Tuesday, December 25, 2012

My first Christmas in Baclaran

I've been spending Christmas in Davao for the last 16 years. Now that I am working at the CBCP, this is the first time that I am spending Christmas in Baclaran. The photos were taken during the Christmas eve mass last night. I am posting the homily I gave at the 8 pm mass this evening.

The Light that Shines in the Dark

Homily for Christmas 2012, Redemptorist Church Baclaran

"The light shines in the dark, and the darkness could not overcome the light"

 Merry Christmas! This is the greeting that we give each other on Christmas day. But what makes our Christmas merry? What is it that brings joy to Christmas?

Many will say that if we have money to buy new clothes, good food, new gadgets, etc. our Christmas would indeed by merry.

But what about those who have less or none at all? What about the victims of calamity like those in Compostela Valley and Davao Oriental? What about those whose loved ones have died? What about the poor who consist the vast majority of our people? Will their Christmas be merry?

Is it possible to celebrate Christmas amidst tragedy, suffering, poverty, violence, etc? Can we have a Merry Christmas when we do not have enough money? When we do not have enough food? When we are sick?

The natural response is no. But our readings tell us that Yes we can celebrate Christmas even in the midst of a seeming dark world, when we feel hopeless and helpless.

The Good News that the Gospel proclaims which we celebrate joyfully:

The Word was Made Flesh and Dwelt among us. God has entered human history, God is with us. He is near to us.

 The coming of Jesus is the coming of light. The light shines in the dark and the darkness could not overcome the light.

 Christmas is for people who are in the dark, for people who are suffering, for people who are looking for hope. Christmas tells us that God has given us the greatest gift -- his only Son who brings salvation into the world, who will overcome all evil -- all darkness.

For people of faith, for those who believe that the child born on a manger to a poor family was indeed the Son of God who became one of us and who brought salvation into the world -  Christmas is a time to be merry.

A Christmas without Christ in our hearts and in our lives is an empty meaningless Christmas even if we have all the money to buy what we desire.

It is Christ who brings joy to Christmas. It is also our love, generosity and capacity to share as followers of Jesus that can bring joy to others – and to ourselves too.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Running Back to San Fernando, Bukidnon

Last week (Oct. 29-30), I visited  San Fernando, Bukidnon. It has been 24 years since I left this place. This was the mission area of the Redemptorist mission team from 1987 to 1989. The parish priest at that time (Fr. Pat Kelly) invited our team to build-up and strengthen the Basic Ecclesial Communities (BECs) in his parish. When we arrived, logging was rampant in the area and the people complained that the forest, including the watershed were fast disappearing. We helped mobilized the BECs to protect the environment together with the support of Bishop Gaudencio Rosales and the clergy, the NGOs and the local government units. After two years of struggle, with the people barricading the the highways against the logging trucks, the government declared a total log ban in the whole province.
I left San Fernando on December 15, 1988, a few weeks after the people's successful campaign against logging. Although the mission would go on until April 1989, I left earlier since I was asked by my superiors to go for further studies in Berkeley, California and then Rome.
I left San Fernando with a backpack, running to Malaybalay - which was 55 km away - it took me 5 hours and 15 minutes. That was my last memory of  San Fernando.
So last week, I finally came back - walking-running 32 km from Valencia to San Fernando, with a 8 kilo backpack. The last 16 km was mostly uphill and it rained twice. I used to run the route in 2 hrs and 45 minutes when I was training for the marathon 24 years ago. This time it was over six hours with plenty of stops and rest. Well, I did a lot of walking - especially during the first 16 km. I was careful because I had an attack of gouty arthritis two weeks earlier. But once I was up the mountain I was running slowly, with tears of joy, remembering the long runs I did on this road and trail when I was 24 years younger. I knew I was older and slower, but I could still do it and that is what matters most.
When I reached San Fernando, I meet some of the BEC leaders.  I also met Rev. Frank Vendor, whose ordination I came to attend. He is the son of the BEC leader in Kawayan. Frank was 5 years old when I occasionally visited his village and he used to guard my motorbike. When I met him many years later when he applied to the diocesan seminary, he told me that the desire to become a priest started during our mission in San Fernando. I helped looked for a benefactor so that Frank could realize his dream. Frank was ordained by Bishop Manny Cabajar - who used to be the coordinator of our mission team. Bro. Karl Gaspar also attended the ordination. He was just a newly-professed Redemptorist at that time and this year he is celebrating the silver jubilee of his profession.
After the ordination, I hitched  a ride with Bishop Cabajar up to Cagayan and then proceeded to Iligan to celebrate All Saints & All Souls' day with my siblings. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Thank God! A Framework for Peace Agreement between the MILF and the GPH. What about with the NDF?

This is the moment that I have longed for. I was filled with joy seeing on TV and reading the news on the internet and newspapers about the signing of the framework for peace in Malacanang.
I'm glad that the MILF leadership and the government negotiators after a long process have been able to come up with this agreement. They have heard the clamor of the ordinary people who are tired of all the killings that have cost hundreds of thousands of lives.
Congratulations and thanks are due to the peace negotiators as well as the third-parties who brokered the process - the other countries, the civil society groups and ordinary citizens - Muslims, Lumads and Christians, Mindanaons and Filipinos alike.

