On the morning of March 3, 1987, the
members of the Iligan Mission Team left for San Fernando, Bukidnon. The
team was composed of three Redemptorists (Fr. Manny Cabajar, Bro. James
and myself), and eight lay missioners (Portia, Mila, Fe, Meren, Lily, Bebeth,
Dodong and Alan). We travelled for seven hours on board our new Izuzu vehicle,
going up the long winding roads of Bukidnon. As we neared San Fernando,
we saw a river that snaked through the valley. The mountains and hills
were brown. Along the narrow and bumpy road we met several trucks filled
with logs. Men with M-16 rifles accompanied them. At four in the afternoon,
we reached Halapitan – the center of San Fernando -- and proceeded to the
convento. We were welcomed by Frs. Patrick Kelly and Charles Gervais. They
were Scarborough Missionaries. Fr. Pat was the parish priest and Fr. Charles
worked among the indigenous peoples up in the mountains. We had a dinner
of rice and chicken curry cooked by Clarita, the parish secretary.
The following days we went around the parish to
gather data. We visited all the communities and talked to the people. We
also met the lay leaders who gathered in the seminar house. When we came
back after a couple of weeks we draw a general profile of San Fernando:
the socio-economic, political, cultural and religious situation. We also
made a detailed parish map. From this data and the parish priest’s expectation,
we drew up the general and specific objectives of the mission.
The general objective was to form and strengthen
the BECs. The specific objectives were:
1. To foster a sense of community among the
members of the BECs
2. To conscienticize and evangelize the BECs
3. To enable the BECs to celebrate participative,
relevant and creative liturgies
4. To spot and develop core group of leaders in
5. To mobilize the BECs to respond to concrete
socio-economic issues and needs
There were 50 barrios and sitios in the parish which
meant forming 50 BECs. There were 30 to a hundred families in each BEC.
We identified the BEC clusters and saw that they could constitute seven
zones with around seven BECs per zone. We then divided ourselves into subteams.
Each subteam was composed of around four members assigned to specific BECs.
The priest in each subteam acted as the coordinator and was responsible
for the whole zone. For me it meant moving from one barrio to another and
supervising the members of the subteam. We lived and worked in the specific
BECs and zones for six months and moved to the next zones until we covered
all the zones and BECs.
Since we were in the Lenten season at the beginning
of the mission, we decided to make the celebration of the liturgical season
as the focal point of evangelizing and organizing. The bible-reflections
and the regular Sunday katilingbanong pag-ampo (community worship)
in each BEC focused on the theme of "sin and conversion." We organized
communal celebration of penance and reconciliation. A couple of weeks before
Holy Week, the focus of reflection shifted to Christology: the mission
of Christ and his consequent passion, death and resurrection. We had Misa-Pamalandong
(Mass-Reflection) in each BEC. The Misa-Pamalandong usually lasted
from 10 am to 3 pm. The theme was: Christology. These were the questions
for reflection and sharing among the people: Who is Christ for you? What
are the dominant symbols of Christ in our culture? What message do these
symbols convey? What is the meaning and relevance of Christ's death and
resurrection for our situation today? The group discussion was followed
by reporting. The facilitator collated the various reports and then the
presider gave his homily/input. Before proceeding to the liturgy of the
Eucharist, the agape was celebrated -- which meant that the participants
shared the food that they brought with them. The liturgy of the Eucharist
was celebrated in the afternoon and this was followed by the scheduling
and tasking for the liturgy planning for the Holy Week.
Most of the liturgies during the Holy Week were
celebrated at the BEC level – especially on Good Friday and Easter Sunday.
There were also zone level celebrations which brought the BEC clusters
together – on Palm Sunday and Holy Thursday. The liturgy preparations were
done by the people themselves with the guidance of the lay missionaries
and seminarians. Seminars on liturgy were conducted. Various planning groups
were formed to prepare for different liturgies during the Holy Week. The
main thrust at this stage was the celebration of meaningful and participative
liturgies. We also made an effort to reorient the traditional devotional
activities like the Via Crucis and Siete Palabras by bringing
in the liberation theme and making them more relevant and participatory.
