry.

I cry out now to you:
subvert this evil kingdom and empire!
Let your spirit fill the hearts
of those who struggle to build your kingdom
of justice, peace and freedom.

From this dark and lonely cell
I cry out to you.
Lord hear my prayer.

Into your hands, O Lord
I commend my broken body
and my wavering spirit.

Late this afternoon as the sun was setting down, I joined the interfaith prayer service at the freedom park in front of Ateneo de Davao. It was just a small gathering. In my sharing, I told the crowd who were holding lighted candles that we should never forget that dark period in the history of our nation. Martial law may be gone but its legacy remains with us. The present Arroyo regime continues to abuse power, trample civil liberties and human rights, engage in corruption, and perpetuate the culture of death. Like martial law, those accused of being leftists or criminals are being executed by death squads. A policy of total war is being implemented by the likes of General Palparan who has been using the same methods reminiscent of martial law. The peace process between the government and the NDF has been abandoned. There is an escalation of war in the countryside.

NEVER AGAIN! This is what we said when the dictator was deposed by people power. Sadly, it is happening again, even without a declaration of martial law.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Growing Old - Reflections on the Third Age

There were five of us priests that spent the whole day at a cottage by the sea not to swim but to pray, reflect and share on our life and faith. This is what we call "Recollection" which we usually do on the first Monday of each month. There were two Irishmen - Allen and Aidan, and three Filipinos - Senen, Cruzito and myself. Allen is sixty-five years old, Aidan is fifty-five, Senen and myself are fifty-two, and Cruzito forty-five. We reflected and shared on the Superior General's Communicanda entitled - "Discovering the Best Wine at the End: Reflections on the Third Age." The Third Age is really Old Age.

My first reaction to this theme was -- it does not concern me at present. I am just turning fifty-two and old age is still far away. But the Superior General wants us to reflect on this as a community since there are elderly members among us and that we will all reach that age someday. The best time to prepare for the Third Age is when we are still in the Second Age -- during midlife.

I realize that I am growing old every day. Although I don't really feel old, there are a lot of reminders that I am indeed growing older. The most obvious sign is the loss of my thick and wavy hair. I decided to shave my head after all attempts at "reforestation" failed. I thought it was ridiculous to cover my head with the remaining hair on the side of my head.

Another sign is that I cannot run marathons anymore. My knees can no longer bear four hours of running on cement or asphalt pavement. So I have shifted to cycling. A time will come when I can no longer bike and instead ride a wheel chair. But that's still far away. Or is it?

I have to admit that I am past the noontime of my life. I am now in the afternoon and soon it will be evening. Two poems that I wrote sum up what I feel about the Third Age:


As the sun sets beyond the sea
the old man limps along the shore.
The waves rush in to wipe away
the footprints on the sand.

It seemed like it was only this morning
that the sun emerged behind the mountain
and he was jogging along the beach.


It's getting darker and darker.
What's happening to my eyes?
I can hardly move this ancient frame.

Where are they now?
Everyone seems to be gone.
I am all alone.

No wife.
No children.
No grandchildren.

Strangers visit me
and they call me father.
I cannot remember their faces
but they look familiar.
They take care of me.
They feed me.
They wipe my ass.

Whatever time I have left
is spent in looking back.
I am afraid to look forward -
there might be nothing there.

I wish my life was a vide-movie.
Then I can keep rewinding it
when the end comes.

I have so many, many yesterdays.
Is there a tomorrow beyond this final night?

I hope there is .
Otherwise, my self-oblation
would have been for nothing.

Time to say goodnight.
Time to sleep
peacefully, restfully.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Learn to be lonely

I spent almost the whole morning in my room facing the computer and preparing a powerpoint presentation for my class in Christology. After lunch with the community, I spent more than an hour in the prayer room meditating in front of the Blessed Sacrament. Then I went back to my room and faced the computer again. Late in the afternoon, I came down and met Mercy who asked me if I could be part of a broad coalition that would work for the promotion and defense of civil and democratic rights under the Arroyo government that has increasingly become authoritarian and fascist. I told her that I will think about it and I will have to consult my community and my superiors.

