THE HISTORICAL DEVELOPMENT OF
BASIC ECCLESIAL COMMUNITIES
IN THE PHILIPPINES and
THE DIOCESE OF SAN JOSE, NUEVA ECIJA
On the occasion of the celebration of the 8th Mindanao-Sulu Pastoral Conference , Wilfredo Manlapaz, bishop of the Diocese of Tagum recalled in his speech the humble beginning and development of the Basic Ecclesial Communities which they called locally as Gagmay’ng Kristohanong Katilingban (GKK) . According to him, a certain layman from Silay City, Negros Occidental whose name is Antonio Gaston founded a movement called Barangay sang Birhen which was considered to be the prototype of the Basic Ecclesial Communities. In 1953, the Barangay Congress was held in Cotabato which was attended by a missionary priest Fr. Andre Pegeon who made the initiative to bring the movement in Davao. It started first in the parish and then later it stretched down to the barrios.
Another important contributor to the building and development of BECs was the emergence of the Cursillos de Cristiandad . According to Manlapaz, it provided a systematic presentation of the teachings of the church which helped people to deeply understand the faith and thus made them aware of their vocation and mission as lay faithful. This awareness of the faithful moved them to get more involved in the life and mission of the Church. Other organizations like Legion of Mary and Catholic Women’s League contributed in the faith-formation of the people by means of doing house to house visitation and encouraging the people to receive the sacraments like Baptism, first Communion and matrimony for those who are not married in the Church.
There were also paid catechists who were assigned in giving Catechetical instructions to the indigenous minorities. For six months, the indigenous people listen to catechesis and after which those who would like to be baptized to the faith receives the sacraments of initiation.
Because of the shortage of priests and the vastness of parishes, barrios were visited only once a year during the celebration of fiestas which becomes also the only time to celebrate mass weddings and baptisms. According to the testimonies of Mila H. Vertudes, which was mentioned by Manlapaz in his speech, most of the time the priest is being assisted by the Parish Fiscal – the one in-charge of the records of those who availed the sacraments – together with a catechist, cantor and sacristan during fiestas in the barrios. Usually, the celebration of the fiesta was headed by the hermanos and hermanas who were elected by the people. They are responsible for the entire celebration of the fiesta including the task of communicating and arranging the celebration of Mass and the sacraments with their respective parish priest. The family living nearest to the chapel is called mananabtan and serves as the chapel’s caretaker throughout the year.
For Manlapaz there are four influences which served as the impetus of the beginning and development of BECs which was spearheaded by the Maryknoll Missionaries and the first Filipino priests of Tagum. First is the Second Vatican Council which was convoked by Pope John XXIII who called for aggiornamento which aims at updating and renewing the Church.
Moreover, as a participant of the said Council, the then bishop of the Diocese of Tagum, Bishop Regan decided to bring the conciliar ecclesiology into consciousness of the faithful both in the parish and the grassroots level. Another influence is the emergence of informal settlers called sakadas from Luzon and Visayas who migrated to Mindanao in order to work for a living. These sakadas later on settled as a clan close to each other and they brought with them their religious practices like the devotions to Sto. Nino, to the Blessed Mother and to the Nazareno. Conscious of their being strangers to the place, these sakadas strengthened their sense of community by means of building good relationships and strong dealing with the natives of Mindanao. This means that prior to the arrival of the Maryknoll Missionaries there are already existing communities who practice the faith and have deeper sense of communion. The fourth influence affecting the further growth and development of BECs is the development of Communidades Eclesiales de Base (CEB) in Latin America where the Maryknoll Missionaries became involved. These Missionaries who came in the Philippines spearheaded the formation of Basic Ecclesial Communities by means of developing the already existing faith communities both in the parish and barrio levels.
THE FIRST NATIONAL RURAL CONGRESS OF 1967
The Second Vatican Ecumenical Council became the catalysts resulting to the growth and development of Basic Ecclesial Communities. Aside from the liturgical reforms that were implemented by the Council, there were also the establishments of social action centers in different dioceses and parishes. One of the Philippine Church’s official steps to uphold the ideals of the Second Vatican Council was the celebration of the First National Rural Congress.
