Wednesday, October 14, 2009

National Discernment of Priests on their Prophetic Role

I am here in Manila participating in the National Discernment of Priests on their Prophetic Role which started yesterday. Some 250 priests representing the dioceses and religious congregations from different parts of the country and 14 bishops are attending this gathering. I am one of the convenors of this gathering and one of the resource persons in one of the workshops. The president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines - Archbishop Angel Lagdameo - presided in yesterday's opening mass. The papal nuncio - Archbsishop Adams - presided this morning mass and gave a really prophetic homily.
This is the text of the talk I gave this morning in one of the workhop groups:

Discerning Today’s Priority Issues or Social Concerns in the Light of our Prophetic Role
Rev. Amado L. Picardal, CSsR, STD

As we, the clergy, try to exercise our prophetic role, we are confronted with so many issues and concerns. But we cannot attend or respond to all these issues due to our own limitations (in terms of time, resources & capability).There is therefore a need to discern the priority issues or social concerns that need to be acted on.T he question: what are these priority issues and social concerns and how do we go about discerning these?
At the outset, I would like to make it clear that what we consider as priority concerns may depend on where we are – not just the national, but also the regional and local context.Of course, we may also discover that we consider as primarily local or regional issues are actually national and even global in nature. After all, everything and everyone is interconnected.
What I would like to do is to share with you my own experience of discerning priority issues and concerns as I tried to exercise my prophetic ministry over the years.
Then I would like to share some insights on how discernment may be done.

Experiences of Discerning Priority Issues & Concerns

Personal Experience 1: Anti-logging Campaign, San Fernando Bukidnon

In 1987, I was part of the Redemptorist Mission Team that was sent to San Fernando, Bukidnon to assist the Scarboro Fathers in strengthening the BECs in the parish.
Upon arrival we immediately noticed that the people were complaining about the long droughts and the flash floods caused by the denudation of the forest. During the bible-reflection sessions and liturgies, we reflected together with the people the roots of the problem which was the ecological imbalance brought about by logging.We preached about this and made people aware of their responsibility to protect the environment. We also conducted ecology seminar.
Thus, we organized and mobilized the BECs, together with the POs to stop the destruction of the forest. We emphasized the use of peaceful, extralegal means – like conducting human barricades along the roads and highways.We were able to get the support of the whole diocese led by Bishop Gaudencio Rosales and also civil society groups and the local government. The CBCP also came up with a pastoral letter on the environment and expressed support for the people of San Fernando.After 2 years, a total log ban was declared by the national government for the whole province of Bukidnon. Some BECs became involved in the reforestation project. The local clergy were deputized by the DENR to arrest illegal loggers within their parishes.

Personal Experience 2: Campaign against Extra-judicial Killings

In the late 1990s, a few years after I was assigned in Davao as professor of theology, I was confronted by the phenomenon of extra-judicial killings carried out by the DDS (Davao Death Squads).
Most of the victims of these killings were suspected petty criminals – drug addicts, drug pushers, thieves, gang members.Everyone believed that these killings were sponsored by the Mayor, with the involvement of some police officers in line with the campaign against criminality.In his public pronouncements, the mayor would often declare that the victims deserved to be killed because they were criminals. This was necessary to make the city safe from drug addicts, pushers, thieves and gangs.
Surprisingly, many people accepted these justifications and supported these killings.
I decided respond to this issue by writing an article entitled: “Summary Killings: a Moral Perspective.” This was published in the local papers.I also joined the Coalition Against Summary Execution and later became one of its spokesperson.
I was able to convince our religious community to make a stand against the killings. Through our preaching , symposium and prayer rallies we encouraged the local Church, the parishes and lay people to exercise their prophetic role.
The archbishop wrote a pastoral letter and an Oratio Imperata was read in all the churches. I also worked with other diocesan priests who were concerned about this problem.
We collaborated with the CHR in the investigation and encouraged former members of DDS to surface and give testimony.
So far, the killings have subsided as the CHR continues its investigation.

