Monday, December 31, 2007

Last Day of the Year - Waiting for the New Year.

I'm here in Iligan, my hometown. I left Davao the day after Christmas and came by motorbike across the Bukidnon mountains. It took me over eight hours to drive 390 km.
It is the last day of the year 2007, and a few hours from now we will meet the new year 2008. The noise of firecrackers can be heard outside the monastery. I am just waiting for the New Year eve's mass which will start at 9 pm.

This morning after mass, I went mountain-biking in the trail near the Pugaan mountain. At 9:30 I dropped by the cemetery and attended the last day of novena for my aunt Tanciang who died a few days before Christmas. I presided at her funeral mass the other day.

This afternoon at three I brought my six nephews and nieces to Jollibee for hamburger and hotdog. This has become an annual ritual for the last 8 years. Everytime I come home for my post-Christmas vacation we usually go out for some snacks and conversation. I'm very fond of them. They are fast growing up. I will be meeting my brothers and sisters for dinner after the New Year's day for common celebration and business meeting.

As the year draws to a close I wish to express my thanks to the Lord for the blessings I have received throughout the year. I also express my regret for not being able to achieve some of my new year's resolutions. I am still overweight, I have not been able to continue training for my marathon comeback, and I haven't finished writing my book.

So once again I am making my New Year's Resolution. This is what I intend to achieve this coming year:

1. Reach my target weight of 145 lbs (this means losing 25 lbs)
2. Normalize my cholesterol levels and blood pressure
3. Bike for Life & Peace around the Philippines (over 4000 km in 49 days)
4. Start marathon training after the bike-tour (run the Philippine Marathon in Feb. 2009)
5. Publish my books on Ecclesiology (A Vision of a Renewed Church) and on BEC (A Manual for Developing Basic Ecclesial Communities)

Monday, December 24, 2007

The Night before Christmas

Silent night. It's quiet all around - no sound of firecrackers. We still have more than an hour before 'midnight mass'. Soon, I will be conducting the seminarians' choir who, before the mass, will be singing christmas carols 'a capella' and in 3 voices to the churchgoers. No sopranos - it's an all male choir that I trained for the last 4 weeks.

Christmas brings back a lot of memories - both happy and sad.

Most of the happy memories go back to my childhood - especially with my family. Christmas eve was the time for family dinner, gathering around the christmas tree and exchanging gifts, and attending midnight mass together and coming back for 'noche buena' while firecrackers were exploding outside.

My four christmases in Rome are also unforgettable - celebrating it with Filipino friends and with Redemptorist confreres. The only thing lacking was the early dawn masses - but it was the height of winter so it was preferable to stay in bed.

But Christmas also brings back painful and sad memories.

On Christmas eve 34 years ago I was in a prison cell in Cebu together with 10 other political prisoners. We were on the sixth day of our hunger strike. We could hear the firecrackers outside and the Christmas carols being sung in a nearby chapel.

On Christmas eve 21 years ago, my family was still grieving after my mother was shot to death by rougue soldiers at the beginning of the Misa de Gallo. She was buried on December 22. We found it difficult to experience the joy of Christmas.

It's been a long time since I celebrated Christmas with my family. Both my father and mother are dead. My brothers and sisters are scattered in many places. My brothers Sam and Angel are in the U.S. My youngest brother Agustin is somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean. My four sisters are in Iligan (I hope to see them next week).

But I still have my religious community and we will be having noche buena after midnight mass.

I remember tonight those who are alone - away from home, with no friends and no community. I also remember those who have lost someone they love. I know that Christmas can heighten their loneliness, their alienation and their grief. I pray for all of them and wish them a joyful Christmas. There is still reason to celebrate the birth of the one who came to bring light into our darkness.

Early Dawn Mass (Misa de Gallo)

This morning we celebrated the ninth day of the Misa de Gallo and tonight we will be celebrating the Christmas eve mass. I continue to be amazed by the crowd that came to church. Elsewhere in the parish, the members of the Basic Ecclesial Communities (BECs) gather early in the morning in their chapel for bible-service throughout these nine days.
We Filipinos probably have the longest celebration of Christmas. Our traditional celebration is a means for the majority of the faithful to maintain and renew their bond with the Church.
We are constantly reminded that Christmas is not about Santa Clause or Rudolf the Red Nose Reindeer - it is about Christ who came to bring light to the world.
For as long as we continue to celebrate Christmas this way, Christianity will not only survive but also grow inspite of the threats of secularism and materialism. Our churches will never be empty.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Early Dawn Mass (Misa de Gallo)

At 3:30 this morning I was awakened by the sound of Christmas carols coming from the Church. As early as 2:30 people have started coming, filling the seats. By 4:30 as I was about to start the mass there were over four thousand people - inside the church and in the car park around the church. I was just amazed by the number of young people and children who came along with their parents and grandparents as they prepare for the celebration of our Lord's birth during the nine days novena. It appears that the Christian faith is indeed alive in this part of the world. However, many of these people come to church only during the Advent/Christmas season and Holy Week. We call them seasonal Catholics. But that's better than empty churches in Europe even during this season.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo: The Most Corrupt President?

The Daily Inquirer and the Philippine Star reported yesterday the result of the Pulse Asia survey "Ulat ng Bayan" where 42 % of the respondents consider President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (GMA) as the most corrupt president in the history of the Philippines, followed by Marcos (2nd place) and Estrada (3rd place).

I feel saddened by this news. Seven years ago, we met GMA at the KOMPIL II assembly held in Ateneo de Manila University attended by representatives of civil society groups from all over the Philippines. The impeachment proceedings against President Estrada was still going on and we were already making strategic plans for an EDSA II, a people-power that would bring down what we considered as a corrupt president. A week later, EDSA II actually took place after the opposition walked out from the senate. We were out in the streets in Davao, leading a march rally and calling for Estrada's resignation, like many other Filipinos in Metro-Manila and other major cities in the country. I was filled with euphoria when we heard that news that Estrada had stepped down and GMA was sworn in as the new president. The support of the Catholic Church for EDSA II and GMA was most evident during the swearing in at the EDSA shrine with Cardinal Sin and the papal nuncio in attendance. I remember GMA promising in her inaugural speech that she will be different from here predecessor and she woulds usher in a "new politics" that would replace the traditional politics characterized by patronage and corruption. She also promised to pursue the peace process with the MILF and the NDF.
Now seven years later, I am saddened to realize that the president we helped bring to power is no better than Marcos and Estrada. Under her administration, many of the evils that we denounced during the Marcos era and the Estrada administration persist. Besides the charges of corruption, she has been accused of cheating during the elections. She has curtailed civil liberties. Extra-judicial killings and forced disappearances continue. Most of the people remain poor and the armed conflict continues. Peace remains elusive.

I find it so disappointing that after EDSA I and EDSA II, the situation of our country and our people have not really improved. We have kicked out a corrupt and brutal dictator (Marcos) and an immoral and corrupt president (Erap) and what we have is another corrupt and brutal president. Being a woman and a pious Catholic have not made a difference. And she has two more years before her term ends.

Is there hope for our country? There is no way that she can be impeached since she is protected in congress by representathieves who are corrupt like her. There is no chance of another EDSA people power succeeding since people are tired of going out into the streets (that's why Trillanes and company failed again the other week). I fear that more extreme and desperate elements could come into the picture. There are some idealistic and restive junior officers in the military. I am totally opposed to any coup d'etat.

As we celebrate the season of Advent, we wait in hope for better days.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Imams, Pastors & Priests: An Interfaith Forum

This morning I attended the Interfaith Forum of Muslim Imams, Protestant Pastors and Catholic Priests at the Grand Mensing Hotel. This forum is one of the activities during the Mindanao Week of Peace.
I was asked to lead the opening prayer together with a Muslim Imam. The forum discussed the theme of this year's Mindanao Week of Peace - "Building Bridges of Peace with our Peace Officers."
Among the speakers were Rev. Dr. Mar Apilado (the senior Pastor of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines - Davao) and General Rene Badilla of the Easter Mindanao Command of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
I am glad that I was able of meet the religious leaders from the various Religious Traditions and Faith-Communities in Davao and to engage in dialogue with the officers of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police. In working for peace we have to work together with them and develop lines of communication.
General Badilla assured the forum that the Armed Forces are willing to work together with the religious leaders in bringing about peace in Mindanao.

This was the text that resonate in our hearts today:

'They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; One nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again."

I hope next Mindanao Week of Peace, we can also engage in dialogue with the leaders of revolutionary movements and convince them to pursue the path of peace.