Like many peace advocates, I have experienced a lot discouragements and frustrations in the past especially when expected breakthroughs that were sabotaged by extreme forces on both sides.

For over a decade I have always prayed and fasted for life and peace - while biking across the Philippines in 2000, around Mindanao in 2006 and around the Philippines in 2008 and running and walking across Spain in 2010 and across the Philippines in 2011.

Of course, there is still much to be done and support is still necessary for the final peace agreement will be signed and implemented fully.

The guns will be silent in Mindanao - but not fully. The armed conflict between the government forces and the CPP/NDF/NPA continues all over the country. There is still another peace process that has to be resumed - between the NDF and GPH. This process has been going on and off since 1987 - that's too long. I hope the government leaders and the CPP/NDF leaders will seriously listen to the clamor of the people. We want peace based on justice. We are fed up with all the killings and the never-ending war. Majority of the people do not suppor the "people's war" and the combatants in both sides are tired of the fighting ,while the leaders are aging. It  is unrealistic and foolish to expect a military victory.

I continue to  pray that the guns will totally be silent and peace will reign all over the Philippines.

Meanwhile, we give thanks to God for this recent achievement.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Celebrating my 58th Birthday

           I turn 58 today - two more years to go before legally becoming a senior citizen. But I do not feel that old. I set my alarm clock for 4:45 am but I ignored it and slept longer. I finally had my morning meditation and mass at 7 am. It was already 9:30 am when I set out for a long-distance run/walk around Metro-Manila. I was just reflecting prayerfully about my life-journey and giving thanks to God for all the blessings. I stopped by  a fast-food restaurant  for a bite at 1:30 pm and continued on. I got back to Baclaran at 5:30 pm.
            No birthday party for me. The confreres in Baclaran community didn't know  that it's my birthday but I got a lot of birthday greetings in the  cyberspace  from my Facebook. friends. How, ironic.
            I feel very contented with where I am now - working outside the congregation and making a major contribution to the whole Philippine Church in promoting the formation of Basic Ecclesial Communities (BECs) all over the country. This month for example I will be the guest speaker for the silver jubilee celebration of the Basic Ecclesial Communities in the diocese of Digos. Then immediately after, I fly to Cebu and will be one of the speakers during the National Institute of Seminary Formators (there three speakers - Archbishop Chito Tagle, Bishop Gerry Almazan and I). I will be speaking about BECs and Seminary Formation. After that I have to fly back to Manila and will be the guest speaker during the Kalookan Diocesan BEC assembly. Next month I will be the guest speaker during the Daet Diocesan BEC assembly. This will be followed by the Mindanao-wide BEC assembly and then the Novaliches diocesan BEC assembly.
            I feel that I am fulfilling my life's destiny. I am making a maximum impact. There is still much to be done. I have to finish writing and editing the manuscripts for publication. The following are my book projects: The Beloved (Memoirs, Diaries and Letters of a Priest), The Vision of a Renewed Church (Ecclesiology of Vatican II and PCP II ),  Manual  for  Developing BECs, Ministry and Orders, Pastoral Leadership and Management.  When published I know that I will make a greater impact. I don't know how much time I have remaining .  I have to make sure that these will be published as soon as possible.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Remembering Martial Law (PD 1081)

I will never forget that Saturday morning of Sept 23, 1972.  I was a 17-year old 2nd year college seminarian of St. Alphonsus' Seminary studying at the University of San Carlos in Cebu City. I was a non-commissioned officer (NCO) of  the ROTC Scout Ranger Company and on that day I was on my way to Camp Lapulapu for our weekend training in counter-insurgency operations. I wore the black ranger uniform. When I arrived at the camp I noticed that there was a red alert and army trucks filled with troops were leaving the camp. The guard told me to go home - there won't be any formation. President Marcos had declared martial law. PD 1081 was signed two days earlier. I immediately rushed back to the seminary and hid the reading material and documents considered subversive by the dictatorial regime.

More than a year later I was back in Camp Lapulapu as a political prisoner (or detainee- as we were referred to). I was actually arrested on the first anniversary of Martial Law, tortured for a week in Camp Sergio Osmena and after a month in the Lahug Detention Center I was transferred to Camp Lapulapu Detention and Rehabilitation Center. This was to be my home for the next six months. How did I end up here? Well, after the declaration of martial law I became secretly involved with a group struggling against the dictatorial regime. I formed a cell within the seminary and made use of the mimeographing machine to produce anti-Martial law leaflets and newsletters. I was involved in writing, producing and distributing these materials. I knew what we were doing was dangerous and I got caught on the first anniversary of Martial Law.

My experience of torture and detention during martial law was a defining moment in my life. It was a rite of passage--  an ordeal. When I went out of prison I was no longer a young boy or adolescent but a man. I became fearless and more committed to the struggle for freedom, justice and human rights. After going through a crisis of faith I became a true believer. And I decided to continue to respond to the call to the priesthood. It also broadened and deepened my understanding of what it means to be a priest - not just leading the Christian community in worship but in denouncing evil in society, proclaiming the Gospel of liberation and working for justice, peace and freedom

This also means living a simple life-style and being close to the people - especially the poor. This was exactly how I lived after my ordination several years later.

