Last year was a year of transition for me. After 25 years as Diocesan Coordinator of the Tribal Filipino Program (TFP) based in Kidapawan I returned to Columbio as Parish Priest.
Year 2010 was my first year fulltime in Columbio (Sultan Kudarat, Diocese of Kidapawan). As Parish Priest I have an official role associated with government officials, but I feel I have also a prophetic role or missionary role. People have noticed that missionaries have a different style of life and special concerns. Personally, I feel my missionary vocation as a call to serve the Poor, Deprived, Oppressed, Marginalized,Exploited and Struggling People (PDOMES: see Vission Mission of the Diocese of Kidapawan). In the spirit of renewal of Vatican II and PCP II, I expect to be part of the renewing Church in the GKK, GLK, and Tri-People Organizations (GKK or BEC Basic Ecclesial Communities, GLK or BIC Basic Indigenous Communities). At times, I was questioned as a “trouble maker” and I suppose that sometimes I was one-sided, still that is part of my mission and even Jesus was called a “sign of contradiction”. Can Jesus challenge or convert us so that we can become agents of His Good News of Liberation, uniting in Kingdom Communities free from all evil influences in our worldly systems?
I keep on asking: Is Jesus alive in our church activities? How would He reach out to people beyond church activities? How would he become involved with the PDOMES? How would He react to our Pharises, our Herodes and Pilates? I keep on praying to be granted the spirit of Jesus and I try to revive His presence, rekindle His fire in our activities…..Allow me to mention a few examples of this process of renewal:
Part I: Church Activities
1. The PARISH PASTORAL COUNCIL (PPC) now gathers monthly in different communities, the participation has greatly increased. Their updates and discussions are often lively focusing both on Church activities and community concerns.
2. KAABAG OR LITURGICAL MINISTERS. A new batch was trained and the old ones renewed their commitment. They have ongoing formation every month, they are challenged to revive the dynamism of the Bible, of Salvation History that continous now and maybe approaching the “Parousia”.
3. The BIBLE SERVICES with Communion challenges the participants to experience that Jesus is alive when they gather in His name and they also become instruments of peace, reconcillation and liberation.
4. CIRCLES OF DISCERNMENT was a special process of Bible Sharing held from house to house in preparation of the Elections. We joined in asking the spirit of renewal from the Political corruption searching for more responsible leaders.
5. GKK or BEC ASSEMBLIES were held in order to renew the members participation and to renew the style of Lay leaders to become more compassionate and caring for the lowly, like Jesus, and not worry only about policies and financial support.
6. CATHECHISTS were also trained as agents of renewal. Few continued their missions.
7. VOCATIONS: we supported both Seminarians and Asspirants to become sisters, several tried but some withdrew after a while.
8. TEMPORARY PARTNERS IN THE MINISTRY. A candidate for Priesthood, Rev. Norlito Pantaleon, spent about four months with us and Rev. Rogene Pervandos, PIME for a shorter time, they assisted greatly in the Circles of Discernment, Holy Week, Liturgies, Youth Recollections, Kaabag Formation, etc. Also Lloyd Dangdang, a PIME applicant joined for some time. Fr. Boboy Catan,PIME from November 20 to New Year was very much appreciated all throughout the Christmas celebrations.
9. THE 25TH ANNIVERSARY OF FR. TULLIO FAVALI’S DEATH on April 11 revived the spirit of the martyrs. Many people who still remember Fr. Tullio gathered under the sun at the Crossing Ezperanza where he was murdered. Our Bishop, the PIME Vicar General, Delegates from Mantova, many priests and sisters joined the large family of martyrs celebrating Day of Martyrs. Many Lay leaders gave their lives like Tullio, they did that because they believed that our Christian Communities can continue to proclaim the Good News of Salvation to the Poor and become living examples of Justice and Peace and Solidarity in all aspects of life. It is up to us now to continue their mission.
10. The death of FR. STEVE BAUMBUSCH, PIME on October 29 was deeply felt by us, many remembered him when he was in Columbio, his special attention to the youth, scholars, choir and musicals,etc. On December 7 the 40th days celebration was filled both with emotions and happy memories. At the Bell Tower, a place of remembrance was set up with a painting of his happy face and the faces of some other Lay Leaders who are with him in the next life. Also FR. RICKY LUSUEGRO was remembered by some.
