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‘Teach them to observe all that I have commanded you.’ (Matthew 28:20)

A Pastoral Letter of the CBCP on the occasion of the
400 Years of Catholic Education in the Philippines

“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)

Dear People of God,

‘Go, make disciples, baptize, teach.’ These are the operative words in the command of Jesus before he left the apostles. From this comes the evangelizing mission of the Church; a mission grounded on the mystery of the Holy Trinity. To the Church is given the power to preach and to teach; a task that has been accepted by the apostles and handed on to the Fathers of the Church, Doctors of the Church, philosophers, theologians & missionaries. The Church faithfully fulfills this mandate she has received from her divine founder of proclaiming the mystery of salvation to all men and of restoring all things in Christ.

‘Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations . . .Teach them all I have commanded you.’ These words of Jesus resonate once again as we take stock of 400 years of Catholic Education in the Philippines. In view of this, I invite you, dear brothers and sisters, to a closer look at the evangelizing mission of the church made possible by Catholic Education.

A Brief Survey of Catholic Education in the Philippines

This same occasion allows us to look back on the beginnings of Catholic Education in our country.

  • § We recall the very first school opened by the Augustinian missionaries in Cebu after their arrival in 1565 and the initiative of the Franciscans to provide primary instruction upon their arrival in 1578.
  • § We recall Bishop Domingo Salazar, O.P. who in the year 1581 expressed to the King of Spain the need for a college to educate priests which later opened in 1596 as the Jesuit-run College of San Ignacio in Manila. Likewise, Colegio de San Ildefonso in Cebu founded by the Spanish Jesuits in 1598
  • § We remember the year 1611, 400 years ago, when Archbishop Miguel de Benavides, O.P., and the Dominican Fathers established the University of Santo Tomas; and in 1632, the Colegio de San Juan de Letran both in Intramuros, Manila. We rejoice with UST, the oldest University, in the celebration of its 400 years of continued existence and service in the field of Catholic Education.
  • § We remember the year 1632, when Colegio de Sta. Isabel, the first women’s college, was opened. This college is now run by the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul who arrived in 1862. We remember also how in 1868 they went to Naga City to open a college for girls, and to establish the very first Normal School for Women in the Philippines on September 18, 1872 at the instance of Bishop Francisco Gainza, O.P.
  • § We remember the year 1859, some 150 years ago, when the Jesuits returned and opened the school called the Escuela Municipal de Manila located right across the San Ignacio Church in Intramuros. This was the very first Ateneo campus.
  • § We remember the year 1862, 150 years ago when the Vincentian Fathers came to the Philippines by virtue of the 1852 Royal Decree of Queen Isabel II of Spain in order to administer the Conciliar seminaries of Manila, Naga City, Cebu City, Iloilo City and Vigan and to take care of the religious and scientific instruction of the diocesan seminarians and lay students in Colegio Seminarios.
  • § We remember the year 1904, 107 years ago, when the first Sisters of St. Paul de Chartres opened the first Paulinian school in Dumaguete, Negros Oriental.
  • § We remember the year 1906, 105 years ago, when the first four German Benedictine sisters and one novice from Tutzing, Germany founded St. Scholastica’s College.
  • § We remember the year 1911, 100 years ago, the Brothers of the Christian Schools, known as La Salle Brothers, opened their first school in the Philippines on General Luna Street in Manila.
  • § We also remember the beaterios which likewise provided formation and some instruction for girls.
  • § We look back also 70 years ago, the year 1941, when these Catholic education institutions organized itself into an association called the CEAP (Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines) to be able to collectively respond not only to urgent educational issues but also societal issues. CEAP was born upon the inspiration of Bishop Michael J. O’ Doherty with Msgr. Jose Jovellanos as the first President.

Without doubt, Catholic Education in the Philippines has a long and rich history. Many of our heroes and significant personages in the church and country are a proof of this. It is not an exaggeration to say that Catholic Education laid the foundations of education in our country.

Thus, we cannot but remember with gratitude the heroic missionaries who begun the task of education in the faith. Their contribution was not limited to Catholic Education but included even the other sciences and disciplines. We may cite for example their ethnographic and scientific studies, the grammar and catechetical books like the Doctrina Cristiana which not only instructed us with the Church doctrines but also preserved our dialects. Such is no mean contribution to our society and culture.

Indeed, ‘at great cost and sacrifice our forebears were inspired by the teaching of the Church to establish schools which enriched mankind and responded to the needs of time and place.’ Ex Corde #65)

The Nature of Christian Education

It is undeniable that today we benefit from these foundations of Christian Education whose aim is ‘the formation of the human person in the pursuit of his ultimate end and of the good of the societies of which, as man, he is a member, and in whose obligations, as an adult, he will share.’ (Gravissimum Educationis #1).

Christian Education is tasked to develop harmoniously the persons’ physical, moral and intellectual endowments so that they may gradually acquire a mature sense of responsibility in striving endlessly to form their own lives properly and in pursuing true freedom as they surmount the vicissitudes of life with courage and constancy. (Cf. GE # 1)

Yet, Christian education does not merely strive for the maturing of a human person as just now described, but has as its principal purpose this goal: that the baptized, while they are gradually introduced the knowledge of the mystery of salvation, become ever more aware of the gift of Faith they have received, and that they learn in addition how to worship God the Father in spirit and truth (cf. John 4:23) especially in liturgical action, and be conformed in their personal lives according to the new man created in justice and holiness of truth (Eph. 4:22-24); also that they develop into perfect manhood, to the mature measure of the fullness of Christ (cf. Eph. 4:13) and strive for the growth of the Mystical Body; moreover, that aware of their calling, they learn not only how to bear witness to the hope that is in them (cf. Peter 3:15) but also how to help in the Christian formation of the world that takes place when natural powers viewed in the full consideration of man redeemed by Christ contribute to the good of the whole society. (GE #2)

Christian Education is not self-seeking. It is not given for the purpose of gaining power but as an aid towards a fuller understanding of, and communion with man, events and things. Knowledge is not to be considered as a means of material prosperity and success, but as a call to serve and to be responsible for others. Ex Corde Ecclesiae #56)

The Contribution of Catholic Education

From the nature of Christian Education and from what has been done in the course of history, we cannot deny that we have benefited from it. In fact, it is not an exaggeration to say that the establishment of schools in our country has laid the foundations of education in our country. The brief historical survey earlier cited does not speak of all of the four centuries accomplishment of Catholic Education in the Philippines.

It is a happy thing, that the Catholic School is still very much present and felt, not without challenges however. There are about 1300 Catholic schools spread all over the Philippines, offering different levels of education and types of formation.

These schools, while relying mainly on their own resources and efforts, strive to provide decent classrooms and facilities so as to offer quality education even in remote towns and barrios. There are a number of these which have consistently been among the top schools not only in the country but also around the globe. At great cost and without necessarily incurring the government any burden, the Catholic schools recruit, train and sustain their personnel.

Advanced studies and researches are pursued again at the expense of these same schools, thereby contributing to the advancement of society. In fact, Catholic schools have been a major contributor to the professional sector of our country. It is not altogether surprising then that quality education is almost always appended to Catholic schools.

Furthermore, a number of these schools are not exclusive to Catholics, but serve peoples of other faiths; others are dedicated to out of school youths, to the handicapped, to cultural minorities, and those in the periphery.

With the significant shortage of classrooms and teachers in public schools, Catholic schools assist the government in providing education to the rest of the citizens who opt for Catholic education as well as those who cannot be accommodated in public schools. Citizens, in choosing to be educated to Catholic schools, waive as it were their right to a free education, so that others may avail of it. Catholic schools by raising their own resources assist the government in providing employment and saving financial resources.

One can only imagine what if these Catholic schools would close at the same time. Will the government be able to absorb all the students and provide the same quality education many of these schools provide given the present circumstances in public schools?

In the Context of the Local Church

In the context of the local church, the Catholic schools provide a stable and systematic evangelization. It will be remembered that when the threat of domination of other faiths accompanied by movement towards schismatic independence emerged, it was the establishment of parochial schools that became the solution. These schools, especially the seminaries, became the training ground of dedicated Catholics.

Innumerable are the products of Catholic schools who have served the country and the church. Still at present, many graduates of Catholic schools serve in different lay ministries in the local churches. A number of them have taken leadership in the parishes and communities.

The schools continue to make their resources, personnel and students of schools readily available to support programs and activities of the diocese. The outreach programs of many a Catholic school lead to the benefit of communities in dioceses and parishes, even to non-Catholics. They are a ready resource in times of calamities and social concerns.

We do not intend to enumerate everything Catholic schools are doing. Yet we can ask: How will the local church be without the Catholic school? What will the country be without Catholic schools?

Present-Day Context & Challenges

As we note the contributions of Catholic Education, we also note present realities that challenge and even threaten Catholic Education.