Personal Experience 3: Biking for Life and Peace

Since 2000, I have been concerned about a number of social issues. Foremost among these are: the ongoing armed conflict (NPA & MILF vs GRP), the destruction of the environment, summary killings, abortion, corruption.
After reading John Paul II’s ‘Evangelium Vitae’ I became more aware that all these are connected and are manifestations of the culture of death. There was a need to proclaim the Gospel of Life and Peace. I asked myself what I could do.
So I decided to bike across the Philippines, around Mindanao and around the Philippines. I preached the Gospel of Life & Peace in many churches all over the Philippines.
I started by biking alone but along the way some local bikers joined me – even some priests & bishops.
I also organized the annual bike for peace during the Mindanao Week of Peace , with over 500 bikers participating.
Lately, I and several others, including 3 priests, biked for the environment and joined the protest against coal –fired power plant in Maasim, Saranggani which was spearheaded by the diocese of Marbel with the participation of BECs, POs and NGOs and people from other denominations and religions.

The Process of Discerning Priority Issues & Concerns

In discerning priority issues & concerns, I have often used the process popularized by Cardinal Cardijn – the founder of the JOC or YCW. There are three stages: see, judge, act. It is a similar to Lonergan’s method: experience, understanding, judgment, decision.
Let us briefly discuss these three stages.


This means becoming aware of the reality around us (environmental, social, political, economic, cultural, etc.) - the lights and the shadows.
We have to look at the local, national, global realities.
This includes awareness of the problems that beset the people to whom we minister to – in the BECs, the parish, the diocese.
(reading the newspapers is not enough,
we have to be close to the people and be immersed in their situation,
we need to listen to them - to their cry and lamentation).
The priority issues are those that directly affect their lives – a matter of life and death. These could be:
The destruction of the environment (logging, mining, coal-fired power plant, aerial spray)
injustices and exploitation
economic policies & systems that are anti-poor and favor the elite and foreign investors
violation of human rights
The ongoing armed conflict
Extrajudicial killings
Patronage politics, corruption
Draconian & anti-life population control policies
Most of these issues are interconnected
We need to gather data and to make an analysis.


This means making moral judgments on the priority issues and concerns in the light of our faith
A critical perspective is necessary. We cannot assume that everything is alright.
We have to see the evil and sin in the situation, structures and systems.
We need to see the victims and the victimizers
The Sacred Scriptures and the Social Teachings of the Church should be used as basis for making moral judgment.


We need to discern and choose the appropriate and creative means and course of action.
Prophetic action often involves denouncing & announcing:
Denouncing – the evil in the situation/system
Announcing the Good News (sacredness of life, liberation, peace, justice, integrity of creation, etc).
Preaching in the pulpit is what we can easily do. It is the ordinary locus for prophetic activity.
But that may not be enough. We have to use other means to reach out to the people –
- Seminars and symposia
- protest marches and prayer rallies in the streets and plazas, in front of government buildings.
- Symbolic action that can draw attention to our advocacies, fasting, die-in, biking, running, caravans, etc.
We need to maximize the use of mass media and other means of communication – TV, print, radio, internet
We need to use peaceful, nonviolent means and reject any form of terror and violence.
In exercising our prophetic ministry, we must be open to work with other groups – POs, NGOs, movements – on specific issues & concerns.
But we have to be independent from them and resist any attempt of control or cooptation.
To be prophetic is not just being critical of acts perpetrated by those in government and military
It also means being critical of means used and acts perpetrated by social movements and political parties that violate the rights of people and that lead to more harm than good.

Forming prophetic communities that participate in the discernment process

The prophetic mission is not the monopoly of the clergy. The Christian community – at the diocesan, parish and BEC level – is called to a prophetic community and must therefore be involved in the process of discernment and praxis. Echoing Vatican II, PCP II reminds us that the Church is prophetic people and the priest presides over a prophetic community.
Thus, it is not enough that a priest becomes prophetic, he must animate the community – at the parish and the BEC level – to be truly prophetic.There may be times when a priest has to exercise the prophetic ministry alone, especially when most of the clergy and lay people, are not yet convinced of the need to exercise their prophetic role.
However, he must eventually influence or convince others to make a prophetic stance.
Finally, we must remember the consequence of being prophetic – to be rejected, to be persecuted. We must be ready to suffer and give up our life. This means martyrdom if necessary.

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