As early as 1967, there was already an attempt in the local church of the Philippines to uphold and implement what the Second Vatican Council has promulgated. This Congress was convened and was held in Cagayan de Oro on February 1967, two years after the closing of the Council. It was a turning point for the Philippine Church for it was in this Congress that the Philippine Church firmly decided “to go to the barrios.”
According to Bishop Francisco Claver, one of the practical and concrete actions of the Church in “going to the barrios” is to revisit the “Federation of Free Farmers.” The Church saw the potentialities of the FFF in implementing the call of the Congress to “go to the barrios.” Because of this, Jerry Montemayor, the founder of the FFF soon realized the importance of the Church in upholding his desire for social reform. Through the support of the Church, the organization began to grow more and more. Thus, it becomes powerful when it comes to influences and hence becomes a center of interest of the local government particularly in Mindanao. With this, the people appreciated the Church whose concern is not only for spiritual matters but also of temporal ones.
THE MEDELLIN CONFERENCE OF 1968
A year after the First National Rural Congress in the Philippines, Latin America through the Conferencia Episcopal Latino-Americana (CELAM) made their own way of receiving the Second Vatican Council’s ideals in a Conference at Medellin, Colombia in 1968. It was there that they agreed in a conference that the Church should take “preferential option for the poor” as one of their thrusts. They resolved to create Christian Base Communities by which they would be teaching the poor and the marginalized how to read by using the Sacred Scriptures. The goal of the bishops was to free the people from the institutionalized violence caused by immense poverty and injustice by means of education. They looked at the Gospel as the means of liberating the people from the bond of oppression and inform them that hunger and poverty can be prevented.
After looking at the concrete situations of misery due to systemic injustice-causing-poverty in Latin America, the bishops resolved to encourage and educate the conscience of the believers, to help them perceive their responsibilities in both personal and social dimensions of their faith. This, according to them, would be possible by “formation of national communities that will reflect a global organization, where all peoples especially the lower classes have, by means of territorial and functional structures, an active and receptive, creative and decisive participation in the construction of a new society.”
Prior to Medellin Conference, there were existing scattered groups already which are called Base Communities. However, it was in Medellin Conference that these communities were defined and received official recognition as a movement. According to William T. Cavanaugh, after the Medellin Conference, tens of thousands of Base Communities were formed all over Latin Americas. Despite the fact that Base Communities were identified with liberation theology, at Medellin, both the liberationist and conservatives agreed and provided their own stand regarding the significance of these communities. How the Document presented its understanding of these base communities is summarized in the following statements:
The Christian ought to find the living of the communion, to which he has been called, in his “base community,” that is to say, in a community, local or environmental… Consequently, the Church’s pastoral efforts must be oriented towards the transformation of these communities into a ‘family of God,’ beginning by making itself present among them as leaven by means of a nucleus, although it be small, which creates a community of faith, hope and charity. Thus, the Christian base community is the first and fundamental ecclesiastical nucleus, which on its own level must make itself responsible for the richness and expansion of the faith, as well as of the cult which is its expression. This community becomes then the initial cell of the ecclesiastical structures and the focus of evangelization, and it currently serves as the most important source of human advancement and development. The essential element for the existence of Christian base communities are their leaders and directors. These can be priests, deacons, men or women religious or laymen.
Medellin defined Base Communities as the first and fundamental ecclesiastical structure. Having this in mind, Medellin is thinking here in terms of the greater institutional church since Base Communities were considered to be part of the parish and are ways of revitalizing the parish life and the community.
For Thomas Bruneau, the formation of Base Communities is a strategy of the hierarchical church to regain the lower classes which had been lost in the confusion produced by urbanization. But for the liberationist theologians, Base Communities are organized groups of the oppressed being awakened to their confrontation with the oppressive forces. These communities reflect on the Word of God in the light of their concrete situation in life and act upon their faith.
However, as there are lights, there are also shadows for Medellin Conference for it was an interpretation of Vatican II in the light of the Latin American situation rather than simply an application. This conference went beyond Vatican II and broke new theological and ideological ground. Twin process took place in the preparation and during the actual conference itself – assimilation of Vatican II and Latinamericanization . In so doing, the method by which they employed in analyzing and defining the Church is one that is exploratory, deductive and bottom-up. After the Medellin conference, the Church is described as “the people of God and not the hierarchy of God” – with an allusion to an anti-hierarchy mentality and a commitment to a horizontal rather than a vertical Church was made by the bishops. The conference concluded with a new ideology for the Church in Latin America called Liberation Theology, expressed the rationale for new church communities such as charismatic groups and base communities, and fostered an unprecedented emergence of the laity.