Friday, November 30, 2007

Mindanao Week of Peace - Bike for Peace

This morning over 400 cyclists participated in the 6th Bike for Peace which I organized as part of the celebration of the Mindanao Week of Peace. We gathered at the Rizal Park at 7 am. By 8:00 am after the send off ceremony presided by Bishop George Rimando we started our 30 km journey for peace around the city. There were 24 participating biking clubs, including the bikers of the Eastern Command of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police. Judge Renato Fuentes also biked with us. After two hours of biking we finished at the Rizal Park.

The celebration of the Mindanao Week of Peace started yesterday with the walk for peace and the opening ceremonies and will end on December 5. Besides the Bike for Peace there will also be a concert for peace, youth peace camp, a gathering of Catholic priests, protestant pastors and Muslim Imams.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Rumor of Evil Spirits and Angels

Over two weeks ago, a father brought his nine-year old daughter to the monastery. He told me that the girl had been seeing evil spirits and was even possessed a number of times. She would faint and then when she woke up she would have a different voice. The father asked me if can I heal her. The girl looked dazed and frightened.

I was on the verge of telling him to bring her daughter to the psychiatrist. But I told myself - no use telling the father and child that these were just hallucinations or some form of hysteria. So I prayed over the girl and asked God to send a guardian angel to watch over her. I sprinkled her with holy water. After blessing the girl I told her not to be afraid, her guardian angel would be there to protect her and the evil spirits won't be able to harm her. I also told the father to come back after a few weeks and report to me any progress.

This evening, just before mass, the father came with his daughter. The girl looked very well. The father told me that her daughter has been healed. He recounted that as they were leaving the monastery, the girl told her that she could see her guardian angel. For a week, the evil spirits tried to come near her but she was not afraid because her guardian angel was there to protect her. So after a while the spirits were gone.

I really don't know whether the evil spirits and the guardian angel were just the product of her imagination. What is important is that she's well. My prayer seemed to have an effect on her.

In this day and age, it is very difficult to believe in evil spirits and angels. We have been influenced by a rational-scientific world-view that rules out the reality malignant spirits and angels. What you see is what you get. Everything can be scientifically explained. If there are cases like the one above let the psychiatrist take care of that. Yet, the rumor of spirits and angels persist. And they are very real to many people. And the doctors and psychiatrist are helpless to deal with these cases.

I have not seen or felt the presence of spirits and angels. But does it mean that they do not exist? Of course, the Sacred Scriptures affirm their existence. But it is difficult to determine which ones are real and which one are just hallucination.

I really hope that angels do exist and I wish I can see them. Maybe there are here but I do not recognize them.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Becoming peace-makers: Peace begins with me

The tents have sprouted in the grounds of the parish since yesterday. There are around 400 youth delegates coming from the various Basic Ecclesial Communities in our parish who are participating in the Parish Youth Encounter.

This morning the delegates were divided into smaller groups to listen to various speakers on various topics. I was assigned to talk about "Becoming Peacemakers." There were over 60 young people who attended. During the first part of the morning I divided them into 4 groups and asked them to prepare a drama on 4 various topics (domestic violence, neighborhood/gang violence, Christian-Muslim Conflict, the armed conflict between the NPA and the military). After 45 minutes of preparation they were able to present dramas that depict the spiral of violence and culture of death in society. Afterwards, I gave my talk on "Peacemaking." Here's the gist of my talk:

1. There's violence all around us - in the home, in the neighborhood and communities, between religious/ethnic groups, between the revolutionary armed groups and the military. Violence has become a way of life that leads to suffering and death. For many violence is a means for expressing anger and frustration, of getting even, an instrument of achieving their goals (justice, freedom, social tranformation), or for defence or security. Violence may be fueled by anger, fear, or cold-blooded calculation/rationalization based on an ideology.

2. Amids this spiral of violence and culture of death, we are called by Jesus and our Church to become peacemakers. "Blessed are the peacemakers, they shall be called the children of God."
To be Christians is to be peacemakers.

3. "Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me." Peace begins with me, in me. In order to become peacemakers, we need to achieve peace within each one of us - inner peace. This means rooting out the seeds of violence in our minds and hearts. This requires being healed of the wounds within us, of overcoming the anger, hurt, resentment, and the desire for vengeance. This means turning our heart of stone into a heart of flesh - capable of compassion, love, care, forgiveness and reconciliation. This also requires learning to respect others - their dignity, their rights, and the differences - and to value life. This requires recognizing one another as brothers, sisters and friends, and entering into dialogue with them.

4. Promoting a culture of life and peace in our homes, neighborhood and communities. This means inculcating the values that promote peace (respect, compassion, love, friendship, dialogue, reconciliation, forgiveness, sharing, harmony, justice). This also means avoiding violent thoughts, speech, behavior and action.

5. Peace is not only the absence of war. It must be based on justice. There cannot be true peace without justice. But we can only achieve justice and social transformation using peaceful and non-violente means. Concrete examples of this (Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Ninoy Aquino, EDSA people power, San Fernando struggle against logging, peace zones, Christian-Muslim dialogue, etc.)

6. We need to work for peace in our homes, neighborhood, communities, in Mindanao and the rest of our country, Think globally and act locally.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Biking and Camping in Samal Island

Last Friday and Saturday, I went on a biking and camping adventure in Samal Island. I had said mass for the dead in the morning and didn't have any schedule the rest of the day and the following day. I started biking after lunch, following the JP Laurel Avenue and upon reaching Panacan, I took the ferry to Samal Island. Upon reaching Babak, I followed the coastal trail to Penaplata and then crossed over the other side of the island. It was already dark when I reached Dasag. It was scary riding in the dark, following a rough trail along the beach with just the headlight of my bike showing the way. After pitching my tent on the beach,I had dinner consisting of sardines, tomato and some wine. Then I started playing the flute. By eight thirty, I began my meditation, while watching the distant lights coming from fishing boats and listening to the waves. I was asleep by ten. Then I was awakened by the heavy rain that poured on my tent. Luckily, I survived without getting wet.

I was up early in the morning and had morning prayer. I then had breakfast of sardines and tomato, without the wine. I spent the rest of the morning gazing at the sea and reflecting on my life. Then it was time to go back home to the monastery.
This is what I enjoy doing - it is very relaxing and I feel close to nature and the Creator. I should do this more often.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Table-Fellowship among Muslim Imams, Catholic Priests and Protestant Pastors

Last night I had dinner with Muslim Imams, Protestant Pastors and fellow Catholic priests. It was held at the St. Mary's parish here in Davao City and hosted by Fr. Pete Lamata, the parish priest. Before dinner there were prayers recited by a Catholic priest, a Muslim Imam and a Protestant pastor. This is one of the activities of the Imams, Pastors and Priests Forum (IPPF) - an interfaith-ecumenical movement that seeks to carryout an ongoing dialogue of life and faith.

I was delighted to see my old friend - Ustadz Mahmod Adilao. He is a convenor of the Bishops-Ulama Forum (BUF). We first met seven years ago when we organized the Caravan for Peace during the height of the armed hostilities between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). Since then we have worked together on various peace initiatives in the city.

I am convinced that an interfaith-ecumenical dialogue can progress not only in the level of discussion and prayer but also on the level of praxis - in working together for peace and development.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Seminar-Workshop for BEC Formation Teams

This weekend, I conducted a Basic Ecclesial Community (BEC) seminar workshop in Ormoc City which was attended by 240 participants coming from 20 parishes of the Ormoc and Palompon vicariates of the Archdiocese of Palo. Most of the participants are members of the parish formation teams responsible for forming BECs in their respective parishes.
The workshop-seminar was meant to deepen their understanding of BECs and find new ways of forming and strengtheningBECs.
Almost two years ago, I conducted a BEC seminar for the priests of the archdiocese. I am glad to know that they are enthusiastically implementing the BEC program of the archdiocese with the encouragement of Archbishop Jose Palma. They have already formed the BEC formation teams in every parish most of whom are composed of lay volunteers coming from LOMAS (lay organizations, movements an associations). Sr. Betty, DC is the energetic archdiocesan BEC promoter.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Expressing Solidarity with the People and Monks of Burma

At around noontime, I and some of my students joined a "prayer service" in front of the Buddhist temple here in Davao to express our solidarity with the people and monks of Burma. Before saying the opening prayer, I read this poem which I composed earlier:

The Empty Streets and Monasteries of Burma
Fr. Amado L. Picardal, CSsR

There is silence in the empty streets
and monasteries in Burma.
The saffron robes of the monks have turned to red
as they languish in prison or float in the river
while the Generals in their luxurious palaces order their troops
to continue maintaining “peace and order.”

