THE BECs IN THE PRELATURE OF IPIL
The IPIL story started its humble beginnings from the first hand experience of BEC workers who have actively participated in its lay formation program.
The prelature comprises the western half of the province of Zamboanga del sur, extending from the municipalities of Tungawan to Lakewood. At present the prelature consists of nineteen (19) parishes with a population of more than half a million people. (Fig. 1 and Table 1)
The western half of Zamboanga del sur represents one of the last frontiers of Mindanao where settlers from other parts of Mindanao, the Visayas and Luzon have come in numbers over the past half century. The terrain itself is variegated with forested mountain areas in the interior, rolling hills for upland crops, river basins suitable for lowland rice production and coastal areas, blessed with some of the choicest fishing areas in the country. In addition to subsistence crops such as corn and rice, there are also sizeable areas devoted to rubber, coconut, logging, and mining activities. Roads are generally unpaved including the 275 km. highway from Pagadian to Zamboanga City. Electric lines stretching from Maria Cristina Falls have been connencted all the way to Zamboanga City, bringing in its wake rural electrification for most of the towns and villages along its path.
The population consists of Catholics (70 %), Muslim (10%), native Subanens
(10%), and the remaining are other Christians of various denominations.
Although the coastal areas were affected by the Muslim-Christian armed
conflicts of the mid-70’s, many of the original settlers have returned.
There is still apprehension over coastal piracy among the small fishermen
and a possible resurgence of hostilities. In some areas of the prelature,
there are also reported incidents involving wandering outlaw groups of
mixed tribal and religious affiliation. Thus, in terms of population and
its pioneering spirit, the prelature is young, restless, troubled, but
also full of hope. It is within this setting that Basic Ecclesial Communities
have been formed.
Ipil Prelature began as a Jesuit Mission District in the 50’s-70’s, a part of the Archdiocese of Zamboanga. Malangas was then the seat of the district. Archbishop Lino Gonzaga and then Archbishop Francisco Cruses resided in Zamboanga City, some 200 kms. Away. During these early years, the Jesuit Fathers actively supported mandated organizations up to the Cursillo Movement. They were tasked to carry on the work of evangelization and to bring the sacraments to the more than 300,000 Catholics on the western half of Zamboanga del Sur. There were no existing ministries then except for the catechetical apostolate for the Catholic and public elementary schools. The Dominican and RVM sisters were the only religious women around to help the schools and some parishes.
By the late 60’s, changes were taking place in the mission district. Lay leaders were invited to meetings and seminars. With Fr. Simplicio Sunpayco, S.J., District Superior, providing the direction of formation activities and with the encouragement of other Jesuit priests like Frs. Samuel Dizon, Angel Antonio, and Domingo Macalam, the lay people became partners in building the local church. Small Christian Communities (BCCs) were started in different parishes of the mission district. The first Mindanao-Sulu Pastoral Conference in 1971, with Fr. Sunpayco as Executive Secretary, confirmed the thrust of the mission district.
The lives of dedication of the early mission Jesuits ¾ whether Filipino, Spanish, or American – opened the eyes and hearts of lay leaders to the challenges confronting them towards co-participation and co-responsibility.
(1) Based on the Vatican II’s mandate, the mission district introduced renewal and reform in its activities; the emphasis was on the formation of the key lay leaders. An initial step was the training in Ignatian spirituality with emphasis on prayer life and the Ignatian retreat which preceded the formation of Christian Life Community (CLC) groups. Aside from prayers, group dynamics played an important part in the development of the individual and small groups. Most of the key leaders were CLC members who came from Malangas and Margosatubig.
In summer of 1969, a delegation was sent to the Mindanao Institute for Social Action (MISA) which was held in Xavier University in Cagayan de Oro City. About the same year, private school teachers were sent to the Mother of Life Catechetical Center in Novaliches, Quezon City. Aside from trainings to deepen the faith, the lay leaders also underwent skills specialization. Some studied at the South East Asia rural Leadership Institute (SEARSOLIN). Others went to the Southern Philippines Educational Center for Cooperatives (SPECC). Resource persons were made available to parishes interested in cooperatives, piggery and other livelihood projects as part of the outreach program of Xavier University College of Agriculture.
The lay liturgical training spearheaded by the Maryknoll Missionaries was gaining popularity among church leaders in Mindanao. Upon invitation, the mission district sent a team headed by Fr. Dizon to Moncayo, Davao in 1971. The focus of that training was on the creation of worshipping communities. A kaabag (lay helper) would preside at the prayer service which included the Liturgy of the Word and oftentimes, a communion service.
Despite the different trainings and the active participation of the lay people in the activities of the local church, the need for some form of organization was further articulated in the meetings of the district. The idea of setting up a neighborhood organizations which would facilitate continuing "study sessosns" and provide a venue for learning more about the rudiments of the faith and providng mutual support began to take root. This measure gained widespread support after an observation trip of two Jesuit priests and four parish workers to Mabel, South Cotabato, where the KRISKA program had already been organized under the leadership of Sr. Rosanne Mallinllin, SPC.