Benedict XVI, who was then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, described the Church to be in crisis. He said that at the root of the crisis is the idea of Church. He said that even in some theologians, “The Church appears to be a human construction, an instrument created by us and one which we ourselves can freely reorganize according to the requirements of the moment.” He further explains that if the Church is viewed as mere human construct, the contents of the faith would become arbitrary. The Church according to him is not a party, neither an association nor a club. Her structure is not democratic but sacramental and consequently hierarchical. This hierarchy which is based on the apostolic succession is the indispensable condition of that reality called sacrament. The Church therefore is not of horizontal origin but is and will always be vertical; otherwise it ceases to be Church.
THE PROVENANCE OF BECs IN THE PHILIPPINES (1968-1976)
Although the Philippine Church has its own way of receiving the Second Vatican Council’s ideas through the First National Rural Congress’ call to “go to the barrios”, it is an undeniable fact that Latin America greatly influenced the development of Basic Ecclesial Communities in the Philippines. In his letter to Bishop Pedro Dean on October 27, 1980 Fr. Beato Tariman who was then the Regional Coordinator for Christian Formation and Lay Leadership of Mindanao-Sulu Pastoral Conference or MSPC mentioned the coming of Jose Marins and his team from Latin America for a series of seminars on Basic Christian Communities. Marins is a Brazilian priest and theologian who is a member of the CELAM and adviser of the Brazilian Conference of Bishops. He was also the resource speaker of the Medellin Conference in Colombia and the Puebla Conference in Mexico.
However, the earliest proof of the Latin American influences is the experimental beginning of BECs in the Philippines, which was spearheaded by the Maryknoll Missionaries. The first Maryknoll Missionaries who were assigned in Davao City had their immersions and exposures in the Base Communities of Latin America prior to their arrival in the Philippines. Fr. Michael Hiegel, one of the eight missionaries thought of applying in his mission area in Davao what he has experienced in the Latin America.
The Lupon Deanery Experiment
Fr. James Walsh and Fr. John Dowling were assigned in the parish of Mati, where they began the first attempt to build Base Communities. In their desire to strengthen the faith and empower the faithful made a strategy that a month before the celebration of barrio fiesta, they called people for an assembly. It was made a requirement for the people to attend a month-long series of faith formation in order for them to have a Mass in celebration of their fiesta. If the community cannot abide to this requirement, there will have no Mass and no celebration of sacraments like baptism during their fiesta celebration. During the assembly, election of officers is made.
What is unique in this election of officers is that, they will also choose among themselves men who will stand as the Prayer Leader. These Prayer Leaders will undergo education and formation in the parish which consists of three phases of seminars wherein each phase ran for three days. It is only after completing these formation programs will the Prayer Leaders be able to function to lead their respective community to prayer. These Prayer Leaders called the Kaabag serves as leaders in their Kasaulogan sa Pulong (KSP) or the Sunday Prayer Service.
Fr. Hiegel was greatly influenced by his exposures in the Communidades Eclesiales de Base of Latin Americas and the Conferencia Episcopal Latino-Americana (CELAM). He was impressed by his experience of CEB and was encouraged to apply it in Lupon Deanery. He believes that the CEB in Latin America is applicable here in the Philippines since there are similarities between Latin America and the Philippines as regards culture and traditions due to Spanish influences. In 1968, Fr. Heigel began building Basic Ecclesial Communities in Sigaboy. At that time it was purely experimental having no specific formula or method. What they did is just to continue what the PME handed down to them by continuing the Barangay sang Birhen devotion, conducted Cursillo and organized Barrio Chapel’s League.
Later on, inclusion of modules on Credit Unions, cooperatives, Federation of Free Farmers is added to the formation program of the people. This move impressed the people making them realized that the Church is not only concern about the spiritual life of the people but also of their temporal welfare. This became the initial model of Basic Ecclesial Communities or GKK for the whole Lupon Deanery and thus provides the Maryknoll Missionaries with a structure for the building of Gagmay’ng Kristohanong Katilingban or GKK.
