Sunday, September 30, 2007

Biking for Life with Cancer Warriors

Yesterday, I biked for 140 km in fog and rain across the mountains of Bukidnon to meet the "Cancer Warriors" who have been "Biking for Life" for the last two weeks. They left Manila last September 16 and they were now in Quezon, Bukidnon. The group composed of 9 riders is headed by James Auste, a cancer survivor. Among those in the group is Eric Reyes who has been afflicted by 3 kinds of cancer and who continues to survive with the inspiration of his girlfriend. There are also three fathers of children with cancer who in the group. In every city or town where they stayed for the night, they conducted a "Cancer Forum."

So today I accompanied them on the last leg of the journey to Davao. Before we started biking, they asked me to lead the prayer. So we pedaled along the scenic Bukidnon-Davao highway. The last 80 kilometers was mostly downhill. Fifty kilometers away from the city, we were met by over a hundred bikers from Davao. After eight hours of biking we reached the Davao Medical Center where we had late lunch followed by a "Cancer Forum".

I am looking forward to my own Bike-Tour for Life and Peace around the Philippines this summer - from March 24 to May 11, 2008. I plan to cover it in 49 days. I am already excited just thinking about it. It will be the ride of my life - biking for a cause, seeing most of the country, adventure, and setting a record (over 4,000 km on a bike around the Philippines). I will be biking alone most of the time without any support vehicle , but I will invite local cyclists to bike along with me for a few hours. In every parish where I will stay for the night, I will be preaching the Gospel of Life and Peace and I will invite the leaders of the Basic Ecclesial Communities and the Lay Organizations & Movements to attend the mass so that I can remind them of their responsibility to promote life and work for peace.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

A Culture of Corruption and Death

The TV and newspapers these past few days have been reporting on the investigation being conducted by the Senate on the NBN deal. So many people are implicated in this anomalous scandal - the COMELEC commissioner Abalos, DOTC head Leandro Mendoza, the husband of the president (Mike Arroyo). I won't be suprised if Madame President Macapagal Arroyo will ultimately be implicated. In his testimony Neri revealed that Abalos tried to bribe him and he reported to the president who told him not to accept the bribe. And yet she still went to China to sign the agreement. It is no wonder that in the latest report, the Philippines is one of the most corrupt countries in the world.

Besides the corruption scandal, the media continue to report the case of Jonas Burgos - who has been reported missing and could be dead by now. The military is the primary suspect. This is just one of the cases of disaparacido and summary killings that are carried out with impunity.

Here in the Philippines, corruption and violence perpetrated by those in power have become part of our culture - it is way of life. This was our complaint agains the Marcos dictatorial regime. This continues under the Macapagal-Arroyo presidency.

The president is a hypocrite. She appears to be a pious lady who claims that her position is God's will. Yet so much corruption and death have characterized her administration. She is no better than Marcos and Joseph Estrada. Someday, she will share the same fate.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Court Upholds Aerial Spray Ban in Banana Plantations!

The local and national papers today reported that the Judge Renato Fuentes of the Regional Trial Court ruled that the city ordinance banning against aerial spraying in the banana plantation is constitutional. The Philippine Banana Growers and Exporters Association (PGBEA)had filed a case to stop the implementation of the city ordinance. This a victory for the people of Davao, a victory for the Movement Against Aerial Spraying and for the environmental groups.

When I met Judge Fuentes after mass yesterday, I shook his hand and he had a big smile. He said, "I'm sure that you are very happy with my decision." The judge is dear friend and he knows about my community's stand on this issue. A few months ago, when the hearing started, he was surprised to see me in court together with the environmental group. When we met in church after that he asked me what I was doing in the courthouse. I told him that I had attended an inter-faith prayer service in support of the aerial spray ban and afterwards went inside the courthouse to observe the hearing. Last month, we had a special petition in all the masses on a Sunday praying that the aerial spray ban would be upheld to protect the health of the people and the environment.

My friends in the environmental group a few months ago were worried that Judge Fuentes might rule in favor of the Banana Plantation owners because he granted them a three-month temporary restraining order that prevented the immediate implementation of the city ordinance. They wanted me to exert my influence on the judge. But I told them that I wouldn't do that. The Judge already knew my stand but he had to make a ruling on the basis of the evidence and testimony in court. And yesterday, while talking with the Judge, he told me that he found the testimony of the victims of aerial spraying and the experts supporting the ban very convincing. As we parted, he told me:"you were also a light."

God bless Judge Fuentes. An upright judge who could not be swayed by the powerful Banana Plantation owners. He is devout layman, who gives communion on Sundays and even on weekdays. He is also a member of the Knights of Columbus.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Working with young people in Forming Basic Ecclesial Communities (BECs)

One of the pleasant experiences in my ministry is working with young people. There is a group of young people in the parish that call themselves as the DRYM team (Davao Redemptorist Youth Mission Team). This group is full of missionary zeal. They are involved in evangelizing the youth in the parish and in forming youth groups within the BECs. I have given them recollection and seminars over the years. This month I started training them, together with our seminarians to conduct youth fellowship seminars in each BEC. I accompanied them last night and the whole day today in conducting the youth fellowship in the BEC of San Vicente. Over 50 young people turned up. The theme of this event is : "Growing up Together as Persons and as Christians." The seminarians and the DRYM team took turns in the facilitation and the giving of inputs or lectures. The previous seminars, it was I who was giving the input, this time they were the ones doing it and my role was simply to observe and later give suggestions how they can improve their presentation.
This is the format of the seminar:

Sept. 22
8:00 pm - Opening Liturgy: Taize prayer
8:30 - First Session: "Growing up together as Persons"
Individual reflection/meditation (guide question: what are the changes that I have noticed in me over the years, what are my joys and sorrows, what are the problems that I have encountered?)
Small group sharing (5 each group)
Plenary session (1 person from each group give a synthesis of the responses)
Penitential Service
(we finished by 11 pm)

Sept. 23
9:00 am - Morning prayer
9:15 - Second Session: "Growing up together as Christians"
Drama preparation (3 groups, each group is given a story line on a dimension of Christian life)
Drama presentation
12:00 lunch-break
1:00 pm Third Session: Planning (what they can do to strengthen their fellowship within the BEC and how they can actively participate in the BEC activities)
3:00 pm - Closing Eucharist

I am happy with the outcome of this seminar. I am confident that the DRYM team can continue giving this fellowship seminar in 31 other BECs in the parish.
What we are promoting through this Youth Fellowship is that young people learn to develop bond of friendship among themselves at both local community (BEC) level and also at the parish level. This is alternative to the gangs that are sprouting in these communities.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

The Davao Death Squad (DDS) Strikes Again

After mass this morning, I went mountain-biking for seven hours. Upon reaching Lomondao - a village up in the mountain along the highway towards Bukidnon - I saw many people gathering in the basketball court. They were watching the body of a teen-ager who had just been shot. A woman asked me if I met five men on a couple of motorbikes as I was ascending toward their village. I told her that I saw them. She said they were most likely the death squad that shot the fellow. She told me the victim was a drug addict who had been accused of stealing cell phones. She commented that the mayor had already warned the addicts and thieves in his TV program that he will go after them even in broad day light. She finally said that the victim deserved to die because he was a thief and an addict.

It saddens me to realize that a lot of ordinary people applaud what the DDS is doing. They think that the DDS are doing a service to the community by eliminating these juvenile delinquents and petty criminals.

And to think that this morning this is what I talked about in my homily on the prodigal son (Lk 15:1-36). How do we deal with those who have gone astray and who have sinned - with juvenile delinquents, addicts, and young people in trouble with the law? Apparently, many people - including government officials - think that they should be punished. That is why the DDS have been let loosed to go after them and eliminate them. Many also think that God is like some of these government officials. But the God that Jesus proclaimed is a God who seeks the lost, who gives them a chance to change, and who forgives them.

This systematic elimination young people who have gone astray is not the solution to this social problem. Most often, it is young people from the lower class who are the targets. There are criminals who occupy high positions in government, who have stolen millions of public funds and they are scot free.

Everyone has a right to life and they do not lose this right even when they sin or commit wrong-doing. Even criminals who have been judged guilty in the judicial process retain their right to life. That is why capital punishment has been abolished. Yet there are people in high places who think they are above the law and they act as judge and executioners. They are the real criminals.

And to think that we are no longer living under martial law and the dictator is long dead. This is is a mockery of democracy.

Here's a report of the ITN about the killings in Davao that you can watch on YouTube.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

The Long Dark Night of Mother Teresa of Calcutta

As we mark the death anniversary of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, many people are surprised and disturbed to learn about the new revelations about her - how she was tormented by a feeling of God's absence and even doubts about God's existence.

It seemed that after a mystical experience of Jesus that led her to devote her life in the service of the poor, she went through a very long dark night of the soul - which lasted for over 50 years! Even as she became known world-wide and was hailed as a living saint, deep within she was suffering from this darkness. Everyone presumed that she felt close to God, that is why she was able to carry out her great work of charity. All along, it was God's absence that dominated her life.

Although I am surprised, I am not disturbed by this revelation. In fact I feel relieved. I can understand what Mother Teresa has gone through because I too have gone through a very long dark night. It is embarassing to admit that I, a priest and a theologian, have also gone through a very long dark night. I know how it feels to pray wondering if there is really Someone out there who hears my prayer - or am I just whispering to the wind. It is God's absence rather that his presence that I feel most of the time. The last time that I really felt intensely God's presence was during the EDSA people power event that toppled the dictator Marcos. A few months before that, I had been grieving over my mother's death which led to a crisis of faith and vocation. The peak experience was momentary. After that, I continued to feel God's absence even if I no longer doubted His existence. I am convinced that my faith does not depend on my subjective feeling about God's absence or presence. I believe - even if I do not feel God's presence. I consider the few moments when I felt intensely God's presence as a gift. I only wish that God would give me more of this experience. Meanwhile, I continue serving the invisible and seemingly absent God in the neighbor that I see.

At least, Blessed Mother Teresa and I have something in common. She would be a great patron saint for the many of us who are struggling with our faith. In the long dark night, her life will reflect the light of Christ.


"like a deer that yearns for running water,
my soul longs for you" (Ps 42)

Day and night I yearn for you,
with all my heart,
with all my soul,
with all my mind
and with every cell of my body.

O, how I long to see your face,
to hear your voice,
and to touch you.

Oh God! it's crazy
yearning to be close to someone
hidden and distant.

How can I possibly love
and be loved by someone
I cannot see nor touch?

O, how I long for that day
when we will come face to face
and see the beauty behind the veil
and we will be fully one.

It will be eternity.