When we evaluated this mission phase we observed
that the liturgical activities helped considerably in fostering a sense
of community and solidarity at the BEC level. In the process, the people
also learned to actively participate in the planning, celebration and evaluation
of their liturgies. We were also able to test the capabilities of existing
leaders and spot potential leaders. There were also issues and concerns
that emerged, especially about the ongoing deforestation caused by logging
operations in the area.. Thus, Frs. Kelly and Gervais came out with an
Easter message about the ecology issue. The letter discussed the ecological
crisis that the people in San Fernando was facing due to the continuing
logging operations. It warned the people that their children will be asking
them in the future, what they did to defend the environment. It ended with
a call for people to act.
We spent the following months further training
the people to actively participate in the planning, celebration and evaluation
of their regular Sunday priestless liturgy (the Katilingbanong Pag-ampo).
The BECs with larger membership were subdivided into family groupings,
usually 10 to 15 families per grouping. There were between four to eight
family groupings per BECs. These groupings began to take turns in sponsoring
the Katilingbanong Pag-ampo. The lay missionaries helped these family
groupings prepare the liturgy. The preparation involved a period of reflection
on relevant events and themes that could be the focus for liturgical celebration.
This would be followed by the actual planning of the liturgy, the tasking,
the preparation of the readings and the prayers, and selecting what symbols
to use. There would also be rehearsals since many of the people were not
used to reading, sharing or praying in public. Oftentimes, the readings
for the coming Sunday would be used for the bible-reflection of the family
groupings during the week. These bible-reflections were held in the homes
of the members of the family groupings.
Many BECs celebrated their fiestas during the
months of May and June. We made use of this opportunity to make the preparation
and celebration of the fiesta as a focal point for evangelization, organization
and the training of leaders. As part of the fiesta preparation, Misa-Pamalandongs
were celebrated with the theme centered on the meaning of the devotion
to the saints, the life and virtues of the patron saint of the BEC. There
was emphasis on the saints as models for Christian living. The virtues
of the saints (e.g., faith, hope, love, service, option for the poor, prayer,
etc.) were used as themes for the nine nights of the fiesta novena. The
various family groupings within the BECs prepared these novena-liturgies.
The fiesta liturgy was prepared by a group that represented the family
groupings. There were also committees that planned the other festivities,
the agape, and the procession.
There were five major seminarians from St. Mary’s
of Gango, Ozamis City who joined us at the beginning of June for a four-month
exposure. This was a program for those who were going to be ordained deacons.
The seminarians lived among the people in the BECs and helped facilitate
the mission activities. They also taught the people the songs that they
During the early part of July, I was out of the
mission area. I went to Cebu to lead the nine-days of "Fasting for Rudy
and the other Victims of Involuntary Disappearances." Originally, I planned
a 40-day fast in front of Camp Sergio Osmeña. But my confreres in
Cebu convinced me to cut it down to nine days and hold it at the Redemptorist
church. The purpose of the fast was to draw attention to the case of Fr.
Rudy Romano and other desaparecidos and to touch the conscience
of those responsible for their abduction. The fast lasted from July 2 to
11. There were three Redemptorists who fasted and prayed during the whole
nine days (Frs. Mortalla, Rollon and myself). The other confreres joined
us for a day or two. Different groups in the parish and in the city also
came and joined us for a time. We also got letters of support from Ireland
and the United States. The event was covered by TV, radio and newspapers.
It was a very prayerful atmosphere. We subsisted on water and tea. I didn't
feel any hunger. By the end of the fast I lost ten pounds. The fast culminated
with the Eucharist presided by Cardinal Vidal and concelebrated by over
30 priests on July 11, 1987 -- the second anniversary of Fr. Romano's disappearance.
One of those who helped organized the Fast for
Rudy was Bro. Karl Gaspar. Karl was professed in May 1987 as a religious
brother. Before he joined us, Karl was already well known as the former
secretary of the Mindanao-Sulu Pastoral Conference, an award-winning artist,
writer and member of the Ecumenical Association of Third World Theologians.
He was imprisoned for two years and he joined us after he was released.