The Nabunturan Deanery Experiment
Another attempt to organize and build Basic Ecclesial Communities happened in the Deanery of Nabunturan, which was initiated by two Filipino priests who were ordained in the year when the Second Vatican Council came to its conclusion in 1965. These Filipino priests, having the vision that in one way or another “all Christians must feel themselves as Church”, were also impressed by what the Maryknoll Missionaries did in Lupon Deanery particularly in the parish of Mati. However, what they did is a different style, though there was no agreement regarding a particular method or approach in building BECs. Nevertheless, what the Maryknoll Missionaries and these two inspired young priests followed in building BECs are the principles of dialogue, participation and co-responsibility set by the Second Vatican Council.
There were two different approaches how BEC was organized in the Deanery of Nabunturan. One of the priests approach is through education and formation prior to the setting of structures. With the help of his catechists, the priest called the people for an assembly in the chapel. Then as a team, they give talks on some of the teachings of the Vatican II. Afterwards is the election of chapel leaders and prayer leaders. Follow-up seminars on faith formation were conducted and later when they were found ready, he organized them into small Christian Communities.
Another priest used a different strategy in forming BECs. He began with setting first the structure before the faith formation and education. He first organized the Parish Pastoral Council in the poblacion with members coming from different sectors. But this strategy failed to work because most of the members were professionals and sectoral representatives and thus could not give much of their time to the demands of service. Because of this, what the priest together with his team did was to focus on the barrio level instead of the poblacion level. He obliged the people to select among themselves chapel leaders and prayer leaders and gathered them in the poblacion for a series of faith formation and education programs. Then the leaders who participated in the formation programs were given the responsibility to echo their learning to their respective communities. The priest however, in his visits to the chapel made a follow-up in order to deepen and further clarify what the leaders had shared to the people.
Census was later conducted in every chapel in order to identify its members. This was used by the presidents of BECs properly known in their place as GKKs to issue a certification of membership to facilitate the reception of the sacraments. In the long run, during one of the deanery meetings, the priests and all lay leaders present agreed to implement GKK building in the entire Nabunturan Deanery. Rapid spread of BECs happened as the priest under the Deanery did the same. The experience of building BECs was further strengthened by their regular meetings and sharing during the monthly Deanery meetings.
What the Deaneries of Lupon and Nabunturan started has inspired priests in other deaneries and parishes. The Deanery of Tagum began to join in the regular meeting of priests in Lupon Deanery and workers of Lupon Deanery were requested by other deaneries to share their experiences in the BEC experiment. The Panabo Deanery has started forming its BEC in early 70’s.
The interest to promote and organize BECs among the clergy grew which led the delegates of the Prelature Pastoral Planning Assembly (PPPA) in 1976 to go to BEC building throughout the whole Prelature. According to Manlapaz, another catalyst that strengthened the desire to organize BECs is the Mindanao-Sulu Pastoral Conference or MSPC which held BECs as the main concern.
THE FIRST MINDANAO-SULU PASTORAL CONFERENCE (1971)
As the Basic Ecclesial Communities began to flourish in various places in Mindanao, the bishops in various dioceses in the region came up with an effective means in order to strengthen these communities and that the ideas of the Council to be seeped in the consciousness of the people. The idea was materialized when the Mindanao-Sulu Pastoral Conference was conceived. According to Archbishop Jesus Dosado of Marbel, the notion of participation which was emphasized by the Second Vatican Council largely means lay participation and cooperation in the life and mission of the Church is the main agenda of MSPC, though, it remained an unfinished objective. Explaining the words of Bishop Francisco Claver during the MSPC-II, the Primer on MSPC XII stated the reason why the Church in Mindanao has the MSPC. It says,
MSPC is a pastoral forum that seeks the communion or unity of the local Churches in Mindanao. As a people of God journeying in faith towards the same God, the gathering strengthens the bonds of unity and cooperation among the local Churches as they face the challenging realities in their midst.
MSPC has no legislative power. Rather, it respects the autonomy of each local diocese. However, it provides a place where the Churches meet and learn from one another and support one another. The vision of MSPC is seen by the local Churches in Mindanao as a communion of Churches and a forum for sharing ideas, insights and experiences. The thrust of MSPC is the building and strengthening of Basic Christian Communities. For Bishop Dinualdo Gutierrez, the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines or PCP-II affirms the vision and thrust of MSPC, though PCP-II came late. PCPII envisions a renewed Church, a renewed integral Evangelization and a renewed Filipino nation. This according to him is the same vision of MSPC.
