the morning of
following days we went around the parish to gather data. We visited all the communities and
talked to the people. We also met the lay leaders who gathered in the seminar
house. When we came back after a couple of weeks we draw a general profile of
The general objective was to form and strengthen the BECs. The specific objectives were:
1. To foster a sense of community among the members of the BECs
2. To conscienticize and evangelize the BECs
3. To enable the BECs to celebrate participative, relevant and creative liturgies
4. To spot and develop core group of leaders in each BEC
5. To mobilize the BECs to respond to concrete socio-economic issues and needs
There were 50 barrios and sitios in the parish which meant forming 50 BECs. There were 30 to a hundred families in each BEC. We identified the BEC clusters and saw that they could constitute seven zones with around seven BECs per zone. We then divided ourselves into subteams. Each subteam was composed of around four members assigned to specific BECs. The priest in each subteam acted as the coordinator and was responsible for the whole zone. For me it meant moving from one barrio to another and supervising the members of the subteam. We lived and worked in the specific BECs and zones for six months and moved to the next zones until we covered all the zones and BECs.
Since we were in the Lenten season at the beginning of the mission, we decided to make the celebration of the liturgical season as the focal point of evangelizing and organizing. The bible-reflections and the regular Sunday katilingbanong pag-ampo (community worship) in each BEC focused on the theme of "sin and conversion." We organized communal celebration of penance and reconciliation. A couple of weeks before Holy Week, the focus of reflection shifted to Christology: the mission of Christ and his consequent passion, death and resurrection. We had Misa-Pamalandong (Mass-Reflection) in each BEC. The Misa-Pamalandong usually lasted from to . The theme was: Christology. These were the questions for reflection and sharing among the people: Who is Christ for you? What are the dominant symbols of Christ in our culture? What message do these symbols convey? What is the meaning and relevance of Christ's death and resurrection for our situation today? The group discussion was followed by reporting. The facilitator collated the various reports and then the presider gave his homily/input. Before proceeding to the liturgy of the Eucharist, the agape was celebrated -- which meant that the participants shared the food that they brought with them. The liturgy of the Eucharist was celebrated in the afternoon and this was followed by the scheduling and tasking for the liturgy planning for the Holy Week.
Most of the liturgies during the Holy Week were celebrated at the BEC level – especially on Good Friday and Easter Sunday. There were also zone level celebrations which brought the BEC clusters together – on Palm Sunday and Holy Thursday. The liturgy preparations were done by the people themselves with the guidance of the lay missionaries and seminarians. Seminars on liturgy were conducted. Various planning groups were formed to prepare for different liturgies during the Holy Week. The main thrust at this stage was the celebration of meaningful and participative liturgies. We also made an effort to reorient the traditional devotional activities like the Via Crucis and Siete Palabras by bringing in the liberation theme and making them more relevant and participatory.
we evaluated this mission phase we observed that the liturgical activities
helped considerably in fostering a sense of community and solidarity at the BEC
level. In the process, the people also
learned to actively participate in the planning, celebration and evaluation of
their liturgies. We were also able to test the capabilities of existing leaders
and spot potential leaders. There were
also issues and concerns that emerged, especially about the ongoing deforestation
caused by logging operations in the area.. Thus, Frs. Kelly and Gervais came out with an
Easter message about the ecology issue. The letter discussed the ecological
crisis that the people in
We spent the following months further training the people to actively participate in the planning, celebration and evaluation of their regular Sunday priestless liturgy (the Katilingbanong Pag-ampo). The BECs with larger membership were subdivided into family groupings, usually 10 to 15 families per grouping. There were between four to eight family groupings per BECs. These groupings began to take turns in sponsoring the Katilingbanong Pag-ampo. The lay missionaries helped these family groupings prepare the liturgy. The preparation involved a period of reflection on relevant events and themes that could be the focus for liturgical celebration. This would be followed by the actual planning of the liturgy, the tasking, the preparation of the readings and the prayers, and selecting what symbols to use. There would also be rehearsals since many of the people were not used to reading, sharing or praying in public. Oftentimes, the readings for the coming Sunday would be used for the bible-reflection of the family groupings during the week. These bible-reflections were held in the homes of the members of the family groupings.