After a quick supper I celebrated the mass with the Charismatic group in our parish at 7:30 pm. Since today is the feast of the martyrdom of John the Baptist, I preached about the prophetic vocation and its consequence. I reminded the group that as Christians filled with the Holy Spirit, we are called to live out our prophetic mission by proclaiming the Good News and by denouncing evil in our midst - including the injustices, corruption, the culture of death, etc.

After the mass, I went out to the coffee shop and drank cappucino alone while writing on my palm top computer. I came back and watched TV alone. There are thirty of us -- Redemptorist priests and seminarians - who live in this big house we call the monastery. But at night after dinner, it's all quiet. Everyone is in his room or in the library. The common room is empty. There is no community recreation except on Sundays.

In the midst of the community, I can still feel alone and lonely. There is a void that I feel, especially at night when all is quiet. During the day, I can be busy preparing for class and teaching, or with other parish responsibilities. But at night, I am reminded of what is lacking in my life. I long for intimate companionship and conversation with another human being (preferably female) - but all my close friends are so far away. The one I miss most is in a distant Poor Clare monastery living a life of silence and prayer. How I wish I could see her and talk to her.

Learn to be lonely. This is the refrain of a song from the "Phantom of the Opera." This is what I am trying to learn -- but it will take a lifetime to be able to get used to this. I can bear it. Last year, I lived alone as hermit for five months up in the mountain of Busay overlooking the city of Cebu. It was energizing, but I have to cope with loneliness.

So I keep telling myself: you are all alone, nobody really cares about you, nobody really loves you, take care of yourself, don't wallow in self-pity.

It is ironic that my name is Amado -- the Spanish word for "Beloved."

Well, that's the price I have to pay for my vow of celibacy. No I don't regret being a priest and being a celibate. And intend to remain so for the rest of my life. It is just difficult -- especially at night.

Here's a poem I wrote 25 years ago, and it continues to be relevant even now:

A Eunuch's Lament

What a life
waking up in the middle of a cold, cold night
with no one beside me
except an unresponsive pillow.

What a life
waking up alone on my bed every morning
with no one to greet me
with a smile and kiss.

I will never hear
the sigh of a woman in my bed
in the middle of the night.

I will never hear
the cry of a child in my room
in the middle of the night.

Is this the price I have to pay
night after night
morning after morning
for the freedom to proclaim the kingdom?

(These wings are too heavy
but they can make me fly
I hope I won't fall from the sky)

Monday, August 28, 2006

The Benefits of Cycling

I biked around Samal Island today. I crossed the channel on a ferry boat. It took me almost seven hours to pedal along rough coastal roads and mountain trails. It was a very beautiful but exhausting ride.

Why do I bike?

1. It is gives me much pleasure -- I feel so relaxed and high that it has become addictive
2. It lowers my blood pressure - I have hypertension (160/95) but after even an hour of biking my bp goes down to 140/80 and after six hours it dips to 130/70. If I don't bike I have to take Versant XR to keep my blood pressure down. Better bike than take those pills.
3. It makes me feel young -- I am 51 years old but when I bike I feel like a kid
4. It answers my craving for adventure
5. It draws attention to my peace and life advocacy - When I bike for peace I get a lot of media acoverage -- my message of life and peace is carried by TV, newspapers and radio.
6. It is ecologically friendly - it doesn't pollute the environment
7. It is the fastest mode of transportation in the city -- what with all the traffic
8. It allows me to meditate on the move (Zen on Wheels)

Here's a prayer I wrote for cyclists;

Cyclists' Prayer

As we bike through the city streets, highways and mountain trails
protect us Lord from
spills and crashes
trucks & cars whose drivers do not recognize our right to use the road
dogs who like to bite our shapely legs
potholes, cracks and sharp objects that flatten our tires
thieves who covet our bikes
rains and thunder
and all kinds of nasty accidents.
Give us the energy and strength
to wake up in the morning and go for a ride
to keep us from bonking
to climb hills and mountains
to reach our destination.
Grant us the courage
to descend rapidly down the hills
to ride through the rain
to join and finish races even if we know we will never win.
May we experience the joy and ecstasy
as we are moved by the beauty of nature
as the sun and the wind caress our face
as we feel one with the bike and road and forget about the time
as we get in touch with the child within us
as we enjoy each other's company
as we feel we could bike forever.
May we continue biking even as we grow old & up to the day we die.
And may you allow us to continue biking in heaven, forever and ever.