As he recounted the beginning of MSPC, Bishop Jesus Varela said that in 1969 Archbishop Luis Gonzaga was inspired by the All-India Pastoral Conference. He then thought of implementing the same experience in Mindanao which was positively and enthusiastically received by the Mindanao Bishops and began a series of meetings in preparation for the first conference.
Albeit 1970 is acknowledged as the year of its birth, the first MSPC was held in Davao City on November 17-21, 1971. The idea of MSPC was first conceived during the three-day pastoral seminar of Mindanao Bishops in April 1970 in Davao City making that year to be the birth of MSPC. It was attended by 198 delegates of whom 74 participants were coming from the lay faithful. It was in this conference that the bishops reflected that religious superiors, seminarians and lay faithful must be involved since it is a pastoral venture. After a survey prepared by the Mindanao Development Center was conducted regarding the situation of Mindanao-Sulu from 1960-1970, three position papers were presented by Catalino Arevalo, S.J. on community; Fr. Anscar Chupungco O.S.B. on worship and Atty. J. Montemayor on service. From the survey and the position papers which were made, a very important recommendation was raised expressing the need for Church to support and created training programs for lay leaders to foster effective co operation in the service of Christian community.
MSPC was then held every three years in various dioceses in Mindanao and Sulu and a permanent secretariat office was established in Davao City. However, members of the secretariat used to travel throughout Mindanao-Sulu for proper coordination.
THE PUEBLA CONFERENCE OF 1979
Eight years after the first Mindanao-Sulu Pastoral Conference in the Philippines, another influential event that contributed to the development in the understanding and formation of BECs is the third general conference of the Conferencia Episcopal Latino-Americano (CELAM) held in Puebla Mexico from January 25 to February 1, 1979. It was eleven years after the Medellin Conference in 1968. Originally, it was Pope Paul VI who summoned this conference on December 12, 1977 but it was not pursued due to the death of the Pontiff on August 6, 1978. John Paul I summoned it again in the beginning of 1979 but his sudden death caused another delay for this conference to be realized. On January 27, 1979 Pope John Paul II inaugurated this conference at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mexico. The conference was attended by 356 participants to reflect on the theme: “Evangelization in the present and the future of Latin America.”
In Latin America the conservative reorientation of the CELAM was strongly opposed by the progressive members of the clergy who defined the concept of preferential option for the poor. In his opening address for this Conference, John Paul II affirmed that “the fight against poverty finds a strong motivation in the option or preferential love of the Church for the poor.”
When Pope John Paul II was elected, the conservatives took control of both the Roman Curia and the CELAM. If Medellin was controlled largely by the group of experts, Puebla was a conference controlled by the bishops who were in contact with experts. Nevertheless, they are still in control running this conference.
This conference of bishops continued what they have discussed in Medellin regarding Communidades Ecclesiales de Base as the way of being Church in the Latin America. According to the document they have produced, BEC consists of any and all baptized persons of different groups especially the poor and simple. It clarified that BEC as a Church is a visible, efficient, sacramental mediator of communion with God and the rest of the society. As a community of faith BEC “searches for the ever-new face of Christ.” The Church could only be a sacrament of salvation if it is in communion with Jesus Christ who reveals the face of the Father. Communion with God is possible only in having communion with Christ and the Church. The document affirmed that “any human form of communion devoid of radical communion with God in Jesus Christ is incapable of sustaining itself and is fated to end up turning against humanity.”
Puebla made a reaffirmation on the direction set by Medellin or even went further. The bishops at Puebla became more committed to the Church and to the service of the poor and defending human rights. Even more evident after this conference was the major paradigm shift from hierarchical to a communal Church. The bishops also developed their ideas regarding the grassroots Christian communities called Communidades de base. This conference for the Latin American Church was the fulfillment of the promise made at Medellin.