 The tattoo on my left shoulder with the image of a clenched fist with the numbers 1081 is a constant reminder of martial law and how it shaped my life.


Monday, August 06, 2012

Bike for Life and the Environment around Laguna de Bay

My muscles are still sore two days after biking 194 km around Laguna de Bay. Last Saturday, August 4, I left Baclaran at 4:15 am in spite of the heavy rain and the howling wind and biked towards Laguna. Afte 64 km of solo riding, I was met by a group of bikers from Los Banos and Tiaong who accompanied for over 30 km. Most went as far as Pangsangjan while two biked with me as far as Pakil. After an early lunch, they went back on their way and I continued ascending the mountain overlooking Laguna de Bay and connecting with the province of Rizal. The rain continued to pour intermittently. I finally reached Baclaran at 8 pm. The time spent on the bike, without the breaks and rest stop, was 13 hours 14 minutes. I slowed down due to the ascents and descents on wet road.

I dubbed this as Bike for Life (an expression of my solidarity with those who were rallying against the RH bill at EDSA shrine and different parts of the country) and for the Environment (as an expression of my support for the efforts to save Laguna de Bay).

Seminar on BEC as Paradigm for Community Living

Several days ago (August 2-3), I gave a seminar on "Basic Ecclesial Communities: Paradigm for Community Living" to 14 priests and religious of the ARFI batch 35 (Asian Religious Formators' Institute) at the SAIDI in Antipolo. The participants wh are preparing for their task a formators came from various Asian countries (India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Fiji and the Philippines). This is the outline of my presentation:

August 2
8:30 - 10:00 am BECs: Phenomenological Perspective
10:30 -12:00      BECs as Locus of Communion (Koinonia)
2:30 -4:00 pm    BECs as Prophetic/Witnessing Communities (Kerygma)

August 3
8:30- 10:00 am  BECs as Priestly/Worshipping Communities (Litourgia)
10:30 12:00        BECs as Serving Communities (Diakonia)
2:30 - 4:00 pm    The Clergy and Religious vis-a-vis BECs

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Report to the CBCP Plenary Assembly

This morning, I attended the plenary assembly of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines and gave a report of the Committee on Basic Ecclesial Communities to over 90 bishops who were present. This was the content of my report.

Report to the CBCP 105th Plenary Assembly
(July 2011-June 2012)

After the CBCP plenary assembly in July 2011, preparations were made for a National Gathering of Diocesan BEC Directors. Invitations and survey forms were sent to all the 85 dioceses of all over the Philippines. The BEC directors were requested to fill up the survey form and send it back to the CBCP-BEC office for tabulation and interpretation.

On October 13-14, 2011, the National Gathering of Diocesan BEC directors  took place in the Bukal ng Tipan center in Taytay, Rizal. 58 out of 85 dioceses (68.2%) were represented (34 from Luzon, 13 from Visayas, and 11 from Mindanao).
The result of the survey (with 58 respondent-dioceses) was presented to the participants and they were able to have an initial/overall picture of the BEC programs in the various dioceses. The survey  showed that the formation of  BECs is a high pastoral priority in 75.6% of the dioceses. The BECs have also became the  basic pastoral unit of 68.3% of the dioceses. BECs in 90.2% of the dioceses have gone through a renewal in faith-life through Word & Sacraments. BECs are involved in renewed social apostolate (social transformation, justice and integrity of creation) in 63.4% of the dioceses. 100% of the dioceses recognize the role of the clergy in the growth of BECs. Where the clergy are actively involved in their promotion, the BECs grow and thrive. Without their support and initiative, BECs fail to emerge and grow. Thus, the need was expressed for the clergy (with their bishops) to own and implement the BEC thrust that PCP II decreed.

This gathering also provided an opportunity for the BEC directors from all parts of the country and the members of the National BEC team to get to know one another and to develop a bond of fellowship. Part of the process was to bring together the directors of neighboring dioceses or sub-regions and ask them to come up with concrete plans for networking and cooperation for the next two years. These plans were to be followed-up by the directors and the National BEC team. The gathering generated a lot of enthusiasm among the participants and encouraged them to continue their task of promoting the growth of BECs in their respective dioceses and sub-regions.

 The period following the national gathering was spent in implementing the plans of the sub-regions. The BEC directors of Northern Luzon met in Baguio in November 2011 to plan for the Northern Luzon BEC exchange. The BEC directors and practitioners of Southern Tagalog Region met in January 2012 in Calamba, Laguna. During the middle of February, the Diocesan BEC directors of Mindanao met in Cagayan de Oro.  By the end of  February , the Northern Luzon BEC Exchange was held in Sinait, Ilocos – attended by 160 delegates (including 5 bishops and 23 priests) coming from 10 dioceses. On June 26-27, 2012 the Mindanao BEC directors had another gathering in Davao City. The recommended a Mindanao-wide BEC assembly (this was approved by the Mindanao bishops and will be held on Nov. 19-22, 2012)

Within the next two years, more activities that would enhance regional networking, cooperation and gatherings are expected.

