AS the outgoing CBCP Permanent Council welcomes the incoming Permanent Council, I wish to express my profound gratitude to the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) for entrusting to me the presidency of our conference for two consecutive terms from 2006 to 2009.
The effective management of any institution depends largely on the day to day working of its Secretariat and subordinate personnel. We have such in the CBCP, working along with 26 independent and interdependent Episcopal Commissions concretizing the CBCP Vision and Mission.
The objectives of the CBCP include among others the formulation of general decrees, pastoral policies and doctrinal declarations to enlighten and guide people’s consciences in meeting emerging challenges and new problems arising from changes in society (Cf. Constitituion, Art. 1, Sec. 2).
Let me review what the CBCP had articulated in our effort to shepherd and guide our country in the last four years through our Pastoral Letters, Statements and Exhortations.
2006. The CBCP declared the year 2006 as a “Year of Social Concerns” under the auspices of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary. [cf. “Renewing our Public Life Through Moral Values” Pastoral Statement , January 29, 2006].
At that time we observed that economic benefits were not being sufficiently shared with the poor, that apathy and cynicism in politics, and loss of trust in political leaders, have taken hold of the mind and hearts of many Filipinos. The root cause of this crisis, we said, is the erosion of moral values. Among the responses we proposed was the promotion of a spirituality of public service, integrity and stewardship. But we believed that even our best efforts in addressing the problems will come to nothing without the help of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary. (2006 was the 150th Anniversary of the Feast of Sacred Heart instituted in 1856.)
Other social concerns we identified were the mining issues, the alleged “Peoples’ Initiatives” to change the Constitution (which did not push through because of the vigilance of the citizens), the controversial “Da Vinci Code,” the notorious Fertilizer Fund Scam and the spread of Small Town Lottery or STL. Two breakfast fellowships with Christian Church Leaders and some government officials were held to share our common concerns.
The commitment of the Church would consist in building in our land “a civilization of love” (Centessimus Annus, 10), by building character through honesty and integrity, by building capacity through empowerment of the poor, and by building community through formation in the spirituality of citizenship. [Pastoral Exhortation “Building a Civilization of Love” May 11, 2006].
The Year of Social Concerns gave emphasis on the importance of the Social Doctrine of the Church as integral part of our evangelizing ministry, as emphasized in Pope Benedict XVI’s first Encyclical “Deus Caritas Est.
The burning issues which were being discussed were: the family under siege by the reproductive health bills, the prospect of charter change, the controversial impeachment process, which did not occur, the clamor for the reform of COMELEC, advocacy contra extra-judicial killings and endemic corruption in public and private life. [Shepherding and Prophesying in Hope, July 9, 2006]
2007. In January 2007 the CBCP recalled the 40th anniversary of the Rural Congress of 1967 which came to the crucial conclusion that “The Church must go to the barrios.” The greater number of the poor are in the rural areas. Therefore, attending to the rural poverty would be to help lessen the urban poverty. The CBCP said that the one big means of alleviating rural poverty is through a determined, vigorous and honest implementation of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP). [Pastoral Statement: The Dignity of the Rural Poor, January 28, 2007].
In 2007 the CBCP also commended the group of lay faithful who worked with great enthusiasm and dedication for the May 2007 elections. These lay groups were the PPC-RV, NAMFREL, NASSA-VOTE CARE, Simbahang Lingkod ng Bayan, the Catholic Media Network, Legal Network for a Truthful Election (Lente). These dedicated groups undoubtedly contributed to the emergence of a new political consciousness among the electorate. Vigilance, volunteerism and coordinated action characterized their work. We advocated for Electoral Reforms through revamp of the COMELEC, the holding of those responsible for anomalies in past elections as accountable to the people, and the modernization of the electoral system in time for 2010 Election, continuing education of voters, the cleaning and publication of voters’ list long before election. [Pastoral Statement, on the 2007 National Elections, July 8.]
The CBCP endorsed a one year journey “Towards the Second National Rural Congress” (July 16, 2007). In this year we commemorated the centenary of the Episcopal Consecration of Bishop Jorge Barlin (1906), expressed concern on the nation’s housing problems and on the Human Security Act vis-à-vis terrorism.