There exists a general perception that Catholic Schools are wealthy or are only for the wealthier social classes. At the mention of Catholic Schools, many would easily think of big universities or schools. This is a phenomenon that is also true in other countries. In some countries Catholic schools have been obliged to restrict their educational activities to wealthier social classes, thus giving an impression of social and economic discrimination in education. But this occurs only where the State has not weighed the advantages of an alternative presence in their pluralistic society. From such nearsightedness considerable difficulties have arisen for Catholic schools. (The Catholic School #21)
The truth is, however, even for the CEAP, the biggest educational institution in the country, out of its more than 1300 schools, there are more than 900 small, struggling mission schools spread in different parts of the Philippines, whose teachers work with missionary spirit. Many of these same schools rely on their meager resources as they strive to provide quality education to the marginalized in far flung areas. A number of these, especially in Mindanao, serve students of other faiths.

There is the challenge of the continuing trends of decreasing enrolment and the increasing migration of teachers from private Catholic schools to public schools. The free or low cost of public education and the ever increasing salaries in public schools have a huge impact to Catholic schools. They lose students year after year to public schools and some teachers suddenly leave in the middle of the school year when asked to report for work in the public school where they have pending application.

This is occasioned not only by economic factors, but also by the seeming depreciation of the distinctiveness of Catholic Education. With the increasing secularist and pragmatic mentality, Catholic values are no longer seen as relevant by Catholic families. These economic and cultural factors put many a Catholic School in a dilemma as its survival is threatened.

In the secular and postmodern culture that seems to disregard the need for faith, we are confronted with a society that offers varied and often conflicting ephemeral values. Thus, Pope Benedict has spoken of the ‘great “educational emergency”, the increasing difficulty encountered in transmitting the basic values of life and correct behavior to the new generations, a difficulty that involves both schools and families and, one might say, any other body with educational aims.’

More than ever before, a Catholic school’s job is infinitely more difficult, more complex, since this is a time when Christianity demands to be clothed in fresh garments, when all manner of changes have been introduced in the Church and in secular life, and, particularly, when a pluralist mentality dominates and the Christian Gospel is increasingly pushed to the side-lines. (TCS #66)

Sense of Mission

Despite these, the foundational philosophy of Catholic education which is in service of the faith has continued on. While these challenges pose a threat to the existence of some of our schools, they have not lost sight of the vision of Catholic education. They have remained as potent means of quality education where Religion is the core of the curriculum – an effective contribution to the development of other aspects of personality (TCS #19).

Catholic Education strives to remain faithful to its mission of providing complete education which necessarily includes a religious dimension. Religion is an effective contribution to the development of other aspects of a personality in the measure in which it is integrated into general education (TCS #19). Apart from providing an integral and holistic formation, it is one that aims at a dialogue of culture and faith.

The education in the faith which Catholic Education provides, in the words of Pope Benedict, nurtures the soul of a nation. Thus, Catholic Education is beneficial not only for Catholics but for the entire country.

The mission continues. In today’s context, we see the signs of hope in the rise of parochial and diocesan schools. Recently, we have more diocesan priests being trained to develop the parochial and diocesan school system. It is not to be forgotten that some of the great founders of religious congregations were diocesan priests. These diocesan priests founded institutes whose life and mission were on Catholic Education. Eventually, some of these schools started by religious congregations or organizations were turned over to the dioceses. Even the first president of the Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines (CEAP), Msgr. Jose Jovellanos, was a diocesan priest.

Moreover, society can take note from the Catholic school that it is possible to create true communities out of the common effort of the common good. In the pluralistic society of today, the Catholic school, by maintaining an institutional Christian presence in the academic world, proclaims by its very existence the enriching power of the faith as the answer to the enormous problems which afflict mankind. It is called to render a humble loving service to the Church by ensuring that she is present in the scholastic field for the benefit of the human family.

A Call to a Fervent Renewal

Brothers and Sisters, our grateful recollection of the grace of 400 years of Catholic Education is an opportune time, not to withdraw, but to rediscover once again the original mission of the Catholic schools. The words of Jesus resound once again: ‘Go, teach them to observe what I have commanded you.’ It is a time to renew the mission with fervor.

This call for fervent renewal is a challenge to Catholic schools to become the locus of the encounter with Christ. In the school the loving truth of the Gospel must be proclaimed. It is not only ‘informative’ but also ‘performative’, that is creative and life-changing. (Spe Salvi #2).

This fervent renewal is a rediscovery of the ideals of Jesus. This calls us to make saints of our students. In this regard, the words of the Holy Father are instructive: Christianity “is not a new philosophy or a new form of morality. We are only Christians if we encounter Christ, even if He does not reveal Himself to us as clearly and irresistibly as he did to Paul in making him the Apostle of the Gentiles. We can also encounter Christ in reading Holy Scripture, in prayer, and in the liturgical life of the Church, – touch Christ’s heart and feel that Christ touches ours. And it is only in this personal relationship with Christ, in this meeting with the Risen One, that we are truly Christian.” (Pope Benedict XVI)

This renewal means going back to the spirit of the establishment of Catholic education where the synthesis of knowledge, culture and faith are evident. This, in turn, must lead to the production of right and morally upright citizens. This means not only the formation of the mind but of the heart. It is education that provides moral compass which directs them to the proper actions.

The integration of faith and life will help students overcome their individualism and discover, in the light of faith, their specific vocation to live responsibly in a community with others; to commit themselves to serve God in their brethren and to make the world a better place for everyone to live in (TCS #9). It is an intensification of the imperative to reach out and to serve others. Even among Catholic schools, there are many possibilities of helping one another.

This renewal is a challenge to redirect energies towards the transformation the school community into an authentic Christian community where the presence of Jesus is felt and experienced. It is a call to make the positive values of our faith stand out and energize our policies, systems and structures. In another way of speaking, that the gospel be the motive of the school’s modus vivendi et operandi.

Thus, ‘every Catholic educational institution is a place to encounter the living God who in Jesus Christ reveals his transforming love and truth (cf. Spe Salvi, #4). This relationship elicits a desire to grow in the knowledge and understanding of Christ and his teaching. In this way those who meet him are drawn by the very power of the Gospel to lead a new life characterized by all that is beautiful, good, and true; a life of Christian witness nurtured and strengthened within the community of our Lord’s disciples, the Church. (Pope Benedict, Meeting with Catholic Educators)
The ecclesial dimension of the task of renewal, –that Catholic Education form people to have a passion for the church and that Catholic Educational institutions think with the church – ‘sentire cum ecclesia’. For ultimately, the same institutions are at the service of the church both universal and local.
The Prophetic Dimension of Catholic Education

This renewal, sincerely and fervently done, cannot ignore the prophetic dimension of Catholic Education. It is impossible to think of Catholic Education as divorced from the Word of God, the Logos. This involves a deep examination of present-day realities in the light of faith. This allows the church to think critically about issues. The Word in prophetic life must criticize and energize.

Catholic Education enables the educational community to see the world as charged with the power of God. It is transformative. It announces the good news and denounces that which is not life-giving. It seeks to build a culture of peace and love. It challenges anomalous and evil structures. Thus, the Catholic Educational community and its graduates must be witnesses to the power of the Word and should strive to transform society.

Catholic education as prophetic means consecration to the cause of truth. The present age is in urgent need of this kind of disinterested service, namely of proclaiming the meaning of truth, that fundamental value without which freedom, justice and human dignity are extinguished. (Ex Corde Ecclesiae #4)

This means assiduous search for the truth and fidelity to the same truth. This is a bold aspiration in the present time, ‘for it is typical of the incoherence of modernity that it can harbor contradictions. On the one hand it dehumanizes, on the other it deifies.’ This prophetic dimension of education highlights the necessity for ‘dialogue between faith and reason. Faith devoid of reason risk becoming superstition and blind prejudice. Reason inattentive to faith risks solipsism, self-absorption, detachment from reality.’ (Pope Benedict XVI)
Finally, this prophetic dimension includes a deep appreciation of the Catholic tradition particularly in the field of education. It is a retrieval of the sense of mission and inspiration from many great men and women, saints, who have transformed societies, countries because of their zeal for education and formation of the human person. They, imbued by the gospel and motivated by the charity of Christ, transformed communities, nations, even continents.

From these we draw inspiration, as we are called to revisit the significant role of Catholic Education in our country. This, at the same time, gives us a sense of pride of being Catholics, a pride tempered by the humble recognition that it is the Lord who accomplishes things through us.

Set Forth with Faith!

Dear Brothers and Sisters, we wish once again to quote the assuring words of Jesus: ‘Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’ These words provide hope for Catholic Education in the Philippines as it sets forth towards the future with faith.

The frontiers of science and technology are vast. The society and the globe are rapidly changing. We and the young are faced with the digital age, information explosion, relativism, consumerism, and destructive exaltation or profanation of the body and of sexuality and all their implications. We are constantly barraged by varying and contradicting views of progress. These may eventually lead to fragmentation and dissipation of the spirit of the young. Such fragmentation, will consequently lead to the weakening of the soul of a nation.

While the future seems uncertain, Catholic Education in the Philippines, assured by the Lord Jesus, sets forth with faith. It will continue to proclaim the good news of Jesus in this fast-changing world in season or out of season. Authentic progress cannot risk the human person. While scientific and technological discoveries create an enormous economic and industrial growth, but they also inescapably require the correspondingly necessary search for meaning in order to guarantee that the new discoveries be used for the authentic good of individuals and of human society as a whole (Ex Corde #7). Catholic Education, faithful to the social teaching of the Church, will continue to strive towards total human development.