Other activities/gatherings which the CBCP-BEC office, represented by the executive secretary/or chair, was engaged in for the last 12 months:

 International Meeting: Asian Continental Meeting on BECs (Taipeh, Sept. 2-5, 2011)

Diocesan BEC Celebrations:

Lingayen-Dagupan archdiocesan BEC Exchange (July 29-30, 2011)
Kalookan Diocese BEC Week (Aug. 8-13, 2011)
Kabangkalan Pastoral Assembly (Oct 2011)
Sorsogon Diocese BEC Day (Feb. 4, 2012)
Consolacion (Cebu) parish BEC Congress (May 5, 2012)
 Boac Diocese 30th BEC anniversary (May 7, 2012)
 Cubao Diocese BEC Day (May 26, 2012)

BEC Seminar-Workshops for Religious & Lay Pastoral Workers:

BEC seminar-workshop for religious/lay missionaries & parish formation teams held in the Holy Family Redemptorist Retreat House, Cebu (April 12-15, 2012)

Workshop on Word of God & Laity (BEC Perspective) for Catechists & Youth Ministers – Blessed John Paul II Summer Institute (Makati, May 18, 2012)

BEC Workshop for BEC parish formation teams of Kalookan Diocese (May 19, 2012)
BEC Seminar  for lay formators of Cagayan de Oro archdiocese (June 21-23, 2012)

BEC Talks/Seminars to Clergy

BEC Seminar to Newly-Ordained Priests of Cebu archdiocese (July 14-16, 2011)
Word of God and BECs to CBCP assembly (Jan. 29, 2012)
BEC Forum for Kalookan Diocesan Clergy (March 14, 2012)
 Lenten Recollection to members of Clergy Discernment Group on "BEC as Force for Integral Development" (March 16, 2012)
BEC Seminar for the Clergy of the Archdiocese of Cagayan de Oro (June 18-20, 2012)

Ongoing Tasks/Projects

Assisting dioceses in BEC assessment and evaluation (Daet, Mindanao)
CBCP-BEC website development – news & updates, resource material, etc.
Building up the BEC library in the CBCP-BEC office (gathering of BEC books, articles and resource material for scholars doing research)

Incoming Projects

Building up national BEC data-base (regional, diocesan, parish levels)
Research & Documentation of BECs (case studies & best practices), BEC video-documentaries (joint project with CBCP Media Office)
BEC & New Evangelization (papers, symposia, etc)

Composition of the Episcopal Committee on Basic Ecclesial Communities

Bp George B. Rimando – Chairman
Bp  Broderick Pabillo  – Vice-Chairman
Bp Pablo David
Bp Antonieto Cabajog
Abp Socrates Villegas
Bp Gabriel Reyes
Bp Julius Tonel
Bp Jesse Mercado
Bp Joel Baylon

Fr. Amado L. Picardal, CSsR – Executive Secretary

National BEC Team:

Bp George Rimando, DD
Fr. Amado L. Picardal, CSsR, STD
Mgr. Manny Gabriel, STD
Mgr. Jomari Delgado
Dr. Estela Padilla, PhD

Prepared by:    Fr. Amado L. Picardal, CSsR, STD 
Executive Secretary, ECBEC

Noted by:        Most Rev. George B. Rimando, DD
Chairman, ECBEC

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Running Beyond Age Limitations

Over a year ago, I reached Aparri, the northern tip of the Philippines, after running/walking 2,060 km across the Philippines -starting in Davao - southern end of the Philippines. I did it in 57 days - solo and unsupported. I would be celebrating my 57th birthday a few months later. It was the 3rd part of an ultra-run/walk trilogy in a span of one year which started in the Holy Week of 2010 with a 400 km trans-Mindanao run/walk (Davao to Iligan), followed 3 months later by an 800 km barefoot run/walk Pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago - from the foothills of the French Pyrenees to the North-Western Spanish City of Santiago de Compostela.

I still find it hard to believe that I could accomplish these in my late 50s - a few years before I become a senior citizen. Thirty years ago, when I was a young marathon runner with a PR of 3:33, this would have been an impossible dream. I did it after making a marathon comeback in 2009 (which I did in 6:30, long after the cut-off time).  Fourteen years earlier, after a knee-injury during the Rome marathon, I had decided that my running days were over and it was time to shift to mountain-biking. The biking kept me fit and enabled me to bike around Mindanao and around the Philippines. As I grew older and I was diagnosed with myocardial ischemia and atherosclerosis in 2007, I thought that I would never experience the joy of long distance running again. But I kept on trying - a kilometer at a time - mixing walking with running no matter how slow, until the impossible dream became possible. At an older age, I was able to accomplish what I failed to do as a young, faster marathoner. And I was able to do these even without finishing any ultramarathon race.

For the last 12 months, after finishing my Trans-Philippines run/walk, I have been doing less running and more biking due to my tight schedule and also some recurring pain in my knees. After these months spent in recovery the time has come to pick up my running once again.