His first assignment after his profession was the Iligan Redemptorist Community
and Mission Team. He reported to San Fernando a week after the Fast for
Rudy. We immediately hit it off together – not only as confreres but as
When I went back to San Fernando, the ecology
issue had blown up. During the past months, the concern for ecology had
continued to grow in the mission areas. The texts and themes for bible-reflection
and liturgies focused on the theology of creation, the care for the earth
and the need to preserve and protect the environment. We tried to make
people aware that the droughts and floods that they had been experiencing
were not punishments willed by God for their sins but rather the effect
of the greed of the loggers who were denuding the forest. Many people began
to realize that it was not enough to talk and pray about the environment.
A series of meetings were held which were initiated by the BEC leaders
and the leaders of a people's organization -- the Pagbugtaw sa Kamatuoran
(PSK). Representatives of various BECs attended the meetings. Education
teams trained by the mission team started to give seminars on the ecology
in every BEC.
The leaders of the PSK and the BECs sent their
demands to the Department of Energy and Natural Resources (DENR) to order
a stop of all logging operations in the area. By July 20, the hundreds
of people put up barricades in the main roads. No logging trucks could
pass and many of these were stranded on the road. This paralyzed the logging
operations. There were bible-reflection sessions and liturgies celebrated
in the barricade. One night, Bishop Gaudencio Rosales came and he listened
to the people as they shared their reflections. He encouraged them to continue
their struggle and to make sure that they remain peaceful.
The barricade was a manifestation of people power.
There were men and women, young and old. Some mothers even brought their
babies. The people shared their food with the drivers of the logging trucks
that were stranded because of the barricade. The people were aware that
they were up against powerful opponents. The logging companies were owned
by powerful politicians. They used the military as their security. They
even controlled a judge in Malaybalay who gave a court injunction against
the barricade and ordered the military to break it up.
On August 1, 1987, a truckload of Philippine Constabulary
soldiers arrived in Halapitan. People at that time were in the barricade,
celebrating the Eucharist with Father Kelly. The platoon carrying truncheons
and shields marched toward them.The officer showed the court injunction
and told the people to dismantle the barricade and go home. But the people
did not move. They continued praying and singing. Then an officer gave
the dispersal order. The soldiers moved in and started beating the people
with their truncheon. The people continued to sing and cry while the military
beat them. A pregnant woman was hit in the thigh. The statue of the Sacred
Heart was not spared from the beating. The soldiers grabbed Fr. Kelly and
told him that he was under arrest. As they put Fr. Kelly on the truck,
the people also clambered up demanding to be imprisoned with their parish
priest. Many people also encircled the military truck. After a few hours
of stand-off, the soldiers released Fr. Kelly.
That night, the people who gathered at the side
of the road for bible-reflection felt dejected. Their eyes were filled
with tears as the logging trucks passed by. They felt they were defeated.
However, this incident did not go unnoticed. That
night and the following morning, what happened in San Fernando was reported
in the radio, TV and newspapers all over the country. The editorial pages
in the newspapers condemned the brutal dispersion of the barricade and
praised the people of San Fernando for their defense of the environment.
The image of a heroic people who defended the forest and readily accepted
violence perpetrated by the military created an impact and generated sympathy
and support all over land.
Several days later, the rains and flood came.
The bridge collapsed and there were landslides along the logging roads.
During the bible-reflection that night, the people celebrated the event
as an act of God. The barricade was still on -- with the help of mother
On the second week of August, we accompanied Fr.
Kelly and the leaders of the barricade to Malaybalay. They had received
a subpoena to appear before the court for preliminary hearing. The logging
company had filed a multi-million pesos lawsuit against them for causing
loses to the company due to the barricade. We were able to mobilize 5 truckloads
of people. Since we could not all fit inside the court-house, many of the
people surrounded the building. After the judge read the charges, he scolded
the people for setting up the barricade against the logging company. It
was very clear to us that he was on the side of the loggers. He set the
date of the hearing and we all marched from the courthouse to the cathedral.
There were over three-hundred of us and some were carrying placards and
streamers demanding the stop of the logging operations. After praying in
the cathedral, we met Bishop Rosales who encouraged us to remain steadfast.
He told us that he was going to a meeting of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference
and will bring up the ecology issue.
After a week, the Department of Energy and Natural
Resources (DENR) upon the order of President Aquino suspended all logging
operations in the municipality of San Fernando. The case against the leaders
of the barricade was dropped. There was great rejoicing in San Fernando.
