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)