Sunday, February 22, 2009

Developing the Basic Ecclesial Community (BEC) culture

The leaders of the Basic Ecclesial Communities (BECs) of Zone 6 gathered at the chapel of St. Anthony for a whole day of leadership formation. I was the resource person of the morning sessions and I gave presentations on BEC culture, Christian leadership and pastoral management.
For the first session, I talked about the role of the leaders in developing the BEC culture in their respective communities. I gave the talk in Cebuano. Below is the English version:
Developing the BEC Culture

Community Culture is defined as the way of life of the community which includes patterns of interaction, behavior and the underlying values, beliefs and worldview. It is the kind of environment that prevails in a community.
It includes the rituals, symbols and 'myths' (or stories), creed, and code of ethical conduct.
It defines what behavior is right and wrong, appropriate and inappropriate.
The community culture also defines patterns of relationship - whether personal/intimate or impersonal/functional. It also defines the boundaries.
It also defines how leadership is exercised, and how decisions are made.
A BEC without a clear culture cannot grow nor can it be sustained.
What follows is an attempt to spell out the elements of a BEC culture.
The Seven Pillars of BEC culture

1.Awareness as Renewed Christians (metanoia)
2.Communion (koinonia)
3.Word of God (kerygma, catechesis)
4.Prayer and the Eucharist (leitorgia)
5.Social Action (diakonia)
6.Option for the Poor
7.Participative Membership and Servant-Leadership

1. Awareness as Renewed Christians

We are renewed Christians
We have accepted Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.
We have turned away from sin and living a new life.
We have become aware of the presence of the Spirit in our life, the Spirit that renews us, unites us and empowers us for mission.
We have gone through a process of conversion and commit ourselves to live as true disciples of Jesus in community, and continue his priestly, prophetic and pastoral mission.
2. Communion

We are family/community, we are close to one another, we live as friends, we care for each other, we share with each other, we take care of each other.
We will regularly spend time together to deepen our relationship.
As we strive to be close to one another we observe proper boundary and respect for each other. We will never exploit or take advantage of each other.
We are a community of equals and we recognize our diversity of temperaments and gifts.
When conflicts arise we will always strive together for dialogue and reconciliation.
We are connected to other BECs in the parish, we are part of the bigger community - the parish, diocese, universal church. We will never isolate ourselves from the wider Church to which we are connected.
In view of this we affirm our solidarity with our pastors - the priests, bishops and our Holy Father, the successor of St. Peter.
We are open to a dialogue of faith and life with people of other faiths and religious traditions - especially other Christians belonging to other denominations and with Muslims.
3. Word of God

The Word of God as recorded in the Bible and reflected in the tradition and teachings of the Church is the guide of our life.
We come together regularly to listen to the Word and share it. We allow the Word to challenge us and to continually transform our life.
We continue to study to deepen our knowledge and understanding of the Word and the teaching of the Church.
We proclaim the Word to others and to give witness to it with our life.
We uphold the teachings of the church in matters of faith and morals - including its social teachings that promote peace, justice, freedom, human rights and respect for life.
When necessary we will speak out against any manifestation of evil and culture of death in our midst - i.e., abortion, war, capital punishment, injustices, oppression, corruption, violation of human rights, etc.
4. Prayer and Worship

Our relationship with God and with one another can be deepened through prayer.
We will set aside time daily for personal prayer.
We come together at least once a week for community prayer or liturgical celebration (bible-service).
We will gather regularly as a community to celebrate the Eucharist (depending on the availability of a priest - once a month or every other month).

We will celebrate communally our fiesta and the liturgical seasons - Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter.
We will fully and actively participate in the liturgical celebration in our community and the parish.
5. Service/Social Action
We believe that faith without good works is dead.
As a community we are concerned about our brothers and sisters who are in need and we show our love and care for them concretely.
We will meet regularly to assess our concrete situation - social, economic, political, ecological.
We will identify the problems, issues and needs that we have to respond to as a community.
We will actively participate in the process of planning, implementing, and evaluating programs and projects that will address these problems and needs.
We believe that faith without good works is dead.
As a community we are concerned about our brothers and sisters who are in need and we show our love and care for them concretely.
We will meet regularly to assess our concrete situation - social, economic, political, ecological.
We will identify the problems, issues and needs that we have to respond to as a community.
We will actively participate in the process of planning, implementing, and evaluating programs and projects that will address these problems and needs.
6. Option for the Poor