We celebrated a thanksgiving mass with the people and afterwards gathered
in the convento for a festive meal.
We were aware that this was only a temporary victory.
The struggle was far from over. Yet we were also aware of God's saving
presence. For many it was an experience of the paschal mystery, an experience
of God's wondrous deeds after experiencing an apparent defeat a few weeks
The San Fernando experience created a "ripple-effect"
not only within the diocese. Some communities in other parts of Mindanao
began to use a similar strategy. There arose a growing awareness of the
urgency of the ecological issue. Even the governor and mayors of the province
of Bukidnon expressed their support for the San Fernando struggle and began
to demand a total log ban in the province. Ecology became a pressing concern
of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP). A couple
of months later, the CBCP came out with a pastoral letter on the ecology
issue. In that pastoral letter which was read in all the Catholic churches
and chapels all over the country, the bishops expressed their grave concern
about the destruction of the environment. They praised the courageous people
of San Fernando for their struggle to protect the environment and for being
signs of hope in the country. It was with great pride that the pastoral
letter was read in the parish and BEC liturgies.
Around this time, two newly-ordained Redemptorist
priests were assigned to the team – Frs. Joshua Manubag and Rolly Rollon.
They were to spend their pastoral year with us. As the director of the
pastoral year, my task was to be their guide and mentor. They were assigned
to live and work in the BECs and I often visited them to see how they were
doing. We also met once a week as a group.
With the beginning of the advent season, the liturgical
celebrations focused on the themes of Christ’s incarnation and his future
coming in the end-time. The BECs began to prepare the liturgy of the novena-aguinaldo,
the traditional nine days of dawn liturgy before Christmas. The family
groupings in each BEC were mobilized to prepare the liturgies. This time,
the emphasis was not only on active participation but on creativity as
well. This was also another opportunity to test the competence of the emerging
leaders in facilitating and organizing skills. The BECs also emphasized
the communal celebration of Christmas.
After Christmas, I took a one month break from
the mission. I went to my hermitage in Busay where I spent most of my time
in relaxation, prayer, reading and writing. I also made my final preparation
for the marathon. I went to Manila on the last week of January to visit
old friends and run the Manila Marathon.
When I came back to San Fernando in February 1988,
we continued our mission of evangelizing and organizing the BECs. We also
started introducing rituals and liturgies for planting and harvesting.
Majority of the people were farmers and farming was a communal activity.
Although each family had their individual plots, they would help each other
in plowing, planting and harvesting. We noticed that during these busy
periods the attendance of the people in the mission activities declined.
Most of them where out in their farms. We realized that the liturgies would
have to be celebrated in the fields and farms to ritualize their farming
seasons. Some farmers were using the ancient "animistic" rituals while
many had given these up. Our task was to come up with inculturated rituals
– liturgies that made use of the existing cultural forms and symbols and
link these with biblical texts and themes. One time, I accompanied Fe,
a lay missioner, to a farm in here area early in the morning. When we got
there, the people had already gathered ready for the planting. We formed
a circle and began the ritual with an opening hymn. At the center were
the bible, the rice stalks, and the farm tools. We then acknowledged the
presence of the Holy Spirit in our midst. Then we listened to the reading
of the Gospel – the parable of the sower. After the reading we had a brief
moment of silent reflection and then some of the people shared their reflections.
This was followed by the prayers of petition where the people asked God
to pour his blessing on their work, protect their crops from pests and
give them a bountiful harvest. Then we asked God to bless the rice stalks
and the farm tools. After the final blessing we sang the final hymn. Rituals
like these helped the BECs experience their unity and solidarity as a community.
Since part of the goal of the mission was to assist
the communities in responding to their basic needs, we helped BECs organize
socio-economic projects. Among these were: the organic farming method,
carabao dispersal and community-based health program. We also encouraged
some BECs to set up cooperatives. Members of the mission team who had special
training helped set up these programs.
