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.