In 1970 the city of Santa Cruz, (120 km southwest of Manila) had about 60,000 inhabitants in 19 barrios, 40% Catholic and 60% “Aglipayan” (Filipino Indipendent Church). In reality, except for Christmas and Holy Week, few of the residents were attending to religious services and mostly only for devotional purpose. The Bishop of the Diocese of San Pablo, mons.Pedro Bantigue, wanted the PIME priests to provide strength and visibility to the urban parish, in the most important city of the diocese, capital of the Laguna Province. It was a difficult place, with two big churches and 12 chapel in the surrounding rural areas, with socio-political problems too. When it became clear that the priests were making themselves available at any moment and for any need, the faithful gathered in greater number: to the point that it was rather embarrassing for the priests, who never expected a response such as this. So they started to organize the catechism classes, established the Parish Pastoral Council, and stimulated the partecipation of the laity, members of the different parish associations. In church, among an incredible numbers of statues (which tended more to disturb the faith rather then to strenghen it), they welcomed sharing during the liturgy which also included religious instruction based on the Bible and on the teaching of the Church. But this new style was not well accepted by some of the local powerful families (traditional catholics) who used to control the the activities of the parish. PIMEs noted that the catholics had settled in the city center, gathering in the monumental Spanish church, leaving the periphery and squatter areas to the Aglipayans. Understanding the situation, they embarked upon social activities for the poorest people, regardless who they were: food and medicine, cooperatives to combat high prices, a credit union, a free medical clinic, assistance in home building, tuition support for students, construction of hygienic services, sewing and carpentry courses and animal husbandry. Many of these initiatives were received gratefully by the people, but also confused the faithful, who were used to seeing priests only as distributors of blessings and spiritual guidance. In August 1972, a violent flood devastated the city and the surrounding area. The convento and other parish buildings became a refuge for many people. It was a difficult situation to manage and the priests worked themselves to exhaustion, on their feet 16 to 18 hours a day. Frs. Bonaldo and Alessi ended up in the hospital. Their commitment attracted many volunteers and displayed a new way to testify to the faith. The parish was much different than it had been before! Still, was difficult to make the people to understand that flood victims and refugees, catholics or aglipayans, were more important, in that situation, of other religious practices. On September 21, 1972, a “state of emergency” was declared by President Ferdinand Marcos, who assumed total control of the country through the military, on the aim or pretext of battling the communist insurgents and muslim separatists on the islands of Mindanao and Sulu. Many, even in the Church, believed that while these were drastic measures, they would only last a short time, and might bring about an improvement of the general living condition of the people. However, very quickly the arrests began, even among the lay leaders of the parish in Santa Cruz. But PIMEs creativity did not stop. Fr. Peter Geremia, who arrived on august 1972, soon after started to form an “apostolic group” of 12 person of good reputation. They prepared the liturgy and every Sunday they went to the remaining chapels of the parish located in remote areas. There they shared, with the local people, prayers and what they have learned. It was a sort of basic ecclesial community. Meanwhile, Fr. Alessi, the PIME Superior in the Philippines, began to work in Tondo (Old Manila) at the beginning of 1973. At the same time, Fr. Pietro Bonaldo, whom Fr. Geremia describes as “a giant with a booming voice that shook the timbers, and a heart of gold,” was found to have cancer. After months in the hospital and various operations, he was sent to Italy in November of 1973, and he died shortly thereafter. In 1975 Fr. Geremia moved to Tondo as well, and the parish in Santa Cruz was left in the hands of Frs. Piccolo and Cadei. But time was changing. In the first years the partecipation of the parishioners was very enthusiastic, specially during the flooding, but after the imposition of the Martial Law, little by little, the people became less interested in the message of renewal and the activities stagnated. PIMEs continued until 1977 when they decided, after only eight years, to end their commitment in the Diocese in order to strenghen the presence in Tondo and Mindanao..
PIME in Santa Cruz (Laguna) (1969-1977)