Spirituality and the Church of the Poor (Picardal)

Rev. Amado L. Picardal, CSsR

Twenty years ago, in coming up with a vision of a renewed Church, the Second Plenary Council of the Philippine (PCP II) adopted and popularized the vision of the Church of the Poor. It is, therefore, appropriate that as we celebrate the 20th anniversary of PCP II, the Spirituality Forum focuses its attention on the Church of the Poor and the Spirituality connected with it. In this presentation, I would like to first go over the understanding of the vision of the Church of the Poor. Then I will discuss the spirituality that I think would be appropriate for the Church of the Poor. At the outset, I would like to make it clear that this paper is primarily theological and theoretical in character. I am dealing here with the vision of the Church of the Poor – not the reality itself. Neither will I describe the actual spirituality of the Church of the Poor. This is the limitation of this paper. I approach this with the awareness that like the Kingdom of God, the Church of the Poor is not yet fully a realized – although it is already in the process of growth. It is not, therefore, within the scope of this paper to make a critical evaluation on the lived experience of the Church of the Poor and its accompanying spirituality. That requires another method of research – more empirical, involving surveys and interviews.
The Church of the Poor
The vision of the Church of the Poor was first expressed by Pope John XXIII in a radio message one month before the opening of Vatican II: “Con¬fronted by the underdevel¬oped countries, the Church presents herself as she is and wants to be: the Church of all, and in particular the Church of the poor.” The image of the Church of the Poor is asserted in view of the poverty and underdevelop¬ment in the Third World.

1. The Church of the Poor in Vatican II

John XXIII did not provide a full explanation of what he meant by the term “Church of the Poor.” He left it to the Council to discuss its meaning and implication for the Church. However, the first schema De Ecclesia prepared by the pre-conciliar commission was silent about this theme. One of the Conciliar Fathers who promoted the theme of the Church of the Poor was Cardinal Lercaro who made a stirring intervention:
In fact it is not a theme; it is in some measure the theme of our Council. If, as has often been repeated here, its true to say that the aim of this Council is to bring the Church into closer conformity with the truth of the Gospel and fit her better to meet the problems of our day, we can say that the central theme of this Council is the Church precisely in so far as she is the Church of the Poor.

The precise phrase “Church of the Poor” does not appear in the final document. It is however implicitly referred to in article 8 of Lumen Gentium:
Just as Christ carried out his work of redemption in poverty and oppression, so the Church is called to follow the same path if she is to communicate the fruits of salvation to men. Christ Jesus, “though he was by nature God … emptied himself, taking the nature of a slave” (Phil 2:6,7), and “being rich, became poor” (2 Cor 8:9) for our sake. Likewise, the Church, although she needs human resources to carry out her mission, is not set up to seek earthly glory, but to proclaim, and this by her own example, humility and self-denial. Christ was sent by the Father “to bring good news to the poor … to heal the contrite of heart” (Lk 14:18), “to seek and to save what was lost” (Lk 19:10). Similarly, the Church encompasses with her love all those who are afflicted by human misery and she recognizes in those who are poor, and who suffer the image of her poor and suffering founder. She does all in her power to relieve their need and in them she strives to serve Christ.

In his commentary on this article Grillmeier brings out its full implication when he writes that “the Church must also be the Church of the poor and the suffering in imitation of Christ who came to serve.” The Christological perspective of the vision of the Church of the Poor is emphasized.
Thus the Church is called to be a Church of the Poor because Christ was poor and he identified himself with the poor. The article emphasizes the idea of kenosis – self-emptying of Christ. The Church must also undergo a process of kenosis. Besides following the path of evangelical poverty, the Church is called to alleviate the condition of the poor, to serve the poor. The Church, therefore, follows the example of Christ in his poverty and in his care for the poor. While the council said very little about this vision of the Church, the seed of the ecclesiological vision of the Church of the Poor had been planted. It was up to the Churches in the Third World to develop this theme during the post-conciliar period.

2. Post-conciliar Development

After Vatican II, the theme of the Church of the Poor was adopted implicitly by CELAM during the Medellin Confer¬ence in 1968. The Medellin Conference did not use the expression introduced by Pope John XXIII -the Church of the Poor. Instead it referred to the Church in Latin America as a “poor church” (Iglesia Pobre) – a Church that is called to witness to spiritual or evangelical poverty and at the same time “bound to material poverty.” It considered poverty as the result of an unjust and sinful situation which the Church has to denounce. The Conference emphasized that the Church’s commitment to the poor must be concretely expressed by being in solidarity with the poor, by evangelizing the poor and being a humble servant of the people.
It would appear that the first time that the phrase “the Church of the Poor” was actually used in an official Church document after Vatican II was in the message of the Asian Bishops’ Meeting held in Manila, Philippines on November 29, 1970:
It is our resolve, first of all, to be more truly “the Church of the Poor.” If we are to place ourselves at the side of the multitudes in our continent, we must in our way of life share something of their poverty. The Church cannot set up islands of affluence in a sea of want and misery; our own personal lives must give witness to evangelical simplicity, and no man, no matter how lowly or poor, should find it hard to come to us and find in us their brothers. We resolve also to have the courage to speak out for the rights of the disadvantaged and powerless, against all forms of injustice no matter from what source such abuse may come; we will not tie our hands by compromising entanglements with the rich and the powerful in our respective countries.

The Bishops of Asia spoke about sharing the condition of the majority of the people who are poor in Asia. Being Church of the Poor also means witnessing to the “evangel¬ical simplici¬ty,” promoting and defending the rights of the poor and power¬less, and avoiding “entanglement” with the rich and the powerful.
In 1974, the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conference once again took up the theme of the Church of the Poor:
Dialogue with the poor means real experi¬ence of poverty. It means that we must not only work for them, in a paternalistic way, but with them! We must learn from them. We must know their real needs, their real hopes. We must help them to share in the decisions which determines their lives… Since millions in Asia are poor, the Church in Asia must be the Church of the poor. ..Those who identify with the poor must constantly meet with difficul¬ty, with hardship, with opposition, with failure. We, the Bishops of Asia – knowing this – feel that we must identify with the poor.

The FABC emphasized the need to enter into a dialogue of life with the poor. One of the reasons given why the Church in Asia must be the Church of the Poor is because millions of people in Asia are poor. There is therefore the need for the Church to identify with the poor.
While the theme of the Church of the Poor was being adopted in Asia and the Philippines during the seventies, this phrase was not yet emphasized in Latin America during this period. It was not even mentioned during the Third General Assembly of CELAM in Puebla in 1979. What received much emphasis during the conference was the theme of the “preferential option for the poor”. This preferential option for the poor was seen as being embodied in the Basic Ecclesial Communities.
In this text, the idea of the BECs as the concrete expression of the Church of the poor is absent. They are regarded as the embodiment of the “Church’s preferential love for the common people.” Thus, instead of speaking about the Church of the Poor, the Puebla Conference emphasized the Church’s option for the poor. This paved the way for identifying the vision of the Church of the Poor with the theme of the “preferen¬tial option for the poor.”
The document published by the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith in 1984 echoes the Puebla Conference in its rejection of the idea of the “people’s Church” and its emphasis on the “preferential option for the poor”. In this document the phrase “Church of the Poor” is explicitly linked with the theme “preferential option for the poor.” The Church’s preferential option for the poor has become a dominant theme in the Third World. It is often regarded as synonymous with the ecclesiological vision of the Church of the Poor. This view emphasizes the poor as the object of the Church’s preferential option.. From a pastoral and moral-ethical perspective this formulation is indeed laudable. However, to understand the Church of the Poor exclusively in terms of the Church’s preferential option for the poor poses some serious ecclesiological questions. It tends to suggest the idea of the Church as the Church for the poor rather than a Church of the poor.. For Ronaldo Muñoz, the problem is that the exclusive emphasis on “option for the poor” can give an impression that the Church is not yet the Church of the poor.
In the preface to the 15th anniversary edition of his book A Theology of Liberation Gutierrez views the BECs as a manifestation of the Church of the poor. The idea of the BECs as a concrete realization of the Church of the poor had earlier been recognized during the BISA V (Fifth Bishops’ Institute for Social Action) held in Baguio City, Philippines in 1979 and during the BISA VI in Kandy, Sri Lanka in 1983. Since the mid-eighties there has also been a growing identification of the Church of the poor with the BECs in Latin America.

3. The Church of the Poor in PCP II

The vision of the Church that has received much emphasis and attention in PCP II is that of the Church of the Poor. The awareness of the situation of poverty makes it necessary to give emphasis to the vision of the Church of the Poor:
In the Philippines today, God calls us most urgently to serve the poor and the needy. The poverty of at least half of the population is a clear sign that sin has penetrated our social structures. Poverty in the sense of destitution is not God’s will for anyone. … In the light of the above, in order to credibly witness to the love of God in Christ Jesus, we need to become the “Church of the Poor.”

Poverty is regarded as a sign of the “penetration” of sin in the social structures. This is a recognition of the social dimension of sin. The passage emphatically asserts that poverty is not the will of God. This assertion is necessary in the light of the fatalistic understanding that every¬thing, including poverty and oppression, is the will of God which everyone should passively accept.
At the outset PCP II clarifies that the vision of the Church of the Poor does not mean a Church made up exclusive¬ly of the materially poor and that excludes the rich:.
Thus, PCP II avoids a Marxist-influenced class perspec¬tive on the Church (the Church of the Rich versus the Church of the Poor; the hierarchical Church versus the Popular Church).
The document devotes twelve paragraphs to show what it means to be a Church of the Poor.In these twelve paragraphs PCP II offers various descriptions of what it means to be a Church of the Poor. They are not meant to be distinct or precise definitions. Compared to other ecclesiological themes, the vision of the Church as the Church of the Poor is the most intensively treated and discussed theme.
An analysis of the paragraphs that deal with the Church of the Poor reveals three major levels of understanding of the Church of the Poor: (1) Embracing Evangelical Poverty, (2) The poor as the object of the Church’s option; (3) The poor as active subjects of the Church’s life and mission.
There are nine paragraphs devoted to the idea of the preferential option for the poor (126-131 and 133-135). In these paragraphs those who make the option for the poor are the pastors, leaders and well-off members of the Church. It is they who are enjoined to have a special love for the poor, to have a love of preference for the poor, to give preferential attention and time for the poor, to share their resources with the poor, to be in solidarity with the poor, to defend and vindicate the rights of the poor, to live a simple lifestyle, to tilt the community’s center of gravity in favor of the poor. The objects or beneficiaries of this preferential option are the poor. This may be considered as an understanding of the Church of the Poor from above – from the perspective of the pastors and leaders of the Church. This a perspective that that is more appropriate to religious, lay workers, and the members of the Church who belong to the middle-class and the upper-class.
There are two paragraphs that are devoted to the understanding of the poor as subject of the Church’s life and mission. In paragraph 132, the Church of the poor is linked with the idea that the poor are not only evangelized but they themselves become evangelizers. Paragraph 136 emphasizes the idea of the active participation of the poor in the life and mission of the Church. These two paragraphs represent the understanding of the Church of the Poor from below – from the perspective of the poor themselves. Without this perspective, the idea of the Church of the Poor becomes the Church for the Poor. Thus, PCP II brings together the two important perspectives of the Church of the Poor – the poor as the object and subject of the Church’s mission.
By integrating the two perspectives, PCP II avoids two extreme tendencies – (1) a condescending view of the Church of the Poor where the poor are merely the passive recipients of charity and the actual subjects are the ecclesiastical leaders and the rich members of the Church; (2) a Marxist-inspired view of a People’s Church which identifies the Church of the Poor exclusively with the poor members of the Church in contradistinction with a Church that is perceived to be rich and powerful.
There are many ways in which the vision of the Church of the Poor can be realized. PCP II recognizes this vision of the Church can be actualized in Basic Ecclesial Communities (BECs).

Spirituality of the Church of the Poor

Is there a spirituality of the Church of the Poor? This question would presuppose that the Church of the Poor is already a reality in the Philippines. If it is already a reality then the task of the theologian is simply a matter of describing this spirituality. The problem is that the vision of the Church of the Poor is still in the process of being realized – it is “not-yet already” like the kingdom of God. It may already be a reality in some dioceses, parishes and BECs, and among some clergy, religious and lay faithful. It remains a dream to many. Thus, we may not be able to come up with a description of such spirituality. What I intend to do here is to simply come up with some kind of a proposal – what I think should be the spirituality of the Church of the Poor – based on my own lived experience and the experiences of some communities (BECs, religious), as well as reflections of other theologians.
Ecclesial and Communitarian Spirituality
A key characteristic of the spirituality of the Church of the Poor is that it is ecclesial – it is the spirituality of the Church that is understood primarily as a community of disciples that live in communion and that participates in Christ’s priestly, prophetic and kingly/servant mission.
This spirituality is not individualistic but rather communitarian. It is meant to be lived by the members of the Church – the laity, religious and clergy. It is not meant only for the poor members but also to those who are not poor. This communitarian and ecclesial spirituality is proposed for all levels of the church – especially the Church in the Philippines, the local church, the diocese, parish and Basic Ecclesial Communities. Due to its ecclesial and communitarian character, this spirituality values fellowship, unity in diversity, solidarity, partnership, friendship and sharing.
Gustavo Guttierrez asserts that a collective, ecclesial spirituality characterizes the spirituality of the Church of the Poor:
The spirituality of the Church of the poor, to which John XXIII calls all us, is the spirituality of an ecclesial community that is trying to make effective its solidarity with the poorest of this world. It is a collective, ecclesial spirituality.

Relating with the God who liberates the Poor
God is the One who hears the cry of the poor who takes the side of the poor, who has taken an option for the poor, who loves the Poor. God is the God whose will is to liberate the poor and the oppressed. Like the Anawim, the members of the Church place their trust not in money but in God alone who cares for everyone especially the poor. Praying to God for one’s needs is an expression of this deep trust and dependence in God.
One of the important themes in the Old Testament is that the poor and the oppressed constitute the People of God and they are the objects of God’s loving concern and liberating action in history. This is evident in the book of Exodus which relates the story of how Yahweh liberates the poor and oppressed in Egypt, makes them his people and leads to the promised land. Thus, Lohfink comments:
The Exodus, the deliverance of Israel from Egypt at the beginning of its history by its God, Yahweh, is the central, in fact the unique theme of the Old Testament confession of faith. In this event Yahweh carried out a fundamental, constitutive act in and for his people. And this action was a divine act of liberation in behalf of poor and oppressed people.

In Exodus, Yahweh reveals himself as the God who is on the side of the poor and oppressed, the God whose will is their liberation. The people that Yahweh calls as his own and builds into a nation is made up of the poor that he had liberated from oppression in Egypt. According to Lohfink, “Israel was from the very beginning a contrast society founded on the poor.” The Exodus story recounts how Yahweh heard and responded to the cry of the poor and oppressed in Egypt (cf. Ex 3:7-12). One may say that Yahweh made an option for the poor and oppressed. This is an option that he consistently makes in the history of God’s people. Likewise, there is an awareness among the poor in Israel that they are God’s people – that they are the poor of Yahweh.
The theme of the anawim – the poor of Yahweh is encountered in the book of Zephaniah. The poor is identified with the remnant who will be saved and with whom Yahweh will make a new beginning.
Laurent describes the anawim as the poor who remained faithful to Yahweh and who continued to hope for salva¬tion in spite of the destruc¬tion of Israel as a nation and of being exiled in a foreign land. The anawim were not only materially poor, they were also poor in spirit – they were totally dependent in God. Thus, the poor and the oppressed came to be identified as Yahweh’s righ¬teous people.
In his analysis of Deutero-Isaiah Lohfink points out that all of Israel is referred to as the poor of Yah¬weh. It was the anawim who waited in hope for the coming of the Messiah – a suffering servant, one who will be humiliated, one who is poor and just.
Thus, the spirituality of the Church of the Poor means that the members of the Church live in complete trust and dependence in the God who loves the poor and the oppressed and whose will is to liberate them from sin and all manifestation of evil. They are to be poor in spirit. In a situation where there is so much suffering and evil, they continue to believe and hope in God. This deep faith and hope in God’s liberating presence – God’s grace – is at the core of this spirituality. This implies rejecting all forms of idolatry – the idols of wealth and power. They do not spend their time in accumulating wealth, material possession and power. Rather they spend their energy in seeking and making the reign of God a reality in their life.

Encountering and Following Jesus the Poor Man of Nazareth
A spirituality of the Church of the Poor involves encountering and following Jesus who made an option for the poor, who became poor and proclaimed the Good News of the reign of God to the poor.
The infancy narratives show Jesus being born poor and growing up in the midst of the poor. His mother Mary is described as embodying the anawim and the Magnificat sums up the faith of the poor of Yahweh. He is born in a manger, the first to welcome him are the poor. The offering in the temple (the turtle doves) is the offering of the poor. Thus, one can say that the Son of God did not only become a human being, he also became poor. By embracing poverty, he shared the condition of the majority of humankind. Gauthier rightly says that “the Gospels and the epistles are clear on the identification of Jesus with the poor.” McKenzie asserts that “the dominant idea of poverty in the Gospels comes not only from the words of Jesus but from His life. He belonged to the lower classes and made no attempt to escape or disguise it.”
According to Laurent the poverty of Jesus was not only the poverty of life (in terms of lifestyle) but also the poverty of his very being by virtue of his absolute dependence on the Father. He also links this poverty with the concept of kenosis, the self-emptying of Jesus as described in Paul’s epistle to the Philippians (cf. Phil 2:6-11). Thus, Jesus’ act of becoming like other human beings especially in poverty, humiliation, rejection and death on the cross may be regarded as kenosis.
In the Gospels the object of Jesus’ preaching and praxis are primarily the poor. Jesus proclaims the Good News to the poor. Many of the miracles are performed in favor of the poor – the sick, widows, the possessed, the hungry. In the beatitudes the poor are considered blessed for the Kingdom of God belongs to them.
In Matthew’s account of the last judgment, the identification of Christ with the poor becomes evident. While this passage does not explicitly mention the poor, the phrase “the least of these” refer to “the poor of Yahweh, the poor who have come to Jesus and have entered with him into the reign of God.” Jesus’ identification with the poor has an ecclesiological implication. As Gauthier points out:
Since Jesus has identified himself on the one hand with his Church and on the other hand with the poor it would be logical to conclude that there is an identity between the Church and the poor. But these identifications – Jesus = the Church, and Jesus = the poor – are not interchangeable, each being “a partial identity” only, like the identification of man and woman in marriage, which does not absorb the person of each, but fulfills them both. It is therefore important to consider in what form Jesus desired this identity of the Church and the poor.

Thus, there is identification of Jesus with the poor and his demand that those who follow him have to embrace evangeli¬cal poverty. The spirituality of the Church of the Poor, therefore, is a spirituality of following and imitating Jesus – the poor man of Nazareth. Like Jesus, the members of the Church will make an option for the poor, have a preferential love for the poor, be in solidarity with the poor, and live a simple lifestyle. Like Jesus they are to proclaim the Good News of the kingdom to the poor. Their liberating praxis is for the benefit of the poor and carried out with the poor.
The spirituality of the Church of the poor is, therefore, a spirituality of discipleship. This implies a personal relationship with the risen Christ whose presence is felt in the community, in the sacraments and in prayer. This also means constantly listening to his Word and nourished by his body in the Holy Eucharist. It involves an awareness of being sent for mission and the readiness to carry the cross.
Walking According to the Spirit
A Spirituality of the Church of the Poor means being aware of the presence of the Holy Spirit in the midst of the pilgrim community – the Spirit that accompanies the community of disciples on it journey towards its ultimate destiny. As Guttierrez asserts:
The initial encounter with the Lord is the starting point of a following, of discipleship. The journey that ensues is what St. Paul calls “walking according to the Spirit” (Rom 8:4). It is also what we today speak of as spirituality.

The awareness of being filled with the Spirit generates a sense of dynamism to carry out the mission that Christ has entrusted to the Christian community.
The spirituality of “walking according to the Spirit” integrates praxis and contemplation – action and prayer. Walking can symbolize both action and contemplation. It is a dynamic contemplative activity.
One of the most popular religious activity, especially among the poor, is the procession – the faithful walking together following some religious images – of Jesus, Mary and the saints. This is usually done during Holy Week, and the fiestas. The procession of Jesus Nazareno in Quiapo draws one of the largest crowds in the country. So also is the Santo Intierro and the Salubong during Holy Week. In recent times, some parishes with BECs hold the “Pagpanaw, Pagtukaw para sa Pagkabanhaw. (Journey and Vigil for Easter). ” This involves a procession during Black Saturday of BECs from various parts of the parish converging in the parish center to celebrate together the Easter Vigil.
There have been instances where the procession was integrated with praxis for peace and for the environment. In 1988, the people of San Fernando who were picketing the DENR office in Malaybalay, made a procession to the DENR checkpoint along the national highway where they set up the human barricade against logging trucks. This eventually led to a declaration of total log ban in the whole province by DENR upon the order of President Cory Aquino.
In 1990, when the BECs in Tulunan, Cotabato established their Peace Zones, they started with a Liturgy of the Word in the evacuation center, followed by a procession to the Peace Zone area where the Liturgy of the Eucharist was celebrated.
The walking pilgrimage – although not yet very popular is another expression of the spirituality of “walking in the spirit.” Every May, thousands of devotees walk from Quiapo to the shrine of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Antipolo.
The procession and the pilgrimage both emphasize the metaphor of the journey to characterize the spirituality of the Church of the Poor. Spirituality is a journey in the Spirit – walking in the Spirit. It is not just an individual act but communal. The community journeys together. Those who are not poor economically or materially are called to walk with the poor – to journey with them, be in solidarity with them and to actively participate in their struggle for social transformation – for justice, peace and the integrity of creation. Walking with the poor involves engaging in a liberating praxis as well as praying and contemplating with one’s feet. Thus, everyone becomes a companion in the journey. Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, they become aware and celebrate the presence of the risen Lord as they listen to his Word and gather around the table to break bread together.
As I expressed at the beginning, this paper is primarily theological and theoretical in character. I did not describe the lived experience of the Church of the Poor and the accompanying spirituality. However, I would like to end with a poem that I wrote which sums up my lived experience of journeying with the poor in Basic Ecclesial Communities and experiencing what it truly means to be the Church of the Poor and the underlying spirituality.

Amado L. Picardal, CSsR

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, rice-fields,
the picket-lines 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 a journey to the Kingdom.

Thank you.
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.

Good bye.
I came as a stranger
and you called me father.
I leave as a friend and brother.
When the time of harvest comes
remember me.