We embrace evangelical poverty
We totally depend on God
We affirm our commitment and option for the poor.
We will always live simply and share with others our time, talents and resources.
We will make sure that the poor in our midst will fully participate in the life and mission of the Church and our local community
We will strive to become truly the Church of the Poor
7. Participative/Servant Leadership
We recognize the authority and leadership of our diocesan and parochial pastors (bishops and priests) over our community. Through them we affirm our communion with the universal church and our universal pastor - the pope.
We will avail of the structures in the parish and the community that enable us to actively participate in the process of decision-making.
We recognize the authority of the local leaders of the community.
Leadership and authority is to be exercised in the spirit of humble service. Leadership should never be regarded in terms of power, privilege and prestige.
There is no place for an autocratic or dictatorial style of leadership in our community. The leaders will function collegially - as a team or council- and will adopt a participative model.
The leaders are to be chosen or elected after a prayerful process of discernment on the basis of their integrity, commitment and competence.
The members of the community have the right to recall leaders whose behavior have caused great harm and scandal to the community.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Leadership Seminar for Leaders of a Basic Ecclesial Community (BEC)

After celebrating the 6:00 mass this morning in the parish church, I proceeded to the Basic Ecclesial Community in Maglana where I spent the whole day conducting a leadership seminar for the council leaders of the community.

The topics covered:

Session 1: The Role of the BEC leaders in building up the Basic Ecclesial Community/ Developing the BEC Culture

Session 2: Avoiding the Dark Side of Leadership (Self-interest, greed for wealth, power and glory as motivation), Christian Leadership as Servant-Leadership (Humble & Loving Service)

Session 3: The Models of Leadership (avoiding dictatorial & laissez-faire models, adopting the participative/democratic model), Pastoral Management competencies: Leading, Planning, Organizing & Control (monitoring, evaluation systems).

At four-thirty in the afternoon, we ended with a celebration of the mass with the whole community. Within the mass, the leaders re-affirmed their commitment to serve the community.

Maglana is one of the poorest community in the parish. In the coming months, I will be spending more time here to help build up the Basic Ecclesial Community. From time to time, I plan to attend the bible-sharing sessions that are being held in their homes at night. In the past I have conducted an evangelization seminar for the whole community, a youth evangelization seminar and a men's fellowship seminar here. I want to continue this process. I also want to help the community come up with a more effective program for addressing the problem of poverty. The parish has started micro-finance project in Maglana several years ago that helped set up IGP (income generating projects) but this has not been enough.

"Passion for Christ, Passion for the Poor." This is the theme that we Redemptorists in Visayas and Mindanao adopted last year as the thrust of our Congregation. We committed ourselves to become closer to Christ and to the poor in our midst. Thus, we are exerting much effort in nurturing the contemplative dimension of our life and at the same time moving closer to the poor. As a professor and theologian, I cannot just confine myself within the church, the monastery, the classroom and the library. That is why I want to spend more time with the poor within the parish. Theologizing must be done not only in the classroom and the library but among the poor in the Basic Ecclesial Communities.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Homily: The Evil Within (Mark 7:14-23)

This afternoon at 5:30 pm, I presided at the Novena-Mass in our parish church. This was the homily I preached:

The Evil Within

There are many people today who avoid certain kinds of food – such as lechon, dinuguan or shrimps –
because these are dangerous to their health.
These could make them fat, or these are bad for their heart.
There are however others who do so for different reasons.
Jewish religion during the time of Jesus was very particular about what should not be eaten
Behind this was the belief that to eat the wrong kind of food would make a person unclean – a sinner.

In our Gospel today Jesus reminds us that what makes us unclean or what makes us sinners is not what we eat-
not what enters our mouth and pass through our digestive system.
Rather it is what comes from our hearts –
the evil within us – the greed, selfishness, avarice, angel, lust which can lead one
to murder, to steal, to commit adultery, to lie –
these are what makes us unclean, that will make us sinners.