Meanwhile, the grumbling in the stomachs and the hearts
of the people of Burma continues to grow.
Their anger and courage will overwhelm their fear
that have kept them enslaved and impoverished for so long.
It is only a matter of time when the hated regime
will share the same fate of the other dictatorial regimes all over the world.

They will not reign forever and ever.
Someday, the streets and monasteries of Burma will be full
of monks and citizens celebrating their freedom.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Healing a Little Boy

This evening, our secretary Gingging and her husband came to the monastery with their little boy Revlon who had a very high fever (40.5 degrees centigrade). They just came from the hospital and they were told to go back tomorrow for tests. No medicine was prescribed since they did not know what his ailment was. We let them stay in our guest room for the night since it was getting late and their home was 7 kilometers away. Gingging asked me if I could heal her little boy. So I prayed over Revlon and held his wrists. After 30 minutes, the fever went down to 39.3 C and he was feeling much better. He asked for food as he was famished. Several hours later, his body temperature was 37.9 centigrade.

There was a time when I did not believe in this type of healing. I believed that only doctors and their medicines can cure people. The only thing I could do was administer the sacrament of the anointing of the sick and pray that the sick get well without any expectation of physical healing. I remember feeling helpless in the presence of the sick little girl in a remote barrio and I wondered if it was possible to heal the sick as Jesus did. I wished God would give me the gift of healing. Down through the years, I have been surprised to discover that the sick could experience healing by praying over them. Of course, I don't want to spend most of my time doing this. But in cases of emergency, I cannot say no. But I don't want people to line up in the monastery or the church to ask for healing. I won't be able to do the other things that I am supposed to do - like teaching, writing, advocacy work, giving seminars, biking, etc.

My confrere, Fr. Senen jokingly refers to me as the priest with a double doctorate - a doctor of sacred theology (STD) and a quack doctor (QD).

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Biking for Life with Cancer Warriors

Yesterday, I biked for 140 km in fog and rain across the mountains of Bukidnon to meet the "Cancer Warriors" who have been "Biking for Life" for the last two weeks. They left Manila last September 16 and they were now in Quezon, Bukidnon. The group composed of 9 riders is headed by James Auste, a cancer survivor. Among those in the group is Eric Reyes who has been afflicted by 3 kinds of cancer and who continues to survive with the inspiration of his girlfriend. There are also three fathers of children with cancer who in the group. In every city or town where they stayed for the night, they conducted a "Cancer Forum."

So today I accompanied them on the last leg of the journey to Davao. Before we started biking, they asked me to lead the prayer. So we pedaled along the scenic Bukidnon-Davao highway. The last 80 kilometers was mostly downhill. Fifty kilometers away from the city, we were met by over a hundred bikers from Davao. After eight hours of biking we reached the Davao Medical Center where we had late lunch followed by a "Cancer Forum".

I am looking forward to my own Bike-Tour for Life and Peace around the Philippines this summer - from March 24 to May 11, 2008. I plan to cover it in 49 days. I am already excited just thinking about it. It will be the ride of my life - biking for a cause, seeing most of the country, adventure, and setting a record (over 4,000 km on a bike around the Philippines). I will be biking alone most of the time without any support vehicle , but I will invite local cyclists to bike along with me for a few hours. In every parish where I will stay for the night, I will be preaching the Gospel of Life and Peace and I will invite the leaders of the Basic Ecclesial Communities and the Lay Organizations & Movements to attend the mass so that I can remind them of their responsibility to promote life and work for peace.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

A Culture of Corruption and Death

The TV and newspapers these past few days have been reporting on the investigation being conducted by the Senate on the NBN deal. So many people are implicated in this anomalous scandal - the COMELEC commissioner Abalos, DOTC head Leandro Mendoza, the husband of the president (Mike Arroyo). I won't be suprised if Madame President Macapagal Arroyo will ultimately be implicated. In his testimony Neri revealed that Abalos tried to bribe him and he reported to the president who told him not to accept the bribe. And yet she still went to China to sign the agreement. It is no wonder that in the latest report, the Philippines is one of the most corrupt countries in the world.

Besides the corruption scandal, the media continue to report the case of Jonas Burgos - who has been reported missing and could be dead by now. The military is the primary suspect. This is just one of the cases of disaparacido and summary killings that are carried out with impunity.

Here in the Philippines, corruption and violence perpetrated by those in power have become part of our culture - it is way of life. This was our complaint agains the Marcos dictatorial regime. This continues under the Macapagal-Arroyo presidency.

The president is a hypocrite. She appears to be a pious lady who claims that her position is God's will. Yet so much corruption and death have characterized her administration. She is no better than Marcos and Joseph Estrada. Someday, she will share the same fate.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Court Upholds Aerial Spray Ban in Banana Plantations!

The local and national papers today reported that the Judge Renato Fuentes of the Regional Trial Court ruled that the city ordinance banning against aerial spraying in the banana plantation is constitutional. The Philippine Banana Growers and Exporters Association (PGBEA)had filed a case to stop the implementation of the city ordinance. This a victory for the people of Davao, a victory for the Movement Against Aerial Spraying and for the environmental groups.

When I met Judge Fuentes after mass yesterday, I shook his hand and he had a big smile. He said, "I'm sure that you are very happy with my decision." The judge is dear friend and he knows about my community's stand on this issue. A few months ago, when the hearing started, he was surprised to see me in court together with the environmental group. When we met in church after that he asked me what I was doing in the courthouse. I told him that I had attended an inter-faith prayer service in support of the aerial spray ban and afterwards went inside the courthouse to observe the hearing. Last month, we had a special petition in all the masses on a Sunday praying that the aerial spray ban would be upheld to protect the health of the people and the environment.

My friends in the environmental group a few months ago were worried that Judge Fuentes might rule in favor of the Banana Plantation owners because he granted them a three-month temporary restraining order that prevented the immediate implementation of the city ordinance. They wanted me to exert my influence on the judge. But I told them that I wouldn't do that. The Judge already knew my stand but he had to make a ruling on the basis of the evidence and testimony in court. And yesterday, while talking with the Judge, he told me that he found the testimony of the victims of aerial spraying and the experts supporting the ban very convincing. As we parted, he told me:"you were also a light."

God bless Judge Fuentes. An upright judge who could not be swayed by the powerful Banana Plantation owners. He is devout layman, who gives communion on Sundays and even on weekdays. He is also a member of the Knights of Columbus.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Working with young people in Forming Basic Ecclesial Communities (BECs)

One of the pleasant experiences in my ministry is working with young people. There is a group of young people in the parish that call themselves as the DRYM team (Davao Redemptorist Youth Mission Team). This group is full of missionary zeal. They are involved in evangelizing the youth in the parish and in forming youth groups within the BECs. I have given them recollection and seminars over the years. This month I started training them, together with our seminarians to conduct youth fellowship seminars in each BEC. I accompanied them last night and the whole day today in conducting the youth fellowship in the BEC of San Vicente. Over 50 young people turned up. The theme of this event is : "Growing up Together as Persons and as Christians." The seminarians and the DRYM team took turns in the facilitation and the giving of inputs or lectures. The previous seminars, it was I who was giving the input, this time they were the ones doing it and my role was simply to observe and later give suggestions how they can improve their presentation.
This is the format of the seminar:

Sept. 22
8:00 pm - Opening Liturgy: Taize prayer
8:30 - First Session: "Growing up together as Persons"
Individual reflection/meditation (guide question: what are the changes that I have noticed in me over the years, what are my joys and sorrows, what are the problems that I have encountered?)
Small group sharing (5 each group)
Plenary session (1 person from each group give a synthesis of the responses)
Penitential Service
(we finished by 11 pm)

Sept. 23
9:00 am - Morning prayer
9:15 - Second Session: "Growing up together as Christians"
Drama preparation (3 groups, each group is given a story line on a dimension of Christian life)
Drama presentation
12:00 lunch-break
1:00 pm Third Session: Planning (what they can do to strengthen their fellowship within the BEC and how they can actively participate in the BEC activities)
3:00 pm - Closing Eucharist

I am happy with the outcome of this seminar. I am confident that the DRYM team can continue giving this fellowship seminar in 31 other BECs in the parish.
What we are promoting through this Youth Fellowship is that young people learn to develop bond of friendship among themselves at both local community (BEC) level and also at the parish level. This is alternative to the gangs that are sprouting in these communities.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

The Davao Death Squad (DDS) Strikes Again

After mass this morning, I went mountain-biking for seven hours. Upon reaching Lomondao - a village up in the mountain along the highway towards Bukidnon - I saw many people gathering in the basketball court. They were watching the body of a teen-ager who had just been shot. A woman asked me if I met five men on a couple of motorbikes as I was ascending toward their village. I told her that I saw them. She said they were most likely the death squad that shot the fellow. She told me the victim was a drug addict who had been accused of stealing cell phones. She commented that the mayor had already warned the addicts and thieves in his TV program that he will go after them even in broad day light. She finally said that the victim deserved to die because he was a thief and an addict.