The year 1980 marked the transition from being a mission district a prelature. Bishop Federico Escaler, S.J., was transferred to Ipil from Kidapawan Diocese. At that time there were only nine (9) parishes with thirteen (13) Jesuit priests in the prelature. Bishop Escaler was a strong advocate for faith and justice and fought against human rights violations and military abuses. In 1985, he was kidnapped on his way to Zamboanga City but was released a few days later. Ten years later, in 1995, he was on hand during the "Ipil Raid" when terrorists razed the town’s market place to the ground and massacred more than fifty people.
In his first year, Bishop Escaler invited new missionary groups to work in the prelature. The Spinola sisters helped run the Marian College in Ipil. The PIME, Sacred Heart, Claretian, and Maryknoll fathers tok over parishes and opened new ones. Medical Mission sisters opened a community in Kabasalan, bringing wit them the community-Based Health Program to serve the health needs of the prelature. The FMM, ACR, St. Paul, and the Dominican sisters were all involved in the catechetical ministry, either in school or in the chapels. The faith in the concrete circumstances of life receives an added dimension when shared within the intimate confines of a grass root community.
(2) In a barangay, there may be as many as three to five cell meetings a week regularly at their own designated times. On Sundays, all the cell members come together in their kapilya (chapel) for a community worship (katilingbanong pag-ampo). A lay minister (kaabag) presides at this prayer service which includes the Liturgy of the Word and usually a Communion service. In the more secure chapels, the kaabag is commissioned to keep the consecrated hosts of the Santissimo (Blessed Sacrament). A kapilya community may have more than one kaabag who take turns in presiding the community worship.
Once a month or every two months, and during fiestas, the parish priest would come to celebrate the Eucharist with the kapilya community. Baptism and weddings are performed during these occasions, with prior preparations made by the alagads, kaabags, and other local leaders. With the celebration of the sacraments, the Gagmayng Kristohanong Katilingban (GKK or small Christian Community) exercises its full priestly function.
The kapilya community is generally coterminous with the barangay but may at times comprise one sub-village area, if the barangay is spread out. A council or core group administers the kapilya. This is usually composed of a president, a vice-president, and a secretary-treasurer elected by all the cell members periodically. Included in this council are the kaabags, alagads, and katekistas (catechists) and other heads of ministries. In some parishes, the seldas also have their presidents who then augment the kapilya council. Hence, a kapilya council may have as many as ten members responsible for its weekly and monthly activities.
(3) The next organizational level above the kapilya is the sona (zone), which comprses from five (5) to seven (7) adjoining kapilya communities. Many of the formaton seminars are conducted at this level- e.g., the monthly In-Service Trainings for Alagads (INSTA) to explain the KRISKA guide to be used in the cells for the next four weeks. Formation teams are also set up at this level, composed of some of the more active local leaders in the sona. Various teams give pre-baptism, pre-Cana, and pre-confirmation seminars to either parents, couples, sponsors, or children.
These seminars are given upon the request at the kapilya or sona levels. After the trainings, members of the kapilya or sona core groups affix their signatures to certify the wortiness of the candidates for the reception of the sacraments.
A sona council or core group coordinates activities. An important function of the sona council is to plan and coordinate the kapilya visits of the parish priest within the sona. The sona president becomes a member of the parish council.
Sona groupings tend to be located within ecological zones – e.g., three (3) to five (5) barangays on a mountain area, or rice-growing villages in the Sibuquey Valley, or a cluster of coastal fishing communities. In this way, sonas can deal more effectively with common livelihood problems and concerns among its members.
On special occasions, several sonas may be grouped together at a sub-parish level for joint activities – e.g., a consultation of small farmers, confirmation activities, or a kaabag meeting. There is however, no set of officers at this sub-parish level.
(4) At the parish level, all the activities from the lower levels are coordinated, principally through the Parish Assembly that meets every two or three months. Each kapilya community is represented by its president. Reports are given, current problems affecting the GKKs discussed, and a plan of activities for the coming months formulated. Before the Parish Assembly meets, the agenda is prepared by the Parish Council composed of the ministry coordinators and the sona presidents, together with the parish priest.
In the parish formation center, a number of meetings and seminars are conducted, ranging from annual retreats for kaabags or katekisas to seminars on cooperatives and other specialized topics. In many respects, the parish church with its seminar facilities located in the poblacion becomes adapted to the needs of the outlying barangays, in addition to activities organized by religious organizations based in the town proper.
A major activity at the parish level is the celebration of the annual fiesta, which brings together delegations from all the sonas for one or two days of liturgical and cultural activities. This may include confirmation rites by the bishop, a commissioning of kaabags for the year, games and a cultural contest among competing sonas. In addition to the Parish Assembly, the annual fiesta forges closer ties among KRISKA members from all parts of the parish.
