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Companions on a Journey

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Rev. Fr. Carmelo O. Diola, SSL

Spaces of Hope

 

GOLDEN wedding anniversaries are always golden moments for me. Last 18 May 2013 was an especially rare gem. Nearly 18,250 days ago that day, two people in love tied the knot at the Chapel of the Archbishop of Cebu. The groom’s older brother, by then a bishop, solemnized the marriage. A boy, nearly four, witnessed the ceremony with his parents. His mother was, after all, the beaming bride’s best friend from college. The joy and the beauty of the occasion impressed him, teaching him some profound lessons on the sanctity of life and love. I was that boy.

            Tito Naro is the younger brother of the late Archbishop Cipriano Urgel of Palo. He and Tita Pura continue to be outstanding witnesses of love’s patience, kindness, and gentleness. Although they had asked me to preach on their golden day, I told them I was there to learn from and be inspired by them. So I asked the couple to choose the mass readings.

            They chose Colossians 3:12-17 and Matthew 5:15-16. Salt and light speaks of life’s origins, flavoring, and sustenance. That wedding 50 years ago certainly began a journey that has been flavored, sustained, and fulfilled by faith, hope, and love. “Heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience,” as Colossians puts it, have been staples in their home. Growing up in Davao, I always felt a lightness of being every time we visit them in their home in Novaliches.

            The Christian witness of this couple is a gift from God. Along the way, they have been gifted with very good companions even as they companion each other, their three daughters, and grandchildren. They both come from families and had friends that put faith and prayer at the forefront. It was a time when filial piety was practiced and Christian values were nurtured, and where respect for life was the basic option.

            Tita Pura and Tito Naro certainly shared bread for the journey of life. May God continue to bless them—and all golden couples—in their coming years.

 

* * *

It has been more than three weeks now since the May 2013 elections. The indelible ink on my right thumb – I have no idea why it was placed here—remains. It reminds me that the election was just a beginning.

            “For the first time in my life, I felt excited about casting my vote,” Jenny, the enthusiastic youthful coordinator of the Circles of Discernment for Empowerment told me. She was not alone who felt that her vote mattered even if we still have a long way to go towards making our elections truly free and liberating.

The Church faced several fronts in the May elections. The first is the conscience formation of Catholics who voted. After all, elections are about making choices. The second one would be Catholics who felt the call to run for office. Another is a usual engagement, still a necessary one, involving poll watching. This requires scrupulous non-partisanship. Still another called for the conscience formation of Catholics serving as teachers, Comelec officials, policemen and soldiers, media practitioners, etc. A fifth engagement saw different groups of Catholics endorsing and campaigning for candidates whom they felt were consistent with the Church’s teachings on life, family, and other issues. The term “principled partisan politics” has been used to describe this group. Finally, some Catholic advocates monitored the PCOS machines.

            Each of these engagements is necessary and contributes to the successful working of the whole political exercise. In reality, however, there are many dysfunctions in each of these areas of engagement that need to be addressed.

            One overarching concern is that of conscience formation of voters and candidates in the context of circles of discernment. My personal engagement here was with a network called “Dilaab” (Cebuano, “conflagration” and Tagalog, “tongues of fire” from “dila” and “alab”). This Christian movement forms discerning community support groups for public servants, voters, and the youth in the Philippines to help them consistently make good choices for the community that they serve and belong to in a time when good intentions of public servants, voters, and the youth are easily compromised. Yes, it is all about choices and how supporting one another and making vulnerable individual and groups feel they are not alone can make good choices more feasible.

            Dilaab began its election campaign with a recollection with His Eminence Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle who pointed out that the first choice to make is that of listening. With him it also launched the I Vote Good campaign. This non-partisan campaign consisted of a two-pronged approach, namely to fight against vote buying and its variations and to promote a discerned vote among circles of discernment using the LASER test. A house-to-house campaign in three selected sitios gave us a “feel” for an honest-to-goodness fight against vote buying. This is a very steep climb but there are footholds and a clear summit to be reached.

            Dilaab also disseminated prayers related to the elections through prayer cards and the internet. The use of the LASER test by circles of discernment was an empowering experience. It made voters feel that their votes really mattered. At this stage of the development of our network, the biggest need is that of providing information and data to answer the questions in the LASER test. How would a circle of discernment, for instance, in Bukidnon know about the lifestyle of a senatorial candidate who lives in Novaliches?

            Did the Church’s varied contributions matter? An initial observation is that in several local churches where the local election results were in the direction of good governance, i.e. removing a well-entrenched local executive perceived to be corrupt and detrimental to the common good, most of the six church engagements were undertaken. As it turns out, Dilaab was not the only one that engaged in house-to-house campaign against vote buying. Those that did so had very encouraging results.

            We now need to provide pastoral accompaniment to both those who are elected and those who did not make it. Accompanying the latter is a good option since they can always run again. We also need to prepare for the October 2013 barangay and SK elections. The next three years will be critical in terms of networking and providing pastoral accompaniment to elected officials.

 

* * *

            Did we make a dent against the culture of vote buying? What can we do to spread the lessons learned to other areas? To assess the impact of our efforts we will do focused group discussions in the three sitios where we campaigned against vote buying.

            There is need to hit the ground running with regards barangay elections in October of this year. If the Church is to make a more meaningful and sustained impact in the evangelization of politics, the barangay is where the action should be. Why? As they say, all politics, is local. This is where the tire hits the road. The barangay is where our parishes are located and vice-versa. Any meaningful political impact would be felt at this level. What the three dioceses of Quezon City have initiated together with the late DILG Sec. Jesse Robredo—the so-called UBAS (Ugnayan ng Barangay at mga Simbahan)—should be vigorously pursued and spread.

            Pastoral accompaniment cannot be a hit-or-miss affair. Our efforts must be deliberate. Prayer, as usual, is the first order of business. As we try to accompany public officials we should make room for the Holy Spirit to accompany us through prayer.

            During the June 8 Consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary we organized a Mass for public officials as a follow through to the recollection with Cardinal Tagle. This was an excellent moment to publicly reaffirm commitment of pastoral accompaniment in the context of the consecration. After the celebration we handed some letters to elected officials enumerating areas where we could provide values formation and even a daily text service for personal transformation. The list also included the offer of a seminar on God-centered leadership as well lectio divina after office hours.

            The forms and expressions of pastoral accompaniment will vary from one local church to another depending on needs, resources, and the openings for accompaniment that will present themselves to those who are willing to accompany.

            Whatever forms and expressions there may be what is vital is that we take the first steps in faith, hope, and love—and the rest will follow.


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