Fr. Carmelo O. Diola, SSL
Spaces of Hope
I RECENTLY met a good friend of mine, a police officer, who is assigned in Metro Manila. Prior to this stint, he was assigned in one of the provinces of the Ilocos Region. I had met him as we were preparing to launch Takbo Maharlika last 15 August 2011.
My friend is a Protestant Christian and has a good sense of humor. When we met in Camp Crame, he blurted out: “Father, lumiit ka ba?” I hurriedly responded in the negative. Then he said, “Kasi nung araw ganito ka katangkad, ngayon ganito ka na,” as his words synchronized with a gesture he made with his left hand, first indicating a level taller than him then lowered to a level close to his heart. He then follows this by saying, “Kasi malapit ka sa puso ko.” This “pick-up line” elicited laughter from our other friends.
I was moved by his “joke” since I knew that in the past he allegedly made some negative comments about the Church. Somehow my participation in the seven and a half month long run across the Maharlika Highway with policemen and other public servants had made a good impression on him. Now, at least we had made room for each other. Unity gives Christians a vital push towards new evangelization.
Two sections of the Lineamenta (“guidelines”) of The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith seem to validate my engagement in evangelizing politics, in particular, and public service, in general. Section 7 points out that new evangelization “calls us to engage in dialogue with these sectors, not remaining confined to our communities and our institutions, but accepting the challenge to take part in these phenomena so as to speak and bear witness in these sectors, from the inside…”
Earlier on in the said document we are told that new evangelization is “the courage to forge new paths in responding to the changing circumstances and conditions facing the Church in her call to proclaim and live the Gospel today” (sec. 5). We have the courage to do so because we believe in the power of God’s word.
The challenges can be daunting. “Forging new paths…from the inside”—if I be permitted to connect the two section above—is no easy task. But with God’s grace nothing is impossible!
Also recently this power was once more forcefully brought home to me during a taxi ride in Manila. By the time the driver opened his mouth to speak, I knew we had come from the same region. “Taga diin man diay ka bay?” I asked him. “Taga Cebu ko,” he answered.
When I told him I too hail from the same province, he inquired: “Kaila ka ni Soc Fernandez?” I answered in the affirmative. This prompted him to ask how the man was. I told him what I knew and inquired how he knew him.
Years ago, the taxi driver admitted, he was known by a nickname and had actually landed in a jail in Cebu for several crimes. At one point he claimed to have narrowly evaded being a victim of summary execution and that jail became his sanctuary. It was also there that he encountered Soc who was part of a Catholic Faith Defenders’ group that frequented the jail to visit the inmates and share God’s word to them. Although he first resisted listening to them, he eventually found himself drinking in their talks especially on the love of God. The assurance of God’s love for him provided the power to change. When at last he was released, he decided to go to Manila.
For several days, according to him, he had no work and had very little to eat. Providence connected him to a Chinese-Filipino who provided food. Although hard pressed, he resisted returning to his old ways. He was determined to turn a new leaf.
Now my instant friend has a family and with one of his children graduating from college while one is still in college. His wife and her added income are a real blessing. He is experiencing God’s love.
“Consequently, the new evangelization is not a matter of redoing something which has been inadequately done or has not achieved its purpose, as if the new activity were an implicit judgment on the failure of the first evangelization. Nor is the new evangelization taking up the first evangelization again, or simply repeating the past” (Lineamenta 5).
While there is no perfect substitute for one-on-one personal encounter between the evangelist and the evangelized described by the taxi driver, contemporary Christians are called upon to engage in “new evangelization; new in its ardor, methods and expression” (Lineamenta 5). The new methods include digital social networking inspired by the ardor to reach out—at least in the Philippine setting – to OFWs and their families, call center agents, the youth whose lifestyle changes every three years and exposed to the wonders and hazards of globalization, men and women in uniform, the media, etc.
New expressions include the language of modernity and post-modernity. The latter, in particular, can even be a hidden ally of evangelization. A friend of mine told me that she figured in a dialogue with another young person who is infected with the disease of relativism. She had expressed fear about doing something to which her friend replied: “If you claim to believe in God, then why are you afraid?”
It is also open to political issues, to a new generation of Catholics working in politics. One such issue was raised by a policeman who sent me this text: “I am not a politician father, but how I wish we can have better choices for our POLITICAL LEADERS. Next year is another election year, sana mas mahusay na mamili ang mga Pilipino.” I circulated his text and this elicited more than 80 text comments.
The comments ranged from calling for more effective voter’s education, enabling legislation regarding anti-dynasty law, anti-poverty measures, the PICOS machines, etc. Finally, the discussions hovered over what we as a faith community can do to help emerge good and credible candidates.
Our competence as a religious community is that of forming consciences. A method for new evangelization, if you ask me, is a framework for prayerfully making up one’s mind (i.e. discernment) with regards to a possible vocation in politics. This is the LASER (lifestyle, accomplishments, supporters, election conduct, and reputation) test for both voters and candidates.
We have identified seven possible “calls” for Catholic Christians in politics. One is to be a voter who does not sell his votes. Another is to be involved in voter’s education and act as a neutral poll watcher. People can also join circles of discernment that help emerge good candidates in a non-partisan manner. Individuals can also run for office. Or join and support a political party. They can also do their constitutionally-mandated roles as peacekeepers or members of the COMELEC. Finally, priests and lay workers can provide pastoral accompaniment to Christians and other people of good will who are running for office.
We start with simple questions for our journey of discernment. May I propose the following? Individually and as groups, can we approach those who may have the vocation to run and ask them to answer the following? This can open up spaces for dialogue, discernment, as well as hope.
Questions for Discernment:
1) Am I considering running for an elected position? Why? What event – or chain of events – has inclined me to consider running (or continue to be in public office)? Do I see God’s hand in this? Have I already made up my mind about running for office? If so, am I still open to the leading of the Spirit?
2) Is there anything in my present lifestyle that I need to change to prepare for a dedicated life of an elected official?
3) What accomplishments do I have to show that I could be a good elected official? Will running for office lead to a greater good than what I am already contributing to society? Why?
4) Where will campaign funds come from? Are the funds clean, i.e. does not come from illegal sources? Would using them make me free or would it hinder me from serving the common good?
5) What does my immediate family think about my running? Are there realities in my family that would facilitate or hinder my being a good elected official?
6) Am I ready to campaign on a positive note and not give in to negative campaigning? What is my platform? What do I hope to achieve as an elected official? Am I ready to renounce vote buying? Am I ready for the physical, emotional, and spiritual rigors of campaigning and governing, if elected?
7) What if I win, am I ready to handle access to resource and power so that I remain a person of integrity? How will I support my family?
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