Many BECs celebrated their fiestas during the months of May and June. We made use of this opportunity to make the preparation and celebration of the fiesta as a focal point for evangelization, organization and the training of leaders. As part of the fiesta preparation, Misa-Pamalandongs were celebrated with the theme centered on the meaning of the devotion to the saints, the life and virtues of the patron saint of the BEC. There was emphasis on the saints as models for Christian living. The virtues of the saints (e.g., faith, hope, love, service, option for the poor, prayer, etc.) were used as themes for the nine nights of the fiesta novena. The various family groupings within the BECs prepared these novena-liturgies. The fiesta liturgy was prepared by a group that represented the family groupings. There were also committees that planned the other festivities, the agape, and the procession.
were five major
seminarians from St. Mary’s of Gango,
the early part of July, I was out of the mission area. I went to
of those who helped organized the Fast for Rudy was Bro. Karl Gaspar. Karl was
professed in May 1987 as a religious brother. Before he joined us, Karl was already well known as
the former secretary of the Mindanao-Sulu Pastoral Conference, an award-winning
artist, writer and member of the Ecumenical Association of Third World
Theologians. He was imprisoned for two years and he joined us after he was
released. His first assignment after his profession was the Iligan Redemptorist
Community and Mission Team. He reported to
I went back to
The leaders of the PSK and the BECs sent their demands to the Department of Energy and Natural Resources (DENR) to order a stop of all logging operations in the area. By July 20, the hundreds of people put up barricades in the main roads. No logging trucks could pass and many of these were stranded on the road. This paralyzed the logging operations. There were bible-reflection sessions and liturgies celebrated in the barricade. One night, Bishop Gaudencio Rosales came and he listened to the people as they shared their reflections. He encouraged them to continue their struggle and to make sure that they remain peaceful.
The barricade was a manifestation of people power. There were men and women, young and old. Some mothers even brought their babies. The people shared their food with the drivers of the logging trucks that were stranded because of the barricade. The people were aware that they were up against powerful opponents. The logging companies were owned by powerful politicians. They used the military as their security. They even controlled a judge in Malaybalay who gave a court injunction against the barricade and ordered the military to break it up.
That night, the people who gathered at the side of the road for bible-reflection felt dejected. Their eyes were filled with tears as the logging trucks passed by. They felt they were defeated.
this incident did not go unnoticed. That
night and the following morning, what happened in
Several days later, the rains and flood came. The bridge collapsed and there were landslides along the logging roads. During the bible-reflection that night, the people celebrated the event as an act of God. The barricade was still on -- with the help of mother nature.
On the second week of August, we accompanied Fr. Kelly and the leaders of the barricade to Malaybalay. They had received a subpoena to appear before the court for preliminary hearing. The logging company had filed a multi-million pesos lawsuit against them for causing loses to the company due to the barricade. We were able to mobilize 5 truckloads of people. Since we could not all fit inside the court-house, many of the people surrounded the building. After the judge read the charges, he scolded the people for setting up the barricade against the logging company. It was very clear to us that he was on the side of the loggers. He set the date of the hearing and we all marched from the courthouse to the cathedral. There were over three-hundred of us and some were carrying placards and streamers demanding the stop of the logging operations. After praying in the cathedral, we met Bishop Rosales who encouraged us to remain steadfast. He told us that he was going to a meeting of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference and will bring up the ecology issue.
a week, the
Department of Energy and Natural Resources (DENR) upon the order of President
Aquino suspended all logging operations in the
We were aware that this was only a temporary victory. The struggle was far from over. Yet we were also aware of God's saving presence. For many it was an experience of the paschal mystery, an experience of God's wondrous deeds after experiencing an apparent defeat a few weeks before.
Around this time, two newly-ordained Redemptorist priests were assigned to the team – Frs. Joshua Manubag and Rolly Rollon. They were to spend their pastoral year with us. As the director of the pastoral year, my task was to be their guide and mentor. They were assigned to live and work in the BECs and I often visited them to see how they were doing. We also met once a week as a group.