Monday, August 21, 2006

Remembering Ninoy

Twenty-three years ago today, Benigno 'Ninoy' Aquino was shot while going down the steps of the plane accompanied by armed soldiers. He was in exile in the U.S. after spending time in prison since the declaration of Martial Law. He felt the need to go back to the Philippines to lead the non-violent struggle against the Marcos dictatorial regime. Even if he was warned that it would cost him his life, he nevertheless took that plane back to Manila. He died even before his feet touched the soil of his native land. His death did not end his dream. Millions of people turned out for the funeral. And from among them grew a movement that ousted the dictator three years later.

Ninoy became a "Christ-figure" in the Filipino psyche. He became like the One who gave his life on the cross so that others may live. He sacrificed his life for the freedom of his people. This was the same spirit that pervaded the EDSA people power event -- a people willing to die but not to kill. The tanks and armies were no match to the power of love and nonviolence.

Here is a poem that I wrote for Ninoy:

Death on the Tarmac

You sprawled on the tarmac
like a dove in flight
that has been nailed to the ground.

They finally stopped you.
Or so they thought.

The bullet that pierced your skull
pierced our frigid hearts.
The shot that echoed throughout the archipelago
continues to reverberate in our wounded hearts.

No bullet can ever kill a dream.
It will only break the vessel
from which the fragrance is released.
It will only crack the dam
from which the rising waters will break through.

Ninoy, your death has freed us from our fears
and sparked a fire in our hearts
that will continue to rage through the night
until the dawning of the new day.

You died
that we may rise.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

The Mayor's Wrath, Prophetic Vocation

"The mayor is so mad at you, you'd better watch out he might order his death squads to go after you." This is what my friend told me over the phone this morning. I thanked her for her concern but I told her that this is the risk that I have taken as I continue to exercise my prophetic vocation in a society dominated by the culture of death.

For the last eight years, over 500 people have been killed by the DDS -- the Davao Death Squad. Most of those murdered were suspected criminals involved in drug addiction and pushing, and in petty theft. Some were human rights activists. As a member of the Council of Leaders of the Coalition Against Summary Execution, I have condemned these killings in my sermons, Radio and TV interviews. I also echoed the allegations that the mayor of this city is either tolerating, encouraging or even supporting these killings. I also publicly accused the members and the sponsors of the DDS as criminals. The message that I proclaim: "Life is sacred, and no one has the right to arrogate to himself the power of life and death over other people." This is most likely the reason why the mayor is so mad at me.

Four years ago, Jun Pala, a radio commentator, accused the mayor of being behind the death squads. The mayor got so mad at him and warned him. Jun Pala was assassinated by the DDS.
Will I have the same fate?

I want to live up to a hundred. I want to grow old and celebrate the golden jubilee of my ordination to the priesthood. But I choose not to be silent, I choose to speak up and denounce evil in our midst. If it means been picked up, imprisoned or gunned down, so be it. I am not afraid to suffer, I am not afraid to die.

I am not a stranger to violence. Thirty-three years ago, a year after the dictator Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law, I was picked up, tortured and imprisoned for seven months. I thought I would die, when my torturer put the barrel of the pistol in my mouth and cocked it.
Twenty-two years ago, I saw my mother gasped her last breath after being shot in the head by a gang composed of military men. After going through these, I am no longer afraid of anyone. I am no longer afraid of suffering or of death.