So what's on the remaining "bucket list"?  I have ran out of challenges as far as ultra-distance running is concerned. I don't like to join ultra-marathon races. (I don't like to compete against others, or prove to myself or to others that  I can finish 100 km or 160 km). My present work with the CBCP with all the busy schedules which bring me to various parts of the country does not give me enough time to train for ultra-distance races.

My remaining running dream is to fulfill a promise I made to my younger self (over 30 years ago) that I will still be running marathons annually in my 80s and 90s. It is not really  running marathons (which I do not enjoy), but the solo long-distance runs while preparing for the marathons, which I enjoy so much and puts me in an altered state of consciousness (that's why it is addictive).

I also dream of running faster marathons, while avoiding injury. Someday, I will be able to break my marathon PR which I set 28 years ago. Beating my younger self seems to be an impossible dream (conventional wisdom says that we slow down as we grow older). That is something no one has done before - and that is a challenge that excites me - like Solo Running/walking across the Philippines  I did last year.

So, I start my training for the Quezon City International Marathon. If I can lose 30 pounds, that would make me faster. A sub-5 hr marathon would be possible this year.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

My Inner Sanctum (Baclaran)

This the room that I have been occupying for a year and for the years to come. It's not that spacious but I like it - I feel very much at home here and I look forward to coming back here after work.

What's that bike doing inside my room? I love that bike - that's what I used when I biked around the Philippines four years ago. I don't want it to be stolen. My other bike was stolen in Davao before my national bike-tour in spite of being secured with a chain-lock in the monastery. Good thing, some generous souls donated this one.

A person's room can reveal who he is, what kind of person he is, his interest and concerns, what matters most to him, what he treasures most.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Witnessing the Growth of Basic Ecclesial Communities All over the Country

Since I came down from the mountain  of Busay last month, I've been doing a lot of traveling in various parts of the country. On the last week of April, I was in Daet, Camarines Norte meeting with the bishop and the BEC director to finalize the format and process of assessing the BECs in the diocese. Then during the first week of May, I flew to Cebu to give the keynote speech of the BEC congress of the Consolacion parish. Archbishop Jose Palma was  the principal celebrant of the mass. A few days later I went to Boac, Marinduque to attend the 30th anniversary of the BECs in the diocese. There were over four thousand delegates from the BECs who joined the celebration. I was one of the guest speaker. Then at the middle of the month, I was one of the resource persons of the workshop for the leaders and members of the BEC parish formation teams of the diocese of Kalookan. Then last Saturday, I was the guest speaker of the diocesan BEC day of the Cubao diocese. Two weeks from now, I will be in Cagayan de Oro to conduct a seminar-workshop for the clergy of the archdiocese. A few days later, I will be conducting the workshop for the lay pastoral workers in the archdiocese.

This has been one of the busiest months for me. I spend more time visiting dioceses than in the office. I like this work very much. It gives me the chance to see how BECs continue to flourish all over the country, not just in the rural areas of Mindanao but in the urban areas like Metro-Manila and in traditional areas on Northern Luzon and the Bicol Region. There's so much diversity in terms of approaches, shapes and levels of growth. I will be preparing my report to the bishops who will be gathering here in Manila during the first week of July.

Meanwhile, my training for the marathon has been put on hold due to my busy schedule. I've also been having problems with both my knees - some swelling and pain. I have to use my mountain bike more often. Perhaps, I can bike around Laguna Lake after the CBCP assembly.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Busay - My Sacred Space

I just came down from the mountain in Busay (Cebu) yesterday after spending four weeks of silence, solitude, prayer, reading, writing, running and singing to myself. Time went so fast - never a dull or boring moment - I didn't want to come down. But I have to go back to my work. I come here every year since I was ordained (I will be celebrating my 31st anniversary 3 days from now). I lived here for 3 months in 1989 before leaving for higher studies in Berkeley and Rome. I spent five months here in 2005 during the first half of my sabbatical. I also spent three months here in 2010 - before and after my walking pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago in Spain. Well, I'm a part-time hermit and pilgrim. This is a necessity to keep me going in my ministry - otherwise, I will burn-out. This is a very beautiful place - where I fill most at home. Someday, when I turn 75 years old, I will retire here.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Running and Walking Across the Philippines - first anniversary

One year ago, today, I took the first step on a journey of 2,060 km across the Philippines - from Davao, along the Maharlika highway and via the Cordillera mountain ranges and ending in Aparri. I did it alone, carrying my backpack, without any support vehicle or crew, to preach the message of life and peace in the churches across the country. I fasted during the day and had one full-meal a day (dinner). It took 57 days to cover the distance on foot, mixing walking and running. I rested after every seven days (so actually, 50 full days on the road). I averaged almost a marathon a day (41 km) - with 60 km on the longest day and 23 km on the shortest, 8 to 12 hours a day. I endured in spite the blisters, the cold, the heat, the diarrhea, the rain and Typhoon Chedeng. I was 57 years old and had been diagnosed with myocardial ischemia and atherosclerosis four years before. As I look back on that incredible journey, I still find it hard to believe how I was able to do it. But by God's grace and the kindness of so many people along the way, I reached my destination.

