St. Peter’s Church in the diocese of Novaliches, Quezon City, is a national landmark of sorts. Not only does it have the most number of masses during weekends (30+ on a Sunday with around 18 of these in the church building itself), it boldly stands on the same stretch of road that is shared by a religious cult noted for not respecting the consciences of its members. It is also close to government offices of national importance.
The church grounds are also a favorite staging point for political rallies.
Recently, it has become the scene of the sowing of seeds for the evangelization of politics. Last year, it became part of the emerging CiDE network. Not only did some of its staff and volunteers – led by parish priest, Fr. Tony Labiao – attend the national consultation in Cebu, the parish also organized a seminar and an orientation on CiDE for the dioceses of Novaliches and Cubao; the latter ably coordinated by Mr. Johnny Cardenas.
They had actually formed 3 teams to spread CiDE as a result of the 22-23 July seminar but nature intervened with the devastation brought about by typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng. The parish was in the forefront of disaster relief.
Things began to pick up again with a CiDE national gathering last 2-3 February followed up by a trainors’ training for pastoral workers of St. Peter’s parish and other parishes from different dioceses. To facilitate coordination for the work of CiDE, participants agreed to cross church boundaries and use political boundaries so the grassroots would be better served.
Then a discernment integrity recollection for candidates was organized last 19 March by the three dioceses in Quezon City: Novaliches, Cubao, and Caloocan. This was attended by about 70 candidates, including some very familiar faces. The recollection could not have occurred on a better date: the feast of St Joseph, truly a leader in the fullest sense of the word.
The formation of the practical conscience takes time and effort: “The Church proposes; she imposes nothing.”
At least, seeds are being sowed.
Many candidates hunger for discernment integrity recollections. In one diocese where this was organized, a priest-organizer jokingly remarked that the recollection made some candidate angry towards the local ordinary. “Why is this organized only now? We should have had this before we submitted our certificates of candidacy,” one participant was quoted as saying.
So far, feedback from participants has been overwhelmingly positive in the nine dioceses where the recollections have so far been given. There is hunger for a spiritual space for sifting through one’s thoughts and to make room for God. This rings true since such recollections do not allow entry by the media and there are no endorsements.
What is critical to the conduct and sustainability of the recollections and its key result area of creating a spiritual space for listening is the presence of pastoral companions who offer different services.
What has emerged is quite interesting. In one diocese, most of the companions were lay people who are active in the parish. In another, two bishops were visible at various times during the recollection. In another, priests played this role.
Only God really knows where this is headed. He takes the lead, and we follow. Yet, he has already shown the way. In the writer of the letter to the Ephesians reflects: “For he is the peace between us, and has the two into one entity and broken down the barrier which used to keep them apart…” (2: 14).
Exchanging places leads to healing.
Forty candidates from the local to the provincial levels attended a candidates’ recollection in the diocese of Maasin last 4 March. The spiritual space for listening had been organized by Barug Maasin (an anti-corruption group) and the social-action office.
The event was held at the St. Joseph school.
One incident stands out. The mayor of the town of St. Bernard (i.e. the horrific landslide killing many students and their teachers) stood up and made the following impassioned plea:
I believe that, if all priests do the same then we'll have more conscientious voters. My request is for priests all over the country to get involved in 'NO VOTE BUYING, NO GUNS OR GOONS AND NO CHEATING' campaign. If possible, they should guide the faithful on the good qualities of the candidates to elect and the bad qualities of the candidates to reject, short of naming names. I can see the influence of the priests upon the people, more than the influence mayors exert upon them. As candidates we will try our best to break and change the distorted political culture, but there is synergy if we do it together.
He told me later that his request was inspired by the story of another priest, Fr. Ver of Cebu.
Here was an impassioned plea from an elected public servant who recognizes the critical role the Church plays in the journey towards social transformation. This is a sign of the times, a plea for pastoral accompaniment. After all, when one journeys with another, it is not from a distance but up close and personal.
How shall we respond to this call?