Pastoral Exhortation of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines to open the Year 2017 as the Year of Parishes, Communion of Communities
BELOVED people of God:
We welcome the year 2017 in our “novena-years” of preparation for the grateful celebration in 2021 of the five hundredth anniversary of the first coming and first receiving among our people of the Gospel of Christ Jesus and of His holy Church.
That forthcoming 2021 celebration, recalling the first Mass and first baptisms in our shores, should be a new and joyous explosion in our lives of faith, hope and love throughout our country. Surely such will be our response to the free and gracious gift from the heavenly Father which made the year 1521, for us Christians first of all, a memorable and incredibly significant “new beginning” in our history.
As we began this “novena” we raised a banner of hope and renewal for the Church in our land with the motto, “Live Christ, Share Christ!” That is the firm resolve with which we now open the Year 2017, and the cry of all of us, dear brothers and sisters is–“Live Christ, Share Christ!”
This cry can rightfully be the motto for the now-ongoing “new evangelization” in the Philippines, which the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines already proclaimed in 1991. To that “renewed evangelization” we brought with us all the hopes and dreams of our people” for a truly “renewed Christian society, life and culture … based on the Gospel Beatitudes, suffused with Christian values of love and peace, of joy and hospitality, of patience and justice.” Thus also did we resolve that the Church in our land would become truly “a church of the poor!” (from ‘The Message of the Second Plenary Council’)
“Live Christ, Share Christ!” As we open the Year 2017, we pray that God may grant us abundant grace to make it a year of fuller fulfillment of that motto and that hope. 2017 has been programmed to focus on the parish, “a community of communities”. As a center and fountain of missionary discipleship and zeal for renewed evangelization, “a genuine center of constant missionary outreach.” in “Evangelii Gaudium” Pope Francis insists that the parish “is not an outdated institution and can possess great flexibility still, depending on the openness and missionary creativity of the pastor and the community.” (EG, 28)
Live communion, share communion
The Church is a mystery of communion. Our communion flows from the Trinity overflowing into humanity and sharing a common faith journeying together for the full unfolding of the Kingdom of God. This communion, made possible for us because of the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, always has a double dimension—a vertical communion with God and a horizontal communion with our brothers and sisters. The Church’s life of communion is constantly open to ecumenical and missionary action because this communion is always in a state of mission.
The Church in the Philippines is a part of the communion of Churches which is the universal Church. We are a part of the one Church of Christ. In every particular Church “the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church of Christ is truly present and active” (Christus Dominus, 11). For this reason, the universal Church cannot be conceived as the sum of the particular Churches, or as a federation of particular Churches. Whoever belongs to one particular Church belongs to all the Churches; since belonging to the Communion, like belonging to the Church, is never simply particular, but by its very nature is always universal (cfr. Lumen Gentium,13).
In celebrating 2017 as the Year of the Parish as a Communion of Communities we are challenged to more deeply discern not only the structures of governance of our dioceses and parishes but also of the quality of faith life in the parish, the fellowship, belongingness, and participation experienced by its members. In brief, our focus will be the building of a parish that is truly a faith community immersed in the lives of its people. (CBCP Pastoral Letter Live Christ Share Christ, 2012)
In the Philippines our vision of the Church as communion is today finding expression in one ecclesial movement that is the movement to foster Basic Ecclesial Communities” (PCP II, 137).
Usually emerging at the grassroots, Basic Ecclesial Communities consciously strive to integrate their faith and their daily life. They are guided and encouraged by regular catechesis. Poverty and their faith urge their members towards solidarity with one another, action for justice, and towards a vibrant celebration of life in the liturgy. (PCP II, 139).
How can we work at renewing our parish communities so that they can better respond to the challenge of restoring all things in Christ?
Celebrate communion, listen to the Mother
2017 is the also the centennial year of the apparition of Our Lady to three children in Fatima. At Fatima, Our Lady asked her children to return to Jesus by the three fold paths of prayer, daily Communion and reparation. The message of Fatima still rings clearly and strongly for us. If we dream of Church renewal, let us return to prayer, let us receive her Son in Holy Communion and let us offer reparation for our sin.
As we pursue the dream to make every parish community a family of families and a communion of communities, let us avail of the message of Our Lady of Fatima to help us reach our vision.