Part II: Community Services
While searching for the spirit of renewal in church activities, I have concentrated with equal passion in social involvements also searching for the way of liberation of our communities from the dominant system of corruption.
1. The LITTLE FARMERS OF SAINT ISIDORE SCHOOL, a Parochial Elementary school and Kinder was started by the previous Parish Priest Fr. Jun Lapaz,DCK. At first, I was hesitant to take responsibility of this school because it is available only to those who can afford to pay. But I accepted to journey with them in promoting education for service and not only for climbing in the present corrupt system. The number of students increased up to 98, our church compound is always filled with children. I try to promote teachers upgrading and value formation.
2. The TRIBAL FILIPINO PROGRAM is now parish based,we continue to support the tribal organizations in their struggles:
We sponsor 7 Day Care and 7 Tribal Youth classes with about 200 students. We train their teachers and monitor their classes. We also assist about 100 Adozioni and they share their support with additional 200 children with a total of 300.
At the Training Center, we have 20+ student boarders selected from the children of active community leaders who also grow up in th spirit of community service.
3. The TRI-PEOPLE ORGANIZATIONS:Tribal, Muslim and Christian sectoral groups consolidated in the Columbio Multi- Sectoral Ecology Movement (CMEM). These organizations have been very active in all issues of Justice and Peace and Integrity of Creation. I participate as adviser and overall coordinator. The main efforts in 2010 were:
Voters Education for the Elections in May. Massive info drives were held in all barangays, an stimated 3,000 people participated. It was a tremendous effort to reform the corrupt election process. The Peoples Agenda was formulated and widely discussed. There was less violence, still vote buying was rampant and the candidates with less money could not be elected. At the National level the new President vowed to fight corruption and to reduce poverty , also to resume peace talks, etc. We hope and pray that some changes may happen.
MILITARY and ARMED GROUPS. Last year the Community Based Special Operation Teams (CB-SOT) soldiers who set up their outposts among the civillians, they threatened to paralize our Peoples Organizations and even church activities. They organized the Barangay Defense System (BDS) in an attempt to use civillians as counter insurgency agents and to protect the projects of Development Aggression like mining, plantations, etc. But after election, the military became more tolerant and friendly to civillians. Still there is a climate of insecurity with armed groups and government troops presuring the civillians.
The PEACE GOVERNANCE in MINDANAO is a new program sponsored by Catholic Relief Services (CRS) reaching out to LGU, Academe, Religious Leaders and even the Military and Police and our sectoral groups. A very efffective reconcillation process among clans involved in long-standing conflicts has defused tension in the community.
The TRI-PEOPLE YOUTH held Culture of Peace Seminars and a Youth Peace Camp on December 27-30 with 127 young people Tribal, Muslim and Christians who participated in a very exciting process of sharings, games and dramatic activities. The camp concluded with the LAUNCHING OF THE YOUTH and KIDS FOR PEACE: a silent parade was held followed by a symbolic program in front of the Municipal Hall challenging everyone to become agents of peace and reconcillation.
OPPOSITION TO MINING. The gigantic mining project SAGITTARIUS MINES INCORPORATED (SMI) is treatening to disrupt the ecological balance all around Columbio and in several provinces. Last year, the Public Scoping Hearings did not give a fair chance to the opposition to present their side. This year a new Petition and an Open Letter were sent to the new President. Then finally a special consultation was granted to our opposition groups on August 2 as part of the Environmental Impact Assesment (EIA). Our sectoral leaders presented their stands and debated with the SMI experts. They were promised that their views will be included in the EIA process, but we dont know if the project will be finally approved or not. On December 11, the Bishops of Marbel and Digos, gathered the priests and lay leaders in the parishes directly affected by the SMI project. Our parish also joined and we agreed to coordinate efforts in the three Dioceses to help the people realize what is happening to our lands and our life- support –systems.
Many other community activities could be mentioned. I feel both church and community involvements are part of my pastoral responsibilities and more so of my missionary vocation.
I am still searching for God’s plan of Salvation for our people here, I need to be constantly recharged by the Spirit of Good News to the Poor as long as I can continue my mission here.