Thirty years ago, when I was a newly-ordained priest running marathons in three and a half hours or more, it was an impossible dream. I couldn't even finish a 90-km adventure run from Iligan to Cagayan due to a knee injury in 1985. But what happened since then was a preparation for this journey of a lifetime. In 1994, I hiked almost 200 km in six days from Rome to Assisi, carrying a backpack and sleeping under the stars at night. After running my slowest marathon in Rome in 1995, I decided to stop running marathons due to a recurring knee injury. So I took up mountain-biking when I returned to the Philippines. In 2000, I biked alone from Davao to Pagudpud, covering 2,080 km in 18 days. In 2006, I biked around Mindanao, covering 2,120 km in 21 days. In 2008, I biked around the Philippines - from Davao to Aparri and back to Davao via the Cordilleras - covering over 5,000 km in 56 days. In 2009, I made a marathon comeback, after 15 years of lay-off from marathoning. It was my slowest marathon - six and a half-hours. In March 2010, I ran-walked across Mindanao - from Davao to Iligan via the Bukidnon mountains - covering almost 400 km in 9 days. Four months later - I ran-walked mostly barefoot from the French Pyrenees across northern Spain along the Camino de Santiago - covering 800 km in 27 days. I knew then that I was ready for my run/walk across the Philippines.

A few others have ran/walked across the country. Cesar Guarin ran with a support vehicle from Zamboanga to Baguio in the 1980s. Fr. Robert Reyes ran across the Philippines by installment - across Mindanao in 1996, around the Visayas in 1997, and across Luzon in 1998 - with support vehicles and accompanied by local runners. Joy Roxas ran from Davao to Pagudpud with Mat Macabe with a support vehicle. I am the only one who did it alone, without a support vehicle or crew and the oldest. This is an accomplishment that I can be most proud of.

I will be a senior citizen two years from now. I have accomplished my "impossible dream." What more should I dream? How about breaking my marathon PR (3:33) which I did in 1983? Well, I can't beat my younger self. Can I? If I can't, at least someday I can win in my age-group division (80 years and above). But I have to resist the temptation of competing and trying to win. I can also do the Camino de Santiago once more - during the next Xacobeo in 2021 - but this time continue on to Muxia.

Before I forget, here's a link to the photo-video of my journey across the Philippines.


Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Necessity of Prayer and Meditation

(A very busy week. I have a BEC workshop tomorrow with the clergy of Kalookan diocese, then attend the Summit on Good Governance, then be one of the speakers for the recollection for priests organized by the Clergy Discerment group. I look forward to spend time in solitude, silence and prayer. Ten more days to go, before I leave for Cebu and spend time alone in my "hermitate" in the mountain of Buay for a month followed by a BEC workshop. I am sharing here my column which will be published in the CBCP monitor.)
The Necessity of Prayer and Meditation
“I’m just too busy with my work, I don’t have time to pray.” “I really want to pray but when right time comes, I am just too exhausted to do it.” “Anyway, my work is my prayer.” Or “I have already gone to Mass and joined the community in reciting the Divine Office, so that’s enough.”
These are the usual excuses of many priests, religious and lay people for failing to find time to pray and meditate alone. Yes, our work or ministry can be so demanding that it depletes our energy. We do so much - preaching and teaching, conducting evangelization seminars, forming Basic Ecclesial Communities, caring for the sick, the poor and the needy, working for peace and justice, protecting the environment, etc. We get tired and feel the need to relax. So when we have free time we spend it watching TV or the movies, surfing the internet and checking our Facebook, or going out with friends for a drink or a good meal. We don’t feel the need to pray or meditate.
Besides reminding us of our responsibility to care for our neighbor in need and do penitential acts, the Lenten season is the time that we are invited to spend more time in prayer. We are called to follow the example of Christ who went out to the desert or up the mountain to pray in spite of his busy schedule preaching the Good News and responding to the needs of the poor, the sick, the hungry and possessed by evil. Well, there is actually no need to climb Mt. Apo or Mt. Banahaw or go to the arid and sandy hills of Ilocos. The desert and the mountain symbolize the time and space that we need to set aside for silence, solitude and prayer. We just have to find our own sacred space and time for this.
Why is this necessary? Unless we find time for this, we will burn out. Without this, we cannot sustain our life’s journey, our ministry, our mission. We get exhausted, we deplete our energy. The TV, the movies, the internet and other forms of relaxation are not enough to revitalize or recharge us. It is during the time of solitude, silence, prayer and meditation that we are truly energized by the ultimate source – the Triune God. Thus, this keeps us in touch with the source of our energy, power and dynamism. The time we spend in prayer and meditation deepens our intimacy and friendship with God – with the loving Father, with the risen Lord and with the Spirit that empowers us for mission.
Besides the spiritual effect, it also benefits our body and mind. It even changes our brain according to some neuro-scientists who have done studies and experiments using functional MRI on those who pray and meditate (including Catholic nuns using Centering Prayer). We enter into state of relaxation and healing. It brings about stress-relief. High-blood pressure can go down through regular meditation. In their book, “Your Mind at its Best” Doctors Biebel and Dill report: ‘It has become an undisputed fact that prayer and meditation actually alter the brain in ways that promote physical, emotional, cognitive and relational health.” Dr. Andrew Newberg also illustrates “how spiritual practices like intense prayer and meditation improve memory, cognition, and compassion while suppressing undesirable responses like anger, depression and anxiety.” Prayer and meditation activates the anterior cingulate of the brain that is identified with the capacity for empathy and compassion and which develops a sense of peace and comfort.
Thus, if we want to be more effective and long-lasting in our work and ministry, we have to spend time in prayer and meditation. We should do this not only during Lent but as part of the rhythm of our life –daily, weekly, monthly, and longer periods.
Of course, we cannot spend our entire life on top of the mountain or in the desert. We need to continue our journey and mission, but we need to regularly spend time on top of the mountain. What is important is to integrate action and contemplation, praxis and prayer. This is what a holistic and integral spirituality is all about.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Search for Truth & Accountability: Moral Perspective on Corona Impeachment Trial