THE PAINFUL STRUGGLES AND STRENGTHENING OF BECs
The growth of BECs in Mindanao became suspicious to the government during Marcos’ Dictatorship. The Church’s promotion of Social Justice and organization of Basic Ecclesial Communities became a threat to the government considering it to be subversive. The Church people particularly those who works in the Social Action were the first to suffer from the clutches of Martial Law. The dioceses and parishes who engage in social action and promotion of social justice together with the programs were brought to a halt. Later on the military misconstrued the meaning of GKK as Gagmay’ang Komunistang Katilingban or Basic Communist Community. Because of the growing suspicion and arrests of lay leaders, people felt the need to organize themselves for mutual help and assistance in these times of difficulties. However, despite the “climate of fear engendered by martial law” the Catholic Hierarchy did not remained silent about this crucial situation. In January 1977, the Catholic Bishops released a Joint Pastoral Letter addressed to the People of God which says,
It is unfortunate that in many cases, the evangelizing work of forming and strengthening Basic Christian Communities has been misunderstood and led to the arrests of priests, religious and lay workers and even deportation of foreign missionaries.
According to the bishops, Evangelization means proclamation of salvation from sin, liberation from everything oppressive to man, integral development of the human person and renewal of all the strata of humanity through the power of the Gospel. This is the task and mission of the Church by which she must uphold at all times. The CBCP understood that the establishment of BECs springs from the mandate of Evangelization. The bishops asked the government that due process be observed in all cases of arrests and deportations of Workers of Evangelization be they priests, religious or lay workers.
Despite the Church’s appeal to the government that due process must be observed in dealing with Church workers, violence like tortures, killings and salvages continued. In his letter to Bishop Pedro Dean of the Diocese of Tagum on July 17, 1981 Alberto R. Cacayan, the Executive Secretary of MSPC described the situation in the following statements:
Given the accounts of tortures, bombings, killings and salvages shared by the diocesan representatives, the MSPC Expanded Board meeting in Cebu two weeks ago, its institutional concerns notwithstanding, had to contend with disturbing, if not alarming, trends in the region, namely: 1) escalating militarization and its concomitant anomalies, and 2) systematic government-military pressure on BCC thrusts and the harassment of BCC lay leaders.
This severe situation was affirmed by the first Pastoral Letter of Bishop Orlando Quevedo, O.M.I. who was then bishop of the Prelature of Kidapawan addressing directly on Easter Sunday those who were threatened and daunted by threats and harassments especially the BEC workers. He said that many leaders have been harassed, interrogated, suspected as subversives, forced to flee from their farms and homes. Many members of BECs have been daunted to participate in meetings and seminars, prayer and bible service with a threat of punishment.
Because of the misunderstanding which led to suspicion and then persecution of BEC lay leaders, Quevedo further clarified in his letter what really is GKK or BECs. He said that, GKK is simply the Church in miniature. It makes the Church concrete and local at the grassroots…it is approved by the Church and it works for justice, human dignity and liberation based on the Gospel values. Towards the end of his letter he emphasized that those who work against GKK work against Christ.
Recounting the effects of Martial Law in the political and economic condition of the country, Claver characterized it to be worst and deteriorating. The Church became the center of persecution and the BECs were the target particularly the lay leaders. However, instead of being halted, the persecution strengthened them all the more. Claver called this a “smiling persecution” of the Church.
Later on, through the Second Plenary Council, Basic Ecclesial Communities were officially recognized by the Philippine Church as an expression of renewal where the poor are actively involved in the life of the Church. BECs now and then became a phenomenon in the Philippines and were made the basic thrust of several dioceses in the country.
DAMAYANG KRISTIYANO: Diocese of San Jose Experience
Historical Background of the Damayang Kristiyano
The provenance of BEC in the Diocese of San Jose was initiated by the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart (MSC) by giving formation to the villager of San Jose as early as 1977. Most of the activities were parish-based and revolved around liturgical, livelihood and spiritual concerns which are still practiced up until today. When the diocese was established in 1984, Most Rev. Florentino Cinense was made its first bishop. After two years, Most Rev. Leo Drona succeeded him.