With the beginning of the advent season, the liturgical celebrations focused on the themes of Christ’s incarnation and his future coming in the end-time. The BECs began to prepare the liturgy of the novena-aguinaldo, the traditional nine days of dawn liturgy before Christmas. The family groupings in each BEC were mobilized to prepare the liturgies. This time, the emphasis was not only on active participation but on creativity as well. This was also another opportunity to test the competence of the emerging leaders in facilitating and organizing skills. The BECs also emphasized the communal celebration of Christmas.
Christmas, I took a one month break from the mission. I went to my hermitage in
Busay where I spent most of my time in relaxation, prayer, reading and writing.
I also made my final preparation for the marathon. I went to
I came back to
Since part of the goal of the mission was to assist the communities in responding to their basic needs, we helped BECs organize socio-economic projects. Among these were: the organic farming method, carabao dispersal and community-based health program. We also encouraged some BECs to set up cooperatives. Members of the mission team who had special training helped set up these programs.
As the BECs in the periphery developed, our mission subteams moved closer to the center of the parish. It was part of our strategy to build up first the BECs in the remote barangays of the parish and gradually move towards the poblacion or town which was the center of the parish. While most of the liturgies in the remote BECs were non-eucharistic, the liturgies in the poblacion were mostly eucharistic. The thickly populated town was subdivided into smaller BEC groupings or neighborhood communities. These groupings were to take turns in sponsoring and preparing the liturgy in the parish church. The lenten season and the Holy Week became the occasion for this. The same process of liturgy planning, celebration and evaluation was used. The people participated in preparing the environment (church decoration), choosing the symbols, composing the prayers, performing liturgical drama and dance, etc. So much creativity was unleashed. This process was continued in the regular Sunday liturgy. This became the focal point for developing a sense of identity and solidarity for the BECs in the town.
the process of building up the BECs continued, I noticed that the military were intensifying
their operations in
harrassment against the mission team and Fr. Kelly also started. Military special operation teams went around
the barrios telling the people that the members of the mission team and the
parish priest were communists. They
accused the BECs of supporting the communists and told them to surrender. They also tried to form vigilante and
para-military groups in every barangay.
They organized weekend seminars under which they claimed as part of the
National Reconciliation and Development Program (NRDP). The people were forced
to attend these seminars. At the end the seminars they were required to pledge
their allegiance to the Republic of the
the Sunday liturgies, we denounced the military operations, the false encounters and false surrenders.
The BECs organized fact-finding teams to monitor, document and report military
abuses and human rights violations. With
the support of Bishop
Gaudencio Rosales, the BEC leaders held a series of dialogue with
the top military commanders in the area. The BEC leaders complained to them
that all the reports about the encounters and mass surrenders were false. They
also asked the military officers not to force them to organize the
paramilitary/vigilante groups in their areas. Consequently, the militarization
preparation for the celebration of the parish fiesta was under way. This was the occasion for fostering a sense
of parish-consciousness and solidarity among the various BECs. The novena-liturgies were sponsored and
prepared by the BEC groupings in the town and the BEC zones. The BECs from the periphery came down to
celebrate the parish fiesta. As part of
preparation for the fiesta liturgy, the BEC leaders had a workshop where they
composed the creed based on their own understanding and praxis of the
faith. The creed of
the evaluation of the fiesta activities, there was a growing awareness of the
need to continue the ecology campaign.
This became urgent when logging operations were detected in the mountains near the boundary of
The following day, we marched from the DENR office to the DENR check-point. We were carrying placards and streamers. When the DENR guards saw us approaching, they ran and abandoned the check-point. So we took over, set-up our tents at the back of the check-point and formed a human barricade. We let the buses, cars and other vehicles pass except the logging trucks. Thus, many logging trucks were stranded. On the first night, a truckload of army soldiers arrived. I approached their officer who was a second lieutenant and introduced myself. He told me not to worry. They were not there to disperse us but to provide security. He told me to make sure that we remain peaceful and not do anything that will provoke a violent response from them.
