San Vicente Mission Experience (1998-2000)

A. Prevailing Political Situation

1. Family controlled politics.

San Vicente de Ferrer Parish is in the town of San Vicente, just a small town nearby Vigan, the seat of political throne in Ilocos Sur. Its proximity to Vigan explains the people’s mindset and lifestyle. The town of San Vicente at that time, even at present, was controlled by one political family. The husband-wife tandem, simply switches positions as mayor and vice mayor. If the husband finishes his mayoralty term, the wife takes over the position and the husband slides down to vice mayor. If the wife consumes her term as mayor, the husband goes back to occupy the executive office and the wife positioned herself as vice mayor again.

The town councilors and all the village chieftrains are allies of the mayor. Nobody dared against the mayor. Those who oppose the mayor will be deposed from the power line up and that means a sure defeat in the electoral contest. Or in worst scenario, anyone aiming for the town’s top political post will suffer the more violent consequences. Political dynasty was institutionalized and remains unabated in San Vicente.

2. Gripped by political terror.

Political dynasty in San Vicente is galvanized by violence. Political violence terrorizes the

people, thereby creating a culture of silence and a climate of fear. Fearful of violent death, the people simply remain passive and submissive. This has caused political dynasty to exist and persist. This is the vicious cycle of terror that held hostage the people of San Vicente.

“Princess”, one of the youths there at that time, lost her “Dad” to political terror. Her “Dad” was a consistent councilor. Having a good performance and track record, he was eyed as a strong contender for the mayoralty. However, the “political lord” in the town sensed this, and he presumed that his post is threatened. His violent instinct prevailed. Princess’ dad was gunned down without a trace of the killers’ identity. But the people of San Vicente knew in the “mind” behind the killing. The killing of Princess’ Dad was included in the list of numerous unsolved crimes in the town. Justice for the “Dad of Princess” is yet to be served.

What happened to the “Dad of Princess” was just one of the many cases of politically rooted violence in San Vicente, galvanizing fear and terror, for power perpetuity.

3. Unopposed political dynasty bequeathed to the next generation.

As the reigning “politicos” advance in age, they now have transferred their crown to their sons and daughters. Political power is given to the family members on a silver platter, without the difficulty of campaigning because the incumbents are performing excellently well, but climate of fear permeates the air and nobody dares to confront the prevailing terror, for this is a voluntary registration to the “book of violent and untimely death”.

Like those who were victims of political killings, Democracy in the down has been killed and entombed. Lust for power dominated the political system in the town. The poor and the marginalized are reduced as collateral damage.

B. Failure of the Institutional Religion.

The dehumanizing situation in San Vicente mis-developed because the Institutional Religion failed in its prophetic mission. Religion as moral critique and morale vanguard of the people was swept away by the political undercurrents. Pitfalls in the guise of donations gagged the institutional religion. Enslaving faith “opiated” the people. Double standard spirituality drugged the people. Political dole out as masquerade of goodwill bastardized the culture of the people.

Lack of in depth analysis of the social situation has made religious events and organizations, auxiliaries to the oppressive political system exploiting the marginalized poor. Imprisoned by debt of gratitude, religion put the “politicos” in the pedestal, while the poor remained slaves and dehumanized. Such was the kind of religion that aided the political situation developed a system gravely detrimental to the Dignity and Liberty of People of God in San Vicente.

C . Desire for Liberation, clamor for peace.

Because of this pervasive and oppressive political complexion, desire for Freedom and clamor for Peace have been evolved in the people’s consciousness. The victims of political violence and terror were desirous and thirsty of change in the political situation. Slowly and gradually, the people were beginning to dislike the political dynasty lording over them for decades.

The people in San Vicente were yearning and searching for the appropriate formula that can facilitate transformation. Their situation urged them to seek for a better life, life with meaning, with direction and with mission.

D. Mission Stance.

1. The BEC implemented in San Vicente at that time was anchored on the context of oppressive political complexion gripping most of the families by reign of terror. It was imperative that the implementation of BEC has to be grounded and focused on the following:

· Encouraging the people to analyze the prevailing situation.

· Sharing the vision of fullness of life and the Kingdom Mission to realize the Vision.

· Facilitating a change of consciousness and shifting of paradigm among the families.

· Implementing relevant renewal on religious activities and principles as basic strategy of the mission.

· Initiating activities to encourage the participation of the families for the mission.

2. Due to thirst of new consciousness, the people accepted and owned the concept of renewal and transformation. Mission stance of denouncing the oppressive political system, found its place in the people’s awareness. Poor families were eager to see change effecting into their lives.

Homilies were based on the societal situation affecting the lives of the poor. Meetings were regularized as strategy of inducing new and liberating consciousness. Awareness Sessions were given much emphasis to facilitate the shifting of paradigm. Liturgical celebrations and religious events were re-designed, consistent with the Kingdom Mission. Religious organizations and movements were given mission orientation. Hardline religious organizations which refused to embrace the new way of being church, converted themselves as staunch detractors of the mission. However, this opened up the door for the poor families in the base communities to actively participate.

Participation in the Liturgy, religious events and decision making processes were not anymore limited to the elite, the learned and the benefactors of the Church. Principle of co-responsibility was accentuated, encouraging more active participation among the families in the “Sitio” (BEC).

3. Families in the “Sitio” (BEC) began to gather regularly for Awareness Sessions and Gospel Sharing. These activities gradually facilitated families to analyze the social situation and discerning on the issues and concerns on the perspective of the Gospel. Families were starting to develop critical mind. Discontent on the prevailing political situation was beginning to shape up.

Liberating content of Adal-Pammati (catechesis) was introduced and this was saturated in most of the “Sitios” and Schools. Pre-Sacramental seminars usually done in the parish center by religious organizations or catechists became a responsibility of trained BEC facilitators. All the content of the modules, were focused on the Liberating Kingdom Mission.

E. BEC as Gimong.

1. Families composing the “Sitios” were initiated into the new way of life as “Gimong”. Gimong is the cluster of families in the “Sitio”, not limited to the neighborhood clans. Gimong is the way of life of the families, relating together in equal dignity, encountering the Word through Gospel Sharing, surfacing and responding to their Gimong needs and concerns. The Gimong was connected to the Church through Leadership, Eucharist and Mission.

2. “Sitio Mangnganup” in San Sebastian, San Vicente was an example of Gimong as BEC. It is the indigenous territorial cluster of families. It is not artificial group of mere relatives in the neighborhood, re-named after a “santo or santa”. Activities in “Sitio Mangnganup” are facilitated by BEC animators, mostly couples. Participation and representation in the Parish is channeled through the BEC animators, not religious organizations, or the traditional “barangay pastoral council”.

3. Liberating consciousness, skills of facilitating Gospel sharing, Awareness Sessions and other related activities, new way of leadership, were the basic elements on the life of the Gimong or BEC, as they were starting to become a “new way of being church”, in the thick of a dominantly old and traditional Churvh.

4. Gimong as way of life and way of mission was a reflection of the “new way of being Church”. Kingdom Mission was paramount over personal faith devotion. Gimong was the main strategy of participation in the mission, not religious organizations. Liberation from the grip of political lordship became the focus of the mission. Most of the families in the Gimong were envisioning Fullness of Life as manifestation of the Kingdom of God.

Gimong as BEC in San Vicente “RE-IMAGED” the Parish by implanting the radical spirituality pf the Kingdom.

