Monday, November 24, 2008

Pwede pala pinoy

RECENTLY two of our volunteers visited a computer school. They were there to talk before five classes about an initiative popularizing heroic Christian citizenship and leadership. Each class averaged 12 to 15 students in their late teens until early 20s.

The team started with the question: “Is there still hope in the country today?” The results were an eye opener. On the average, about a third of the class would not raise their hands either way. Usually only two would be in the affirmative while the rest said “no.” Although the survey laid no claim to being scientific, the results were nevertheless disturbing. They were, after all, young people who are supposed to be brimming with hope. Nor was this the first time we had encountered such phenomenon. Why is this so?

Even more recently, the same two volunteers asked the same question before a different group of around 30 young men of the same age range as the aforementioned group. All but two of them confidently raised their hands when asked if there is still hope in the country. They were college seminarians. Why is this so?

There is an unfolding drama in our country today. It has five acts: Ganito na lang ba tayo? Tama na, sobra na! Kaya natin to! Pwede pala! Masarap pala ang magpakabait at sumama sa mga nagpapakabait.

The first two acts could lead to a quite kind of quiet desperation perhaps manifested by the computer students, who, for whatever reason, may feel they are facing a blank wall and may feel that only by working abroad would they experience hope. The seminarians, somehow, felt hopeful. Is this because of their regular exposure to the transcendent dimensions of life? One would like to think so.

Hope is key to a meaningful human existence. Without it, people cannot do anything substantial and sustained. Remove hope and the present has no meaning, the future cannot be planned. Despair paralyzes. A person in despair does not feel any space for meaningful and productive action. He or she is hemmed in from all sides. There is no breathing space, just a pressing void.
How do we ignite hope? For the Christian, “All serious and upright human conduct is hope in action” (Spe Salvi 35). This explains why all 25 hands of women from a nearby barangay shot up when asked if there is still hope in the country. They were involved in a program called Kuwarta sa Basura and impelled by their faith to work together with others to improve their lot. Solidarity, i.e. a “firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good, i.e., to the good of all and each individual because we are really responsible for all” (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis 38), manifests and contributes to hope. “The problems of modern society are too complex and interdependent. They have to be approached through the moral and social virtue of solidarity” (CFC 1194).

But our little hopes need to be united to the great hope. As Benedict XVI puts it: “We need the greater and lesser hopes that keep us going day by day. But these are not enough without the great hope, which must surpass everything else. This great hope can only be God, who encompasses the whole of reality and who can bestow upon us what we, by ourselves, cannot attain” (Spe Salvi 31). Individuals who have connected their little hopes to the God of hope can be living examples that ignite hope in others.

Thomas Friedman, author of the well-known book, The World is Flat, writes about the power of example: “One good example is worth a thousand theories.” Moral theologians have recognized the power of good as well as bad examples. “The bad example may bring about an obscuration of values and norms,” as Piet Schoonenberg wrote. It is not far-fetched to surmise that bad examples of leaders, elders who are supposed to lead by example, contribute to the damping of hope of the aforementioned young people.

The Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30) is about the risk God takes when He endows human beings with gifts and resources. Those who multiply the gifts by “investing” these in faith are given even more responsibilities and share in God’s intimacy. There is no guarantee, however, that it will always turn out this way. Fear, sloth, and rationalization can lead to unfruitfulness and uninspiring lives. Yet for those who respond positively, their work benefits others, as shown by the succeeding passage in Matthew 25:31-46 (Last Judgment). Such individuals who respond with courage, compassion, and creativity become living examples of hope who ignite hope in others.

There are many sparks of hope in our country today. They are people who, impelled by their Christian faith and their love for country, have crossed borders to work with others for the common good. Their stories need to be told, heard, and retold to as many people as possible. They pass with flying colors the questions Romano Guardini raised in Power and Responsibility: “Does their sense of responsibility affect their public as well as their private lives? Do our rulers (leaders) impress us as a people who know what their duties ultimately involve and who tackle them accordingly? Is every public servant’s measure of power counterbalanced by strength of character, adequate understanding of human existence, and a fitting moral attitude? Has an ethic of power evolved from a real coming to grips with the phenomenon of power?”

One is a simple and honest Protestant PNP colonel who, as a young captain, had worked closely with a barangay captain, a Catholic woman in her late 60s, and their collaboration bore much fruit for the common good. There is also a retired university professor who doggedly promotes scientific methods and a marketing perspective among farmers to improve their lot—and data show the program is succeeding. Another is a middle-class family that has made a difference in the lives of the students of a public elementary school. Still others are elected officials who show that moral and effective leadership is still possible. Talagang masarap pala ang magpakabait! Pwede Pala! Pwede Diay!

On Saturday 29 November 2008, Dilaab will feature these and several other Christian witnesses in Pwede Pala Pinoy at the Sacred Heart School—Jesuits in Cebu City. The event is a story-telling festival, highlighting 4 story themes in a creative and youth-friendly manner. The stories will be told to a large crowd of more than a thousand, with several participants coming outside of Cebu. If there are gatherings featuring certain aspects of the Church’s life, e.g. the Bible, liturgy, etc, why not something on faith-impelled social transformation?
Yes, there is hope!