(I am sharing here an article which I wrote for my column that will be published in the CBCP Monitor this week)

How does the Church view the current impeachment proceeding of Chief Justice Renato Corona? One of the questions raised in many discussion forum in the internet is why the Church is silent about it. On the other hand, there is an impression that Corona has the support and blessing of the Church. The novena-masses in the Supreme Court in support of the chief justice nine successive days before the start of the impeachment proceeding contributed to this impression. Ordinarily, novena-masses are celebrated only in churches and chapels before the fiesta of a patron saint and before Christmas (misa de gallo). Holding novena-masses in a government building and in support of a government official accused of betrayal of public trust and corruption has never been done before and is highly questionable. It leads to questions about separation of Church and State and about the abuse of the Eucharist.

At the start of the Corona Impeachment trial, Senator Gringo Honasan appealed to the CBCP “to provide the people with moral guidelines about the trial to help them reflect on the current issue from the light of the Christian faith.”

The CBCP as a body has not come up with an official statement or pastoral letter about the impeachment proceeding. Many bishops see this as a purely political process which does not involve any matter regarding faith and morals. From this perspective there is no moral evil involved, so there is no urgent need to exercise a prophetic function or come up with moral guidelines. Thus, the most prudent position is to remain in the sidelines and allow this impeachment process to run its course. The bishops hope for a speedy impeachment trial that would redound to the common good. Many bishops expressed concern that a drawn up impeachment proceeding would distract the government’s attention from addressing the pressing problems of the people – especially poverty. Thus, according to the CBCP monitor: “The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines stressed that while they support government’s campaign against corruption, it must not also forget its obligations to the Filipinos.”

In an interview, Archbishop Jose Palma, the CBCP president said: “We exhort the people to give their respect and trust to the senator-judges and, of course, our respect and trust in the Constitutional processes…We exhort our brothers and sisters, fellow Filipinos, to pray, study and to do whatever is legally or morally possible so that truth and justice will be attained or realized. We exhort the people to pray especially for wisdom and guidance.”

The CBCP president focuses on the key themes: (1) Respect and trust to the senator-judges and the constitutional processes. (2) The attainment of truth and justice.
All these must be done in the context of the support for the campaign against corruption and the attainment of the common good. Besides truth and justice, accountability should be stressed.

The CBCP several years ago came out with a pastoral letter which deplored corruption in Philippine society as a moral evil that needs to be eradicated. In my opinion, the impeachment proceeding should be seen from this broader moral perspective. There is a clamor of the vast majority of the people to root out the cancer of corruption that has permeated all levels of Philippine society, to search for the truth about the involvement of government officials involved in corruption and to hold them accountable. This is the mandate that the people has given to the present administration. The Church must support this campaign to eradicate the culture of corruption and impunity – the moral evil which has perpetuated poverty, injustice, inequality, destruction of the environment and violence.

The impeachment proceeding against CJ Corona can be viewed as an effort to search for truth and accountability. It is not an attack against the independence of the judiciary. The chief justice stands accused of being beholden to the former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo – placed by her by midnight appointment to protect her when the time of reckoning comes. He also stands accused of betrayal of public trust and of corruption. He should face these charges. If he has nothing to hide, then he should allow the impeachment court to see his dollar accounts.

Any attempt to stop the impeachment proceeding by a TRO imposed by his supportive colleagues within the Supreme Court should be opposed and condemned. The Supreme Court does not have the moral high ground at present. It is not only the Chief Justice who is suspected of being corrupted and compromised by the former president.
The search for truth and accountability should go beyond the impeachment proceeding. This will include former government officials as well the present ones in all levels – from the judiciary, to the legislative and the executive branches, in the government bureaucracy from the highest to the lowest levels, in the police and in the military. In the end, even the prosecutors themselves and our president should see to it that they are beyond reproach. This will require a moral transformation and reformation in our society. In supporting this moral crusade against corruption, the Church must also make sure that she is beyond reproach.