In the months of May to October 2017, Catholics all over the world, led by Pope Francis, will recall and celebrate the centenary of the six apparitions of Our Blessed Mother to the “three children of Fatima”- Lucia dos Santos and her cousins Francisco Marto and his sister Jacinta. As we in the Philippines celebrate our parishes as communion of communities, we will also turn with prayer and devotion, deeper reflection and rededication to “the Fatima Message” of Our Lady. All these activities will enable us to learn or relearn “what Fatima was all about”; how important and relevant Fatima still is for our time, and how we can and should put into practice “what Fatima asks of us today”, so we can renew and reinvigorate our parishes in the Philippines.
The relevance of parishes, the call of Fatima
“The present efforts at Church renewal should center on the parish. Without parish renewal, the family and Basic Ecclesial Communities will not find strong supportive ambience, and will continue to feel isolated.” (PCP II, #604). In the same vein, it would be a lost opportunity if the year of the parish as communion of communities would ignore the clarion call of Fatima for prayer, penance and communion.
Pope Benedict XVI took pains to spell out the fundamental significance of the Fatima events and of the message of Our Lady of Fatima. He believes that the “point of Fatima” was not directed only to the emergence of the disastrous dictatorship of the twentieth century in Russia and Germany. No, it referred “to a critical moment in history … when the whole power of evil came to a head” not only in and through those godless regimes but “in another way is still at work today in our time, in the suffering of the Church and the weakening of the forces of good and of the work of God in our world.”
If the nation needs healing, the healing will start in our parishes. If the nation needs to crush the forces of evil, it will start in our parishes. If the nation needs to strengthen the presence of God in society, the strengthening of the parishes is the only way.
Pope Benedict has written, that “the answer to the power of evil in the world of our time can only come from the transformation of the heart, through faith, hope, love; through penance and conversion.” In this sense, the message of Fatima is precisely not a thing of the past. The Church continues to suffer … even now there is tribulation.” “There is the power which tries to trample down the faith.”
What we beg and pray for is this: “that the power of evil be restrained, that the energies of good might regain their vigor. You could say that the triumphs of God and the triumphs of Mary are quiet, but they are real nonetheless,” said Pope Benedict XVI.
Pope Benedict tells us, then, that the framework and meaning of the message of Fatima is the struggle of the work of God in our world today and the struggle of the life of church and of Christians, that struggle in our own time against the massively-spreading, active forces of evil and sin in today’s world, in our communities and societies, in our own homes, in our own lives.
New wellsprings of prayer and mercy
Let us move toward some proposals for a “program of action for our parishes and basic ecclesial communities”, a program which flows from the Fatima message. Pope Paul VI, in his own summing up of the Fatima message, defined it as “a message of prayer and penance”. So let it be for our parishes! Our communion of communities needs a renewed and passionate program of intense prayer and penance.
Parishes and communities will be renewed only through personal and community prayer. Our first mission in the world is to be a leaven to teach our society how to pray. Our first duty in communion is prayer. The prayer of a shepherd for his sheep is always music to the ears of God. Prayer is an act of love. Every prayer whether of praise or contrition or petition is always a plea for mercy. Prayer is our parish anchor. Prayer is our cornerstone. Parishes and BECs will be renewed as oasis of mercy through reparation for sins, frequent confession and acts of mercy.
Parishes and communities will be renewed by living the Eucharist whom we receive every day. The Eucharist is the poverty of Jesus disturbing the complacency of the wealthy; it is the wealthy sacrificing house, family, and fortune to lift up the poor from their poverty. It is the Word of God inviting the confused, the lonely, the bored, the suffering to the joy of the Gospel. It is God’s life humanized in his incarnation; it is human life divinized in his suffering, death and resurrection. It is the compassion of the Father touching the life of the sinner; the conversion of the sinner practicing the compassion of the Savior.
Let us envision parish renewal from the Immaculate Heart of Mary and through the means she gave us at Fatima–prayer and penance intensified in every parish.
From every parish and basic ecclesial community, let us raise our voices in prayer “Oh my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell, lead all souls into heavens especially those in most need of your mercy.”
May Our Lady of Fatima whom we also invoke as Mother of the Church pray that for us that every parish truly become oases and wellsprings of renewal and mercy!
From the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, November 27, 2016, First Sunday of Advent
+ SOCRATES B. VILLEGAS
Archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan