Priests in the Year of the Poor – Archbishop Villegas circular to priests

children watch priests march Ed Gerlock

children watch priests’ in anti-US military bases march Ed Gerlock

January 1, 2015

Solemnity of Mary Mother of God

Circular 2015-1: The PRIESTS IN THE YEAR OF THE POOR

My brother priests:

2015 is Year of the Poor. It is also Year of Consecrated Life for the universal Church as willed by Pope Francis. As our year opens, I wish to offer you some thoughts on living out the call to simplicity so that the Gospel to the poor may better glow through us priests.

From Pope Francis

Addressing the Curia, the Holy Father laid out his thoughts on the danger of avarice and greed and materialism in our vocation. He said one of the maladies of ecclesiastics is the sickness of accumulating: when the apostle seeks to fill an existential void in his heart by accumulating material goods, not out of necessity but only to feel secure.

In reality, we can take nothing material with us because “the shroud does not have pockets” and all our earthly treasures – also if they are gifts – will never be able to fill that void, in fact, they will render it ever more exacting and more profound.

 To these persons, the Lord repeats: “For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing; not knowing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked … Therefore, be zealous and be converted” (Revelation 3:17-19).

Accumulation only weighs down and slows the inexorable journey! And I think of an anecdote: one time the Spanish Jesuits described the Society of Jesus as the “light cavalry of the Church.” I remember the transfer of a young Jesuit that while loading his many belongings on a truck: bags, books, objects and gifts, heard an old Jesuit who was observing him say, with a wise smile: Is this the Church’s “light cavalry”?! Our transfers give a sign of this sickness. (December 23, 2014)

Father's Embrace: Then-Bishop Luis Antonio Tagle [wearing the miter] embraced Father Mark Anthony Reyes and four other seminarians during their priestly ordination for the Diocese of Imus on the bishop's last ordination ceremony Dec. 6, 2011, before he was installed as Archbishop of Manila that same month and elevated to the College of Cardinals on Nov. 24, 2012. [N.J. Viehland Photo]

Bishop embraces newly ordained priests. NJ Viehland photo From Our Vocation

From our vocation

Let us return to our original reason for desiring to be a priest. We were trained for a difficult life in the seminary. We seemed to be in a perennial food lack; remember those days? We deprived ourselves of the warmth of family life and contented ourselves with living together with the brother seminarians. We cleaned the seminary ourselves, maintained the garden and observed the rules. We wanted to be priests hence nothing was unbearable.

The ordination was our turning point. The Church entrusted her mission to our hands. We also received in trust the money of the faithful believing that priests help so many poor people. They gave us money to send poor children to school, to feed the malnourished, to help the sick receive medication, to defray the cost of burying the poor and so many more duties.

Accumulation, Comfort and Security

And the sickness of accumulating possessed us so quickly. Money got stuck in our hands instead of sliding to the needy. The car became a status symbol even for the newly ordained when the chrism of anointing had hardly dried. The recreation became more sophisticated to expensive tourist sites unreached by the working class. We were no longer lacking in food; we were now choosing our food after being initiated into the palate of the filthy wealthy.

It is bad for a priest to fall in love with a woman. It is worse if he falls in love with money. Ordination gave us access to church money but that money is not ours to enjoy.

Our ordination gave us powers. In a manner of speaking, the ordained are supermen. But the awesome plan of God cannot be restored by a Church that is more concerned about power than of service, more interested in convenience than sacrifice. A Church that is so focused on the powers of supermen clerics will hardly inspire hearts for renewal. We priests can start touching hearts again if we talk less about our powers and instead expose ourselves more to the power of Christ to change us. When we demand integrity from public officials, can we humbly say like Saint Paul “imitate me because I imitate Christ”? In this Year of the Poor self accusation must precede prophetic denunciation of social corruption.

Materialism and Clericalism

If our youth and children see shepherds who are more concerned about imitation than money we will see them staying with God. If we would be more focused on imitation of Christ before imposing fixed rates for the sacraments, we would see renewal. These times call for imitation before proclamation, imitation before teaching, imitation before mission, imitation fund raising. Imitation of Christ before all else! Our confused flock, like everyone else, listen only to life examples. The best fund raiser is the holy priest because he is credible. People know his hands are slippery when he touches money. The donations always end in the tables of the poor.

Clericalism speaks of privilege, prerogatives, entitlement and special treatment. Clericalism prefers sacristies to the slums. Clericalism is more concerned with embroidered vestments than reconciled souls. When we look back at the history of the Church, Church reform always started with clergy reform. As the shepherds go so the sheep follow.

When we lose humility, we lose perspective. When we lose perspective, we also become too reactive. When we become too reactive and possessive and materialistic, we become less effective and less credible as pastors. The loss of humility and the sickness of accumulation in Church ministry can be very costly. With materialistic clericalism laid aside, and Gospel empowered humble shepherding taking its place, we might be able to see the rainbow of hope in the Year of the Poor.

Clerical accumulation injures the idealism of our seminarians, hurts the sensibilities of the youth and confuses many of the faithful who know that Christ lived as a poor man and His disciples cannot be anybody less than that.

Archbishop Socrates Villegas. - NJ Viehland Photos

Archbishop Socrates Villegas. – NJ Viehland Photos

Signs of Simplicity

As a brother in the vocation whose mission is to bring the Good News to the poor, let us impose on ourselves strict discipline in the following areas of priestly life:

Avoid as much as you can foreign travels and frequent recreation in expensive tourist destinations. Even if such are paid for by friends and family, it is best to decline and choose austerity and simplicity. Rest is important but luxurious recreation is disrespectful for the poor who cannot even take a rest from their backbreaking jobs. Be more sensitive.

High end cars and expensive vehicles smack of vainglory and luxuryespecially in a province like ours where there are so many who are poor who cannot afford a tricycle ride. There is no excuse for any priest to have such high end vehicles. We need vehicles to reach the poor barangays and bring them the blessings of God. Expensive cars alienate the poor from the Church. We smell differently from the sheep.

We need to return to the clerical attire or clerical cross in public places as a form of witnessing to the poverty of Christ. Loud colored signature shirts and pants are fashionable but we cannot let Christ glow unless we let our glamour go. To be simple is to be great in the eyes of God. The poor priest does not need to dress sloppy. We must give dignity to our vocation.

It is a serious sin of omission for a priest not to have a regular poor person to help whether for education, health or livelihood. While it is morally acceptable to set aside some savings for future needs, it must be done with prudence. The money spent for the poor on earth are savings in the heavenly kingdom. It is a scandal for a priest to die a rich man. We bring to heaven only what we give away on earth.

We must be honest in reporting to the Curia the true financial condition of the parish or school. There are no fixed rates of offerings for the celebration of Masses, for confirmations, for funerals, for weddings and other sacramentals in our archdiocese as we agreed on. What the archdiocese forbids, the parish priest must not circumvent. We are only temporary stewards not chief executive officers. Our goal is ministry not revenue upgrade.

We need to re examine what we keep in our bedrooms. A priest’s room and a bachelor’s pad are exact opposites. Is the Lord our only companion in this sacred space of the rectory? “The bread which you withhold belongs to the hungry: the clothing you shut away belongs to the naked” (Saint Thomas Aquinas)

Always give alms to the poor who come to you. Do not be afraid to be fooled nor turn them away empty. Do not be afraid to pamper the beggars. They have no one to help them. If you have to make a mistake, make a mistake in being too charitable, in being too kind. There is no excess in kindness. We cannot outdo Christ in kindness.

There is much to be done in the Year of the Poor but the first in the list is the simplification of priestly lifestyle. The renewal of the Church begins with the renewal of the priests. Let us take the lead in embracing the poverty of Jesus on the Cross.

I impose all these challenges on myself first before inviting you to embrace them too. Let us look at Jesus. Let us look at Him and let us be like Him. That is our only duty—to be Jesus and to give Jesus who alone is our treasure.

Sincerely yours,

+SOCRATES B. VILLEGAS

Archbishop of Lingayen Dagupan

Also published in http://rcald.org/

Interview : Sr. Maria Añanita Borbon, RGS, Part 3

 

RGS Sr Borbon NJ Viehland

Sr. Maria Añanita Borbon, RGS / NJ Viehland Photos

“It’s a matter of prioritizing, planning. The big resource is attitude. One cannot allow herself to get too bogged down by the many demands.”

Q & A Sr. Borbon continued from Part 2 : Religious life and vocation 

With all your assignments, where do you live?

When I’m in Manila, at night I stay in Ruhama. When I have a meeting that reaches until night time, I do not go there and sleep in RGS Provincial house. In a week I stay at Ruhama about 3-4 nights. But I find time within the week to stop by there. I also talk to the girls every now and then.

The past few weeks I was in the Visayas. We have a big project in Samar to provide boats to fishermen, houses, there is parish work to do and advocacy for ecological justice. This is not a ministry of our congregation but a special project in the sense that typhoon Yolanda suddenly came about and we had to respond.

I am the one coordinating it since the context of this action is within our ecological justice ministry. I am there at least five days a month. This last trip, I arrived here at the end of the month, so I rushed my report because if I don’t submit one for the month, I will not get my budget.

When you were in school work, did you ever imagine you would be doing these lines of work?

Before my graduation from my Masters in Educational Administration in 1996 in Ateneo, I was already in the Euphrasian residence as program coordinator for the youth services that we offered in the past. I was there for two years and I enjoyed it very much.

I had 24 girls with me who were behaviorally disturbed. It felt like there were a hundred! I was very energized by it because I think that’s a passion that I have as a Good Shepherd Sister.

The young women were from broken families and some youths who needed help in dealing with issues of being adopted as children. I found that my training in education and my own personal interest in this kind of work helped to prepare me – in terms of my way of managing, my way of handling and dealing with people, my way of listening, my way of networking with people. After that assignment I was asked to teach in our school in Batangas. I taught for several years and eventually I became the dean. I also studied for a PhD in Educational Leadership and Managment from DLSU. I graduated in 2008.

Did that interest in your younger days point you to RGS?

I graduated from college at 20 years old then at 22 I entered the congregation in 1989. I was in high school when I told myself I will become like one of the sisters of the Good Shepherd school I went to in Batangas. I watched the sisters. I was amused by the way they dealt with us and I wanted to be one of them. I told myself then that one of these days I will be like them.

Before then I taught for two years and as a classroom teacher I wanted so much to listen to the students and I acted on what they would tell me. For example, when they confided that their parents were quarreling, I called for the students and asked them more about their days.

I did not know then that that was already preparation or part of my vocation. I don’t know if that’s my personality at that time. I just wanted to listen more and assist more.

How do you manage all these tasks and look so unfazed?

It’s a matter of prioritizing, planning. The big resource is attitude. One cannot allow herself to get too bogged down by the many demands. There are many things I still have to do, like writing up funding proposal for Ruhama. But first, I am going on a five-day retreat. That helps me also.

END 

Interview : Sr. Maria Añanita Borbon, RGS, Part 2

NJ Viehland Photos

Counseling room at Ruhama Womens Center renovated for free by UP Diliman Interior Design department graduates for a “healing atmosphere” / NJ Viehland Photos

Q & A Sr. Borbon continued from Part 1

Part 2 – Program set up, sustainability,

    “We believe that if God wants our program, he will be the one to help us” – Sr. Maria Añanita Borbon, RGS

How have referring groups helped with resources ?