It saddens me to realize that a lot of ordinary people applaud what the DDS is doing. They think that the DDS are doing a service to the community by eliminating these juvenile delinquents and petty criminals.

And to think that this morning this is what I talked about in my homily on the prodigal son (Lk 15:1-36). How do we deal with those who have gone astray and who have sinned - with juvenile delinquents, addicts, and young people in trouble with the law? Apparently, many people - including government officials - think that they should be punished. That is why the DDS have been let loosed to go after them and eliminate them. Many also think that God is like some of these government officials. But the God that Jesus proclaimed is a God who seeks the lost, who gives them a chance to change, and who forgives them.

This systematic elimination young people who have gone astray is not the solution to this social problem. Most often, it is young people from the lower class who are the targets. There are criminals who occupy high positions in government, who have stolen millions of public funds and they are scot free.

Everyone has a right to life and they do not lose this right even when they sin or commit wrong-doing. Even criminals who have been judged guilty in the judicial process retain their right to life. That is why capital punishment has been abolished. Yet there are people in high places who think they are above the law and they act as judge and executioners. They are the real criminals.

And to think that we are no longer living under martial law and the dictator is long dead. This is is a mockery of democracy.

Here's a report of the ITN about the killings in Davao that you can watch on YouTube.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

The Long Dark Night of Mother Teresa of Calcutta

As we mark the death anniversary of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, many people are surprised and disturbed to learn about the new revelations about her - how she was tormented by a feeling of God's absence and even doubts about God's existence.

It seemed that after a mystical experience of Jesus that led her to devote her life in the service of the poor, she went through a very long dark night of the soul - which lasted for over 50 years! Even as she became known world-wide and was hailed as a living saint, deep within she was suffering from this darkness. Everyone presumed that she felt close to God, that is why she was able to carry out her great work of charity. All along, it was God's absence that dominated her life.

Although I am surprised, I am not disturbed by this revelation. In fact I feel relieved. I can understand what Mother Teresa has gone through because I too have gone through a very long dark night. It is embarassing to admit that I, a priest and a theologian, have also gone through a very long dark night. I know how it feels to pray wondering if there is really Someone out there who hears my prayer - or am I just whispering to the wind. It is God's absence rather that his presence that I feel most of the time. The last time that I really felt intensely God's presence was during the EDSA people power event that toppled the dictator Marcos. A few months before that, I had been grieving over my mother's death which led to a crisis of faith and vocation. The peak experience was momentary. After that, I continued to feel God's absence even if I no longer doubted His existence. I am convinced that my faith does not depend on my subjective feeling about God's absence or presence. I believe - even if I do not feel God's presence. I consider the few moments when I felt intensely God's presence as a gift. I only wish that God would give me more of this experience. Meanwhile, I continue serving the invisible and seemingly absent God in the neighbor that I see.

At least, Blessed Mother Teresa and I have something in common. She would be a great patron saint for the many of us who are struggling with our faith. In the long dark night, her life will reflect the light of Christ.


"like a deer that yearns for running water,
my soul longs for you" (Ps 42)

Day and night I yearn for you,
with all my heart,
with all my soul,
with all my mind
and with every cell of my body.

O, how I long to see your face,
to hear your voice,
and to touch you.

Oh God! it's crazy
yearning to be close to someone
hidden and distant.

How can I possibly love
and be loved by someone
I cannot see nor touch?

O, how I long for that day
when we will come face to face
and see the beauty behind the veil
and we will be fully one.

It will be eternity.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Armed Struggle - Can it Transform Society?

This morning the local papers reported another attack of New People's Army(NPA) guerillas on a remote military detachment in a nearby province. The other week they also attacked a police station and carted away several firearms. The leadership of the Communist Party of the Philippines have ordered the NPA units to increase their tactical offensive. This is most likely their response to the arrest of Joma Sison (the founder and chairman of the CPP) in the Netherlands. He has been accused of ordering the assassination of two former leaders of the CPP/NPA (Kintanar and Tabara). The widows of the two leaders have filed a case against Sison.

Kintanar and Tabara were involved in the internal debates within the CPP during the early 1990s. In view of the new realities brought about by the end of the Marcos era and by the collapse of the Soviet Union, they questioned the doctrine of armed struggle/protracted people's war as laid out by Joma Sison. They also questioned the style of leadership of Sison. On the other hand, Sison and his supporters accused Kintar and Tabara of military adventurism and of being responsible for the purges within the party that led to the killings of many cadres. This internal struggle led to the split of the revolutionary movement. There were two factions that emerged - the Reaffirmists (the pro-Sison) and the Rejectionists (the anti-Sison). Kintanar and Tabara went on the form their own party.

The question that confronts the revolutionary movement remains the same: Is armed struggle the most effective means of transforming society?

More than twenty years ago, during the dark period of the Marcos dictatorial regime I myself thought that the only way left to transform Philippine society was through armed struggle. After my mother's death I even toyed with the possibility of following the foosteps of Frs. Balweg and Navarro who left the priesthood and joined the armed struggle. However, the EDSA people power proved that society can be transformed without violence or people's war.

While democracy has been restored in the Philippines, the basic problems remain the same- poverty, inequality, foreign domination of the economy, graft and corruption, patronage politics, forced disappearances and summary killings, armed conflict, suppression of civil rights, etc.

The CPP/NPA hold on to the strategy of people's war and armed struggle as a means of transforming society, although they have entered into peace negotiations with the government for the last 20 years. Other leftist groups have availed of the democratic space and have followed a peaceful, non-violent path.

I myself believe that armed struggle cannot transform Philippine society. It is a futile, ineffective and costly strategy that will only escalate the spiral of violence. The possibility of a total victory by the NPA is very remote. They can continue attacking police stations, remote military installations, cell sites, etc. but that is not enough to achieve total victory. The military can not completely annihilate them but the NPA cannot grow and expand into a regular army and capture territories. They do not have any wide popular support. The people's war and the counter-insurgency war will be a war without victors, only victims.

We live in an era where many revolutionary movements all over the world have abandoned the armed struggle and engage in the peace negotiations. The most shining examples are the ANC in South Africa, the FMLN in El Salvador, the IRA in Northern Ireland. Armed struggle has proven to be ineffective and costly in transforming society. The CPP and the government should resume the peace process without precondition. This is the legacy that the aging leadership of the revolutionary movement can leave behind.

Here's a poem I wrote the expresses my thoughts and feelings about armed struggle.

Amado Picardal

In the middle of the night
you appeared
claiming to be our friend
and savior.

With a gun in your hand
you revealed to us
why we are poor and hungry.
You proclaimed to us
the good news
of revolution.

We fed you.
We shared with you
the fruits of our toil.
We gave you
our brave sons and daughters.

We believed and hoped
you could give us
a better tomorrow
with that gun in your hand.

So many tomorrows
have come and gone
but we are still poor and hungry
and we have lost
our brave sons and daughters

Our farms have become
a battle ground.
Our furrows have become
shallow graves.

What can we harvest
when only bullets and bombs
have been sown?

Since you came
other strange monsters
have also appeared in our land.
Like vampires they swoop from the sky.
We keep hoping this is only a nightmare.
We dread the barking of the dogs
and the knocking on our doors
in the middle of the night.

We had to pack up
and leave our homes and farms,
our carabaos, pigs and chickens.
We are exiles
in our own country.

You told us political power
comes out from the barrel of the gun.
Now we know
only death, more hunger and terror
come out from the barrel of the gun.

We are the casualties
of this protracted war
and this total war.
The bursts and explosions
drown out our cry
for justice and peace.

You promised us
a land we can call our own
and all we got
is this no man's land.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

An Episcopal Ordination

Yesterday I attended the episcopal ordination of Bishop Julius Tonel. The liturgy which lasted for three hours was celebrated at the San Pedro Cathedral in Davao. There were 36 bishops present and over 300 priests. The cathedral was packed with people and many had to stand outside since there was not enough room.

Bishop Tonel was the vicar general of the Archdiocese of Davao and parish priest of San Pablo Parish. He was the former rector of the St. Francis Regional Major Seminary. He finished his Licentiate in Sacred Liturgy at the San Anselmo in Rome. He is also a cyclist who joined two previous Bike for Peace which I organized during the Mindanao Week of Peace the last two years. The other summer, he and 30 other priests joined the first leg of my Bike-Tour for Life and Peace around Mindanao.

Bishop Tonel has been appointed as the new Bishop-prelate of the Prelature of Ipil. It is located in the Zamboanga Peninsula. There is so much poverty in this area and this has been the scene of Christian-Muslim conflict in the past. This is the place that was attacked by the Abu Sayaf several years ago. Just the other month, Fr. Bossi, an Italian Missionary was kidnapped in that place and was released after 40 days of captivity.

In his address after communion, Bishop Tonel thanked God for the honor, the gift and the task of the episcopacy. He forgot to add that it is also a burden and a responsibility.

There are so many things expected of a bishop nowadays, especially in the context of the situation of our people and the problems of the local Church.

He is expected to be a good shepherd of the flock, exercising his leadership in the spirit of service, and imbued with pastoral charity and compassion. He must not "lord it over" or govern the flock in a dictatorial or authoritarian manner. He must learn to listen to his priest and the lay faithful he is called to serve and encourage their active participation in the life and mission of the Church.

The bishop is expected to be the focal point of communion - of unity - in his diocese, just as he is to be in communion with the college of bishops and with the Bishop of Rome - the pope.

Since the pastoral priority of the Church in the Philippines is the building up of the Basic Ecclesial Communities (BECs), the bishop must promote the growth of BECs in the parishes within his diocese. In these communities, the ordinary lay faithful will experience the Church as a community patterned after the early Christian Community in Jerusalem, whose member live in communion and participate in the Christ's mission as a prophetic, worshipping and serving community and as the Church of the Poor. The bishop must therefore continue the reform of the Church started in Vatican II and realize the vision of a renewed Church as promoted by the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines (PCP II).

The bishop has to be a prophet - preaching and teaching the Good News of salvation and liberation - the message of justice, peace, and the integrity of creation. He must also be the conscience in society, denouncing the sinful situation and structures - the culture of death, the injustices, the violence, corruption, the destruction of the environment, etc. He must make sure that his clergy and the communities of the faithful actively participate in the prophetic mission of the Church, in renewed evangelization and catechesis.

The bishop has to encourage his clergy and the faithful to be engaged in renewed social apostolate - in addressing the problem of poverty and underdevelopment, in working for peace and justice, in defending the environment.

The bishop must also promote "renewed worship" - emphasizing participative and meaningful liturgical and sacramental celebration in his diocese and promoting inculturation - using local cultural forms and expressions.

Since there are other Christian denominations and religious traditions (e.g. Islam), the bishop must promote ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue. The bishops in Mindanao have been in the forefront of the Christian-Muslim dialogue and have set up the Bishops-Ulama Forum.

The bishop must be concerned about the renewal of the clergy, inspiring them to live up to the high standard of morality. The most difficult problem he faces is dealing with priests who have problems living celibacy, who are engaged in sexual misconduct and abuse. He must be compassionate and at the same time firm. He must be concerned about the victims ,and never tolerate abuses.

These are the challenges, the burden and responsibility awaiting Bishop Tonel as he begins his ministry of shepherding his flock. I pray and hope that he will truly be a good shepherd

I am glad that there are many bishops in the Philippines who are good shepherds and who have provided moral leadership in the local Church. Among them is Cardinal Gaudencio Rosales of the Archdiocese of Manila. He was the bishop of Malaybalay, Bukidnon when our mission team was working in his diocese. I still remember that time when we organized and mobilized the Basic Ecclesial Communities to struggle against the logging companies in San Fernando, Bukidnon. He was very supportive. One time he came to barricade at night and joined us as we were having a bible-reflection. When our leaders were hailed to court, he encourage them. He celebrated with us when the government finally gave in to the demand to impose a total log ban in the whole province. He was filled with grief when some time later, one of his priest was killed by the loggers. Now as cardinal of Manila, Rosales has started the Pondong Pinoy - a program that is mobilizing the people to pool their resources to address the problem of poverty.

Other bishops I admire are Oscar Cruz (who is at the forefront in the struggle against "hueteng" (illegal gambling), Jose Manguiran (who is leading the struggle against the mining companies), Orlando Quevedo (who is the primary proponent of the Basic Ecclesial Communities). The late Cardinal Sin has been one of the moving spirit behind EDSA I (that toppled the dictator Marcos) and EDSA II (that toppled the corrupt president Estrada).

Unfortunately, there are some bishops who have not lived up to the people's expectation of the good shepherd. They have been more concerned about their status, privilege and their material possessions. They have not contributed to the renewal of the Church and the society. I have met some of them and I wrote this poem for them.


Like a sheep without a shepherd
we cry out to you.
We have been scattered,
our homes demolished,
our sons and daughters slaughtered
by wolves in uniform.

Like a flock forgotten by its shepherd
we wait for you.
But you're too busy worrying
about your image, influence
and investments.
You do not even know us.

As we wander in this valley
of terror, hunger and death
we long to see your face
and hear your voice
calling us by name.

But you have wandered
from your flock
and from the good shepherd
you promised to follow.
You have succumbed to the
temptation in the desert.
Yours is the power, the glory
and the wealth.

Like a flock in search of a shepherd
we call out to you,
be our shepherd.
Leave everything you have
and lead us in our journey
to the promised land.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Celebrating the Eucharist with the Basic Ecclesial Community (BEC) of Spring Valley

Last night I celebrated the Eucharist with the BEC of Spring Valley in their community chapel. Over 120 people participated - a mix of adults and youth, men and women. After communion, 15 persons comprising the Council of Leaders made a renewal of the commitment to serve and lead the community. The council is composed of the over-all leader called Pangulo sa Katilingban, the lay liturgical leaders, the heads of committees (education, liturgy, social action, youth, finance) and the heads of the family groupings. We had agape -table fellowship - after the mass.

The BEC of Spring Valley is one of the 33 small Christian communities in the parish. It is an urban community with over 150 families. It is divided into 10 family groupings or BEC cells. The whole community gathers every Saturday evening in the chapel for bible-service led by lay liturgical leaders. During the week, the leaders conduct family evangelization (Visita Familia) in the homes of the members. The community mass is celebrated bi-monthly. There is a also a men's fellowship group that meets monthly. The young people have their own weekly bible-sharing. The community spirit in Spring Valley is impressive.

The activity of the community does not only revolve around spiritual matters. Several years ago, after I conducted an evangelization seminar, the community was encouraged to struggle for the land they have been occupying for over twenty years. They resisted the demolition team sent by a wealthy logger who claimed that land as his own in spite of a spurious title. The case has still to be resolved in the court.

They also have an income-generating project assisted by the micro-finance program of the parish.

The BEC in Spring Valley is a proof that BECs can thrive not only in rural areas but also in urban areas. In grassroots communities such as this, the Church is being renewed - the Church is experienced as a community of disciples, whose members live in communion or fellowship, and as evangelizing, worshipping and serving community, and as the Church of the Poor.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

A Day in the Life of a Priest-Professor

I woke up at six this morning. By 6:30, I was in the common room with four fellow Redemptorist priests in the community going over the readings for the coming Sunday discussing what we can preach about. We do this homily sharing every Thursday morning. On other days we have the morning prayer.

After breakfast, I went back to my room to prepare for my class. From nine in the morning up to 12 noon, I was in the classroom, teaching a course on Pastoral Leadership and Management. I teach 3 other courses on other days (Fundamental Theology, Sacraments, Theological Synthesis.

After lunch, instead of taking a nap, I retired to the chapel for private meditation and prayer. This is where I get recharged or re-energized.

After meditation, I went to the market to buy some peanuts and have these grounded. When I went back to the monastery, I prepared my home-made peanut butter (mixed with Canola butter, virgin coconut oil, honey).

I spent an hour on the computer, checking my e-mail and going over my book-project. By 4:30 pm I was pedaling my mountain bike up the hills and rough roads. I was back in the monastery by 6:15 pm.

In the evening, I celebrated the Eucharist with the leaders and members of the Basic Ecclesial Community (BEC) in San Jose - an urban poor community. There were over 70 people who attended. Within the mass, the Council of Leaders of the community had a ritual of renewing the commitment to serve the community. The mass was over by 8:30 pm. After sharing a meal with the people I drove back to the monastery.