As the BECs in the periphery developed, our mission
subteams moved closer to the center of the parish. It was part of our strategy
to build up first the BECs in the remote barangays of the parish
and gradually move towards the poblacion or town which was the center of
the parish. While most of the liturgies in the remote BECs were non-eucharistic,
the liturgies in the poblacion were mostly eucharistic. The thickly
populated town was subdivided into smaller BEC groupings or neighborhood
communities. These groupings were to take turns in sponsoring and preparing
the liturgy in the parish church. The lenten season and the Holy Week became
the occasion for this. The same process of liturgy planning, celebration
and evaluation was used. The people participated in preparing the environment
(church decoration), choosing the symbols, composing the prayers, performing
liturgical drama and dance, etc. So much creativity was unleashed. This
process was continued in the regular Sunday liturgy. This became the focal
point for developing a sense of identity and solidarity for the BECs in
As the process of building up the BECs continued,
I noticed that the military were intensifying their operations in San Fernando.
While crossing a river one day, I saw helicopters flying above me and strafing
a nearby mountain. There was no firefight but it was later made to appear
in the radio and news-reports that there was an encounters with the NPA.
The harrassment against the mission team and Fr.
Kelly also started. Military special operation teams went around the barrios
telling the people that the members of the mission team and the parish
priest were communists. They accused the BECs of supporting the communists
and told them to surrender. They also tried to form vigilante and para-military
groups in every barangay. They organized weekend seminars under
which they claimed as part of the National Reconciliation and Development
Program (NRDP). The people were forced to attend these seminars. At the
end the seminars they were required to pledge their allegiance to the Republic
of the Philippines. At the final ceremony, with the attendance of top government
and military officials, the people were referred to as surrenderees. The
media were given impression that they were NPA supporters and that they
In the Sunday liturgies, we denounced the military
operations, the false encounters and false surrenders. The BECs organized
fact-finding teams to monitor, document and report military abuses and
human rights violations. With the support of Bishop Gaudencio Rosales,
the BEC leaders held a series of dialogue with the top military commanders
in the area. The BEC leaders complained to them that all the reports about
the encounters and mass surrenders were false. They also asked the military
officers not to force them to organize the paramilitary/vigilante groups
in their areas. Consequently, the militarization of San Fernando was stopped.
On August 1, 1988, the first anniversary of the
brutal dispersal of the barricade was celebrated in the same place where
it happened. A drama depicting the experience of the people was presented
during the liturgy. The songs that were sung during the time of the barricade
were once again sung. The liturgical celebration kept alive the people's
memory of God's liberating presence in their midst. It also challenged
them to continue their struggle.
In September, preparation for the celebration
of the parish fiesta was under way. This was the occasion for fostering
a sense of parish-consciousness and solidarity among the various BECs.
The novena-liturgies were sponsored and prepared by the BEC groupings in
the town and the BEC zones. The BECs from the periphery came down to celebrate
the parish fiesta. As part of preparation for the fiesta liturgy, the BEC
leaders had a workshop where they composed the creed based on their own
understanding and praxis of the faith. The creed of San Fernando was first
recited during the fiesta liturgy. During the liturgy, a liturgical drama
was presented by the young people who had earlier undergone a creative
After the evaluation of the fiesta activities,
there was a growing awareness of the need to continue the ecology campaign.
This became urgent when logging operations were detected in the mountains
near the boundary of San Fernando. The people became aware that it was
not enough to stop the logging operations within the municipality since
the loggers could continue near the area but outside its boundary. They
decided to struggle for a total log ban in the whole province of Bukidnon.
The Pagbugtaw sa Kamatuoran (PSK) and BEC leaders met the leaders
the nearby parishes in the diocese to ask for their support. Our team helped
mobilize the BECs in the areas where we were working. We also help plan
the logistical support and set up the various committees. On the last week
of November over 500 people from San Fernando travelled 50 kilometers to
the provincial capital in Malaybalay and started to picket the office of
the DENR. We were joined by others from the neighboring parishes. We set
up our tents around the office and celebrated the Eucharist every day.
After five days, I noticed that that the picket was not making any impact.
There was no report about it in the media and the government just ignored
us. The people were becoming bored. Our food supplies were dwindling. As
I roved around on my motorbike, I noticed the DENR checkpoint at the out-skirt
of Malaybalay . All the logging trucks from Bukidnon had to pass this check-point
on their way to Cagayan. At the back of the checkpoint was a mini-forest
with a stream. So we called for a general assembly and I suggested to the
people that we move out from the DENR office and transfer to the DENR checkpoint
where we could set up human barricades. The initial reaction was fear.