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Monday, November 10, 2008

God Smiles

It was a MOA signing that was not supposed to happen.

“Sir,” the voice on the other line said to me, “the Chief PNP asks that the MOA signing with Cardinal Vidal be postponed to another time.” I could not believe my ears. The planned signing was long in the making. I knew that a postponement might as well be a cancellation.
Since 2004, I have been a witness to something very beautiful and unexpected that was emerging from a government agency that, sadly, many people associate with corruption. The so-called kotong cop is synonymous with the image of using one’s public position for private gain. But such image is not just the bane of the lowly cop on the beat; even retired generals have made a scene in international airports. Yet, against all odds, a quiet transformation was and is happening.

Four years ago, I was in a quandary with my involvement with advocacy groups promoting faith-impelled social transformation. I did not know whom to trust in the PNP and this was stifling our efforts at networking and collaboration. A break came that year when I was introduced to then Col. Samson Tucay.

The latter was involved with the anti-illegal drugs campaign and we were able to organize a National Consultation on Narcopolitics or the use of profits from illegal drugs to influence and corrupt the pillars of justice. (The staggering profits from illegal drugs can influence elections, but this is another story). Sam’s relatively small stature belies a depth of spirit and commitment that travels the rough but life-giving road of conversion and transformation that can only come from experiencing God’s personal love.

Within the span of a few months, Col. Tucay was promoted general and, by then, had introduced me to members of the CORPS Movement, i.e. Christian Officers Reform the Police Service Movement, composed of both Protestants and Catholics. The glue holding them together is personal knowledge of God’s transforming love. Holding no IDs and rejecting violence and extra constitutional means as a way of changing society, their members begin with self and faith.
I learn much from the CORPS and have become a better priest because of my friendship with them. Let me share two of their initiatives. The first is their mechanism for accountability partners. These are cell groups providing psycho-spiritual and other mutual support in the journey towards integrity. They consider praying a very manly thing to do and encourage or correct one another. “Sir, I am talking with a beautiful woman. Help please,” a married officer once texted his accountability partner. “Do not ask for her cell phone number,” came the reply.
The second was the Values and Leadership School (VLS), a 30-day live-in training for PNP personnel that began September 10, 2004 and ended in 2007. More than 3000 policemen and women went through the training that was characterized by Spartan conditions, leadership by example, involvement by many volunteer groups, very little financial support from government, and a fresh approach of spirituality. No cursing or physical contact was allowed. Whatever the trainees ate, the trainers shared; if trainees woke up at 4 am, the trainers were up earlier. Common prayers were said first thing in the morning and last thing in the evening. Prayers were said before meals.

CORPS members and other PNP volunteers provided the actual training staff while other volunteers mainly from faith-based organizations coming in to provide lectures and testimonies. Changed lives, not to mention reduced waistlines from the daily physical regimen, made the VLS worthwhile and truly inspiring. “I will not shoot him anymore. I will just pray for him,” wrote one graduate. In the words of one officer: “VLS opened the gates for understanding and compassion to cascade to all our brethren in the police who have long been wanting to go back to the Lord.” Yes, indeed, if all that the police receive are curses, how can they be a blessing to others?
Meanwhile, Gen. Tucay took over the helm of the Police National Training Institute (PNTI) making him responsible for at least 4 to 6 thousand trainees at any given time. There he also introduced faith-impelled transformation initiatives including morning and evening devotions. “Daily group prayer was good for us. My companions and I really look forward to praying in the morning now, although I did not expect to be exposed to it in a training facility,” confessed one newly inducted policewoman.

The significance of what these men and women in uniform are doing go beyond the confines of the police force. The latter is certainly the most visible government agency in our daily lives charged to maintain peace and order, public safety and internal security. If the PNP can be transformed from within, other agencies and sectors can be transformed. Perhaps this work of transformation coincides with what some bishops have recently said: “The time to start radical reforms is now. The time for moral regeneration is now. The time to conquer complacency, cynicism and apathy and to prove that we have matured from our political disappointments is now. The time to prepare for a new government is now.”

Time was ticking. Someone else from the office of Gen. Verzosa called me. “Fr. Melo, it is a go.” My spirit perked up. “But someone from your office said it would be postponed,” I countered. “He is going there right now,” was the calm reply. We were setting the signing 30 minutes earlier. Meanwhile, the official MOA was in the hands of someone who had been given wrong information regarding the venue. Etc…
To shorten a long story, a MOA was signed last 30 November 2008 between the PNP, the Archdiocese of Cebu, and Dilaab Foundation Inc. It features a 7-day version of the VLS to be piloted in Cebu and a follow-up program bringing together Pulis/Pari, Precinto/Parokya through the instrumentality of lectio divina. Dilaab will work with partner local churches to sustain the fruits of integral transformation.

Yes, God indeed smiles.
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