The barricade was general peaceful except for one incident when a drunk and angry driver drove his truck through the barricade. The people avoided the speeding truck but the truck almost turned turtle when his tires were punctured. Somebody placed large s-shaped nails at the back of the human barricade. After that there was no more attempt to drive through the barricade again. We also quietly warned the people not to place those dangerous nails on the road.
During the whole campaign, different committees functioned: negotiating panel, logistics and food committee, security, mass media and communications, and the liturgy committee. The liturgies celebrated in the barricade kept up the morale of the people and helped them view their struggle from a faith-perspective. There was great support from the people of Malaybalay. Many students from the local college came and joined us. The sisters of the nearby convent came and even slept in the barricade. Bishop Rosales continued to support us and reminded us to remain peaceful. We did not have any problem with food because the local people gave us sacks of rice and canned goods. There were radio and newspaper reporters and journalists who covered the event . One of them was Carol Arguillas – a friend of Karl Gaspar – who was sent by the Manila Chronicle. She was with us for a week.
It was obvious that taking over the DENR
checkpoint and setting up the barricade had created an impact. At first we
received word that the government wanted to us send four representative
December 28, over a thousand people from
was not able to go back to
liturgies during Lent and Holy Week were prepared by the people themselves
with minimum supervision from the mission team.
The team wanted to find out how well the people and their leaders could
stand on their own. The Holy Week
activities started at the BEC level and progressed towards the zone level and
finally, at the parish level. The Holy
Thursday liturgy was celebrated in each BEC.
On Good Friday, the members of the BECs began their procession from
their respective barrios carrying their crosses, banners, images and statues of
their patron saints. This event was
called the Pagpanaw, Pagtukaw Paingon sa Pagkabanhaw (The journey and vigil towards the
Resurrection). The processions started from the different parts of the parish.
Some walked as far as 30 kilometers, coming down from the mountains and
crossing rivers. BECs merged with other
BECs in their zones. The zones merged
with other zones. Everyone was moving
toward the parish center. By Saturday
afternoon, all the BECs had converged in the town of
are many lessons that can be learned from our experience in
of the specific objectives of the mission was to foster a sense of fellowship
and solidarity within the BECs and among the BECs in the parish of
The liturgy is also the locus for conscientization and evangelization -- of kerygma. It is within the liturgy that the liberating Word is proclaimed. Catechesis also takes place when the liturgy helps deepen the community's understanding of its faith. It is within the liturgy that the community does theology as it tries to correlate the Word and their life-situation. Thus, the BEC is fully an evangelized and evangelizing community in the liturgy. The liturgy becomes prophetic when it not only announces the Good News but also denounces what is contrary to God's will and the values of the Gospel. The liturgy can unmask the idols of society. Thus, the liturgy can have a subversive and conscienticizing character when it awakens the people to the reality of sin and oppression and the need for liberating praxis. Symbolically speaking, the liturgy can help the deaf hear, the blind see, and the dumb speak. It can break the culture of silence and apathy as people become more participative and recognize it as truly their celebration.
Liturgy can lead to praxis, flow from praxis and takes place within a liberating praxis -- diakonia. This becomes true when the concerns and issues that affect the BECs are brought into the liturgy. Liturgy becomes rooted in the experience, situation and struggle of the people. Liturgy becomes the reminder and celebration of God's liberating presence in the history and struggle of the BECs. In the context of their struggle, the liturgy can be the source of empowerment, courage and hope. Thus, the liturgical approach to building BECs can have a liberating consequence.
wrote a poem that sums up our experience in
The Epic of
We are poor peasants,
living in small Christian communities
in a remote
We have lived amidst violence -- the violence of poverty,
of a guerrilla war, of the destruction of our environment,
and the violence of the military.
But we have walked the way of peace -- the way of the cross,
and have experienced its liberating power.
This is our story.
There was a time
when the mountains were green
and the river was blue.
The heavy rains did not flood our farms.
Nor did the long hot summer parch the land.
That was before the logging companies came.
They were owned by the politicians and protected by soldiers.
We watched helplessly as the trucks passed by
carrying away the logs to be shipped to foreign lands.