Many thought that it was dangerous. They said it was difficult to stop
the logging trucks on the national highway. They might just run over us.
I told them that if we wanted to create an impact, there was no other way.
We had to be prepared to take risks. When they asked how we could stop
the trucks, I drew on the blackboard the step by step process. Motorbike
riders would be posted two kilometers from the checkpoint and as soon as
a logging truck approaches, they would speed towards the checkpoint and
warn the people of its coming. The people would immediate form a human
barricade. As the truck slows down, several people would draw near and
one would tell the driver that he could not proceed while others would
put stones before the tires so that the truck could not move anymore. Once
we were able to stop one logging truck, it would be easy to stop the others.
It looked easy and the people finally approved the plan.
The following day, we marched from the DENR office
to the DENR check-point. We were carrying placards and streamers. When
the DENR guards saw us approaching, they ran and abandoned the check-point.
So we took over, set-up our tents at the back of the check-point and formed
a human barricade. We let the buses, cars and other vehicles pass except
the logging trucks. Thus, many logging trucks were stranded. On the first
night, a truckload of army soldiers arrived. I approached their officer
who was a second lieutenant and introduced myself. He told me not to worry.
They were not there to disperse us but to provide security. He told me
to make sure that we remain peaceful and not do anything that will provoke
a violent response from them.
The barricade was general peaceful except for
one incident when a drunk and angry driver drove his truck through the
barricade. The people avoided the speeding truck but the truck almost turned
turtle when his tires were punctured. Somebody placed large s-shaped nails
at the back of the human barricade. After that there was no more attempt
to drive through the barricade again. We also quietly warned the people
not to place those dangerous nails on the road.
During the whole campaign, different committees
functioned: negotiating panel, logistics and food committee, security,
mass media and communications, and the liturgy committee. The liturgies
celebrated in the barricade kept up the morale of the people and helped
them view their struggle from a faith-perspective. There was great support
from the people of Malaybalay. Many students from the local college came
and joined us. The sisters of the nearby convent came and even slept in
the barricade. Bishop Rosales continued to support us and reminded us to
remain peaceful. We did not have any problem with food because the local
people gave us sacks of rice and canned goods. There were radio and newspaper
reporters and journalists who covered the event . One of them was Carol
Arguillas – a friend of Karl Gaspar – who was sent by the Manila Chronicle.
She was with us for a week.
It was obvious that taking over the DENR checkpoint
and setting up the barricade had created an impact. At first we received
word that the government wanted to us send four representative to Manila
for a dialogue with the DENR officials. When we asked the people about
this, their response was: let the government negotiators come to the barricade.
Secretary Fulgencion Factoran of the DENR finally sent a message that he
was going to Bukidnon to hold a dialogue with the people. The dialogue
was set for December 28. We all jumped for joy. So after 10 days of mass
action, we turned over the checkpoint to the DENR and lifted the barricade.
We went back to San Fernando, bringing seven sacks of rice and so many
canned goods that were not consumed.
On December 28, over a thousand people from San
Fernando met the Secretary of DENR, Fulgencio Factoran, who came by helicopter.
We had prepared the negotiating panel before hand by doing some role play
where I acted as Factoran. When the time came for the dialogue, it went
very smoothly. Secretary Factoran granted these demands: total log ban
in the province of Bukidnon, cancellation of the timber licensing agreement
of the logging companies operating in the province, deputization of all
priests and some lay leaders by the DENR to stop any illegal logging activity,
and the participation of the people in the reforestation program. There
were tears in the eyes of the people as they listened to Factoran. They
were overwhelmed with joy. After two years of struggle to defend the forest
and the environment, they tasted victory. When they went home to San Fernando,
they thanked God by celebrating the Eucharist and partaking of a festive
I was not able to go back to San Fernando anymore
after the New Year. My sabbatical had started and I was preparing to leave
for Berkeley. After the Christmas break, the members of the Redemptorist
mission team went back to San Fernando. They spent the remaining three
months of the mission in consolidating the structures in the BECs, the
zones and parish levels. This was also the time for the communal celebration
of the sacrament of marriage for couples in the BECs that had been living
together without the benefit of the sacrament. Other sacraments like baptism
and confirmation were also prepared and celebrated at the BEC level. The
celebration of the sacrament of confirmation at the BEC level gave the
bishop the opportunity to visit the BECs.