This is a typical day in my life for the last 12 years, since I was assigned here in Davao after finishing my studies in Rome. How much longer will I live like this? I really miss the life of a missionary out in the mountains.

When I was ordained, I thought that I will be spending my priestly ministry in the missions until my old age (may be up to 80). But then after 8 years with the mission team, I was sent for higher studies. So here I am now, living the life of a professor preparing future priests for ministry. I never thought I would end up being a teacher like my grandfather and my mother. So here I am wondering how long will I continue doing this.

At least I have other things to do besides teaching - celebrating the Eucharist with the Basic Ecclesial Communities (BECs) in the parish, biking for peace, giving talks and seminars on BECs in various dioceses). But most of my time is actually spent teaching.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Homily for 18th Sunday C - Being Rich in God's Eyes

This morning I presided at the 10:30 morning mass. The Church was overflowing - there were probably over six hundred who attended mostly from the upper class. This was the homily that I preached:

Many of us are concerned about having more money and possessions so that we can fulfill our basic needs and desires- to eat well, have a nice house, drive a car, provide good education for the children, pay the hospital when we get sick, etc. There's nothing wrong with working hard so that we can live in comfort.

What is wrong is when the accumulation of wealth and material possessions become an obsession and when our hearts are filled with greed. This becomes the sole purpose of our existence. We make an idol out of our wealth - when we think that this is the only thing that matters. What is worst is when we use evil means to achieve this end - when we exploit others, treath them unjustly, engage in graft and corruption, destroy the environment, etc. We become materialisticd and live as if there is no God and as if we will never die. We become like the Rich Fool in the parable we have just read.

In our Gospel today, Jesus warns us: "Take care care, be on your guard against all forms of greed, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of one's possessions."

Jesus reminds us also of the reality of death. We are all going to die someday. This awareness forces us to examine our priorities - about what matters most in life.

There is more to life than accumulating material possessions. When this is all we have accomplised at the end of our life, we will still be failure in God's eyes. To be rich in God's eyes is not just about having more money.

We really do not know how much time we have left here on earth. It could be 24 years, or 24 months, or 24 hours. The most important question we need to answer is not how much more money and possession that we can accumulate.

Rather, how much love and care we can show to our fellow human beings - starting with our own family (your spouse, the children, relatives), our neighbors, the community, the poor in our midst.

We need to answer the question: what legacy can we leave behind after we are gone? What is the good that we have done - how we make this world a better place to live in, our efforts to eradicate poverty, to work for peace and justice, to defend the environment, etc.

Ultimately we need to examine our relatioship with the source of our being - God - who is also our final destiny.

In the end, God will judge us by our love and the good we have done - not by our possessions. The persons who have loved God and people the most are truly rich in God's eyes.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Promoting a New Way of Being Church - the Basic Ecclesial Communities (BECs)

For the last four weeks, I have been engaged in what I consider my life's primary mission - promoting Basic Ecclesial Communities (BECs) as new way of being Church. It is not really new - it is the vision of the Church as a community of disciples where the members live in communion (unity, friendship, sharing, partnership) and participate in Christ's mission as a worshipping, witnessing and serving community. This is a Church patterned after the first Christian community in Jerusalem as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 2:42-47, 4:32-35). This is the vision of the Church that was retrieved by the Second Vatican Council that called for the renewal of the Church. This is the same vision of the Church promoted by the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines.

I have been involved in the formation of BECs for over thirty years - first as a seminarian and later as a newly ordained priest. I wrote a licentiate thesis on this phenomenon while studying in Berkeley, California (1989-1991) and while studying at the Gregorian University in Rome, I also wrote my doctoral dissertion on the Ecclesiological Perspectives of the BECs in the Philippines.
Since 1995 up the present, I have been giving talks and seminars on BECs in 17 dioceses and in various regional and national conferences.

Four weeks ago, I was in Bangalore, India to attend a theological conference on BECs. When I arrived back in the Philippines, I immediately proceeded to Calbayog, Samar to give a talk during their diocesan BEC congress. When I came back to Davao, I gave a BEC seminar to the trainees of the Philippine Catholic Lay Missionaries. A few days ago, I was in Bacolod to share my experiences with diocesan seminary formators from all over the Philippines. I was amazed when I learned that in many seminaries, the BEC culture is being lived among the seminarians and that many have exposure and immersion program in BECs. All of these are signs of hope for the Church which for a long time have been dominated by the image of the Church as a huge, bureaucratic institution. We continue to implement the vision of a renewed Church which Vatican II promoted. I consider it my life's mission to promote this vision of the Church.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

The Gift of a New Mountain Bike

I am feeling very ecstatic. Yesterday, I received a new mountain bike! Its a Merida TFS with all the high end components. It cost P60,000. There was a discount when the bike shop owner learned that it was for me.
After he read the news on the Philippine Daily Inquirer about the loss of my bike, Patrick Deakin called me and told me that he and his friends wanted to give me a bike so that I can continue my mission to bike for peace around the country.
A few days ago Patrick texted me and told me that the bike was ready and all that was left was to deliver it to me. I told him that I will be in Manila on July 6 since I will leave for India to attend a BEC theological conference. So he delivered the bike yesterday here in Baclaran, a few hours after I arrived from Davao. I am so grateful to Patrick and his friends for their generosity. They are now part of this mission.
There were actually three other offers for a bike donation (from Brionne, Dolly and the Philippine Cycling Network), but Patrick called me first. So I had to decline the other offers. Just the same, I am thankful to them for their generous offer.
What has happened has convinced me that no matter how bad things look like some good will still come out of it. The theft of my old bike was a blessing in disguise. I got a new bike which I could never afford. This bike is capable of negotiating all kinds of roads in the Philippines- including the rough roads of the Cordillera mountain ranges.
God is good - and people like Patrick and his friends have proven it.
I will be leaving for Bangalore, India this afternoon. When I come back next week, I will bring the mountain bike back to Davao.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

What's wrong with my heart?

Yesterday I had a CT angiography at the Davao Doctor's Hospital. My cardiologist had asked me to go through this high tech procedure to find out definitely if I really have atherosclerosis and myocardial ischemia as the stress test had reported. This morning I got the result of the angiography and discussed it with the doctor. So, I tested positive. While my heart is strong, the arteries that deliver blood and oxygen to the heart have become narrow due to the plaques and the cholesterol deposit. My only consolation is that although I may occasionally experience angina, the risk of heart attack is not too high.

The doctor has prescribed cholesterol lowering drugs (lipitor) and some multivitamins. He also urged me to continue my diet and exercise program. I will go another stress test after six months to see if the ischemia will still be there.

So my marathon comeback is on hold. I am not sure if my "Bike for Life and Peace Around the Philippines" will push through this summer.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Attending a golden jubilee of ordination, losing my mountain bike

Last Thursday afternoon, after seeing my cardiologist, I rode the Honday 125 XS motorbike all the way to Iligan to attend the golden anniversary of ordination of Fr. Ramon Fruto. It was an eight hour drive across the mountains of Davao and Bukidnon. Last December it took me 2 1/2 days of pedaling to cover this distance by mountain bike.

There were over five hundred guest for Fr. Ramon's jubilee celebration which was held last Friday evening. Two bishops (Cabajar and Galido) graced the occasion. I made it a point to attend this celebration because Fr. Ramon has been my mentor. He was the director of St. Alphonsus' Seminary when I entered in 1968. He was my novice-master in Lipa in 1976. He was our prefect when I was a theology student in Davao in 1977. After my pastoral year, he was my superior in Iligan in 1982. We were together in the missions in Jimenez and Hinatuan, Surigao. He was also my vice-provincial superior who sent me for higher studies in Berkely and Rome, in 1989-1995. We were together in Davao in 2004 - and I took over as parish priest when he was appointed as apostolic administrator of the diocese of Iligan. Seeing him celebrate 50 years of ordination is very inspiring. I imagined myself celebrating my golden jubilee 24 years from now.

Last night, I also had dinner with my sisters (Noni, Inday, Mely) and their families to celebrate our late father's birthday and the 55th wedding anniversary of our parents.