We signed petitions asking the government
to stop the loggers from turning our land into a desert
and our river into a highway.
But we never got any response.
Then the Redemptorist
Priests, brothers, and lay missionaries.
They lived among us and worked with us
to build Christian communities.
In our nipa huts late at night,
and in our bamboo chapels on Sundays
we came together to listen to the Word
and to listen to each other's words.
We realized that to be true Christians
it was not enough to worship and to read the Bible.
We have to care for others and care for the earth.
We have to defend the forest -- which is our home,
the home of our neighbors -- the native Dumagats and Subanon,
the home of the birds, the animals and the wild plants.
We heard that the guerrillas --
who called themselves the people's army
wanted to help us with their guns.
But we preferred to struggle in our own way --
the way of the cross.
We were prepared to give up our life
but we would never take the life of another.
The day came when we gathered
on the road where the logging trucks pass.
There were several hundred of us --
men, women, children and old people.
We barricaded the road with our bodies
and the logging trucks could no longer pass.
It was like a fiesta. We sang and danced,
we shared our food with one another
and with the loggers who were stranded.
It was a real communion.
The priests, the brothers, sisters
and lay missionaries were with us.
Even the Bishop came one night to pray with us.
They listened to us when we shared with them our stories
and our reflections on the Word of God
and on the unfolding event.
It was our turn to proclaim and give witness to the Gospel.
Those who did not join us taunted us.
They said that we will never succeed.
We were poor, powerless and few
and we were up against rich businessmen
and powerful politicians
who were protected by the military
and who could bribe the corrupt judges.
On the thirteenth day in the barricade
while celebrating the Eucharist with our parish priest
a truckload of soldiers came with truncheons and shields.
They were ordered by a judge to disperse us.
They beat us without mercy.
They did not spare the old people and the pregnant women.
They even beat the statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
We did not resist them. We turned the other cheek.
While they kept on beating us, we sang the "Our Father"
with tears in our eyes.
When they brought our parish priest to the camp
we also went with him.
We told the soldiers that if they will imprison him
they will also have to imprison all of us.
They finally told all of us to go home with our priest.
We went back to the side of the road that we used to barricade
and watched helplessly as the logging trucks passed by.
We prayed and cried. We were defeated.
It was our Good Friday. The sky darkened
and the heavens wept with us unceasingly.
It rained day and night for a couple of weeks.
And the river rose and the overflowing waters dashed against
the bridge where all the logging trucks pass.
And the bridge collapsed.
And the road leading up to the logging camp was blocked by a landslide.
The logging operations were stopped.
Nature continued the barricade for us.
When we gathered the following night to pray
on the side of the road where the logging trucks used to pass
we all praised and thanked God who never abandoned us.
A few weeks later we were ordered to appear in court
before the corrupt judge.
We filled the courtroom -- men, women, children, old people.
We were not afraid even if we were poor and powerless
because we believed that God's Spirit was with us.
We were charged with violating the law
and causing the logging companies huge loss of profits.
They wanted several million pesos for damages.
The judge scolded us as if we were naughty children
and set the date for our trial.
We knew that the judge was on the side of the loggers.
Our main worry was where to get that huge amount of money
to pay the loggers if we lose the case.
Meanwhile, the newspapers, the TV and radio
began to report our story.
Suddenly the conscience of many all over the country was awakened.
They realized that our problem was also their problem.
Many began to show their support.
And there were even others in different parts of the country
who followed our example.
Our voice was beginning to be heard
and finally, the President of the
ordered a stop to the logging operations in
When we heard the good news
our tears of sorrow became tears of joy.
Our suffering had not been in vain.
We thanked God by celebrating the Eucharist
and by having an instant fiesta.
It was our Easter Sunday.
When we went back to the courtroom
The judge reluctantly dropped all charges against us.
A few months later, a pastoral letter of the Bishops' Conference
was read in all the Catholic churches
and chapels all over the archipelago.
It spoke about the ecological crisis in our country.
And it mentioned the struggle of the people
as a sign of hope and as an example for all.
We could not believe that we in our insignificance
and powerlessness can make a difference.
Our story and our struggle should have ended then.