F. Impact of Liberating Consciousness.

1. “Nana Lourdes” of San Sebastian is one example of a renewed consciousness, rsulting from the way of mission of the Gimong. She was actively involved in the Gimong activities and remained consistent with the mission principles. She was touched and she was moved by mission stance of the Gimong. For “Nana Lourdes”, she could readily differentiate the enslaving faith of the past from that of the Gimong. That is why when the “old way of being church” returned and eroded the Gimong way of mission, “Nana Lourdes” simply remained faithful to the Gimong Mission and ignored the returned of the enslaving faith. The mission consciousness implanted on “Nana Lourdes” remained so until today.

2. The youths are another evidence of the impact of the Gimong Mission in San Vicente. The enslaving faith has returned and ruined the systems, structures and programs of the parish, but the liberating consciousness remained indelible in the minds of the youths. The youths in San Vicente who have been touched by the Gimong Mission are still practicing their liberating awareness even so until today. The youths continue to clamor for the liberating mission embodied in the Gimong way of life. They still express to this date their dissatisfaction about the enslaving faith which was re-imposed in San Vicente.

3. “Tata Sippi” is another example of the transformative impact of the liberating Gimong Mission. “Tata Sippi”, was a simple farmer in one of the Gimongs in Barangay Bayubay. He was active facilitator in his own BEC. He consistently joined Parish meetings and activities. He was an advocate of organic farming method being initially introduced by the BEC program at that time. A week before the reshuffling of priests, “Tata Sippi” came to the Parish almost everyday, expressing his sadness. For “Tata Sippi”, the reshuffle was killing their hopes of integral renewal, shipfting from tyranny to Freedom.

“Tata Sippi”, maintained his liberating consciousness even after the reshuffle of priests, and even when the succeeding priests have already re-imposed the old way of the institutional religion. From a simple farmer, “Tata Sippi” transformed himself into a critical mind, always denouncing the oppressive systems gripping them. Years later, “Tata Sippi” was killed. His wife witnessed the brutal killing of “Tata Sippi”. There was no Justice accorded to “Tata Sippi”. No priest, no PPC, no religious organization came out in the open to “denounce” the brutal slay of “Tata Sippi”

G . The “thief” came to destroy.

Gimong as a way of life mission implanted in San Vicente was short lived. As it was about to take root and as it was almost about to propel up to higher heights, the “thief” came and ruined all the structures, systems, principles and activities. “I did not come here to follow what Fr. Rabe did”. Such were the strong words of defiance of the “thief”. And the “old” enslaving faith came back to exist. The institutional religion eroded the Gimong mission like a “tsunami”. Oppressive systems, activities and organizations resurrected from te grave. While the Gimong as a way of mission was being dismounted, the political lords were rejoicing discreetly, for they have found “consent and approval” in the enslaving way of the hierarchized religion.

However, those who were tansformed by the liberating Gimong consciousness remained faithful to the radical Gospel. They continue to live out the mission in their own sphere of influence even so until today, amidst threats and intimidations of religious leaders. The enslaving faith substituted the liberating mission and remained “collaborated and subservient” to the exploitative political system. While the hierarchized religion succumbed to and immersed itself with the oppressive pitfalls of political lords, the families were reduced as collateral damage.

H. Reflections on the San Vicente Mission Experience.

1. Analysis of the social situation evolved as sinful structures, should be the anchor of implementing BEC. If not, BEC will just be a mere “tool” reinforcing the status quo. It is irrelevant BEC.

2. Strong adherence to the prophetic mission must be punctuated by consistent denunciation of the oppressive political systems dehumanizing the people. BEC that does not dare to counter the “exploitative trends”, is tantamount to consenting the “social sin”, thereby ignoring and neglecting the plight of the poor and the marginalized.

3. The radical Kingdom Mission shall be expected to create new consciousness, new paradigm and new culture. However, it musy likewise be expected that those at the throne of political lordship, will be unsettled and will do anything to halt mission.

4. Liberating consciousness, skills and leadership are key elements in the life of the Gimong, the BEC. This is the foundation of empowerment for the Kingdom Mission.

5. Families in the base communities and leadership in the grassroots level are equally essential in the deepening and sustenance of the mission in the BEC.