The task of Catholic Education is vast and seemingly daunting but it is not simply a concern of one sector. It is in fact a collaborative duty of all the members of the church and of the community. Thus, we, your bishops, appreciative and supportive of Catholic Education, express our gratitude to those who support Catholic education.

We thank the government, as we pray that it may find ways to support private education. We appreciate the sense of mission of teachers as we hope that they will continue to see their profession as a call to the fullness of life. We thank parents for their partnership and collaboration. We thank the alumni for their loyalty and support to their alma mater. We thank the administrators of schools and Catholic Educational associations for the tireless service in Catholic Education.

We thank you pupils and students. You are not simply recipients of Catholic Education. You shape Catholic Education. Participate fully and take the most advantage of the formation that is given to you, always bearing in mind that the end goal of Catholic Education is being conformed to Jesus, the great Teacher.

Conclusion

Dear faithful, thank you for your prayers. We ask you to continue to pray and support Catholic Education in all its forms. May we all, borrowing the words of Blessed John Paul II, ‘ardently search for truth, unselfishly transmit it to the young and to all those learning to think rigorously, so as to act rightly and to serve humanity better.’ (Cf. ECE #2)

In closing, we re-affirm the validity and the necessity of our Catholic Schools for what will the Philippines be without Catholic schools?

Brothers and Sisters, we remember with gratitude all those who worked for Catholic Education for more than 400 years; we renew with fervor our commitment to the continuing task of the Supreme Teacher; and assured by the same Lord Jesus, we look towards the future filled with hope and we set forth in faith knowing that in the last analysis success in any venture does not come from trust in our own solutions but from the trust in Jesus who allowed Himself to be called Teacher (TCS#93) and who exhorts us “Teach them to observe all that I have commanded you.”

We sincerely wish all those involved in the task of Catholic Education our sincere prayers as we impart our Episcopal blessings.

For the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines

+JOSE S. PALMA, D.D.
Archbishop of Cebu
President, Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines
29 January 2012

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Right after the elections of the CBCP officers of the permanent council and the chairmen of the commissions last July, Abp Quevedo jokingly said to me: “Joe, you made the wrong speech; you expressed your desire not to be considered.  Had you manifested you were interested with being president, we would not have voted for you.”  To me, it was not my speech but his that explained why I am here.  When he exhorted us not to be intimidated by difficulties but  to face the challenges with courage and faith that  turned the tide.

As in July, today I still feel an ambivalence in my heart.  On the one hand, I feel overwhelmed when I think of the task demanded of me; more so when I consider it in view of my own capabilities and limitations.  There is an added apprehension especially when I recall the roster of our worthy presidents the likes of Bp Odchimar, Abp Lagdameo, Abp Capalla, Abp Quevedo, Abp Cruz, Abp Morelos, Abp Legaspi and Cardinal Vidal, to name those down to mid 80’s.  They are our brothers and leaders of great learning and proven leadership.  We thank them and we praise God for their able and memorable journey with the CBCP and for their fruitful ministry.  This early, when I think of my duty to preside at meetings or to act as the official spokesperson of the CBCP, I am aware of the need to inspire as well as my duty to be discreet in my public pronouncements; hence I am counting on your support, cooperation and prayer.

Yet on the other hand, I also feel a great hope for CBCP.  To hope is to recognize the lights and shadows around us yet  confidently expecting  blessings and good things to come. Hoping is not closing our eyes to the sad realities that plague our nation.  How can we not see and think of around 3,000 who died and hundreds of houses swept away in Iligan, Cagayan de Oro and Dumaguete due to typhoon Sendong last month.   We know  many other dioceses devastated by calamities last year.  How true what our brother of happy memory, Bp. Franciso Claver had observed:”Some years back, in 1993, a study of natural disasters occurring all over the world in the years since 1903 was reported…Typhoons, tsunamis, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, droughts, floods, mudslides – destructive occurrences of natural causation…The study had the Philippines at the top of the list with more than 700 such disasters during the 90 years studied.  India came second with just about half…With such a record of calamities, we can rightly call ourselves ‘the Natural Disaster Capital of the World’- a distinction we would rather not have!” (p.52, MLC).

Aside from the natural calamities, there are a brood of  factors  that cause untold pain and suffering to our people. The reality of graft and corruption, unemployment and unabated devastation of our forests and seas led to poverty and related problems.  At this time with the obvious confrontations among the main branches of our government  make us wish we are not stuck up in pinning down the guilty but instead we are now marching and collaborating with each other in implementing laws and programs that bring about growth and development.  Certainly we can say there are dark clouds in the sky.

Under the dark clouds and in the midst of  poverty and suffering I reiterate, I feel a great hope.  I pray that we, as members of the CBCP own and declare that there is hope.  We hope because in Pastores Gregis, that is what we are called to be: harbingers of hope.  As bishops, we are to give people a reason for living and hoping.

It is not wishful thinking but a well-grounded hope when we expect of blessings and good things to come. Pope Benedict XVI’s announcement of the Year of Faith which will begin on October 11, 2012 gives us hope.  We believe blessings will come our way when we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council and simultaneously also the 20th anniversary of the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  An added reason for our eager expectation is the convocation of the General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops from October 7-28, 2012 with the theme:”The New Evangelization for the Transmission of Christian Faith.”  Likewise, with great joy I share with you how we look forward to the canonization of Bl. Pedro Calungsod (Bisaya) which we expect (we pray) will also happen in October.  Brothers, what I mentioned are not simply dates.  They are events of great significance, moments of KAIROS, celebrations of grace and blessings, reasons for living and hoping.

Given the above agenda, we know we are given hope, trustworthy hope.  Hence we can face our present even if it is arduous; our present can be lived and accepted  because it leads to a goal.  Our goal is the furtherance of God’s kingdom and we put our trust primarily  in God.  Resonating Spe Salvi we uphold that “man’s great, true hope which holds firm in spite of all disappointments can only be God – God who has loved us and continues to love us ‘till the end,’ until ‘all is accomplished’ (cf. Jn 13:1 and 19:30)”, n. 27.

It was Gabriel Marcel who said: I hope in Thee for us.  Hoping in God includes us in the picture.  The US are millions of believers, members of the clergy and religious, thousands of BECs, faith communities, institutions, youth, lay leaders – all professing our need for God.  They are our brothers and sisters who responded and have become disciples and apostles in many ways.  About the blessing of knowing we need  God, Pope Benedict says: “People will always have a need for God, even in an age marked by technical mastery of the world and globalization: they will always need the God who has revealed himself in Jesus Christ, the God who gathers us together in universal church in order to learn with him and thru him life’s true meaning in order to uphold and apply the standards of true humanity” (Letter to Sems, 10 Oct 2010). Finally, hoping means rising and making the journey to the promises pointed to by hope.  For he who hopes becomes actively involved in the realization of blessings hoped for.

As we embark on this journey let us ask the intercession of Mary, Star of Hope.  Whether we are kneeling in prayer or picking pieces of broken lives or rebuilding communities, or revisiting diocesan programs or planning for the 25th anniversary of PCP II on 2016 or the 5th centenary of Christianity on 2021 may we have that eager expectations of blessings and good things to come.  In every here and now we know that as bishops we should be men of communion, open to all, gathering into the one pilgrim flock those which the goodness of the Lord has entrusted to us, helping to overcome divisions, to heal rifts to settle conflicts and misunderstandings, to forgive offenders” and promote the reign of God in our church in the Philippines.  Thank you.

+JOSE S. PALMA, D.D.

Archbishop of Cebu

President, Catholic Bishops’ Conference

of the Philippines

28 January 2012

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CBCP Pastoral Exhortation on the Era of New Evangelization

(longer version)

LIVE CHRIST, SHARE CHRIST

Looking Forward to Our Five Hundredth

Go and make disciples… (Mt. 28:19)

We look forward with gratitude and joy to March 16, 2021, the fifth centenary of the coming of Christianity to our beloved land. We remember with thanksgiving the first Mass celebrated on Limasawa Island on Easter Sunday March 31 that same blessed year. We remember the baptism of Rajah Humabon who was given his Christian name Carlos and his wife Harah Amihan who was baptized Juana in 1521. Our eyes gaze on the Santo Niño de Cebu, the oldest religious icon in the Philippines, gift of Ferdinand Magellan to the first Filipino Catholics that same year. Indeed 2021 will be a year of great jubilee for the Church in the Philippines.

We shall, therefore, embark on a nine-year spiritual journey that will culminate with the great jubilee of 2021. It is a grace-filled event of blessings for the Church starting October 21, 2012 until March 16, 2021.

How providential indeed that on October 21 this year, the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI will add another Filipino to the canon of Saints of the Church, our very own Visayan proto-martyr Pedro Calungsod, who gave his life for the faith on the morning of April 2, 1672 in Guam.

The canonization of Pedro Calungsod will take place under the brilliant light of the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council on October 11. This same day also marks the twentieth anniversary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the commencement of the Year of Faith that will end on November 24, 2013. These events will take place during the celebration of the XIII Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops that will be held in Rome from October 7 to 28, 2012 on the theme, “The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith.”

FAITH AND EVANGELIZATION

All these events are bound together by the themes of “faith” and “evangelization”. Evangelization is the proclamation, witness and transmission of the Gospel given to humanity by our Lord Jesus Christ. It is the opening up of people’s lives, society, culture and history to the Person of Jesus Christ and to His living community, the Church.

The mission of all of us who are called to take part in the “New Evangelization” is the Church’s own essential mission, as it was the mission of Jesus Himself also. Of this basic truth Pope Benedict XVI reminded us, in his first announcement of the Year of Faith:

The new evangelizers are called to walk first on this Way that is Christ, to make others know the beauty of the Gospel that gives life. And on this Way, one never walks alone but always in company, an experience of communion and brotherhood that  is offered to all those  we meet, to share with them our experience of Christ and of his Church. Thus testimony combined with proclamation can open the hearts of those who are seeking the truth so that they are able to arrive at the meaning of their own life.

Hence, the Pope said that the Year of Faith will be a “moment of grace and commitment for an ever fuller conversion to God, to strengthen our faith in Him, and to proclaim Him with joy to the people of our time.”(Benedict XVI, Homily at the Mass for the New Evangelization, October 16, 2011).

THREE FACES OF EVANGELIZATION

To better understand the New Evangelization, let us first place it within the comprehensive context of the Church’s mission of Evangelization. “In its precise sense, Evangelization is the missio ad gentes directed to those who do not know Christ. In a wider sense, it is used to describe ordinary pastoral work, while the phrase ‘New Evangelization’ designates pastoral outreach to those who no longer practice the Christian faith” (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Doctrinal Note on Some Aspects of Evangelization, December 3, 2007, 12).

The New Evangelization, therefore, is primarily addressed to the baptized in the Christian West “who are experiencing a new existential and cultural situation, which, in fact, has imperiled their faith and their witness.” This is a situation which Pope Benedict XVI has described as an ‘interior desert’ which “has virtually eliminated any question of God” (XIII Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, Instrumentum Laboris, 86). It is a crisis “bearing in itself traces of the exclusion of God from people’s lives, or a generalized indifference toward the Christian faith itself, to the point of attempting to marginalize it from public life” (Benedict XVI, Address to the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization, May 30, 2011).

But in fact the cultural situation so described applies as well to certain parts of Africa, Asia-Oceania, and South America. Referring to Africa, Pope Benedict XVI observed that the situation in the continent call Christians “to reawaken their enthusiasm for being members of the Church…to live the Good News as individuals, in their families and in society and to proclaim it with fresh zeal to persons near and far” (Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Africae Munus 160, 2011).

While the Christian West must deal with the challenge of secularism, materialism, and relativism leading to the abandonment of faith, the same problem to a lesser degree is posed to the “younger Churches,” especially those sectors that are highly influenced by great social and cultural changes. These, too, are “fertile ground for the New Evangelization” (Instrumentum Laboris 89).

More specifically, following the lead of Blessed Pope John Paul II (Redemptoris Missio, 37-38) the New Evangelization has to be directed to the cultural, social, political, economic civic, scientific and technological, communications and religious dimensions of life. All these have been deeply influenced by the globalizing secularist and materialist culture.

The pastoral situation calls on the whole Church, the faithful, to participate in “overcoming the separation of the Gospel from life and reconstructing, in the everyday activities of the home, work and society, the unity of life which finds its inspiration in the Gospel and, in the same Gospel, the strength to realize it fully” (cf. John Paul II, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles Laici 30, 1988).

THE NEW EVANGELIZATION FOR THE LIFE OF THE CHURCH IN THE PHILIPPINES

Concern with the New Evangelization has been the overall theme of the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines (PCP-II) in 1991, of the National Mission Congress for the New Millennium (NMC) held in Cebu in September/October 2000, and of the National Pastoral Consultation on Church Renewal (NPCCR) which the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) sponsored in Manila in 2001.  Especially since PCP-II a great number of synods and pastoral assemblies have been established and carried to term in various dioceses.  These synods and assemblies called for extensive surveys and studies on “Faith and Church situations” in many sectors of the country.  They involved much serious discussions among members, ordained and lay, in Catholic communities on different levels.  Reports, summaries of the deliberations and conclusions of these assemblies were sent to the Holy See for review. Religious orders and congregations, and a good number of lay institutes and organizations have also held, on the national level, analogous conferences since PCP-II.

Thus we in the Church in the Philippines come to this program of the “New Evangelization” already with considerable prior extensive and intensive study, reflection, deliberation and resolution. In truth we have been trying to earnestly pursue “renewed evangelization” especially in the last twenty-five years.

This task of New Evangelization calls us to continue more earnestly the initiatives and projects which have been ongoing under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. We are called to examine more deeply the pastoral situation that we all face together as Church in the Philippines. We are asked to explore and discover “the new methods and means for transmitting the Good News” more effectively to our people, always under the guidance of the Spirit.  Above all, we are challenged anew to foster in the Church in our country a renewed commitment and enthusiasm in living out the Gospel in all the diverse areas of our lives, in “real-life practice”, challenged anew to become more and more authentic witnesses of our faith, especially to our Asian neighbors!

BIBLICAL AND THEOLOGICAL ROOTS

We need here only to hear again the great commandment for mission, the mission mandate of Christ Jesus himself, “As the Father has sent me, even so I send you” (John 20:21) and “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you and lo, I am with you always, until the end of time” (Mt 28: 19-20). Indeed the letter to Timothy tells us that “God desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (I Tim 2:4). And Paul says that “everyone who invokes the name of the Lord will be saved” (Rom 10:13). But he goes on to point out that no one can come to believe in Jesus Christ if he has not heard the Word of God. But then the message that awakens faith has to be proclaimed by messengers sent out for the task. “So then, faith comes from hearing the message and the message comes through preaching Christ” (Rom 10:17)

Vatican II taught us that “The pilgrim Church is missionary by her very nature” (LG 2). The Church exists out of her faith in Jesus the Word incarnate sent by the Father, a faith generated by the Holy Spirit. And the Church exists in order to bring the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ to all people under the guidance of the same Spirit. The missionary mandate of the Church, however has assumed new forms and methods in the history of the Church, depending on situations and historical moments.

After the 1974 Synod of Bishops that was devoted to Evangelization in the Modern World, we heard from Pope Paul VI in his Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi issued in 1975 the immortal words, “For the Church evangelizing means bringing the Good News into all the strata of humanity, and through its influence transforming humanity from within and making it new” (EN 18). So the Church’s evangelizing mission, as always but more so in our contemporary time, should not only cover wider geographic areas but also people’s criteria for judgment, values, points of interest, mindsets, and lifestyles (EN 19). In other words, evangelization must affect and transform the newly emerging cultures.

At that time Paul VI was already aware that “the split between the Gospel and culture is without a doubt the drama of our time, just as it was of other times” (EN 20). PCP II called it the dichotomy between faith and ordinary life. Blessed Pope John Paul II has constantly repeated this basic insight in his call for a New Evangelization. The Church, in complete fidelity to the Gospel and Tradition, cannot “simply appeal to its former Christian heritage” but must discover how to conform herself “with the person and message of Jesus” in changing cultures (John Paul II, Ecclesia in Europa 2, 2003). He invites us to a New Evangelization: “new in its ardor, methods and expressions” (John Paul II, Discourse to XIX Assembly of CELAM, Port au Prince, 1983). The New Evangelization was in fact the common theme of the continental Synods that helped prepare the Church for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 (see John Paul II, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Asia 29). For his part Pope Benedict XVI humbly admits that faith can no longer be taken as “a self-evident presupposition for life in society” in our changed and changing cultures (Benedict XVI, Porta fidei 2, 2011). So by calling for a Year of Faith he invites the Church to profess, celebrate and transmit her faith in cultural contexts that have become indifferent or even hostile to the faith.

The New Evangelization, therefore, appeals to the Church to muster her spiritual energy received from the Word and the Spirit in order to discover in diverse cultural settings the signs of hope and action of the Holy Spirit. At the same time, the Church must be cognizant of the new cultural situations that call on her “to look at the way she lives and transmits the faith” (Instrumentum Laboris 49).

The Church in the Philippines will heed the call.

WHAT WILL THIS ERA OF NEW EVANGELIZATION FOR THE PHILIPPINES CONSIST OF?

As we initiate concrete activities in pursuit of the New Evangelization at this time, four ‘areas’ or ‘dimensions’ of concern are opened up for us:

First, the intensification of promoting missio ad gentes in all our communities, among our lay people, our priests and seminarians, and men and women in consecrated life. Post-World War II Roman Pontiffs have insisted that the Church in the Philippines has a clear “missionary vocation” given by divine providence by reasons of history, of geographical location, of the presence of Filipino Christians in so many ‘non-evangelized’ regions of the world. In all of human history it is today that the number of those who have never met Jesus Christ or heard His Gospel is perhaps at its highest level. How imperative and how urgent it is then that Jesus and His Gospel be made known, and His truth and way of life be witnessed to by us to whom 500 years ago the Christian Faith was given as gift!

Secondly, in our part of the world all evangelization must keep in mind the imperative of “bringing Good News to the poor” (pauperes evangelizantur). This holds true of all evangelization, but it has a special relevance and urgency for us and our Filipino “missionary vocation”. We are still a long way from the vision to becoming in truth a “church of the poor”—committed to struggle to bring down poverty among our people, committed to striving to do all we can to help bring about “a civilization of justice and love”.

Thirdly, we must reach out to the many Catholics whose faith-knowledge and faith-practice have been largely eroded and even lost. We have to reach out to former Catholics who have drifted from the Church due to scandals, hurts, unresolved confusions and doubts as well as to Catholics who have in fact turned to other religions and religious traditions. We must counteract the creeping effects of glorified moral relativism and secularism now eating up our people. We must protect the youth from the attraction of individualistic sects that ignore all communitarian norms.

Lastly, we must renew our attention and zeal toward the reawakening, fuller formation and animation of young people and youth groups, in both urban and rural settings. The Philippines is a country of the Young. We cannot insist enough how important and significant, how urgent and crucial the evangelization of our youth is. This, indeed, is priority pastoral task.

A NINE-YEAR ERA OF NEW EVANGELIZATION

As we initiate concrete activities of the New Evangelization, we need to emphasize the absolute necessity of three overriding faith imperatives for evangelizing efforts to be fruitful.

First, the centrality of the Eucharist. For if “the liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed” and “is also the fount from which all power flows,” it is “especially from the Eucharist” that “grace is poured forth upon us as from a fountain” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, no. 10). The grace that radiates from the Eucharist has to accompany all our evangelizing efforts.

Second, the necessity of Prayer. We believe that the Holy Spirit is the main agent of evangelization. Every evangelizer, therefore, has to be led and driven by the Spirit, even as Jesus was in His proclaiming of the Kingdom of God (see Lk. 3:22; 4:1,14). And it is through prayer that we are able to listen to the Holy Spirit and do his bidding. It is by the Holy Spirit that we are able to call on God, Abba. It is by the Holy Spirit that we are able to follow in the footsteps of the Lord Jesus and tell His story to others. In our context, our people’s fidelity to prayer through religious devotions and practices – through their popular religiosity and piety – is an enduring witness to their acceptance of the Good News of Jesus. Hence, the New Evangelization has to be accompanied by prayer and contemplation. We are called to rekindle the spirit and practice of prayer among us and foster a renewal of popular religiosity and piety in its different forms and practices.

Third, the necessity of Conversion. The journey to discipleship in Christ begins with conversion, a deep metanoia, a change of mind and heart. Conversion into discipleship leads to telling the story of Jesus as one has seen him, heard him, and touched him in the core of one’s heart. Jesus our Lord of Divine Mercy is a testimony that no evangelization can be fruitful without conversion. “Repent and believe in the Gospel” were the first words of Jesus in his public ministry as recorded by Mark. As Church, all the faithful, and especially we as Pastors, should recognize and confess our own “mea culpas,” and our failures to evangelize credibly and effectively.

With these postulates of the New Evangelization, we respond to the call of the Spirit for a New Evangelization by focusing on the Nine Pastoral Priorities of the Church in the Philippines as the key themes over a nine-year period.

Year 2013: Integral Faith Formation. What a blessing it is that this first pastoral priority coincides with this Year of Faith as declared by the Holy Father! Our pastoral concern goes out to the great many whose faith hardly plays a significant role in daily private and public life. We reach out during this year to those who have drifted away from the Christian faith. We note with sadness the erosion of the faith and our need for true conversion. The Sacred Scriptures and Tradition, Vatican II and the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Catechism for Filipino Catholics will be fundamental references of the New Evangelization. This is the year of San Pedro Calungsod, who with San Lorenzo Ruiz, provides an exemplary model for the mission of the Church in the Philippines. Integral Faith Formation will focus on the “12 articles of Faith” found in the Apostles Creed. Faith Formation has one objective: a more intimate relationship between Jesus and his followers. Blessed John Paul uses the three phrases: evangelization with “new methods, new expressions, and new fervor.” In the end, the Church follows the way of holiness through conversion and discipleship.

Year 2014: Laity. This year especially celebrates both the sacrament of Baptism by which all the faithful become God’s sons and daughters and the sacrament of Confirmation by which they become witnesses of Christ to others. Yet the gifts of the Holy Spirit through these sacraments often remain dormant. This year is to be devoted to the renewal of the laity, to their “empowerment” or more accurately to activating their charisms from the Spirit, so that they may indeed take up their role as co-responsible agents of evangelization and lead in the task of social transformation. In this regard, of paramount global importance is the ecological challenge of climate change.

Year 2015: The Poor. This year is dedicated to committing ourselves more firmly to our vision of becoming truly a Church of the Poor. The new evangelization is also a powerful call from the Lord to follow in His footsteps to be evangelically poor. How far have we journeyed to our vision of Church? How shall we assist the materially poor to face the challenges of hunger and poverty, of globalization and climate change? And together with them eradicate the evil of corruption and the economic and political imbalances of our society? At the same time we realize that the materially poor in our midst have the God-given power to tell the story of the poor Christ who by His poverty liberates and enriches us. The whole Church, rich and poor, powerful and powerless, have to be in solidarity in the work of restoring integrity and truth, justice and peace – love – in our benighted land.

Year 2016: The Eucharist and of the Family. This is a year of great blessing for us. The Holy Father has chosen Cebu as the host of the Fifty-first International Eucharistic Congress. We will focus our pastoral action on making the Eucharist better appreciated and its missionary implication better lived by the Catholic faithful. We shall especially emphasize on forming the Filipino Family as a Eucharistic community of parents and children, true to its name as a domestic church, rooted in the Eucharist. An evangelized family is an evangelizing family. Even as it is increasingly besieged by secularist values, the Family, as PCP-II has said, is “the focal point of evangelization.” We shall intensify our efforts to strengthen marriage and the family and to protect them from ideas and values that destroy them.

Year 2017: The Parish as a Communion of Communities. This is a year when we more deeply discern not only the structures of governance of our dioceses and parishes but also of the quality of faith life in the parish, the fellowship, belongingness, and participation experienced by its members. In a special way we shall probe into our efforts of making the parish a communion of communities, a communion of Basic Ecclesial Communities and of covenanted faith-communities and ecclesial movements. We shall discern and implement measures on how communities of consecrated life may be more integrated into the life and mission of the parish. In brief, our focus will be the building of a parish that is truly a faith community immersed in the lives of its people.

Year 2018: Clergy and Religious. In our culture, clergy and religious are the key to the New Evangelization. Yet they are not immune to the twin errors of a dichotomy of faith and inadequate discipleship of Christ. This is a year dedicated to the integral renewal of the values, mind-sets, behavior, and life-styles of the clergy and religious. The aim is to become servant-leaders in the manner of the Good Shepherd, live the spirit of the evangelical counsels and be authentic prophets of the Good News of Jesus and of the Kingdom. It will be a year, too, of revisiting ways of seminary and religious formation, of on-going formation, and of the collaboration of the laity in these crucial approaches to integral growth and development in view of mission and ministry.

Year 2019: Youth. It is often said that the youth are the future of the Church. The youth are in fact the present of the Church. They are its most numerous members. They inspire us by their active participation in society and in the Church.  The involvement of hundreds of thousands of young people in the various activities of evangelization and social transformation is a call to greater participation in the Church. “New methods, new expressions and new fervor” of evangelization are imperative. We shall invite the youth to discern deeply their vocation in the world and in the Church, especially the Lord’s invitation to them to the priestly and religious life. How we, as Church, respond to the aspirations of the youth will shape the third millennium.

Year 2020: Ecumenism and Inter-Religious Dialogue. Different faiths and religions are a formidable challenge to a nation that strives to be a community, a human family, a unity in diversity. This year will be devoted to exploring new ways of being community through ecumenical and inter-religious relationships and action. Caritas in veritate, open, honest, respectful – loving – dialogue of life, prayer and action is the only way towards community. At stake are the great values of peace and harmony, particularly in areas of armed conflict, solidarity in the struggle for social change, unity in healing social ills, integrity and social justice in our land.

Year 2021: Missio ad gentes. We are indeed proud that so many of the Filipino faithful (laity, priests, and religious) are missionaries in all the continents of the world. It is the duty of faith in Christ to tell his story to others, especially to those who have not sufficiently heard of him. Even as we are deeply inspired by the stories of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) witnessing to their faith in “ad gentes” regions as well as in highly secularized countries, we need to explore new ways of assisting them as evangelizers. We have been challenged by Blessed John Paul to become the “foremost missionaries” in Asia. This year will be devoted to how we are fulfilling that vocation, how a mission-consciousness in all the faithful can be formed, how each one can be animated into becoming a missionary even at home, and more concretely how parishes and dioceses are supporting our own Philippine-Mission Society.

CALL TO EVANGELIZE

As we launch this nine-year period of New Evangelization for the Church in the Philippines, let us listen to the words of Pope Benedict XVI:

Today the world needs people who proclaim and testify that it is Christ Jesus who teaches the art of living, the way of true happiness, because he himself is the path of life; people who first of all keep their own gaze fixed on Jesus, the Son of God: the word of proclamation must always be immersed in an intense relationship with him, in the intense life of prayer.  Today’s world needs people who speak to God, so as to be able to speak of God.  And we must always remember that Jesus did not redeem the world with beautiful words or ostentatious means but with His suffering and His death.

The law of  the grain of wheat that dies in the ground also applies today; we cannot give life to others without giving our own life: “Whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it,” the Lord tells us (Mark 8:35) …. It is only through men and women molded in God’s presence that the word of God will continue its journey in the world, bearing its fruit.

Dear friends, being evangelizers is not a privilege but a commitment that comes from faith …. Thus I ask you to let yourselves be formed by God’s grace and to respond in docility to the action of the Spirit of the Risen One. Be signs of hope…. Communicate the joy of faith to all with the enthusiasm that comes from being driven by the Holy Spirit, because he makes all things new.(Rev 21:5), trusting in the promise that Jesus made to the Church: “And lo, I am with you always, to the ending of time!” (Mt. 28:20) [Pope Benedict XVI Address on the New Evangelization, Rome 15 October 2011].

Beloved People of God, we invite you to pray and reflect on what the New Evangelization asks of all of us, from each of us.  The Lord of History, without any merits of our own, first gave the priceless gift of the Christian faith to our people and our land, –  nearly 500 years ago.  Each year, in our own “uniquely Filipino” novena before Christmas Day, our ‘Misa de Gallo’ novena, we thank God’s goodness for this gift of faith, and beg for grace that our people may persevere in it.

In the face of pervasive secularism and materialism, in the midst of billions who have not truly encountered Jesus Christ nor heard of His Gospel, how challenged we must be to embark on the New Evangelization! How can we not want to share Jesus the Way, the Truth and the Life with those who are yet to know and love Him who is the answer to the restlessness of every human heart?

In this Year of Faith and throughout the nine-year period of special New Evangelization – and beyond – let us celebrate our faith. Live Christ, Share Christ!

May our Lady, Mary Mother of Our Lord and the Star of Evangelization intercede for us and guide us in sharing Christ, our Emmanuel, God-with-us now and forever.

Maranatha, AMEN.

For the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines,

(SGD)+ JOSE S. PALMA. D.D.

Archbishop of Cebu

President, CBCP

July 23, 2012

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LIVE CHRIST, SHARE CHRIST

Looking Forward to Our Five Hundredth

Go and make disciples… (Mt. 28:19)

We look forward with gratitude and joy to March 16, 2021, the fifth centenary of the coming of Christianity to our beloved land. We remember with thanksgiving the first Mass celebrated in Limasawa Island on Easter Sunday March 31 that same blessed year. We remember the baptism of Rajah Humabon who was given his Christian name Carlos and his wife Hara Amihan who was baptized Juana in 1521. Our eyes gaze on the Santo Niño de Cebu, the oldest religious icon in the Philippines, gift of Ferdinand Magellan to the first Filipino Catholics that same year. Indeed the year 2021 will be a year of great jubilee for the Church in the Philippines.

We shall therefore embark on a nine-year spiritual journey that will culminate with the great jubilee of 2021. It is a grace-filled event of blessings for the Church starting October 21, 2012 until March 16, 2021.

How opportune indeed that on October 21 this year, the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI will add another Filipino to the canon of saints of the Church, our very own Visayan proto-martyr Pedro Calungsod who gave his life for the faith on the morning of April 2, 1672 in Guam.

The canonization of Pedro Calungsod will take place under the brilliant light of the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, the twentieth year of the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and the declaration of the Year of Faith from October 11, 2012 until November 24, 2013 by the Holy Father. The XIII Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops with the theme “The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith” will take place in Rome from October 7 to 28 this year.

FAITH AND EVANGELIZATION

All these events happening this year are bound together by the themes of “faith” and “evangelization”. Evangelization indicates proclamation, transmission and witnessing to the Gospel given to humanity by our Lord Jesus Christ and the opening up of people’s lives, society, culture and history to the Person of Jesus Christ and to His living community, the Church.

This “New Evangelization” is primarily addressed to those who have drifted from the Faith and from the Church in traditionally Catholic countries, especially in the West.

What we are being called to do by this task of “New Evangelization” in Asia is to consider anew “the new methods and means for transmitting the Good News” more effectively to our people. We are challenged anew to foster in the Church in our country a renewed commitment and enthusiasm in living out the Gospel in all the diverse areas of our lives, in “real-life practice”, challenged anew to become more and more authentic witnesses of our faith, especially to our Asian neighbors as a fruit of our intensified intimacy with the Lord.

WHAT WILL THIS ERA OF NEW EVANGELIZATION FOR THE PHILIPPINES CONSIST OF?

The task stands on four pillars:

First, fostering and fulfilling the “missio ad gentes”, as a special vocation of the Church in our country, effectively involving our laypeople, our “Christifideles” brothers and sisters; our priests and seminarians; men and women in consecrated life.

Secondly, “bringing Good News to the poor.” Again and again, Filipino Catholics coming together to discern priorities, have seen that the Church here must become genuinely “a Church for and with the poor.”

Thirdly, reaching out to those among us whose faith-life has been largely eroded and even lost due to the surrounding confusion, moral relativism, doubt, agnosticism; reaching out to those who have drifted from the Faith and the Church, and have joined other religious sects.

Lastly, awakening or reawakening in faith, forming and animating in Christian life our young people and youth sector groups, in both urban and rural settings;

A nine-year journey for the New Evangelization has already been charted climaxing with the Jubilee Year 2021: Integral Faith Formation (2013); the Laity (2014); the Poor (2015); the Eucharist and of the Family (2016); the Parish as a Communion of Communities (2017); the Clergy and Religious (2018); the Youth (2019); Ecumenism and Inter-Religious Dialogue (2020); Missio ad gentes (2021). These are the nine pastoral priorities of the Church in the Philippines.

In the time before us, we will focus on these dimensions of faith, evangelization and discipleship, one by one. And it is most propitious that as we received the faith 500 years ago, so with the Year 2021we envision to become a truly sending Church.

In the face of a secularism which in some parts of our present world has itself become a kind of a “dominant religion”, in the face of the reality of billions who live in our time and who have not truly encountered Jesus Christ nor heard of His Gospel, how challenged we are, how challenged we must be, to enter into the endeavor of the “New Evangelization”! We for whom Jesus has been and is truly the Way, the Truth and the Life, — how can we not want and long and share Him with brothers and sisters around us who are yet to know and love Him, who are yet to receive the fullness of Life for which we have all been created, and without which their hearts will be ever restless – until they find Jesus and His heart which awaits them?

May our Lady, Mary Mother of Our Lord, lead us all in our longing and labors to bring her son Jesus Christ into our time and our world, our Emmanuel – our God who remains with us now and yet whose coming again in glory we await.

Maranatha, AMEN.

For the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines:

 

+ JOSE S. PALMA, D.D.
Archbishop of Cebu
President
July 9, 2012

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A CBCP Pastoral Letter on the latest decision on the Reproductive Health Bill

Contraception is Corruption!

 Seeking Light and Guidance on the RH Bill Issue

“What then should we do?” (Lk. 3, 10)

 As we begin the nine-day Misa de Gallo today, our thoughts turn to John the Baptist, the one who points to Jesus, the Christ Child. People came to him to ask, “What then should we do?” because their hearts were filled with expectation for the Messiah. (Lk. 3,15) They needed reason to hope. St. John the Baptist told them to share what they had, to act with justice, and shun extortion.

Today, our question as a people of God, regarding the controversial RH bill, may be the same. What then should we do?

On behalf of the President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, I reiterate the collective discernment of the Philippine bishops that the RH Bill if passed into law can harm our nation. Contraception corrupts the soul. The RH Bill is being gift wrapped to look like a gift for maternal health care. It is not so. It will lead to greater crimes against women.

The poor are being promised a better life through the RH Bill. It will not be so. The poor can rise from their misery through more accessible education, better hospitals and lesser government corruption. Money for contraceptives can be better used for education and authentic health care.

The youth are being made to believe that sex before marriage is acceptable provided you know how to avoid pregnancy. Is this moral? Those who corrupt the minds of children will invoke divine wrath on themselves.

The Reproductive Health Bill, if passed into law in its present form, will put the moral fibre of our nation at risk. As we your bishops have said in the past, a contraceptive mentality is the mother of an abortion mentality. The wide and free accessibility of contraceptives, even to the youth, will result in the destruction of family life and in greater violence against women.

What then should we do?

We congratulate the one hundred four (104) congressmen and women who voted NO to the RH Bill. You have voted courageously, despite all pressures, to stand up for what is right and true. The Church will remember you as the heroes of our nation, those who have said no to corruption and who care for the true welfare of the people, especially the poor. May you continue to be steadfast and not waiver in your stand against moral corruption.

What then should we do?

We plead with the sixty four (64) congressmen who have not voted, to be enlightened and stand up for the Truth. As St. John the Baptist directed the people to justice, we call on you also to seek justice for the Filipino people. The Church teaches us to follow our conscience, the inner sanctuary where we are alone with God (Gaudium et Spes #16), but such conscience must be formed and informed according to the universal values that are common to all human persons. The truth is that to be pro-child, pro-mother and pro-poor, we must resist all threats against them. This is justice. Stand up for it; defend it; do not be swayed by worldly pressures, and be the champion of the people who voted for you. God knows and sees what you are doing.

What then should we do?

We admonish the Filipino Catholic faithful to sharewith those who have less this Christmas, but also share in praying that our congressmen and women will be faithful to their call to serve the true interests of the Filipino people. This means upholding life, saying no to contraception which is corruption, and being faithful to the Christ Child who was pro-woman, pro-child and pro-poor.

From the Cathedral of Saint John the Evangelist, Dagupan City, December 15, 2012

For the President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines currently out of the country,

 

+SOCRATES B. VILLEGAS, D.D.

Archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan &

Vice-President, CBCP

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As we cross the threshold of the third millennium at the beginning of this Jubilee Year, it is well for us to briefly look back at the life of the Filipino nation and the Catholic Church in the Philippines in the past hundred years. We discern some lights and shadows coming to the fore.

First is our intense aspiration for life and its fullness, in stark contrast to the waste of lives lost in wars, criminality, and chronic poverty. Second is our unflagging struggle for independence and human rights against colonial powers and authoritarian regimes, as exemplified by the EDSA People Power Revolution. And third is our continuing search for lasting peace and development in the face of the fragmentation of our society along ethnic and class lines and its exacerbation by armed groups.

It is in this context that we enter the third millennium with a call to all Filipinos to help build what the Holy Father has called a Culture of Life, a Culture of Human Rights, and a Culture of Peace.1

I. Building a Culture of Life

“See, today I set before you life and prosperity, death and disaster…. I set before you life or death, blessing or curse. Choose life, then, so that you and your descendants may live, in the love of Yahweh your God…” (Deut. 30:15-16, 19)

Moses’ final discourse to the Chosen People presents the alternatives between a Culture of Life and a Culture of Death. It is addressed not only to the world of the ancient Hebrews but also to ours in these modern times—where abortions are silently counted in the millions, mercy-killing is being tested out in courts, and capital punishment is still resorted to as the “final solution.”

It is in this regard that Pope John Paul II has pleaded again and again on the “Gospel of Life.” He does so once more in the Asian context. “The life of every person, whether of the child in the womb, or of someone who is sick, handicapped or elderly, is a gift for all,” stresses the Holy Father. And he concludes: “We are therefore guardians of life, not its proprietors.” 2

The Culture of Death and Violence extends to the spread of drugs and the AIDS epidemic, the commercialization of sex, the proliferation of pornographic materials, and the growing permissiveness of a society that no longer heeds the love nor ways of Yahweh.

All forms of violence are an attack on the integrity and fullness of life. “To choose life,” states the Holy Father, “involves rejecting every form of violence: the violence of poverty and hunger, which affects so many human beings; the violence of armed conflict; the violence of criminal trafficking in drugs and arms; the violence of mindless damage to the natural environment.” 3 A more insidious form of violence is the widespread corruption in public office that compounds the other forms of violence in our society today.

Who then are the victims of violence in our society today? They are the street children and child laborers we see around us. They are the small farmers and tribal communities driven away from the lands they till. They are the refugees fleeing areas of armed conflict and the urban poor in dire need of decent living space. They are the drug addicts, the victims of rape and kidnapping, the countless young and old preyed upon by petty and big-time gambling syndicates.

Instead of moving us on a course towards the fullness of life, our laws and public institutions seem to be doing the opposite in their ineffectiveness before the various forms of individual or structural violence that demean the very meaning and quality of life. It is in this light that the value of human life and the dignity of the human person have to be protected by the recognition of rights and responsibilities.

II. Forging a Culture of Human Rights

Through her Social Teachings, the Church has been in the forefront of the struggle for Social Justice. She bases her stand on the intrinsic dignity of every human person and the demands of the common good. She has promoted the rights of workers as well as of property holders. More recently she has spoken out on the right of communities to a clean environment and the right of indigenous peoples to their own culture. And she has also upheld the right of freedom of conscience and of religious belief for all peoples.

The world has rapidly become much more complex and interdependent; the globalization in communications and in the world’s market economy is now a virtual reality. Because of this, there is all the more reason for governments as well as for the Church to articulate the rights of the most vulnerable groups, such as children, women, and indigenous peoples.

In the spirit of the Great Jubilee, we are ready to work with other religious groups in promoting a biblically-based agenda for human rights promotion in the Philippine context today, summarized in five R’s:

  • Release of prisoners, and all those in contemporary slave-like conditions;
  • Return of the land, and other means of production to their original or rightful owners;
  • Recall of debts unjustly imposed upon the poor;
  • Rest for the earth and conservation of the natural environment; and
  • Restoration of harmony among women and men, based on their respective roles, rights, and equal dignity.

Moreover, over the past three years in preparation for the Jubilee Year, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) has issued pastoral exhortations on Philippine Politics, Economy, Culture, and Spirituality, highlighting the rights and responsibilities of Filipinos in the conduct of our political, economic, and cultural-spiritual institutions.4 In particular as regards a Culture of Human Rights, they have stressed the principles of democracy as well as the rights of the economically vulnerable sectors of our society to their basic needs.

The ultimate basis for this preferential option for the poor is pointed out by Pope John Paul II and the Synod of Bishops for Asia: “The poor of Asia and of the world will always find their best reason for hope in the Gospel command to love one another as Christ has loved us (cf. Jn 13:34).” With this in mind, the Church herself is challenged to “become a Church of the poor and for the poor.”5

III. Creating a Culture of Peace

Like concentric circles spreading out from the core value of Human Dignity, a Culture of Life gives rise to a Culture of Human Rights, which in turn brings forth a Culture of Peace. There can be no true peace without respect for life itself and the human rights of every person. Opus Justitiae Pax, (Is. 32:17) the motto of Pope Pius XII, highlights this intimate relationship: Peace is the fruit of Justice.

Indeed, peace itself is seen as one of the rights a community can lay moral claims on. In his latest message for the World Day of Peace, the Holy Father calls our attention to “two indivisible and interdependent rights: the right to peace and the right to an integral development born of solidarity.”6 Thus, a Culture of Peace includes the development imperative as well as a sense of solidarity among communities, nations, and peoples of one world.

In a pluralistic society with diverse cultures and religious traditions, this sense of solidarity can only come about through dialogue – the kind that leads to mutual understanding and respect.

In Mindanao, over the past three years, Catholic and Protestant bishops have entered into dialogue with their religious counterparts, the Muslim ulama , to reinforce the peace process, based on the spiritual traditions of both religions. They are also starting to include leaders of the indigenous peoples’ communities in this dialogue of life, of common action, and of religious experience. Last November, the Bishops-Ulama Forum sponsored a Mindanao-wide Week of Peace to highlight the common aspirations of all cultural communities to put an end to the fighting.

There are other initiatives for peace being worked at by other peace advocates – NGOs and POs – that over the years have been persistently hammering away at the deep-seated obstacles to peace among our people. The campaigners for a gunless society are one such group. So too are those dedicated men and women thanklessly working with our basic sectors to lessen government’s neglect of them.

Ten years ago, the CBCP had already issued a pastoral letter to “Seek Peace; Pursue It.” Today we ask our government officials to resume or continue peace talks with armed groups to arrive at a comprehensive and honorable peace for all. We are ready to collaborate in this noble effort.

Peace-making and rejecting all forms of violence are some of the building-blocks for a Culture of Peace. This work for peace starts with the individual, the family, and the local community and reaches out to include inter-cultural solidarity and care of the environment. It is with these sentiments that Pope John Paul II challenges the young of today: “peace within you and peace around you, peace always, peace with everyone, peace for everyone.”7

The Church’s “mission of dialogue,” according to the Synod Fathers of Asia, is “grounded in the logic of the Incarnation” and partakes of “the Father’s loving dialogue of salvation with humanity.”8 Through this ongoing dialogue, Christians help bring about “a culture where openness to the Transcendent, the promotion of the human person and respect for the world of nature are shared by all.”9 All this is what we mean by a Culture of Peace.

IV. Looking Back and Looking Beyond

As we recall the five R’s for observing the Year of Jubilee, we can preface these with another set of R’s – Renewal and reconciliation. In the spirit of the Jubilee Year, we must first start with a process of self-examination and renewal with an eye to reconciling with those we have sinned against by asking forgiveness. 10

For we cannot close our eyes to the shortcomings that we of the faith have been guilty of in the past. The name “Christian” or “Catholic” has at various historical periods been invoked to foment wars against minority groups, or to acquire landholdings and other forms of wealth, or even to justify the continuation of unjust regimes. Both as an institution and as a community of believers, we acknowledge with deep sorrow these failings, for they are a betrayal of authentic Gospel values that manifest the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

In terms of reconciliation, the Holy Father spells out what this means: “For the Catholic faithful, the commitment to build peace and justice is not secondary but essential. It is to be undertaken in openness towards their brothers and sisters of other Churches and Ecclesial Communities, towards the followers of other religions… with whom they share the same concern for peace and brotherhood.” 11

A threefold Culture of Life, Human Rights, and Peace thus provides us with a common agenda for collaborative action among Christians, other faith communities, governments and secular institutions as we enter the third millennium. Let this too be our dream and our hope in the spirit of the Jubilee Year for a shared future with all men and women of good will so that together we may add a final R at the end of our pilgrimage on earth: Return to our Father’s house.