But it did not.
One year later we discovered
that while the logging had stopped in
it continued in the neighboring mountains.
We realized that even if it happened in other places
we would be affected because we were all connected.
And so we found ourselves once again in the barricade
far away from home -- in the provincial capital.
This time we were more numerous
because the people from the neighboring areas joined us.
We wanted the logging to be stopped
in the entire
At first we pitched our tents outside the office
of the Department of Natural Resources.
They just ignored us.
And on the fifth day we transferred to the checkpoint
in the national highway where all the logging trucks
stop for inspection on their way to Cagayan.
We took over the place and set up a human barricade.
And all the logging trucks could no longer get through.
The soldiers came and they could not disperse us.
The truck drivers tried to drive through the barricade.
Some of us placed some spikes on the road
and when one truck tried to run us down
the tires were punctured and the truck with the logs
almost turned over.
We were filled with remorse realizing that
the driver could have been hurt or killed.
Once again the newspapers, radio and TV
reported our story.
Finally, the Secretary of the Department of Energy and Natural Resources
heeded our request for a dialogue.
He came all the way from the national capital
riding on a helicopter to meet with us.
After listening to us he granted most of our demands.
He told us the logging in the neighboring mountains and
towns would be stopped
He asked us to help in the greening of the brown mountains
And to help guard the forest.
We went home rejoicing and thanking God once again
for not abandoning us.
The Eucharist became a victory celebration.
Now the logging companies have disappeared
and from the neighboring mountains of Bukidnon.
The trees that we have planted are growing.
When our children grow up they will see green mountains
and they can swim and fish in the blue river without fear.
The heavy rains will not flood their farms
Nor the long hot summers parch the land.
They will remember us for what we did for them.
And they will remember the wonderful things God has done for us.
A Sower's Farewell
The time has come to move on again.
I feel like a plant that is being uprooted
instead of a sower who cannot stay for the harvest.
The parting would have been so much easier
if we did not come this close.
I was a stranger and you welcomed me
into your barrio and your hearts.
I did not have a home yet I was at home with all of you.
I became a member of every family,
I ate with you and slept in your little huts.
I learned to call you by your names and heard your stories.
You brought me to your farms
and celebrated the ritual of sowing and harvesting.
I went fishing with you
and talked about your hopes while waiting for the fish.
We went to the swamps
to catch frogs when there was not enough to eat.
You shared with me everything
including your hunger.
The word brought us together.
We listened to it, shared it, lived it and celebrated it,
in your nipa huts, bamboo chapels, ricefields,
the picketlines and barricades.
The word became alive and was discovered as good news
to the poor and powerless like you,
bad news to the rich and powerful,
and to their uniformed goons.
It broke the culture of silence
and ended the paralysis.
You were able to see the evil around you
you were able to hear each other's cry,
you were able to speak out and proclaim,
you were able to move, to march, to struggle.
You did not need your coconut wine and sugarcane rum
to give you courage for you were filled with the spirit.
The military hated us
and accused us of being godless communists.
They brutally dispersed the picket and the barricade.
yet it was they who became helpless
for they did not know how to fight
against a people who fought with their tears,
prayers, their songs, and their hunger.
We discovered God in our midst
whose will is life not death,
liberation not oppression, struggle not resignation.
Our lives and struggles became a sacrament
of liberation and salvation.
We discovered our common priesthood
when we drank from the same cup
when we shared the bread of life
and offered our bodies to be broken
for the sake of the kingdom.
Our fiestas have become celebration of the kingdom
we hope for and struggle for
when abundant food and drink will be shared by all
when only the blood of pigs and chickens will be shed
when only the burst of fireworks will be heard
when we will sing joyfully our hymns of victory
and jump and dance in our own land.
Our processions have become our march for freedom
and reminder that we are pilgrims
on the way to the promised land.
I came to evangelize you
but all along it was you who evangelized me
by your life, your faith, your wisdom.
in your faces I see the face of Christ.
You have become a community
of friends and disciples of Jesus
whose liberating mission you continue.
I came as a stranger and you called me father.
I leave as a friend and brother.
When the time of harvest comes