A PASTORAL MESSAGE
from the Permanent Council of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference
of the Philippines (CBCP)

Recent events and developments in our country reveal once again what difficult times our people are going through.  It would seem that we move from crisis to crisis, in the economic and political areas most obviously, but there are currents also which disturb and threaten some of the deepest beliefs and values in family life and our community life as Church and as a nation.  Thus the recent assembly of the Bishops (CBCP), in its efforts to confront and respond to some of these difficulties, took up certain proposals whose realization we are now proposing to all the faithful in our country. Among these is to set in motion two concerned efforts of spiritual renewal, of penitence and prayer which we are bringing before you in this pastoral message.

First is a nationwide observance of “nine First Fridays” offered to the Sacred Heart of Jesus (November 2003 to July 2004), including a re-consecration to the Lord of our families and our people.  The second “project” will be a new Marian Year.

THE “NINE FIRST FRIDAYS” IN HONOR OF THE SACRED HEART OF JESUS

This chain of “First Fridays” will begin with the First Friday of November (7 November) and include all the First Fridays after that, till 2 July 2004.

Our Filipino Catholic faithful have always been marked by a strong devotion to the Heart of Jesus. This fact one can readily verify by the presence of pictures and statutes of the Sacred Heart in countless Catholic homes, in practically every church and chapel throughout the country.  Then, too, there are the thousands of men and women – perhaps somewhat less today than in past decades – who belong to the Apostleship of Prayer and other confraternities who so often wear the scapular or the medal of the Sacred Heart.

Diocesan and national Eucharistic Congresses, annual celebrations of the Feast of Christ the King, have almost always concluded with the consecration to the Sacred Heart.  In the critical years of the late 1950’s, at the Second National Eucharistic Congress (28 November – 2 December 1956), our then President Ramon Magsaysay led the solemn and moving consecration of our people to the Heart of Jesus, at the closing rites in the Luneta.

It is in the spirit of our people’s love for the Heart of Jesus that we are urging as many as of our faithful people as possible, and all parishes and dioceses, all Catholic school and institutions, to renew the longstanding practice of the Nine First Fridays, from 7 November to 2 July 2004.

Each parish church, the chapels and oratories in our schools and similar institutions are asked to offer a special Mass each First Friday of the month, and to hold a Holy Hour either before or after that Mass or at some other appropriate hour when the faithful can come to participate. We ask every Catholic man, woman and child who can do so, to offer Mass and Communion-and to approach the Sacrament of Reconciliation if possible-on each of these First Fridays also.

Brief but well-prepared homilies and longer reflection-talks should be included as “catechesis” at these Masses and Holy Hours, to help those participating to understand ever more deeply the meaning for us of the devotion to the Sacred Heart. In our individual lives, but also in our families and homes, in all local communities, in professional and political life, on all levels, this devotion can be a powerhouse of grace. In the striving of our country and our people to build up for our land a more truly human, more genuinely just and caring society, a Filipino nation living an authentic civilization of love, the heart of Jesus can be the unfailing source of light and energy from the Spirit. Our Lord himself has promised this.

We propose two special intentions for which these Masses and Communions of Reparation will be offered:

The Sanctification of Priests

In the face of the current “crisis in the priesthood”, in the wake of the recent shocking and saddening revelations of wrongful deeds and crimes (especially in the area of the sexual) committed by members of the clergy in so many parts of the world, we ask you to offer your First Friday acts of devotion and penance for the ongoing conversion and sanctification of those in Holy Orders, – bishops, priests and deacons, and those preparing for ordination, i.e., seminarians still in formation.  We need priests very badly in our country, but (as has been so often said) we need above all holy priests, priests with their hearts deeply rooted in the Heart of the Crucified and Risen Lord, priests who are totally committed to the labor and love of shepherds like the one Good Shepherd, like him ready to give their lives for the flock, especially the poor.

The Renewal of Christian Life

Secondly, we all realize that this ongoing process of conversion and sanctification – this total and profound renewal of Christian commitment and Christian practice – must take place also in the lives of all of us, Catholics. We are only too greatly aware of the need of reform (again, very deep and very broad) in our country, in all of the Philippine society, but in a special way also, in our government and all areas of our public life. Corruption, to name an inveterate and ever-spreading cancer in our national life, is only one – if perhaps the prime – example of what must be tenaciously fought.  You can name these social evils yourselves, as well or even better than we can.  There is so much we must struggle to reform and renew in our nation and its institutions.

It is our hope and prayer, that our consecration of our lives and of our nation itself, to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, may turn our desires and efforts toward much-needed changes, and may motivate us to resolute and courageous action. May the Heart of Christ, source of the grace which we need to bring a genuine renewal into our lives and into the society around us, make all this possible and effective.
OUR PROGRAM: C-O-R

The overall purpose of this movement for authentic reform and renewal in our lives as Filipino Christians is summed up in the motto which the CBCP proposed for the Bimillenium Marian Year of 1985: C-O-R: Conversion, Offering of our daily lives, and Reparation.  It was this program, spelling out the “program” given to the Fatima children by the blessed Mother herself, which we ourselves help up as a challenge before our eyes, as we then tried earnestly to open ourselves to God’s healing and reconciling help to our country, then suffering so greatly under the dictatorship.

C = CONVERSION

The call of the Gospel is constant summons to conversion in our hearts and lives.  On Ash Wednesday each year we are invited to seek first God’s rule and the justice and holiness it calls us to. “Be converted, and be faithful to the Gospel!” All of us, individually and collectively, constantly need to change our lives to put them in line with God’s demands, in so many diverse areas of behavior and practice.  Daily we must seek to translate this conversion into effective action.  No renewal can move forward without it.

O – OFFERING OF OUR LIVES

We were reminded (- by the Blessed Mother herself at Fatima -) that in our most ordinary duties, in the fulfillment of obligations and tasks in each one’s state of life, in our family, in our jobs, in whatever positions we have in private or public life, in our day-to-day dealings and relationships – in all the these we bring forward the work of God’s rule and kingdom, or hinder it. Few of us make the great decisions which change the course of society. But offering our daily lives in all sincerity and seriousness to God means asking him to work through each one of us, to fulfill his will And purpose not only in ourselves but in the ongoing course of our history.

R = REPARATION

In prayer and worship, in attitude and deed, we can offer reparation, out of love, for the evil and the sins committed against God’s law and against the good of the neighbor. Through St. Margaret Mary already in the 17th century, our Lord asked for the promotion of the Masses and communions of reparation on each First Friday of the month. In the 1969 Mass of the Sacred Heart, the Church’s liturgy stresses the theme of moral reparation out of love, and genuine solidarity with and concern for others. We are invited to prayer, penance, and praxis by which we seek to participate in the redeeming love of Jesus operative in the world.  We seek to realize what Paul speaks of (in Colossians 1,24), “In my flesh I fill up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ, for the sake of his body, the church.”

To sum up, then, on each First Friday of the month – from November 2003 to July 2004, in honor of the Sacred Heart of Jesus,

Each one of the faithful is asked to offer a Mass and Communion of Reparation, and if possible also to approach the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

In every church and chapel, let a holy Hour be held at a time when most people can join, and let there be at least a brief catechesis on the Devotion to the Heart of Jesus, and what this devotion can and should mean in our lives as individuals and communities in our country today.

CONSECRATION TO THE SACRED HEART OF JESUS

Consecration of Families

We are also urging you, in line with the movement for a true Christian renewal of our people and our society, that as many as possible collaborate in propagating the practice of consecrating our families to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

This has been a revered and longstanding practice throughout our country our country in past decades.  During the proposed Nine First Fridays period, let it be a common effort to have as many families as possible consecrated, genuinely entrusting the lives of all the family-members to the Heart of Jesus.  An appropriate catechesis must precede the act of consecration.  Have family-members really understand what they are committing themselves to: that they are renewing in a fresh way their baptismal consecration as true sons and daughters of our Father in heaven.  That they are trying to be faithful to the Gospel in fuller and more practical ways.  That they are seeking more integral obedience to God’s commandments, trying to make their homes truly “domestic churches”.  That they will try to turn their homes into true centers of deep and joyful Christian family life. That they also realize that if they live out this consecration, the Heart of Christ will bring much blessing into their lives, much more than they might even expect.

What we hope will happen this year is that one million families in the entire Philippines will consecrate or re-consecrate themselves to the Heart of Jesus and also, to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Can every Filipino Catholic help bring this hope to fulfillment?

Nationwide Consecration

Lastly, on Christ the King Sunday this year, which will be 23 November 2003, the CBCP enjoins every diocese and parish in a solemn way to make its Act of consecration to the Sacred Heart – the faithful consecrating our priests, our families, our people and our land, to the Heart of Jesus. Let long-range preparation begin already for this great event, by solidly instructive and meaningful catechesis. Our purpose and hope is that in every way possible, this consecration will be really understood in our minds, really meant, and really ardent in our wills and spirits. Our prayer and hope is that it will in fact begin a new chapter in the faith-life of our people and nation, an authentic recommitment to Jesus and his Gospel, joined in by as many Filipinos as possible, throughout our land. Let us spare no effort to make this event something that will really and truly make a difference, that will mark a new beginning in our striving to be a genuinely Christian nation, a people really striving to be faithful to the spirit and the heart of the Savior.

It has been suggested that on the eve of the feast of Christ the King, the family will make its own act of consecration in the home, but then on the Sunday itself every family so consecrated will join the common act of consecration of the diocese or town or parish, – as shall seem best in every part of our country.

Dear faithful People of God in our land, all that has been said above expresses our intentions, our plans and our expectations.  But it will all depend on you, on your generous response and the fruitfulness of God’s grace working in you and in your communities, to make all of this come true.

Let this be a challenge to all of us in the Church in the Philippines. With God’s plentiful grace, let us rise to the measure of this challenge, and make our country truly a realm of the Sacred Heart of Jesus as never before, truly a realm of justice, solidarity, love and peace.
THE MARIAN YEAR:

The year 2004 will mark the 150th anniversary of the definition, by Blessed Pope Pius IX, of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, with the Bull Ineffabilis Deus (8 December 1854), and the 50th anniversary of the very first Marian Year eve celebrated in the Philippines (8 December 1953 to 8 December 1954). The July 2003 meeting of the CBCP also decreed that this new Marian Year be fervently observed in our country, to renew our people’s entrustment to the Blessed Mother and her Immaculate Heart.  We will write of this coming celebration later, but it is of course useful already to inform the faithful of this future jubilee year.

CONCLUSION

In the name of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) then, we are announcing these two projects to all Catholic communities in our country.  But first of all, it is the “Nine First Fridays” practice which we ask all dioceses, parishes, schools, etc., to set in motion in the very first days of October, with commitment and fervor.

In the 17th century, Our Lord gave us through St. Margaret Mary some promises he was making for our growth in Christian holiness and apostolic action.  Today we can properly see those promises in the light of present-day needs, not only personal needs, but those of our country, of entire nations, and of the whole world itself. Our Lord invites us to turn to him with greater trust and love. He asks us to fulfill the Gospel demands of obedience to his commandments, of compassionate service to our brothers and sisters, as ture and urgent imperatives in our times. Surely today he asks us, as individuals and communities, to strive against all the ways by which society injures the dignity and rights of others, especially the poor and the powerless. This we are to do as deeds of reparation in contemporary life. There are many urgent ways by which we can “repair” the sins of hardheartedness and injustice, sins against love of neighbor – against that “love one another” which was Our Lord’s last commandment to us.

So much needs to be done in our country today, to bring it in line with the heart of our Saviour. The projects and programs we are embarking on – beginning with the Nine First Fridays and our Acts of Consecration – are only the beginning, but the very important beginning of a mobilization for conversion and renewal, which – we trust – our Lord himself will empower and bring to fulfillment, in the overflowing mercy and love of his Sacred Heart.

For the Permanent Council of the CBCP:

+ORLANDO B. QUEVEDO, OMI
Archbishop of Cotabato
President, CBCP

September 1, 2003

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