Today we find ourselves in the midst of evil
There is so much corruption in our land –
from the barangay level up to the highest level in government, within the judiciary,
the various government offices,
within the military and police forces.
The petty thieves are in prison while the big ones rule the land.
Murder is committed not just by common criminals but by those who occupy high government offices.
The political killings and the summary killings continue with the inspiration, support and blessing of the powers that be.
Those who go after criminals have become criminals.
Drugs continue to destroy our youth.
The pushers and addicts have been targeted for assassination while the drug lords buy their freedom.
All of these come, not from what we eat, but from the hearts of people.
If we want to struggle against evil, it is not enough to reform our political system, structures and institutions.
What is needed is to root out the evil within us and in the hearts of people – a kind of exorcism.
There is a need to root out greed, anger, selfishness, pride, avarice, lust.
We have to allow Christ to liberate us from the slavery to sin and evil.
What is needed is personal conversion that leads to social transformation.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Multisectoral Dialogue on Summary Killings (Davao Death Squad)

This afternoon, from 1:30 to 4:30 pm, I attended a multisectoral dialogue on the summary killings in the city. This was organized by the City Council's Committee on Human Rights and the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) Davao Chapter. Among those who attended were the regional director of the Commission on Human Rights, the top ranking officers of the Philippine National Police (PNP), the Ombudsman's Office, the Archdiocesan Social Action center, representatives from various Non-Government Organizations, officers of the IBP. I represented the Coalition Against Summary Executions (CASE) and also the Church sector.
Attorney Quibod of the IBP gave a report on the summary killings in Davao. Based on the data from the CASE, Quibod reported that there has been over 800 victims of summary killings for the past 11 years, and 33 during the month of January this year. After his report, the representatives of the various groups gave their reactions and recommendations. The police officials made it clear that they do not condone summary killings. In the middle of the dialogue, Mayor Rodrigo Duterte suddenly arrived and spoke for over 45 minutes. He denied involvement in these killings. He claimed that his previous statements threatening to kill drug pushers and criminals were meant to scare them so that they will be deterred from engaging in these crimes. He also said that as mayor he has a responsbility to protect the citizens of the city from these criminals. For as long as these criminals (especially the drug dealers and pushers) are in the city they are targets for assassination. He also criticized priests who accused him of links to the death squads and said that they should present their proof during the hearing that will be conducted by the Human Rights Commission. After speaking, he immediate left the room and we continued our dialogue.

One of the members of the IBP expressed concern that the mayor's chilling statement could be misconstrued as a justification for the summary killings.
The police officials and the regional prosecutor expressed the difficulty of going after the death squads since no witness were willing to come forward.
When it was my time to speak, I expressed my appreciation that at least, the city council's human rights committee and IBP were able to a organize multisectoral forum that could address this issue. I pointed out that it was difficult to get witnesses because most were afraid that they could be targeted next by the death squads and because they suspected the involvement of some members of the police and even those in authority. This was my appeal: the implementation of the UN rapporteur's (Philip Alston's) recommendation for an independent commission that will investigate these killings.
By the end of the forum the following recommendations were adopted:
1. to strengthen the partnership of the police and the community to create an "atmosphere of trust;
2. to create of a multi-sectoral task force composed of the agencies in the dialogue;
3. to form an independent body to conduct an investigation of the cases;
4. to maximize the witness protection program to encourage more witnesses to come out;
5. stricter law involving motorcycles because of reports that the killers were using motorcycles without plates;
6. to strengthen the forensic and investigative capability of all law enforcement agencies, and;
7. to review the policies of media coverage on the killings.