May the spirit of the Risen Lord enable us to share with everyone his resurrection greeting, “Peace be with you.” (Jn. 20:19) And may Mary, our Mother of Life and Queen of Peace, be the guiding star in our journey through this new millennium.

For the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines:

+ORLANDO B. QUEVEDO, OMI, D.D.
Archbishop of Cotabato
President
January 26, 2000

Footnotes:

1 Cf. Message for World Day of Peace, 1 January 1999.
2 Ecclesia in Asia, (EA), no. 35. Vatican City, 1999.
3 Message for World Day of Peace, 1 January 1999.
4 CBCP, Pastoral Letters on Politics, 1997; Economy, 1998; Culture, 1999; Spirituality, 1999.
5 EA, no. 34.
6 Message for World Day of Peace, 1 January 2000, no. 13.
7 Ibid., no. 22.
8 EA, no. 29.
9 Message for World Day of Peace, 1 January 2000, no. 2.
10 Pope John Paul II, Tertio Millennio Adveniente, no. 33, Vatican City, 1994.
11 Message for World Day of Peace, 1 January 2000, no. 20.

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A Pastoral Exhortation
of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines
for the Great Jubilee Year 2000

Aperite mihi portas justitiae ” (Psalm 118). ” Open for me the doors of righteousness.” With these words Pope John Paul II inaugurated the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 to commemorate the 2000th anniversary of Christianity, a Holy Year of Pardon and Renewal, a year dedicated to the honor and praise and glory of the Most Blessed Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

With the launching of the Holy Year in our respective jurisdictions (dioceses), we ended the countdown to the Year 2000 amid euphoric explosions of welcome to the Third Millennium. In the cities all over the world the midnight clouds of December 31st, 1999 were littered with chandeliers of expensive, but short lived, fireworks and a revelry of commercial extravaganza.

While all that noisy welcome is now forgotten, we as Church embark upon the activities of the Holy Year 2000 as calendared in our respective dioceses. We are reminded in this year of the Trinity that “When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to ransom those under the law, so that we might receive adoption. As proof that you are children, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying out ‘Abba, Father’. So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God “(Gal 4/4-7). This missionary action of Father, Son and Holy Spirit is what we remember and celebrate and live in the Holy Year. Let us open our hearts to the BlessedTrinity, in whose honor we have convened a Marian Festival in the last week of January this year. Let us open our hearts to the Triune God.

A number of sectoral jubilees or Jubilee Days along with other feasts and celebrations have been calendared for this Holy Year. In all of these events, let us be reminded that the primary objective of the Jubilee Days is “the strengthening of faith and of the witness of Christians” (TMA 42) towards the “New Springtime of Christian life” (TMA 18), such as we dreamed to embark upon with the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines ten years ago. At the end of this year we hope and pray that we shall have become “better Christians”.

If we may briefly recall: the Old Testament Sabbath/Jubilee Year has left us a number of traditions which we are now challenged to reflect upon and discover how we may apply starting this Jubilee Year as our pathways to the Third Millennium. The present does not only have a linkage with the past, but the past is prophetic of the future. Leviticus 25 in particular mentions these injunctions for the Jewish Jubilee Year: the release of prisoners, the return of families to their ancestral homes, the rest given to agricultural land, the reduction or cancellation of debts, the restoring of harmony among people on the basis of their respective roles, rights and equal dignity . (cf. Ex. 23/10;Dt.15/1-6) These are all interconnected.

Brothers and Sisters, we invite you to reflect on these social traditions in order to see how these can help us establish the “communion of communities” and the “community of disciples who firmly believe in the Lord Jesus” (CBCP Vision).

What do these traditions mean now in the circumstances of our present realities? Jesus must have been thinking about Leviticus 25 when he applied to himself Isaias 61: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord anointed me to bring good tidings to the afflicted; he has sent me to bind up the broken hearted to proclaim liberty to captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Lk 4/16-20). That is what the traditions meant for Jesus. What do they mean to us now who are followers of Jesus? Let us open our hearts to the inspiration of Jesus’ example.

This Jubilee Year, if we want to enter into the mystery of the Blessed Trinity, the high point of our faith, we must enter through the Door which is Jesus Christ (Jo.10/9), we must fix our eyes on Jesus (Luke 4/20), our one and only Redeemer “yesterday, today and forever” (Heb. 13/8). After all, the Year 2000, the beginning of the Third Millennium is being celebrated to mark his coming into our world, his becoming man, his becoming Emmanuel, God with us, God on our side, to make our story his story too, to make his life the pattern of our life. Let us open our hearts to Jesus.

We are in a new beginning. In response to the call of Pope John Paul II, with this Great Jubilee, let us embark on a journey of renewal, of repentance, of mutual forgiveness and reconciliation. Let each one look in his/her own heart and see what sins there are, hindering the entry of the Lord into his/her heart and the renewal of our nation. Let each and all acknowledge their sins and turn their backs to them in sorrow.

The “year of favour” which Jesus announces in the Gospel is for today and everyday. Our Jubilee Days this year are symbolized by the GLORIOUS CROSS that is now being brought from parish to parish to signify our acceptance to become truly a “community of disciples of the Lord.” We are happy to note that this journey of the Glorious Cross is an occasion for the re-evangelization and conversion of our people.

In addition to the most important gift of mercy which is the forgiveness of our sins, there is a special gift given in abundance during the year of the Great Jubilee. This is the plenary indulgence which we can avail of by going in pilgrimage to the various pilgrimage sites designated not only in Rome and the Holy Land but also in our respective dioceses.

In the spirit of repentance, we, Your Bishops, announce a National Day of Jubilee Pilgrimage and Fasting for the Poor on April 14 Friday. We ourselves shall lead this National Day of Jubilee Pilgrimage and Fasting for the Poor all over the country for our respective jurisdictions. It will be a special day of pilgrimage with fasting, to atone for our sins, to beg for the mercy of God for our country, for our leaders, our President and his Cabinet members. We shall on that day offer special prayers that our government may uproot the causes of pervasive graft and corruption. It will be a day of fasting in behalf of the poor. Whatever will be saved on that day will be given either to some poor family or the money given to some charitable institution we shall designate.

We firmly believe, however, that change will come, if each one will open his heart to the torrents of grace instore this Holy Year. It is of vital importance that we go into the Third Millennium a different people. We should not concentrate so much on what sort of nation we want to create, but rather on what kind of person each should become on account of the influence of Jesus in his/her life. Our personal conversion and authentic interior renewal must have an impact on the community we live in. With our life, by our life, we must proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

In the past three years of preparation for the Great Jubilee the CBCP has issued Pastoral Letters on Politics, Economics, Culture and Spirituality. We recall them to you now for our Great Jubilee conferences and conventions. In them we will find the pathways for personal and societal renewal so much needed in our journey in the new millennium.

But we must go beyond the signs of Pilgrimages and Indulgence to the on-going renewal of our individual and communal lives by responding to the missionary call of the Pope John Paul II in his Apostolic Exhortation, “Ecclesia In Asia”. To respond to this missionary call, we must not only care and share, but even dare to face the risks of becoming a missionary church, a repentant and forgiving church, a church forever reaching out to people in greatest need (TMA 42).

On this occasion, we appeal for prayer for the forthcoming Second National Clergy Retreat in Tagaytay City on June 26-July 1 this year, and the National Mission Congress in Cebu City on September 28- October 1 also this year. We hope that these two events as well as the various Conventions and Congresses to be held in our respective dioceses will contribute to the “springtime of Christianity”, to “the springtime of holiness”. As we “fix our eyes on Jesus”, we can not but also fix our eyes on the Eucharist which is his Real Presence in our midst. The Holy Year is also a Eucharistic Year. We hope to end our Jubilee Year with a Eucharistic Congress in our Dioceses.

In this year of the Great Jubilee, we dream of exuberant liberation and renewal. We would like to address in particular those who have caused the suffering and poverty of our brothers and sisters. May they not only open their hearts to Jesus in Holy Communion but also to the victims of their violence. To close your heart to your neighbor is to close your heart to Jesus. May we all open our hearts to the call for a Christian social conscience.

In the end , we invite you to keep the joyful spirit of this Holy Year 2000. “It’s the time of the Great Jubilee.”

“It’s a time of joy, a time of peace, a time when hearts are then set free, a time to heal the wounds of division. Open your hearts to the Lord and begin to see the mystery that we are all together as one family. No more walls, no more chains, no more selfishness and closed doors. For we are in the fullness of God’s time.”

May Mary, “the Star of Evangelization” guide our steps in this Year of the Great Jubilee which opens for us our journey to the new Millennium.
For the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines:

+ORLANDO B. QUEVEDO
Archbishop of Cotabato
President
January 26, 2000

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