What is happening nowadays is reminiscent of the situation under martial law. We have national and local leaders who are ruthless and power-hungry, who are corrupt, who do not respect life and the basic human rights. I was hoping that things would be better after the EDSA People Power uprising that ousted the Marcos regime. Now we face the same evil. And I will not sit still or remain silent, even if it means giving up my life. This is the risk I have to take to live out my prophetic vocation.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Introducing Myself

Hi! This is my first post in this blog and I would like to introduce myself. I am Fr. Amado Picardal, a Catholic priest belonging to the Redemptorist congregation and presently based in Davao, Philippines. Everyone calls me Fr. Picx. I am 51 years old and this year I celebrate the silver jubilee of my priestly ordination.

Before I was professed as a Redemptorist, I studied AB Philosophy at the University of San Carlos from 1971 to 1975. I spent seven months as a political prisoner a year after Ferdinand Marcos declared Martial Law in 1972. After finishing college, I lived among the poor for six months in a slums area in Cebu and was trained as community organizer. I became a Redemptorist in 1977 and was ordained priest in 1981 after finishing my theological studies at the St. Francis Regional Major Seminary.

For over eight years after ordination, I was a member of the Redemptorist mission team - which was composed of Redemptorist priests and brothers and also lay missionaries. We helped form and strengthen Basic Ecclesial Communities in different parishes and dioceses in Mindanao. My last mission assignment was in San Fernando, Bukidnon where I helped organize and mobilize the communities against the logging companies in 1987-1988. As a result of our efforts, the government imposed a total log ban in the province since 1989.

I spent some time as a hermit in the mountain of Busay during the early part of 1989 and in August of that year I started my higher studies at the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley. I joined the Pax Christi - a Catholic Peace movement - in 1990. In 1991, after I received my licentiate in theology, I proceeded to Rome to continue my studies at the Pontifical Gregorian University. In 1995, I earned my doctorate in theology (magna cum laude) with my dissertation entitled "An Ecclesiological Perspective of the Basic Ecclesial Communities in the Philippines. "

Since May 1995 to the present (2006), I have been based here in Davao, as professor and dean of academic studies at the St. Alphonsus' Theologate. This is a school of theology for Redemptorists in Southern Philippines, Thailand and Singapore, and also for other religious communities in Davao. Besides teaching, I have been involved through the years in pastoral ministry as parochial vicar and acting parish priest. I have also gone around the country giving talks on Basic Ecclesial Communities to various dioceses and groups and conducting retreats for clergy and religious. I have also been involved in Christian-Muslim dialogue and in peace advocacy. I am part of the council of leaders of the Coalition Against Summary Execution. I am also known as the cycling priest of the Philippines. In 2000, I biked for peace across the country (from Davao to Ilocos Norte) covering 2,083 km. I have also organized an annual bike for peace in Davao during the Mindanao Week of Peace. I biked around Israel in 2005 during my sabbatical. Last summer, I biked for life and peace around Mindanao for 3 weeks accompanied part of the way by some priests and a bishop.

I have written several books and articles on Basic Ecclesial Communities. I have also written over 50 poems. I play the piano, flute, violin, guitar and harmonica. I also compose songs for liturgy and evangelization seminars. I am a mountain climber - I have climbed Mt. Apo seven times. I also go scuba diving occasionally.

I am an aspiring theologian. I would like to come up with a theology from the grassroots, a theology that is inculturated and contextual, a theology that is not just discursive but also narrative and poetic.

It is for this reason that I am starting this blog - to share my story, my experiences, and reflections in the light of the Christian faith and tradition.

(recent update:
What has happened since then for the past 10 years - 2006-2016:
- biked for life and peace around the Philippines in 2008 - Davao to Aparri and back in 56 days covering over 5,000 km
- walked barefoot 800 km from French Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostela, Spain
- left Davao in 2011 and moved to Manila and started working with the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines as executive secretary of the Committee on Basic Ecclesial Communities
- run/walked across the Philippines for Life and Peace from Davao to Aparri via Maharlika Highway and the Cordilleras in 57 days covering over 2,000 km
- bicycle climate ride from Manila to Tacloban to Davao and Iligan in 14 days covering 1,800 km)