Day 1: August 3, 2011

Spirituality and the Church of the Poor
Rev. Fr. Amado Picardal, CSsR. S.Th.D
Executive secretary, CBCP-BEC Commission

Morning Session:


Fr. Picardal captures the imagery of ‘walk’ to capture the on-going, unfolding experience of the Church of the Poor. To walk means to follow and imitate Jesus, the poor man of Nazareth. Hence, it is a discipleship. Also, walking means awareness of the presence of the Holy Spirit of the pilgrim community. The spirit accompanies the community of disciples on its journey towards its ultimate destiny. Walking is not just an endless and open ended event. It is geared to integrate experience and contemplation. It is a dynamic, transforming activity. To walk means to walk with the community – praying on their feet and pray with their faith. This is the interplay of the experience of church of the poor with spirituality is – walking as a community – being transformed in the experience of the church of the poor.

Sheldon Tabile, O.Carm.

Open Forum:

Fr. Toto Jaranilla: Is the option of the poor a sacramental act?

Fr. Picardal: The poor is a sacramental act of Christ. The act speaks of encountering Jesus with the poor. In the life and mission of Jesus, the poor has a special place in the heart of Jesus. The mission calls to love and embrace the poor and the marginalized. Sacramental act is a saving act of Jesus to the poor ones.

Arnold Van Vuhgt: Jesus movement is a trend in Europe. It tries to relieve the experience of the early Christian Church. This is the very spirit that the BEC try to foster.

Fr. Amado Picardal: In the Philippine setting, the spirit of the Jesus movement is seen in the context of BEC. The goal is to foster the dynamism and life of the early Christian communities. The Basic Christian Community, as they reflect on the word of God, is moved to become agents of transformation in their own communities.

Bro. Michel Isaac, CICM: The church of the poor and the preferential option for the poor can imply that the poor are outside the Church. What then, is the appropriate expression to be used in order that the poor become integral part of the Church?

Fr. Picardal: The church of the poor presupposes a preferential option for the poor. CELAM used the term Iglesia Pobre. It is a kind of church that does not look at the poor as mere recipients of help but as actors and evangelizers themselves. This happens as they become involved in the life of the church. In this manner, the poor has twofold effects on their part as the subject and object of the Church of the poor. First, they will be evangelized in the light of mission of Christ and the church; and secondly they become evangelized subjects and actors to the church.

Sr. Rosa, O.Carm: The wind has blown in some Christian communities. It is interesting to gather them all and allow them to share their experiences so that we can have a grasp of where we are, together with the challenges that accompany them.

Fr. Picardal: This is a challenge to the Institute spirituality in Asia. There is a need to study and explore through case studies different communities experiencing the blowing of the wind. It will contribute in realizing the vision of the church not only in Philippines but also in Asia.

Fr. Jerry Sabado, O.Carm: What is the face of BEC in our present context? How can we make BEC relevant and interesting to the second liners especially the youth?

Fr.Picardal: World is changing yet there are experiences that seem to be constant – poverty, killings, and the like. These are stirring experiences to keep the spirit of BEC alive. Hence, BEC must not be only prayer groups but with renewed worship, catechesis and evangelization. BEC becomes a venue for integral evangelization and social transformation.

Ate Melvin: When the concern of the Christian community is on the personal level, there is no problem in terms of societal acceptance. However, when the concern is extending to the level of society, particularly on the concerns of justice, peace, and integrity of creation, then it becomes a problem since it begins to shake the social institutions involved in it. In this situation, how can we sustain the blowing of the wind despite the difficulties that we are faced with?

Fr. Picardal: Sustaining the blowing of the wind requires carrying the cross. It is the price we need to pay as disciples.

Fr. Paul Medina, O.Carm: Is there really a wind blowing toward the church of the poor?