In order to cater to the needs of the poor and address the growing poverty in the diocese, Bishop Drona commissioned Fr. Cesar Vergara, the Diocesan Social-Action Center Director to formulate programs which are integral and developmental. The result of this is the creation of the Social Action Center’s Gratia Plena (SAC-GP) which has an enormous contribution in fortifying the socio-political, economical and spiritual conditions of the people. People’s Organization (PO) was created and programs were begun to be implemented in 1988 in the four farming villages of Nampicuan as pilot areas. Orientations were conducted regarding organizational development, technical support, financial assistance for crop production, farm machineries and irrigation facilities were also provided. As early as 1989 the operation expanded and included another five other areas including the municipality of Cuyapo. Later on, due to the effects of the earthquake which struck Central and Northern Luzon in 1990, a long-term development program was formulated. Another sixteen villages located in seven municipalities were included in the assistance program of Gratia Plena.
Since the diocese is a poor mission territory up to now, the dream of creating Gratia Plena is primarily to initiate a large-scale development program for the entire diocese particularly in its poorest areas. However, after four years, the conditions of those assisted communities showed no improvement despite the given programs and structures. The decadence of Gratia Plena was seen to be caused by lack of unity among leaders and members, and by politics influencing the leadership that created divisions and factions, hence payment of loans were avoided. These conditions resulted to more disappointments and discouragements and consequential inactivity to most members and leaders.
Aware of its inadequacies, SAC-GP made a thorough evaluation and action plan on how to address this challenge. With the help of professional consultants and evaluators, the long-term programs and directions were reformulated. In 1992, the diocese also reformulated its vision statement which says, “Believing and witnessing community of diverse calling, charism, culture and social status; being transformed into a caring and sharing community based on justice, love and harmony with God’s creation.” In order to concretized this vision, the diocese arrived at a particular action plan in “proclaiming the good news, sanctifying and serving God’s people and building small human/Christian ecclesial communities whose members know one another, care for one another and share with one another in Christ, the Risen Lord.”
SAC-GP was the first recipient of this new direction brought about by new vision laid down by the diocese. In dealing with its programs, it ascertained to be holistic in approach with formation programs based on the Gospel values resorting to lay empowerment and formation of small Christian communities called Damayang Kristiyano . These communities were understood as the organizational foundation of the People’s Organization (PO) and considered as its subgroup. Each Damayan was composed of six to twelve members while a PO was composed of one to fifteen Damayans.
The Diocesan Pastoral Assemblies and the Damayang Kristiyano
The understanding of what it means to be a Church of the Poor expressed in Damayang Kristiyano was developmental in the consciousness of the diocese of San Jose. The series of Diocesan Pastoral Assemblies (DPA) gave such development in self-understanding as a Church. These Pastoral Assemblies were held in order to concretize the ideals brought about by the Second Vatican Council and the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines.
The first Diocesan Pastoral Assembly was held in the city of San Jose on March 31 to April 3, 1996 with the theme, “Paglilinang ng Lupa Tungo sa Simbahan ng Maralita” which resulted to the formulation of the vision-mission of the diocese. More than three hundred participants attended the assembly composed of priests, religious and lay leaders.
A year after, the second DPA was held in Baguio City on February 12-14, 1997 with a theme, “Paglilinang ng Lupa ng Simbahan ng Maralita tungo sa Pagiging Kalipunan ng mga Disipulo.” It was attended by only seventy five participants including the bishop. In this second assembly the five thrusts of the diocese were formulated, namely, (a) Formation Program for Core Leaders, (b) Lay Empowerment, (c) Basic Ecclesial Communities, (d) Stewardship of Human and Material Resources and (e) Intensification of Social Action Apostolate. Together with this formulation of thrusts was the creation of the Basic Formation Program called the Paglilinang ng Lupa (PL).
It was during this assembly that the presence of Basic Ecclesial Community in the diocese was formally and officially called as Damayang Kristiyano.
On the celebration of the Jubilee Year 2000, the third DPA was held in the Science City of Muñoz in order to evaluate the five years of the diocese since the first DPA and to formulate a pastoral plan for the Damayang Kristiyano. It had a theme. “Damayang Kristiyano ng Diyosesis ng San Jose: Sama-samang Naglalakbay kasama ni Maria sa Diwa ng Banal na Santatlo.” It was attended by three hundred participants that included the bishop, the priests, religious and laity.
