BATAAN ON PILGRIMAGE
There are many ways of symbolizing the Church. The Church is the Body of Christ. The Church is the Bride of Christ. The Church is the people of God. The Church is the Sheepfold. The Church is the Vineyard of the Lord. The Church is the Temple of the Lord. The Church is our Mother.
We in Bataan are all of these images of the Church put together but the image of the Church as a pilgrim people seems to be the emerging way to describe us at this point in our journey as a people. We are a Church in transition. We are a Church on pilgrimage.
After clarifying our diocesan vision and the pastoral priorities of the Diocese of Balanga through our first diocesan synod in 2006, we see the Christian faith and the Catholic faithful of Bataan undergoing some transitions and entering into a new phase of pilgrimage.
From Events to Programs
From being events-oriented, we are being transformed into a program-oriented Church.
Fiestas are part of the regular routine of every parish life. The seasons of Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter are peak seasons for many Church activities like retreats, pious devotions and communal rites of penance. These same seasons stimulate creativity in Church decorations and liturgical innovations. Many pastoral councils consider church repairs, renovations or constructions as the reasons to show a living parish community. But if the Church is to be faithful to the mission entrusted by the Lord, it must embrace the mission of preaching and teaching which is at the core of the mandate of Christ “Go and make disciples of all nations.” There is an open challenge to move the parish from being a projects-and-events oriented community to a formation-program oriented community.
The ALAGAD is a basic course to orient the adult Catholic to the Gospel message. This program is for all Catholics who want to start a serious faith journey for themselves.
Having encountered the Gospel message through the ALAGAD formation program, the Catholic faithful is invited to advance further through the PUSO formation program. This second level program consists of three parts-Puso ng Diyos, Puso ng Bataan, Pusong Bayani at Banal consisting of twelve sessions each.
The graduates of the PUSO formation program become members of the KRISMA or Kristiyanong Magkakapitbahay and meet regularly, ideally on a weekly basis, for their ongoing formation in panalangin, paghubog at pagtatalaga.
From the KRISMA of the parish, we hope to emerge a new breed of religious and social leaders for Bataan. Those who wish to take on positions of servant leadership in the Church must be ready to take the courses of the Pandayan ng Layko ng Diyosesis or PALAD which is our diocesan school of servant leaders.
At present, we have formation programs for liturgical ministers. Someday, we dream of a school of leaders for social service and development ministry and the ministry of the Word.
From the Parish Church to the Parish Community
This change of paradigm from events to programs also gives birth to another pastoral paradigm-the transition of focus from the parish church to the parish community. The Church is the people of God on pilgrimage. The goal of the formation programs is to build small communities of the faithful in our neighborhood. The KRISMA is a Church in miniature. All the components of the big parish community must be present in every KRISMA. In every KRISMA, there is an active praying, serving and teaching community of disciples.
It is also this shift towards the community that inspired us to bring the ASA Philippines to Bataan to offer a microfinancing scheme for the poor so that they can start small businesses using their entrepreneurial skills. As of May 31, 2007 we have 3,161 beneficiaries of the microfinancing program with assets amounting to 6.7million pesos now. It is also the refocusing from building edifices to building the people that led us to launch the Hapag Asa for malnourished children with 547 beneficiaries. The diocese continues our full scholarship program for 120 children from poor families.
Society is the stage on which the Gospel message unfolds. The Church cannot be indifferent to the events happening in Bataan. The collegial position of the priests with regard to gambling and the vote buying at election time received varied reactions from varied sectors. The underlying message is that the position of the Catholic Church on certain social issues cannot be ignored and the Church is not expected to stay quiet in the face of moral and social evils. Faith and fire must never take a back seat to piety and safety when it comes to the mission of the Church for social reform. The Church is not for itself. The Church is pro vita mundi.
From Power to Formation
Our shift towards the community results in another shift-empowerment in the Church is not about the giving of power. The real synonym of empowerment is formation. The real empowered laity is not the laity who controls the community funds but the laity who has undergone formation to become another Christ. Leadership is influence and Christian
leadership is Christ like influence. Christ influenced the world through the power of love translated into service. This is the real power of the Church.
If empowerment is formation, then the Church must take seriously the challenge of Catholic education. In the past three years, we have opened the following new schools in Bataan-St Jerome Emiliani School in Roosevelt, Marguerite de Brincat School in Tukop, Siena College of Hermosa, Letran College, St. Joseph's College of Balanga, St Francis Catholic School in Sta Elena, Orion, Blessed Regina Protman Catholic School in Mountain View, Jaime Hilario La Salle School in Bagac, Sta Mariana de Jesus Academy in Camaya, Mariveles. We have 4,526 children and youth enrolled in all the Catholic schools of Bataan this schoolyear. Three years ago, Bataan had six Catholic schools. Now we have fifteen operational Catholic schools.
We have eleven students in religious education studying in three colleges in Manila to become professional catechists for the diocese within the next two or three years. We have 8 new seminarians studying in various seminaries making a total of 32 candidates for the priesthood for Bataan.
An empowered youth means a formed youth. This year marked the opening of a permanent youth camp for Bataan called Pope John Paul II Youth Camp in Peas, Limay.
We graduated more than five hundred youth leaders in the summer camp of 2007. They completed two levels of youth leadership training with an on-the-job-training program in between the two levels. Among all the sectors of church life, it is the youth that show great promise and hope for Bataan. We have launched programs for the out of school youth too by way of giving them opportunities for employment by honing their technical skills. The youth are the powerhouse of Bataan.
From Results to Process
With all the changes and transitions going on, the unexpressed concern is the clergy's capacity to cope with this multi tasking ministry. Keeping in mind that the process is more important than the results, we have opted to prioritize even more our eight pastoral priorities. Among the eight pastoral priorities, we have given the tandis ng katekesis and the tandis ng bayanihan at kabayanihan our utmost concern. We consider these two priorities as the groundwork on which we shall build the other six pastoral priorities.
We recognize the value of team work in the building of the communio of the Church. The vision and the desired results may take long in achieving but we must never grow weary of doing what is our duty even if the fruits get delayed in coming. From being task and results oriented persons, we choose to be person-oriented ministers respectful of one another's pace along the pilgrimage and constantly appreciative of one another's giftedness.
The process of building fraternity among priests may be a long and arduous task. We take it one step at a time. The Sunday dinners at Bahay Pari are bringing forth positive results in the visible camaraderie among the religious and diocesan priests. The diocesan solidarity fund is now able to extend financial help to the new parishes on a regular basis.
The morale of the priests is high. Their commitment is fervent. Their love for the Lord is inspiring.
All growth is painful. In these transitions that we go through, pain will be inevitable. May we just pour the soothing balm of love into our ministry and allow Him, who endured every pain so that our sins may be forgiven, to transform our pains into life, our sorrows into joy, our dying to self into fullness of life for the Church.
From the Cathedral of Saint Joseph, July 3, 2007
+SOCRATES B. VILLEGAS
Bishop of Balanga