The Lord will not abandon his people; he will not desert those who belong to him. Justice will again be found in the courts, and all righteous people will support it...
You have nothing to do with corrupt judges, who make injustice legal...
He will punish them for their wickedness and destroy them for their sins; the Lord our God will destroy them
. (Psalm 94:14-15, 20-23)

(p.s. this column expresses the personal opinion of the writer as a citizen and a priest-theologian)

Friday, January 27, 2012

Attending an assembly of the CBCP/ Giving a talk on "The Word of God and Basic Ecclesial Communities"

Since last Tuesday (Jan. 24), the Catholic bishops coming from 86 dioceses all over the Philippines gathered at the Pius XII center for their regular assembly. The executive secretaries from various episcopal committee and commissions were also invited - that includes me. The first day was devoted to listening to the results of the study on the diocesan plans and how they reflect the vision-mission and priorities of the second Plenary Council of the Philippines (PCP II). The study was conducted by research centers coming from various Catholic universities all over the Philippines. Among others, the study show that "Basic Ecclesial Communities - BECs" ranked 3rd in the adoption of PCP II priorities reflected in the diocesan plans.

One the second day, 3 bishops gave talks on Benedict XVI's "Verbum Domini" - the Word of God in the Life and Mission of the CHurch. Yesterday, the 3rd day of the gathering, several executive secretaries gave presentations on the relation of the Word of God to various specific dimensions/priorities of  the Church (Catechetics, Liturgy, Youth, Social Action, Social Communications, BECs). I gave a 45 minutes presentation on the topic: "The Word of God and Basic Ecclesial Communities" followed by 15 minutes open forum in the afternoon. I was nervous at first, since this was the first time I have given a talk to the bishops (except for the 10 minutes BEC committee report I gave last July 2010). But I was encouraged by the attentiveness and interest of the bishops.
Tomorrow, the bishops will be listening to the reports from various commissions, followed by discussion on several concerns.
I will be meeting the members of the National BEC team (headed by Bishop George Rimando) immediately after the CBCP assembly on Wednesday.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Faith and Personal Renewal (Mk 1:14-20)

I've been back here in Baclaran since last week. This morning I presided at the 9 am mass and this is what I preached:

"The kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe in the Gospel"

We often take pride that the Philippines  is the only predominantly Christian country in Asia. Around 82 percent  of the population are Catholics.

Majority of our people are deeply religious, with deep faith in God and devotion to the our Blessed Mother Mary and the saints –
We have the longest Christmas season – at least we can already hear Christmas songs as early as September and we are the only country that celebrates the Misa de Gallo – the nine early dawn masses before Christmas.
We have the  biggest procession – the Nazareno which was attended by over 7 million devotees and took 22 hours.
We have the  largest attended Novena to the Perpetual Help here in Baclaran – over a hundred thousand come this church every Wednesday.
We have masses not only in churches but in shopping malls and  in government offices – including the Supreme Court where a novena of masses were celebrated before the start of the impeachment of Chief Justice Corona.

Yet, in spite this widespread religiosity and deep faith, we wonder why there is so much evil and suffering in our country.
Majority of our people are poor, there is so much inequality, our crime rate is high,  there is so much violence all around us, and many families are  breaking down.
The Philippines has a reputation of being  one the most corrupt country in Asia.

Two corrupt presidents have been removed by people power and  now we have former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (known for her piety) under hospital arrest, awaiting trial for election sabotage and plunder.  The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court – Renato Corona  (a product of a Jesuit University) has been  impeached and is now being tried in the senate.  There  is a  generals  who have been imprisoned due to corruption (and he is now a lay Eucharistic minister inside).  This week the  chief of the NBI (national bureau of investigation) accused of kidnapping.

So, why is this? There appears to be  a gap between what we believe (faith), and how we live (our morality). 

 Our Gospel today reminds the central message of Jesus as he began his public ministry:
“The kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe in the Gospel.”
The response that Jesus expects  in proclaiming  the good news of the Kingdom is  repetance and faith – which are  preconditions for discipleship.

What Jesus emphasizes is not only faith or belief  but also repentance – which is a translation of the original Greek word metanoia.
Metanoia  is not only a matter of being aware of our sinfulness and of being sorry for our sins.
It involves a deeper change in our attitude, our life and lifestyle – a turning around. This means  moving from darkness to light, turning away from sin and becoming the best person that God wants us to be. It means becoming renewed.

Yes, our faith may be deep. Most of us already believe. But there is something that is lacking.
What the Lord wants of us is to repent, to change our life for the better,  to reject sin and evil,
to overcome the dark side of ourselves,  to get rid of, our selfishness, greed and pride, our addictions,
to cleanse ourselves and become the best version of ourselves –
 to be more loving, compassionate, just, truthful, honest and holy.
When we do this, we become true Christians – genuine disciples and followers of Jesus.

This can be concretely expressed by going to confession.
But this is only the first step. What matters most is the day to day struggle to overcome the dark side and to live in the light. It is not only what we do inside the church that is important - it is what we also do outside the church, in our homes, our neighborhood, community, schools and workplace.

There can only be true social transformation when each one of us – including those who call themselves public servants – can respond to the call to repentance and personal renewal.