Two years after the third DPA, another gathering was held in San Jose City to have further discussions regarding Damayang Kristiyano. This fourth DPA was held on July 18-19, 2002 with the theme, “Patuloy na Paglalakbay Tungo sa Damayang Kristiyano.” The very aim of this gathering was to make a concrete and model structure of the Damayang Kristiyano based on the already existing groups of BEC in the dioceses like the Federation of Damayang Kristiyano and Kriska which was started by the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart. There were also other groups existing in the diocese like the Community Based Health Program (CBHP) Prayer Group and BEC groups in various parishes. These groups became the models in formulating pastoral plans for Damayang Kristiyano. The result of this fourth Diocesan Pastoral Assembly is the Model of Damayang Kristiyano.
DPA-IV described Damayang Kristiyano to be a kingly, priestly and prophetic community. It was composed of neighborhood with five to ten families wherein the parents have the responsibility to form their children in the spirit of the Damayang Kristiyano. Though it is open to all, this way of being a Church begins with the Catholic families. This is in the same way central to all parish programs through the leadership of its pastor in collaboration with the Parish Pastoral Council (PPC), WESTFLY Ministries and Mandated Organizations. In the level of the vicariates, the Vicars Forane together with the Vicarial Pastoral Team (VPT) will be the one to assure the efficacy of pastoral programs of Damayang Kristiyano in every parish. The vicarial level serves also as intermediary to the diocesan and the parochial levels.
The Commission on Integral Commission (CIF) was assigned as the executive committee of all the pastoral programs of Damayang Kristiyano together with the Social Action Center – Gratia Plena (SAC-GP) in the collaboration of the Mandated Organizations, Trans-parochial Organizations, People’s Organizations and Non-government Organizations.
In order to be more effective in implementing pastoral programs for the Damayang Kristiyano, pastoral workers called “DK workers” are assigned by the parish priest and the PPC as animators of the communities. “DK workers” are trained and given several orientations and seminars that will gear them with necessary knowledge and skills in organizing, facilitating and implementing programs. Together they will ogle a pilot area where they can start organizing Damayang Kritiyano and from it they will choose leaders whom they will train and form.
The presbyterium has also expressed their support and interest in the promotion of Damayang Kristiyano by giving priority to the DK programs, looking for possible and committed lay DK workers, self-immersing in DK communities, cooperating with the bishop and CIF in implementing DK programs and by becoming themselves the model and guide for the Damayang Kristiyano.
Damayang Kristiyano and the First Diocesan Synod
When Most Rev. Mylo Hubert C. Vergara succeeded Bishop Leo Drona on May 14, 2004, he recognized the need to review the vision-mission of the diocese in order to make it more pastorally applicable, executable, understandable and easily owned by all. After a year, the new vision-mission of the diocese was created that gave much importance to Damayang Kristiyano.
As a local Church, the diocese of San Jose embraced the Damayang Kristiyano as its particular model of being a Church which was made explicit in the four diocesan assemblies, pastoral thrusts and vision-mission of the diocese. All of these emphases in promoting and living out the Damayang Kristiyano were given more highlights when the first Diocesan Synod was held. Bishop Vergara convoked the first diocesan synod on October 23, 2010 in order to set the direction of the diocese towards becoming holy and good stewards dreaming to become a Damayang Kristiyano. This first synod which was called “Sinodo ng Mabuting Katiwala,” was held from March 20-26, 2011 in San Jose City with five major themes to be discussed. These themes were: (1) Formation of priests, religious and the laity; (2) Becoming Effective Lay-leaders; (3) Promotion of Damayang Kristiyano; (4) Involvement in Social Transformation and (5) Good Stewardship of the Temporal Goods of the Church.
It was in this synod that DK was seen more than just an organizational foundation of the People’s Organization (PO) and considered as its subgroup. It is not only a program or an apostolate but rather it is seen as a “way of life” of the faithful, more so, a way of being Church.
As a way of life and a way of being Church, Damayang Kristiyano is made central in the life and mission of the diocese. All diocesan pastoral programs revolved around and aimed at becoming Damayang Kristiyano. Formation programs are offered from the clergy down to the lay faithful through the Commission of Integral Formation and Association of Catholic Schools. Priests, religious and seminarians together with the lay leaders are asked to be immersed in various DK cells and help in building and strengthening these communities. Damayang Kristiyano is being integrated also in educational plan of the diocese from the executive members and faculties down to the students and staffs.