Dear Brothers and Sisters,
“I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.” (2 Cor 6:2)
Greetings of the Lord’s Peace!
We have started the Season of Lent, “a favorable time for personal and community renewal, as it leads us to the paschal mystery of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.” (Pope Francis) Lent is derived from an Old English word which means spring or springtime. Its liturgical use does not only indicate the time of the year when Lent is celebrated. More importantly, it articulates the deeper meaning of Lent as a time of renewal or new birth.
The season of Lent is a 40-day preparation for Easter, the day when Christ rose from the dead and won for us the new life of his resurrection. To live this new life is the renewal we all aspire to by our celebration of Lent. This renewal is made possible by entering into the paschal mystery of Christ. When we unite ourselves with Christ in his suffering and death, we become sharers in his resurrection. As St. Paul reminds us, “If we die with [Christ], we will also live with him.” (2Tm 2:11) How? By dying to our own sin, vice, pride, lust… to whatever is un-Christlike in us, we rise to a new life in Christ, a life of grace and holiness.
How much we need this renewal not only for our personal selves, but also for our community, our Church and our country!
On 9 May, we shall elect our leaders, both national and local. The importance of the elections can never be over-emphasized since it will greatly impact the life of the whole nation for better or for worse. It is a fact that we are badly in need of renewal as a people, both as voters and as candidates. We need to move from an old politics that is toxic to a new kind of politics that is life-giving. As a people, we need to put to death a traditional politics characterized by patronage, vote-buying, corruption, dynasty, deception, fake news… and bring to birth a principled politics grounded on truth, goodness, justice and peace.
I find it highly providential that our celebration of Lent falls precisely at a time when the country prepares itself for the elections. This happy co-occurrence is an invitation for us to live this Lenten season intensely by working not only for our personal renewal but also for the renewal of our country.
As a Diocese, we wish to contribute our own share in bringing about the needed renewal in connection with the forthcoming elections. We start by living our identity as Church and taking our role in effecting such renewal.
IDENTITY AND ROLE
The Church is both Mother and Teacher. As mother, she embraces all her children, regardless of political color or social standing. In her ministers, the Church is to serve as a center of unity for all, especially in the context of varied political positions. There is a long line of jurisprudence on Church ministers maintaining their non-partisan stance in relation to politics.
As teacher, the Church fulfils her mission to proclaim the gospel of truth and love. While being non-partisan, the Church cannot be neutral when the gospel values are violated or compromised. She fulfils her prophetic role through her leaders, priests and consecrated persons, in providing spiritual and moral guidance to our people in the exercise of principled politics.
While Church ministers are to be non-partisan, the laity are to assume their distinctive role in the just ordering of society. As laity, they are to actively participate in the political arena, either as political candidates or voters. Since they have a direct stake in the conduct of this political exercise, I enjoin all our lay people to be active in actual campaigning not just for some ideological or party-based platform of governance, but for candidates who are discerned to be worthy of support because of their commitment to the common good and to the gospel values.
TWO CONCRETE SERVICES
In concrete, our Diocese is committed to help ensure an honest, fair and peaceful elections through (1) the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPC-RV) and (2) our Circles of Discernment.
Through the years, the PPC-RV has proven her non-partisan stance which enables the Church to work effectively with government in making the elections credible. Before the elections, the PPC-RV engages in the education of voters on the proper and principled exercise of their electoral right and duty. During the elections, the PPC-RV serves as an effective means of safeguarding the sanctity of the ballots for our people. The PPC-RV looks beyond the elections and continues its service by monitoring the elected leaders and making them accountable with regard to their electoral promises to the people.
Our second commitment in service of the elections is to organize small groups or circles of discernment in our parishes and basic ecclesial communities (BEC). The circle of discernment is a gathering of people where they are given the opportunity “to see, judge and act” on political realities in the context of faith. They are helped to answer questions like, “What has our faith in Jesus to say about a particular candidate? What has our Church to say about a platform of governance?” With our recent experience of the pre-synodal consultations, our people are by now familiar with the synodal process which constitutes the dynamicsof the circle of discernment.
In view of the invaluable service of the PPC-RV and the circles of discernment, I hereby require as mandatory the setting up of the PPC-RV in all our parishes and chaplaincies and the organizing of circles of discernment in our communities.
As per recommendations by the plenary during our February 8 Monthly Clergy Recollection Business Meeting, we task the Diocesan Social Action Center and the Pastoral Office to take the lead in the implementation of this directive and all the diocesan programs regarding the elections.
MARY, OUR GUIDE
This Lent is a special grace, a favorable time given us by God to renew ourselves and our beloved country through the elections. Once again, let us entrust ourselves to the maternal care of Mary, Queen of Peace, who guided our people 36 years ago during the Snap Elections which bore fruit in the recovery of our freedom and the ushering of a new beginning for our country.
Assuring you of my prayers and extending you my pastoral blessing, I remain
Affectionately in the Lord,
(SGD) PATRICIO A. BUZON, SDB, DD
Bishop of Bacolod