The liturgies during Lent and Holy Week were prepared
by the people themselves with minimum supervision from the mission team.
The team wanted to find out how well the people and their leaders could
stand on their own. The Holy Week activities started at the BEC level and
progressed towards the zone level and finally, at the parish level. The
Holy Thursday liturgy was celebrated in each BEC. On Good Friday, the members
of the BECs began their procession from their respective barrios carrying
their crosses, banners, images and statues of their patron saints. This
event was called the Pagpanaw, Pagtukaw Paingon sa Pagkabanhaw (The
journey and vigil towards the Resurrection). The processions started from
the different parts of the parish. Some walked as far as 30 kilometers,
coming down from the mountains and crossing rivers. BECs merged with other
BECs in their zones. The zones merged with other zones. Everyone was moving
toward the parish center. By Saturday afternoon, all the BECs had converged
in the town of San Fernando. It was the biggest gathering in the history
of the town and the parish. Tents were set up in the town plaza for each
BEC and zone. The people stayed up the whole night, praying, singing and
sharing their reflections. At midnight, the liturgy for the vigil of the
resurrection was celebrated with the Bishop Rosales as the main celebrant.
The liturgy also served as the culminating activity of the mission conducted
by the Mission Team. On Easter Sunday, the mission of the RMT officially
ended. The team said goodbye to the people. It was time to move on to other
parishes. The BECs, the lay leaders and the parish priest and his staff
went on. The lay missionaries of the PLMP (Philippine Lay Missionary Program)
stayed on for a couple of years to do some follow up work.
There are many lessons that can be learned from
our experience in San Fernando. But I would like to focus on the role of
liturgy in the formation of BECs and in their struggle to transform their
situation. The role of the liturgy can be viewed in terms of its relationship
with koinonia, kerygma, and diakonia.
One of the specific objectives of the mission
was to foster a sense of fellowship and solidarity within the BECs and
among the BECs in the parish of San Fernando. The active participation
of the people in the preparation, celebration and evaluation of their liturgies
helped foster a bond of unity and solidarity. This bonding process operated
in different levels: the subgroupings in each BEC, the BECs, the zones
and the parish level. The dynamics of liturgy preparation and celebration
provided the opportunity for people to meet regularly, to interact with
each other and to get to know each other more deeply. The liturgies were
celebrated by people who knew one another, shared the same plight, hopes
and struggles. Thus, the liturgy is a locus of encounter and communion
with God and with each other. This is especially true when the liturgy
is participative and inclusive. Thus, liturgy intimately linked with koinonia
and builds up koinonia – the sense of unity and belongingness in
the community. It is the liturgy that calls the community to assemble together
and celebrate as a fellowship of believers and disciples of Christ.
The liturgy is also the locus for conscientization
and evangelization -- of kerygma. It is within the liturgy that
the liberating Word is proclaimed. Catechesis also takes place when the
liturgy helps deepen the community's understanding of its faith. It is
within the liturgy that the community does theology as it tries to correlate
the Word and their life-situation. Thus, the BEC is fully an evangelized
and evangelizing community in the liturgy. The liturgy becomes prophetic
when it not only announces the Good News but also denounces what is contrary
to God's will and the values of the Gospel. The liturgy can unmask the
idols of society. Thus, the liturgy can have a subversive and conscienticizing
character when it awakens the people to the reality of sin and oppression
and the need for liberating praxis. Symbolically speaking, the liturgy
can help the deaf hear, the blind see, and the dumb speak. It can break
the culture of silence and apathy as people become more participative and
recognize it as truly their celebration.
Liturgy can lead to praxis, flow from praxis and
takes place within a liberating praxis -- diakonia. This becomes
true when the concerns and issues that affect the BECs are brought into
the liturgy. Liturgy becomes rooted in the experience, situation and struggle
of the people. Liturgy becomes the reminder and celebration of God's liberating
presence in the history and struggle of the BECs. In the context of their
struggle, the liturgy can be the source of empowerment, courage and hope.
Thus, the liturgical approach to building BECs can have a liberating consequence.