2008. In 2008 the CBCP stated that the “darkness in our situation” which consists in the subordination of the common good to private or personal good is due to the lack of a social conscience. The CBCP said: “To journey to the light, we need first to realize that we have contributed not a little to the common malaise – because of the decisions we have made, decisions that flowed from what we have become because of our unconcern, inaction, apathy, often thinking only of our interest. And so with little sense of the future of our country, we vote for people we should not vote for. . . We have to confess that corruption is in truth our greatest shame as a people.” (Pastoral Letter “Reform Yourselves and believe in the Gospel” (Jan. 27, 2008)
There is need for personal and communal conversion towards a social conscience. “This conversion is for all of us: laity, religious, priests and bishops.” We reiterated the call for “circles of discernment” in all sectors or levels of the community, in order that through communal and prayerful discernment, the roots of corruption may be discovered and destroyed. [Pastoral Statement, Seeking the Truth, Restoring Integrity, February 26, 2008].
As part of the celebration of the NRC-II, we advocated the extension of CARP with reform. “Abandoning the agricultural sector will not only threaten the farmers but also imperil food security itself. Conversely, distributing land to small farmers will provide equitable economic opportunities on the rural area and eventually reduce poverty and unrests.” (Agrarian Reform, May 18, 2008). Important highlights of 2008 were the launching of the Year of St. Paul and the holding of the Second National Rural Congress on July 7-8, 2008 in San Carlos Seminary, Makati.
A special plenary assembly was held on November 14, 2008 in order to articulate the CBCP opposition to the Reproductive Health Bill 5043. (Pastoral Statement “Standing Up for the Gospel of Life”)
In 2008, there was held a series of Bishops – Legislators’ caucuses on Rural Concerns and on Family and Life Issues. There was also held a seminar on the Theology of Pope Benedict XVI.
2009. At the NRC-II the rural poor were given the opportunity to articulate their concerns. It was an opportunity for the church on various levels to listen and discern her specific role in accompanying the rural folk in their journey; the small farmers, landless workers, fisherfolks, indigenous people, rural women and rural youth. (Pastoral Exhortation: God Hears the Cry of the Poor, January 25, 2009).
At the Rural Congress we declared that in the fight against graft and corruption, we should encourage our lay faithful to accompany and support upright public officials in their efforts to serve the people in transparency and truth. We further declared that “we shall direct church institutions and organizations to be more engaged in works of solidarity, justice and charity for the poor in rural areas.” Scripture warns us: “He who shuts his ear to the cry of the poor will himself also call and not be heard.” (Prov. 21/13)
In June of this year 2009, we declared the post-Pauline year as the Year of the Two Hearts of Jesus and Mary for Peace-building and Lay Participation in Social Change, inspired by St. Paul’s reflection on “Christ as ambassador of Peace and Reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5/18-20; Eph. 2/12-18). In this year of the Two Hearts “We challenge our Catholic Laity to take the lead in the task of moral renewal towards a deeper and more lasting change in the Philippine society … urging (them) to give a concrete expression to Christian discipleship through responsible citizenship.”
What a providential coincidence, the Year of Two Hearts which the CBCP announced for the Philippines has also been declared by Pope Benedict XVI for the Universal Church as “Year for Priests” with the theme “Faithfulness of Christ, Faithfulness of the Priest,” in commemoration of the 150th Anniversary of St. John Marie Vianney. Pope Benedict XVI has articulated the purpose of this Year for Priests: “The Church needs holy priests,” holy priests who will guide the lay faithful in their participation in the renewal of church and society. In response to the Pope’s call for the Year of Priests there will be held the Second National Congress of Priests in January 2010.
We see how the hand of God is guiding the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines in this last four years: we placed 2006 the Year of Social Concerns under the auspices of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary. And this year in June we declared the Year of Two Hearts for Peace and Lay participation in Social Change.”
As shepherds and guardians of the flock, our reading of the “Signs of the Times” goes on as we have been doing. Our advocacies for the good of the church and our country continue. In our conference, no one can ever be an isolated performer. The 10 member Permanent Council and the 30 Chairmen of the various Commissions, Committees and Offices together with the Secretariates have all been working together each with no little sacrifice, like a chorus singing the Magnificat or the Gloria in Excelsis.
I had the distinct privilege of presiding at our CBCP General Assembly. I am sorry for whatever mistakes or failures I may have committed during my watch. But I was as confident as the CBCP was that it is the Lord that watches over our Conference.
My gratitude to the CBCP can never be as great and as profound as the trust that it has gifted me with.
+ANGEL N. LAGDAMEO
Archbishop of Jaro