Friday, February 06, 2009

A Day in the Life of a Priest: A Typical Friday

It was still dark when the alarm woke me up at 5:30. After going to the toilet and washing up I started meditation. I sat on the easy chair beside my bed and gazed at the image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus on my improvised altar.
At 6:45 I came down to join my confreres for community morning prayer. Afterward, everyone proceeded to the refectory for breakfast, except me. Every Friday is a day of fasting for me. No food, except some liquid (water, green tea & coffee).
I went outside and did the tai-chi under the acacia tree. I could feel the flow of chi (energy) in my body as I performed the slowly the ancient oriental martial arts dance. It was over in less than 30 minutes and I immediately went mountain-biking along the hills overlooking the winding Davao river, while listening to my favorite music (the phantom of the opera) on my MP3 player. I came back after more than an hour, just in time to wash up and prepare for class.
The class on "Ministry and Orders" started at 9:00 am, attended by the fourth year theology students. The first part of the class was spent in discussion. The topic for today was "the priestly ministry as a prophetic ministry." During the second part of the class, after the break, I gave a powerpoint presentation on the topic emphasizing the role of the priest as prophet - who announces the Good News (of salvation, liberation, justice and peace) and who denounces evil in society - including the culture of death, the injustices, corruption, idolatry, etc. Preaching, evangelizing and witnessing are part of this prophetic ministry. I also spoke about the priest's role of enabling the Christian community (the parish and the Basic Ecclesial Communities) to function as prophetic communities. I reminded my students that when a priest exercises his prophetic function, he must be ready for rejection, persecution and even martyrdom. The class was over by 11:45.
Instead of taking my lunch - I spent my time in prayer and meditation. I prayed for peace in our land. I also prayed for the poor who don't have enough to eat and who go hungry.
The class on "Philippine Church History" for the 2nd year students started at 2:30 pm. The first part of the class was spent in discussion. The topic was the "Evangelization and Missionary Expansion" of the early Spanish missionaries in the Philippines. After the break, I gave a powerpoint presentation. Classes ended by 5:00 pm.
After half an hour, I went down to the parish church and concelebrated at the 5:30 pm mass. This was followed by the holy hour and the benediction. Afterwards, the confreres proceeded to the refectory for dinner, except me.
At 8:15, the senior members of the community had our meeting which lasted until 10 pm. Afterwards, I went up to my room to check my e-mail and write my blog. My day ends with another meditation in front of my improvised altar and then to bed. I am hungry but I will have to wait for tomorrow to break my fast.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Forming Basic Ecclesial Communities (BECs)

This morning I gave a talk to some 35 members of the Caloocan clergy headed by Bishop Iniguez in the Canossa Center of Spirituality in Tagaytay City. They are in the process of drawing up a diocesan pastoral plan. Being a consultant and resource person of the CBCP-BEC national office, I was asked by the executive secretary (Msgr. Abacahin) to give a presentation. Here is the text:

Promoting and Forming Basic Ecclesial Communities:
Problems and Prescription

Fr. Amado L. Picardal, CSsR, STD

One of the significant developments in the Church after Vatican II is the emergence of Basic Ecclesial Communities (BECs) in various parts of the world including the Philippines. In his encyclical Redemptoris Missio 51, John Paul II considered BECs as “signs of vitality in the Church … a cause of great hope for the Church and a solid starting point for a new society based on the civilization of love.”
The promotion and formation of BECs is one of the means of renewing the Church which was aim of Vatican II. The communitarian vision of the Church as Communion and as People of God – a priestly, prophetic kingly people – has made it possible for BECs to emerge. The Second Plenary Council of the Philippines, echoing the Vatican II vision of a renewed Church, recognized this when it declared:

“Our vision of the Church as communion, participation and mission, the Church as priestly, prophetic and kingly people, and as the Church of the Poor – a church that is renewed – is today finding expression in one ecclesial movement. This is the movement to foster Basic Ecclesial Communities.” (PCP II, 137)

PCP II has further decreed that the formation of BECs be “vigorously promoted in urban and rural areas in the Philippines for the full living of the Christian life.” (PCP II, acts and decrees). PCP II views the ordained ministry in relation to the Christian community – a ministry of presiding over a community that is priestly, prophetic and kingly (serving) in nature. PCP II also recommended that training and formation of those preparing for the ordained ministry should be oriented to the formation of BECs.

The presence and vitality of BECs in the dioceses and parishes may be one of the indicators for evaluating how ecclesial renewal promoted by Vatican II and PCP II is being implemented.

For some dioceses the BECs as envisioned by PCP II is already a reality. For others it remains a dream. In the course of promoting and forming BECs, a lot of problems and concerns have emerged that need to be addressed.

Problems and Concerns

1. Sustainability. Many BECs that have been formed could not be sustained, especially when the parish priests who initiated them were transferred and those who took their place were not supportive. This was also the case, when external pastoral agents who helped form BECs were gone. Some BECs have a ningas cogon mentality. The members were very enthusiastic at the start but they lost interest after a while.