Fr. Picardal: It is blowing in the church especially among the BECs. However, it is also question of where it has blown. Perhaps in the hierarchical church it has not blown so much. In fact, sometimes it blocks the wind especially in matters of living a simple lifestyle. In my opinion, we do not open our windows to let the wind come in. However, this needs another method to empirically measure its impact in the Church.

Renato Dela Cruz: Spirituality of church of the poor is geared toward social transformation.

Fr. Picardal: The image that I used, walk, captures the interplay of action and contemplation. It is a balance, harmony. Spirituality is not just an exercise of piety but works for social transformation.

Sr. Diane Macinto, O. Carm.: How can the notion of communitarian dimension of the church of the poor influence especially the structures of the church?

Fr. Picardal: While we can live simply, the structures of institutions are luxurious. It is a challenge open for experimentation like immersion in the life of the poor. It helps us move beyond our comfort zones. Spirituality is meant to be lived not only in ourselves but in the midst of the poor. This is walking, journeying with them.

Fr. Marlon Lacal, O.Carm: One of the keys in effecting the spirit of the Church of the poor is the formation of future ministers, allowing them to live with poor in the inserted communities. This allows transformation among the candidates, deepening their love and commitment for the poor. This is what basically ICTC does in the last 22 years. We do not only study (object) the poor but to live and struggle with them, being like with them.
Fr. Egay Cayanan: What is the state of BEC, in your experience, as an executive secretary CBCP-BEC Commission?

Fr. Picardal: The existence of the commission on BEC in CBCP is a good sign. But its fulfillment is yet to be seen. There is the desire to change however, change comes in various ways. Some are fast, others are moderate, and still others are slow. But this shows only the wind is indeed blowing.

Profile of Speaker:

While doing his studies in A.B. Philosophy at the University of San Carlos, Cebu, in the early 1970s, Amado (or Picx to his friends) was involved in student activism and worked with farmers and urban poor community organizations on weekends and summer vacations. A year after the declaration of martial law he was arrested tortured and imprisoned for seven months. After his graduation in 1975, he joined the first batch of Redemptorist postulants who lived for six months in the urban poor communities and trained in community organizing.

He was professed as a Redemptorist in 1977 and while studying theology in St. Francis Xavier Regional Major Seminary in Davao he continued to work with urban poor communities, helping form Basic Ecclesial Communities (BECs). After his ordination to the priesthood in 1981, Fr. Picx spent 8 years, living and working among the poor in Mindanao helping form BECs as a member of the Redemptorist Mission Team. The team was also involved in helping mobilize the BECs in San Fernando, Bukidnon to stop logging operations which resulted in a total log ban in the province in 1989.
In 1989, he was sent for graduate studies at the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley, California. After getting his licentiate in theology in 1991, he proceeded to Rome where he did his doctoral studies at the Gregorian University. He earned his doctorate in 1995 magna cum laude with his dissertation “An Ecclesiological Perspective of the Basic Ecclesial Communities in the Philippines.”

In June 1995, he came back to the Philippines and taught theology at the St .Alphonsus’ Theologate in Davao. He was appointed academic dean in 1997. During his 16 years in Davao, besides teaching, he was also involved in other activities and responsibilities: parish & church ministry, publishing some books and articles on BECs, organizing/facilitating national BEC assemblies, training BEC formation teams and lay missionaries, peace and pro-life advocacy, campaign against extra-judicial killings, supporting environmental causes (anti-aerial spray, anti-mining, anti-coal-fired power-plant). He also biked for life and peace around the Philippines 2008. He walked for peace in the Camino de Santiago in Spain in 2010 and last summer, he walked for life and peace across the Philippines from Davao to Aparri.
At present, Fr. Picx is based in Manila, working full-time as executive secretary of the CBCP-BEC committee. As visiting professor, he continues to teach intensive courses on Ministry & Orders and on Pastoral Leadership & Management at the St. Alphonsus’ Theological & Mission Institute in Davao.