I came back to Davao this afternoon. The first news that greeted mye was that my mountain bike had been stolen. It was the mountain bike that I used to bike around Mindanao last summer and the bike that I used when I went home to Iligan after Christmas 2006. I felt sad, but I took the news stoically. No need to get depressed over it. I hope I will get a new one this Christmas. Meanwhile, I will just run and train for the marathon. Actually, I still have a road bike that I can use - but I will miss biking in the mountains and rough trails. I need a mountain bike when I bike for peace around the Philippines in the near future.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

World Environment Day - The Struggle Continues

This morning I joined the interfaith prayer rally to celebrate the World Environment Day. The prayer rally was held in front of the hall of justice and was attended by various religious groups - Catholics, Protestants, Quiboloy's Sonshine movement, Ananda Marga. After the prayer rally we went inside the hall of justice where a hearing was conducted. The Philippine Banana Growers Association (PBGA) has filed a case against the local government for passing an ordinance banning the Aerial Spraying in Davao.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Reunion of Class 1971

I just came back from Cebu where attended a class reunion. Thirty-six years ago (1971) there were 22 seminarians who graduated from high school in St. Alphonsus' Minor Seminary. The class theme song was "The first of May" which was popularized by Jose Feliciano. We had our first reunion on May 1, 1980, when we were just entering adulthood - most of us were 26 years old then. We gathered this time, past midlife (most of us are now 53 years old). We found it difficult to recognize each other - some have grey hair, others have lost their hair, many have put on weight. Even those who have migrated to the U.S., Canada, England and Bangkok, came home to attend the reunion. It was supposed to be four day- affair, starting on May 30, but I came late because I was in Tacurong, Sultan Kudarat, giving a seminar on Christology, Ecclesiology and BEC. I'm glad I was able to attend the last two days because we spent our time in reminiscing about the good old days and sharing with one another our life-journey. We had a concelebrated mass and special dinner on the evening of June 2. Out of the 22 who graduated, only three were ordained priests. We agreed that we will have our next reunion 11 years from now when we will be 64 years old. The theme song this time is a song by the Beatles - "When I'm Sixty Four." By then we will be senior citizens.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Pentecost Vigil

Yesterday, I was in San Julian, Eastern Samar, giving a talk to 280 delegates of the 2nd BEC (Basic Ecclesial Communities) Congress of the Diocese of Borongan. The topic of my presentation was "The Promotion of Growth and Sustainability of BECs in the parish." The talk was in waray-waray - the Samarenyo language. The delegates were mostly lay leaders and members of parish formation teams involved in forming BECs in the parishes of the Borongan diocese. It was a whole day affair.

At 8:30 in the evening, I gave an hour's talk to over five thousand faithful gathered in the San Julian school ground. They came from all the parishes of the diocese led by their parish priests for the annual diocesan Pentecost vigil. Most were members of BECs and lay organizations and movements (e.g. Couples for Christ, Charismatics, Neo-Catechumenates, etc.).

In my talk I traced the origin and inspiration of the BECs to the Christian community in Jerusalem that emerged on Pentecost Sunday with the coming of the Holy Spirit and the start of the evangelizing mission of Peter and the apostles. Unfortunately, through the centuries, the communitarian model of the Church was supplanted by the Institutional model. The formation of BECs which started after Vatican II is part of the post-conciliar effort to renew the Church and to re-emphasize the communitarian spirit of the early Church.

I also talked about the problems encountered in building BECs, the lessons learned, the challenges and prospects. I emphasized the need for renewed evangelization as an essential process in the formation of BECs, and also the need for developed BECs to work for total human development, address the problem of poverty, work for peace and justice and defend the environment.

I challenged the leaders and members of the lay organizations and renewal movements to be involved in their respective BECs and contribute in their growth.

After my talk, we had the celebration of the sacrament of penance and reconciliation. There were over 30 priests who heard confession. We were able to start the vigil mass at 11:30 pm (presided by the diocesan administrator). We finished the liturgy by 3;30 am, and the people dispersed and journeyed back to their respective parishes (riding buses, trucks and jeepneys).

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Coming down the mountain - continuing my mission

I have just ended one month of solitude in my hermitage in the mountain of Busay and I am now back to civilization. I feel that one month was so short - but all the same, I am grateful for the opportunity to relax, reflect prayerfully, read, write, and run. I had a great time running the mountain trails. Last weekend, I ran down to the city in the morning to attend an ordination, and in the afternoon I ran up back to the mountain. It took me one hour and thirty minutes to ascend the steep mountain from the monastery. The last time I ran up this mountain was 18 years ago while preparing for the marathon - and it only took me an hour. Well, at least, I can still do it at the age of 52, although at a slower pace. I have decided to make a marathon comeback and to start my training program during my stay in Busay. I have 9 months of training for the Philippines International Marathon this February 24, 2008. The last time I ran a marathon was in 1995 - twelve years ago - in Rome.

Tomorrow, I will be travelling to Samar. I have been invited to give a one hour talk to the Diocesan BEC (Basic Ecclesial Communities) congress in San Julian on May 26. They are expecting 250 delegates for the congress. In the evening I will give a 90 minutes speech during the Diocesan Pentecost Vigil. They are expecting six thousand people from all the parishes of the Borongan diocese. From there, I go back to Cebu and fly to Davao to give a seminar on Christology and Ecclesiology on May 29-31 in Tacurong.

This is going to be very busy school year. But my stay in Busay has recharged me to continue my mission.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Going up my mountain - Becoming an Occasional Hermit

Once again I am living the life of a hermit up in the mountain of Busay overlooking the city of Cebu.

I came up here six days ago and I will be here until May 23. Two years ago, I spent five months here, during my sabbatical. Now I can only spare a month.

This is my sacred space. I fell in love with this place when I was still a seminarian. I made a promise that I will come up here regularly (at least for a month) and spend time in solitude, silence and prayer. This is what I have been doing since my ordination - except for the six years that I was away for higher studies in Berkeley and in Rome.

This is a very relaxing time for me. Besides praying and meditating , I have enough time to jog along the trails and to practice Taichi. I set aside time for spiritual reading. I also do some writing (I am trying to finish my book projects). I cook my own meals and wash my clothes. Usually after supper, it is music time (playing the flute, violin or the guitar). When I am inspired, I compose some songs or write poetry.

Once a week, on Sundays, I go down to the monastery 12 kilometer below and have dinner with my confreres. This is also the time to check my e-mail, catch up on the news and get food supply.

Even though I live alone, I really don't feel lonely. I am in a flow, time goes so quickly. I feel re-energized. For now, I have to be contented with the little time I can spend here. When I reach 70, I would like to spend my remaining years here.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Consoling the mother of a Davao Death Squad (DDS) victim

I went over to Bangkerohan this evening to condole with Clarita - the mother of Fernando - and lead the prayer service which was held at the barangay hall. Fernando was only 15 years old. He had been warned by some Barangay officials that his name was on the list of the Death Squad. He was in hiding for several months but got homesick. A few days after returning home he was killed by the DDS. Three of his elder brothers were also executed by the DDS, several years ago. Clarita was inconsolable after losing her fourth son.

Life is so cheap in our country. They want to cleanse society of juvenile delinquents -without giving them a chance to reform. Meanwhile, the corrupt politicians, police and military men who have stolen millions and responsible for the suffering and death of so many of our people go unpunished.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Another victim of the Davao Death Squad (DDS)

I just received a message that Clarita Alia's teenage son, Fernando, was killed by the Davao Death Squad (DDS) yesterday. They stabbed him to death to make it appear that it was just another gangland killing. But Clarita insited that it was the handiwork of the DDS. Several months ago, Clarita was featured in the ITV-CNN documentary on the Davao Death Squads in Davao. She had already lost 3 sons to the DDS. And now she has lost her 4th son.

Over the last few months, the DDS have changed their tactics. Instead of shooting their targets, they now stab them. Thus, the killings are no longer reported in the media because they make it appear that these are the usual gangland killings. But their goal is still the same. To cleanse society of social misfits - petty thieves, drug addicts and pushers, etc. There are ove 500 victims of these summary executions. Many believe that the perpetrators are former communist-Sparrow Unit assassins and off-duty policement encouraged, supported or tolerated by the local government executive and the police. Even the US state department and the UN Rapporteur have expressed concern about these killings.

Elsewhere, the killings continue. In some areas the targets are petty criminals, in other areas the targets are members of alleged leftist legal organizations like Bayan Muna.

What is alarming is that in face of this culture of death, there is a culture of silence. This present government has not done anything to stop the killings. This government is in a state of denial, as the UN Rapporteur Allston reported. The ordinary citizens do not care. There is no public outcry. They keep on electing people who have blood on their hands.