(5) Beyond the parish, there are two more levels of interaction. One level is the district (or vicariate) meeting among parish priests, religious sisters, parish workers and representatives of the adjoining parishes. District Assemblies, usually coordinated by the vicar forane or one of the parishes by rotation, are held every three months for greater communication of concerns among neighboring parishes. Ministry coordinators at the prelature or district level also take this opportunity to follow up parish workers – e.g., in catechism, or in the community-based health program.
(6) At the highest level, the Prelature Assembly meets twice a year to hear reports and discuss problems and issues from all the parishes. The venue is usually rotated among the larger parishes with adequate seminar facilities to accommodate about a hundred delegates for two nights’stay. Thee Prelature Council, chaired by the bishop prepares the agenda, while a district team by rotation facilitates the sessions.
Thus, in addition to the weekly selda and kapilya activities, lay workers,
and local leaders meet at a regular intervals at the zone level on the
second month, at the district level on the third or fourth month, and at
the prelature level on the sixth month. In this way, community problems
are discussed and raised to various forums until solutions are reached
at the appropriate level of action – either with the help of the entire
zone, parish, district or prelature.
From structural-functional perspective, Figure 3 outlines the six interlocking structures of the KRISKA program in Ipil Prelature, as already discussed. Let us now examine more closely the major functions that cut across these structures. These functions of education (or evangelization), public worship (liturgy), and service correspond to the threefold role of the BECs in partaking of the mission of Jesus Christ as Prophet, Priest and the King.
In many ways the KRISKA program is a form of adult catechetics. Through the weekly cell sessions, members get to know more intimately the Word of God and how it relates to their lives. Many members for the first time begin to listen attentively to the Word. It is not uncommon for individual members to procure a copy of the Bible, particularly the New Testament in its Bisayan translation.
The priestly role of the GKKs is carried out in the worship activities of these local communities. Gathering together with neighbors in prayer inside a household becomes part of the weekly activities. Prayer itself becomes more spontaneous, and down-to-earth.
This sense of community is discernible in the prayer activities of Kriska members, whether these be in the cell session in the kapilya’s community worship, or in special liturgical celebrations. Worship itself becomes less privatized, and more communitarian, rooted in one’s active membership in a selda.
The celebration of the sacraments are also community-based in that preparations
of baptism and marriages are processed with the help of the kapilya council.
Preparatory seminars have become a standard requirement throughout the
prelature for the reception of these sacraments. In some parishes, the
local alagads and kaabags first sign a certification of approval before
the parish priest administers Baptism or presides at a wedding; the parish
priest however, makes the final decision as to the readiness of the parties
asking for the sacraments.
The motivation for service permeates all the varied activities of KRISKA groupings. Membership and leadership roles are voluntary. These are no fees, except for the contributions agreed upon by the members themselves. Accounting of funds is done at the various levels, from the cell treasurer to the parish treasurer. Alay kapwa contributions as part of a nation-wide Lneten activity to help the needy are channeled through these various levels.
An early form of service has been the setting up of economic associations either at the purok or barangay level. In contrast to the earlier efforts of parishes to start credit unions or cooperatives based in the poblacion, KRISKA – inspired economic activities tend to start informally on a small scale.
A number of seldas have started cooperatively-run sari-sari stores for their consumption needs. Others have started communal farms or a bangko humay (rice bank) – a way for marketing the palay harvest during the lean months. On a wider scale, KRSKA structures have expedited the federation of larger coop units involved in marketing, such as the ones organized by the Xavier Agricultural Extension Service in the Ipil-Titay area, or the consumers’ coops supported by the Faithful companions of Jesus (FCJ) sisters in Naga.
Justice issues, along with forums on current areas of concern, such as the entry of mining companies, are also tackled at various levels. These forums called Local Government and Church Organizations (LOGCO), have been co-sponsored by the prelature with the local government units and NGOs to focus on current issues. In general, the network of KRISKA communities provides a ready-made structure for the various ad extra ministries of the prelature in social action, health, and indigenous people’s concerns.
Culture of Peace workshops have introduced lay workers as well as priests and sisters to the possibility of inter-religious dialogue with Muslim and Subanen communities, a distinct mode of evangelization in the tri-people context of Mindanao. Lately, LOGCO has been merged with Tulay sa Kalinaw (Bridge of Peace) inter-religious dialogues among religious leaders of Christians, Muslims, and lumads.
Community building (Koinonia)
The dynamism of the KRISKA program at the local levels can be traced ultimately to the decentralization and diffusion of leadership roles among participants. The principle of subsidiarity becomes operational in the planning and carrying out of activities. A sense of co-responsibility develops among local leaders, regarded more as first-among-equals in their leadership roles. KRISKA structures, particularly at the cell and kapilya levels with their personalized setting, have likewise provided suitable channels where foregiveness and reconciliation are more readily accepted and practiced.
Thus, with interlocking leadership roles and activities at various levels, constant communication and interaction are maintained. Instead of answering the question of what KRISKA does, this fourth function of community-building addresses more the question of what KRISKA is – a communion of communities: koinonia from the grassroots level.