2. Attendance and participation. There are BECs, where only a few actively participate in the ongoing activities (e.g. the weekly bible-service and bible-sharing). Most of those who attend are women. The men and young people are seldom seen. Attendance and participation may increase during community masses and during fiesta, Christmas and Holy Week.

3. Policies and Sanctions. In order to ensure maximum attendance and participation, some dioceses especially in some parts of Mindanao, have resorted to policies and sanctions. Only active members of BECs can avail of the sacraments (baptism, confirmation, matrimony). Communities without active BECs or those who fail to pay their monthly dues cannot have fiesta masses. So, many participate due to coercion. But this has also driven others away and some have transferred to other Christian denominations.

4. Leadership. Some BECs have leaders who are incompetent and lacking in commitment. Others have leaders who are very authoritarian and dictatorial. Some are acting like “pari-pari” or little-priests, falling into a new form of clericalism of lay leaders. The leaders lack team-work. Many don’t go out of their way to reach out to the members and to encourage them. Others resort to policies and sanctions to assert their authority.

5. Relations with Lay Organizations, Movements and Associations (LOMAS). In many cases the relationship between BECs and lay organizations, movements and associations (LOMAs) tend to be problematic. Some members of LOMAs regard BECs as just another organizations and because of this there is no need to participate in the BECs since they already belong to an organization. Others claim that their organizations can be considered as BECs -- so again there is no need to be members of the BECs in their neighborhood or village. In some cases, members of BECs who become members of LOMAs stop participating in their BECs. Consequently, a spirit of antagonism and competition prevails between BECs and LOMAs.

6. Responding to Social Concerns and Issues. Many BECs remain inward-looking communities that lack social concern. Their activities revolve around bible-sharing and liturgical celebrations. They do not respond to social problems and issues that they face – e.g. poverty, hunger, criminality, injustice, armed conflict, the destruction of the environment, etc. These BECs feel helpless in the midst of poverty and armed conflict. They are either incapable of addressing these concerns or they think that BECs should only focus on spiritual concerns.

7. Understanding the vision and nature of BECs. Many practitioners and members of BECs do not have an adequate understanding of the vision and nature of BECs. There are many who associate BECs exclusively with the small group or cell, composed of six to ten members, who gather weekly to reflect on the word of God. The BEC becomes just an activity (bible-reflection) or that small exclusive group. With this understanding of BECs, any small group can be considered as BECs – the small cells in the neighborhood, inside the classrooms, within the seminary, a small prayer group (SPG) or the CFC household unit. The focus is on the smallness, rather than community dynamics and ecclesiality.

Most of these problems and concerns are interrelated. The problems of sustainability and poor participation in BECs may be the result of lack of the support of the clergy, problematic leadership, the use of coercive policies and sanctions, problematic relationship with LOMAs, failure to respond to social concerns and inadequate understanding of the vision and nature of BECs.

Prescriptions for Forming Sustainable BECs

In view of the problems and concerns, the following prescriptions may be helpful in the more effective promotion and formation of BECs. These are based on the lessons learned from the setbacks as well as the successes of BECs for the last four decades. These may be helpful for those who are just starting to form BECs and also those who want to revitalize BECs that have become stagnant or dormant.

1. The promotion and formation of BECs should be adopted as the thrust of the local church, the diocese and the parish. It has to be regarded as a means of renewing the local Church in the spirit of Vatican II and PCP II. Thus, the formation of BECs is not merely optional. It is the obligation of the bishop, the clergy, religious and lay faithful in every diocese to promote and form these communities. The diocesan commissions (especially worship, education, social action, youth) should be oriented in implementing the BEC thrust.

2. A leveling off regarding the vision and nature of BECs needs to be done. The PCP II provides a holistic vision of BECs – community of disciples, living in communion, participating in the mission of Christ as a prophetic (evangelizing), priestly (woshipping), and kingly (serving) communities and the Church of the Poor. The BEC must be understood as a way of life or culture – a communitarian way of living the Christian life where there is communion (a sense of belonging, participation and sharing) among the members, where they come together regularly to reflect on the Word of God and to celebrate their faith in the liturgy, and where they work together for social transformation – for total human development, peace, justice and the integrity of creation. The BEC should be understood as the community in a locality which may be composed of cells and family groupings that are interconnected. It has to be seen as the most local expression of the Church at the grassroots, village and neighborhood.

3. A new way of being Church requires a new way of being priest. A renewed Church, requires a renewed priesthood. This means transcending a cultic understanding of priesthood. Vatican II has broadened the understanding of the ordained ministry. Besides administering the sacraments and preaching the Word of God. The priest is called to form and lead a genuine Christian community. The formation of a genuine Christian community can become more meaningful when the parishes are transformed into a network of smaller communities – the BECs. Thus, the formation of BECs and overseeing them is a constitutive dimension of the pastoral ministry.

4. A BEC parish formation team has to be formed for each parish. Imbibing the BEC culture, filled with missionary dynamism and adequately trained, this team can assist the parish priest in the formation of BECs. Team-work between the priest and the members of the formation team is very important. They need to regularly come together for planning, monitoring and evaluation.

5. A Pastoral/Strategic Plan for the parish must be drawn up by the parish priest, parish formation team and selected lay leaders. This pastoral plan includes the vision-mission, an external and internal analysis of the parish (SWOT analysis), goals, strategy selection, operational plans, monitoring and evaluation mechanism.

6. A renewed evangelization is an essential component in the formation or revitalization of BECs. The BEC is the fruit of evangelization and corresponding personal conversion that the members need to undergo. The parish should not rely on coercive policies and sanctions to evoke the active participation of the lay-faithful in the BECs. An evangelization program for communities, families, men and youth should be drawn up.

7. Lay organizations, movements and associations should be given orientation on BEC and encouraged to actively participate in the formation of BECs in their village or neighborhood.

8. BEC Core groups should be formed in each village or barangay. They will function as light, leaven and salt in the midst of the community. Filled with missionary dynamism they can help in the ongoing evangelization and in the expansion of the BEC. From among them will emerge the leaders of the community. A leadership formation program should be set up at the parish level. This program should promote a participatory type of servant-leadership. The commitment and competence of the leaders should be developed as well as their teamwork. They should eventually function as the council of leaders.

9. In large villages or barangays, as the BECs expand and more people become active, it may be helpful to subdivide the community into cells or family groupings. This can facilitate close relationship among the members. The cells should have their own regular gatherings. The cells should be linked together and understood as part of the BEC.

10. Regular/sustainable activities and structures should be introduced to facilitate the growth of BECs as witnessing, worshipping, and serving communities. This may include weekly bible-reflection in the homes for cells or family groupings, weekly bible-service or liturgy of the word in the chapel for the whole community, monthly or bi-monthly BEC mass, monthly general assembly, etc. These regular activities should help deepen the bond of unity and friendship among the members and help develop the BEC culture. The WESTY (worship, education, service/social action, temporalities, youth) committees may be set up at the BEC/Barangay level as well as the parish level. Neighboring BECs should be linked as zones. The BEC zones should be represented in the Parish Pastoral Council.

11. The BECs should eventually be mobilized to engage in renewed social apostolate. This means developing their social awareness and their capability to respond to the pressing social concerns (poverty, injustice, armed conflict, destruction of the environment, etc.). If necessary, the BECs should help develop livelihood projects that can help in poverty-alleviation, set up peace zones in areas of armed conflict, resist logging and mining operations, help in reforestation projects, participate in prayer rallies in support of the CBCP or NASSA-initiated nationwide campaigns, change the political culture at the grassroots level. In this way John Paul II’s vision of BECs become a reality: “They take root in less privileged and rural areas, and become a leaven of Christian life, of care for the poor, and of commitment to the transformation of society” (Redemptoris Missio 51).

Ultimately, BECs can only be sustained if they truly become a way of life for the lay-faithful and if they can truly respond to their needs – whether material, social, spiritual. These communities can make a difference – in renewing the Church and transforming Philippines society.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Pro-Life: A Consistent Life Ethic

The Church all over the world is observing today as “Pro-Life” Sunday
What does it mean to be “pro-life”? Many would immediately associate being pro-life with “anti-abortion.” This is appropriate since “pro-life” has always been used to describe the position of those who have passionately fought for the right to life of the unborn. In many countries, abortion has been legalized. Even in our country, there are over half a million abortion performed every year. To be pro-life therefore is to promote and defend the value of life – right from the moment of conception. The right to life is an inalienable right, and those who are in their mother’s womb have a right to live.

What is horrifying is that nowadays the right to life of the unborn is being ignored, trampled and violated in favor of the right to choose (pro-choice). Abortion – the murder of the millions of the innocents in their mother’s womb is justified by the right to choose – choose what? Death for the unwanted child in the womb. For many, the politically correct position is to be pro-choice. Being pro-life is regarded as being conservative.

This is a manifestation of the culture of death that is infecting the North American and Europe and that is being exported to poor countries. Thus, it imperative for Christians to proclaim the defend and promote the value of life – especially of the unborn – and to oppose abortion.

Being pro-life does not stop with the fight against abortion. Being pro-life cannot be exclusively associated with anti-abortion – it also more than that. We need to also to oppose other manifestations of the culture of death that was described by John Paul II in his encyclical “Evangelium Vitae” : capital punishment, war, extra-judicial killings/ summary executions, destruction of the environment, poverty, euthanasia, etc. Corruption also contributes to this culture of death. We need to adopt what the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin calls a consistent ethic of life. We need to affirm the value of life in all its stages, we need to struggle against whatever threatens human life.

This is what I have been biking for - for life and peace. I consider myself a pro-life activist. My advocacies - for peace, for the environment, against war, against summary killings, against aerial spraying, against abortion, against corruption, etc. - are all part of this pro-life stance.

Biking for Hope with Senator Pia Cayetano

Senator Pia and the biking priest

with Ani de Leon, a top woman triathlete in the country

biking beside the lady senator

distance covered - Davao-Tagum via Sto. Tomas, and back
Yesterday, I cancelled my Trinity class so that I can join Senator Pia Cayetano's Bike for Hope. I woke up early to break my fast (I had been fasting for 24 hours the previous day) and then proceeded to the assembly area which was 6 km away from the monastery. By 6:30 am, I was asked to lead the pre-departure prayer and then we were on our way to Tagum. There were around 300 bikers who joined. Among them was George Vilog - the national triathlon champion who is also Pia's coach - and Ani de Leon - the top woman triathlete in the Philippines.
We went through the city and then took the national highway. As we neared Panabo, a plane swooped down and released aerial spray on the banana plants just beside the road. The toxic shower did not only hit the banana plantation but also the bikers who were passing by. What a welcome! And to think that we were biking for a healthy lifestyle and for the environment. We had to douse our faces and skin with water during our stop in front of the Panabo City hall. I remember the slogan of the MAAS (Mamayang Ayaw sa Aerial Spray) - WE ARE NOT PESTS! (The Davao City Council had passed an ordinance banning aerial spray due to the harm it causes on the health of the people but sadly the Court of Appeals had ruled in favor of the Banana plantatio owners.)
After some refreshments we continued our journey. We turned left upon reaching Carmen and went through Sto. Tomas, Capalong and Asuncion. In Sto. Tomas, I was asked to bike beside the senator and we had a wonderful conversion while biking. I had difficulty keeping up with her pace - she is such a strong and fast cyclist.
We reached the finish line in Tagum provincial capitol before noon after biking for over 100 km. It took us less than 4 hours and 30 minutes to cover the distance. After lunch, I immediately went ahead and biked back to Davao. Some also did the same, while most just rode on the support vehicle and trucks. Pia had to rush to the airport to catch the 2:30 pm flight to Manila. I arrived in the monastery at 3:30 pm. My cyclo-computer read: 162.3 km in 7 hrs and 40 minutes. If I add the 6 km going to the starting line, this means that I covered 168.3 km. What an enjoyable day, except for the toxic shower.
Pia is an epitome of the modern Filipina - Pinay in Action. A lawyer, senator, mother, triathlete (cyclist, runner, swimmer), she has recently taken up boxing. She has many advocacies - healthy & fit living, the environment, breast-feeding, anti-violence against women, medical help for children with disabilities, etc. She is not just the most fit senator, she is the most fit government official in the country. I hope that there will be more Filipina like her - a combination of beauty, brains, physical fitness, public service, social concern, motherhood, etc.