We are just a few lonely voices, crying in the wilderness.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Celebrating Easter Among Poor Peasants

The other day I biked for 97 kilometers to a village up in the mountain of Talaingod to celebrate Easter with the members of the Basic Ecclesial Community (BEC). It took me over six hours to reach the place. The Redemptorist seminarians have been in the mission area for two weeks and they had invited me to preside at the Easter vigil celebration with the community composed mostly of poor peasants. After supper with the leader of the BEC, we begin the Easter vigil at 8 pm. The most powerful symbol of the liturgy was when the people accepted and shared the light from the paschal candal. In the midst of darkness, the candles the people were holding were bright enough to fill the the chapel. I reminded the people that the risen Christ - the light of the world - has conquered the darkness of sin and evil by his resurrection. We need to accept Jesus and live in the light. This requires dying to sin and living a new life - a life freed from sin and evil.

We finished the liturgy at almost 10 pm. After a light snack with the leaders, I went to sleep in the hut of the BEC leader. By 3:30 am, I was already awake. The people were ready by 4 am to celebrate the traditional "Sugat" - the ritual enactment of the encounter between the sorrowful mother Mary and the risen Jesus. It started with a procession - the men following the "risen Jesus" and the women following the "sorrowful mother." When the two processions met ouside the chapel, the angels took the veil of the sorrow mother, and her sorrow was turned into joy. The "Sugat" was followed by an Easter morning Mass which was over by 5:30 am. After breakfast, I biked for another six hours back to the parish.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Hearing Confession

I spent almost three hours listening to the confession of our church-goers after the mass this evening. Over 500 people turned up for the communal penitential celebration followed by individual confession. There were only 5 of us priests to hear the confessions of the people.

Well, I was not suprised by the big turn out. We are after all in the middle of the Holy Week and tomorrow is Holy Thursday.

Many of those who came to confess were people who had not been to confession for a long time. I was overwhelmed by the heavy and serious sins that they confessed. After almost three hours I was tired and I had a headache.

Many of those who confessed were in tears as they unburdened their guilt that they have been carrying for quite some time. I sensed that going to confession was an expression of conversion - the desire to change or renew their life. It was also the opportunity to communicate to them
God's mercy and compassion.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Fighting for Land

Last night, I celebrated the Eucharist with the people whose homes had been demolished. We had the mass in a temporary chapel amid the ruins of the houses that had been destroyed. Out of 140 families, 70 families remained and they live in makeshift home while the case is still being fought in the Court of Appeals. They have set up barricades, to prevent the demolition team from coming back. After the mass, we had agape. The people shared with one another the food that they brought.

For over 30 years, they have been occupying a piece of land owned by the government at the back of the Davao Medical Center. In spite of a memorandum of agreement, the director of the hospital wanted to drive them out and transfer to them to a distant relocation site. Half of the community resisted while the other half gave in. Those left behind were determined to fight for the land that they have be occupying for a long time. They are asking the government to include the land in the government urban housing program.

There are several Basic Ecclesial Communities in our parish that had successfully fought for their land. The first ones where in the Buhangin area several decades ago and the latest was in Spring Valley last year. These communities had to resort to both legal and extralegal means to defend their homes against the demolition teams. In the end the government acceded to their demands.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Recovering from Cancer

I met Alice after mass this morning. She looked very well and felt well. She told me that she is recovering well from cancer. I cannot claim full credit for that but she told me I have been a big help.

Several months ago, she came to me feeling hopeless and helpless after being diagnosed with terminal cancer. She seemed like a woman who had just be handed the death sentence.

During our previous healing sessions I prayed over her and taught her a healing meditation to deal with the pain, visualize the cancer dissolving and visualize herself living up to 80 years old. I helped her go through the process of inner healing - dealing with the recent pain of feeling abandoned by her son which triggered the childhood pain of being abandoned by her mother. Being able to forgive her son and mother and letting go of the hurts and resentment contributed to the healing process. I also advised her to do the things she loved doing (she liked to sing) and to exercise. After a while the cancer stopped spreading and she decided to undergo surgery.

So it seems that she is not going to die yet and she may live up to 80.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Priestly Ministry and forming Basic Ecclesial Communities

I just got back from Catarman, Northern Samar where I conducted a seminar for the clergy. I had to travel by air, sea and land to get to that remote diocese. There were 45 priests in attendance together with Bishop Trance and Bishop-emeritus Hobayan.

Ten years ago, the diocesan pastoral assembly decided to adopt as a diocesan thrust the formation of Basic Ecclesial Communities (BECs) in all the parishes. As part of the tenth anniversary of the BEC program, I was invited to conduct a BEC re-orientation seminar to the clergy.

These were the topics that I presented during the three-day seminar:

1. The BECs: Phenomenological and Ecclesiological Perspectives
2. The priestly ministry vis-a-vis BECs
3. Building BECs: Pre-requesites and Strategic Framework
4. Evangelizing BECs
5. Organizing BECs
6. Mobilizing BECs for Social Transformation
7. Approaches to Building BECs
8. Developing a BEC culture

I emphasized that BECs are considered as new way of being Church. The BECs can be regarded as the Church at the grassroots, the Church in the neighborhood, the Church in the village. The vision of a renewed Church - a community of disciples where the members live in communion and participate in the mission of Christ as witnessing, worshipping and serving communities and as the Church of the Poor - may be experienced by the ordinary lay faithful in the BECs.

The priestly ministry must be understood and exercised in the context of the BECs. A new of being Church, requires a new way of being priests.
According to the Second Vatican Council and the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines, the ordained ministry cannot just be understood and exercised in cultic terms. Priesthood is not just saying mass or administering the sacraments. It also includes the pastoral ministry, the prophetic ministry, the social ministry.

As shepherds or pastors, the priests have the responsibility to gather and lead the flock - this means a ministry of forming a truly genuine Christian community and leading it. Since the parish is so big, this means forming a network of small Christian communities or BECs. Thus, the formation of BECs can be considered as a constitutive dimension of the priestly ministry.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Celebrating EDSA People Power

Today, 22 years ago, the dictator, Ferdinand Marcos was ousted peacefully by hundreds of thousands of Filipinos that gathered at EDSA - the highway between Camp Aguinaldo and Fort Bonifacio. I was at that time in a distant barrio in Mindanao - hearing the good news on the radio. I had been grieving over my mother's death (she was killed by military men) and was wondering whether it was time to leave the priesthood and join the armed struggle against the government. The ouster of Marcos through non-violent means made the armed option unnecessary. Deep within, it affirmed my faith in the reality of God's liberating presence in the history of our people. Out of joy, I wrote this poem:

Psalm of EDSA

Ring the bells, blow your horns
light the fireworks, let the dance begin
in the barricades, streets, camps and homes.
Proclaim to the whole world the good news:
the dictator has finally fled to Hawaii!

This is the moment we have longed for
the moment of our deliverance!

They who put their trust in their armies
have been put to shame
by the multitudes of men, women and children
emboldened by the power of the cross
led by the frail widow of the man
who gave his life on the tarmac.

The instruments of terror
have unwittingly been converted
into forces for freedom
embraced and protected by the people.

The armalites, tanks and helicopters
were powerless against the risen people
ready to offer their bodies and blood without taking life
armed with their prayers, tears,
rosary beads, carved images of the Mother and Child,
crosses, flowers and food for the bewildered troops.

Let us praise and thank the Lord,
the God who is never blind, deaf nor powerless,
the subversive God
who has always been with us in our struggle
throughout the archipelago
who is present at EDSA
and who will accompany us on our journey
to the land of promise - a land flowing
with peace, justice and prosperity.

Let this moment be etched in our hearts
for we have shown to the world
the saving power of God!


Twenty-two years later, the euphoria is gone. It was a brief moment in our history when we were proud to be Filipinos. We thought that it would be followed by a transformed society. It was an Exodus, but we have not reached the promised land -- we are still wandering in the desert.

As I look at our society today, the situation has not radically changed. The dictator is long gone and dead. But the problems that plagued the people remain - widespread poverty, inequality, foreign domination of our economy, corruption in government and the military, the spiral of violence, extrajudicial killings, the culture of death, environmental degradation. Most of our politicians have the same attitude as the politicians during the time of Marcos -- greedy, corrupt, self-serving. Our president is no better than Marcos.

We have changed the political system , we have changed our leaders but we as a people have not undergone a process of conversion. The spirit of EDSA - of people power - seems to be gone. How long do we have to wander in the desert? When will we ever reach the promise land?

The desert is place of purification - a place of growing up as God's people. It is a place that we need to go through before we can enter the promise land.