Parenting Foundation is an NGO that referred to us a girl. She had her own psychotherapist. We asked them please continue it because we have no capacity for psychotherapy. That’s why I’m networking with CICM hoping they can give it to us for free because residents cannot do without psychotherapy. A lot of issues come out. Every now and then the group gives food, money. We assume the expenses for the girl’s living. There are also lay friends and our people from own network who come and give voluntary services, like value formation, health care, help from mothers.  

What’s your strategy for funding support?

My ambition is to get donations given by major benefactors. If I can just get one more regular substantial benefactor and then get psychotherapy for 15 people, that would be very sustainable. Our own Good Shepherd lay affiliates give food or host a Christmas party. Those help too. Eventually I would need to exert more effort to ensure sustainability of our program.

Do you rescue women and children from nightclubs, cybersex dens or abusive homes?

We do not go ourselves because we do not have personnel for this so we work with agencies that do this and provide the shelter and services for the victims they rescue. We also do not go into bars and nightclubs because of lack of personnel and because we do not have room for any more clients. If we did, we would probably go out and do this. 

Who comprise Ruhama’s staff ?

We have a live-in social worker, live-in house parent/cook and I’m acting as program coordinator. I have a consultant social worker also, and volunteers on a daily basis.

The only male volunteers I accepted are seminarians of Congregation of Jesus and Mary because it was founded by Jean Eudes -the same founder as ours, so they know our charism, they know our apostolate for the sexually abused.

It’s hard to accept just any volunteer especially the males. We have to watch against physical contact. I screen strictly who can be there as volunteers if they are male. I talk to their formators to make it clear that the girls are sexually abused and are sometimes longing for sex. I ask them if a girl embraces you, what would you do?

Contributed by Ed Gerlock

Woman keeps eyes on the street for possible customers outside her motel room in Manila – Contributed by Ed Gerlock contact: edgerlock@yahoo.com.ph

How do you select your clients?

We have an intake procedure. When the girls and young women come, they are asked to fill out forms and our social worker interviews them. If she is referred and not a walk-in client, we ask the referring institution or person to give us a case study report. 

Where do the walk-in clients come from?

Priests, government agencies, and other people know us. One of our girls came to our center after a priest saw her wandering around outside their school. He was concerned that she could be trafficked so he called us. We couldn’t expect the priest to give us a case study so our own social worker interviewed her and researched her background, where she came from. We have many of such “at-risk” cases. We have 3 sisters in the group. Two of them were abused by the father. If we take the two sisters, the one left behind could be abused too.

Are relatives of clients allowed to visit?

Yes, but we make sure first that the contact with family members promotes the residents’ healing. If they will not help in the healing we don’t allow it. For example if the father is the perpetrator of abuse, of course we don’t allow him to visit. If the mother does not believe the girl’s report that the father is the perpetrator, we also do not allow the mother to visit.

We don’t immediately allow communication with family among clients who are referred to us. We research and validate information first and try to know as much as we can about their history, especially of their case. Our social worker goes to find out and puts in her recommendation.

What about spiritual formation programs?

We also have spiritual formation programs or catechism. Non-Catholics are not obliged to join, but in our experience, other Christian clients want to join. We welcome them into the classes and sessions. They’re not allowed to receive Communion, but if they say they want to be baptized, we assist in their preparation.

Do you accept donations from other faith groups?

Yes. We don’t accept from those who are giving funds from mining, gambling, of course we don’t want to accept from PDAF (pork barrel funds) because we have to be consistent in our stand. We have to be very clear about upholding our values and not sacrifice them just to carry out the program. We believe that if God wants our program, he will be the one to help us and we have proven that. We came up with that guideline on unacceptable funds only about three years ago. 

What more needs to be done in terms of managing the Province’s ministries?

We just finished our planning for the next six years and one of our thrusts is to consolidate the Province’s efforts in terms of trafficking, migration, and related ministries so that our response will be a corporate response based on stronger networking. 

We could also streamline all these existing projects and programs, maybe prioritize them in terms of our resources, especially human resources. We are strengthening our lay partners as we have fewer active nuns today.

Part 3 Religious Life