General Nakar, a model parish for the Philippine Church and beyond
By Mila Glodava
Ambassador Rudy Arizala mentioned in one of his email exchanges with Ambassador Johnny Ona that with my advice General Nakar has become self-supporting financially. I feel a need to explain what he meant.
As director of communications and stewardship at St. Thomas More in Colorado, I have learned some tried and true ways to make a parish self-sustaining through our embrace and practice of stewardship as a way of life. This means we teach a life of thanksgiving for all of God’s blessings, resulting in a spirit-filled, vibrant parish. Indeed, the parish has been blessed with sufficient resources to carry out our mission to “go and make disciples” rather than depend for funds from outside sources.
Knowing the difficulties nowadays to solicit grants even in the United States, I thought this practice could help the Prelature of Infanta and offered to share St. Thomas More’s successful stewardship program with the Prelature of Infanta and Bishop Labayen, then the bishop of Infanta, not only accepted but also arranged for me to introduce stewardship to all his clergy in 2002. Seeing its potential, Bishop Labayen thought the prelature should share the practice of stewardship.
Cebu Stewardship Conference
At the invitation of Cardinal Ricardo Vidal and Bishop Labayen, my pastor, Father Andrew Kemberling, and I gave a four-day workshop on stewardship in 2003 to about 70 bishops, priests, religious and lay leaders in Cebu. The participants were so inspired by the experience that it created a Task Force on stewardship immediately to assist Socio Pastoral Institute, our mission partne, in promoting stewardship in the Philippines. It was headed by Sr. Angie Donado, O.Carm, and assisted by Sr. Lea Aclan, C.S., Sr. Yonni Biragay, ACT, and Sr. Frances Mangabat, SDS. To date, the Task Force has identified more than 21 dioceses interested in embracing and implementing stewardship as a way of life.
In addition, the Task Force also has identified models of the practice of stewardship sensitive to the Philippine culture. One of these models, Sts. Anne and Joachim in General Nakar, Quezon, started immediately after the 2003 conference under the leadership of Father Israel Gabriel, using his own personal conversion as a starting point of a series of educational seminars he conducted during BEC gatherings and at liturgies. Within the 40 days of Lent in 2003, Father Israel focused on the “Spirituality of Stewardship” to give his parishioners the motivation to respond to God’s call to live their faith in God. In no time parishioners, many of whom already are active in the parish, were beginning to embrace stewardship as a way of life — making time for God in prayer, nourishing the faith, promoting vocations to the priesthood and religious life, preserving the earth and giving of their time talent and treasure. Stewardship, says Father Israel, was the “integrating factor of all the projects and activities in the parish.” What was incredible about this parish was the fact that lack of resources did not hinder them from introducing this way of life. In fact, they relied mostly on the teaching on the “Spirituality of Stewardship” at Mass, in schools, and in the Basic Ecclesial Communities (BEC’s).
Indeed, stewardship has increased awareness in promoting vocations and in preserving the earth even among the children and youth. “The young people have begun to pray for their peers who may have a calling to become a priest or to enter religious life,” said Rosie Castro, a catechist who has become a credible speaker on stewardship. “And the youth have become active in ecology projects,” she said.
Even the indigenous people have embraced stewardship as a way of life — especially in the areas of ecology and vocations. Influenced by globalization and consumerism, they are now going back to their roots and their love of the earth — recycling, gardening and finding ways to protect the environment. They also are now sensitive to the desire of their people interested in religious life. “They used to tease any one who expresses a desire to become a priest,” says Father Pete Montallano, a Franciscan missionary in the Prelature of Infanta. “But now, they are not only interested in finding someone who may have a vocation to the priesthood or religious life, they are also praying for them. In fact, the indigenous people have identified two young men who are discerning a life as a religious.
In addition, the offertory collection started growing slowly, from pre-Cebu collection of 200 pesos (roughly $4) to as high as 1,800 pesos (about $33) given by some 200 people who attend the one and only Mass on Sunday. As a result, the parish was able to build the “Labayen Hall,” without getting funds from outside sources. One thing he changed was the offertory collection. He liked the idea of the altar call, and started asking his parishioners to come forward to bring their gifts to the altar. And they did! “We like the idea that we are personally presenting our gifts to the Lord,” said Annie Buencamino, another catechist and one of the promoters of stewardship in the parish.
New parish priest
What was more impressive about St. Anne’s success was the fact that parishioners continue to practice stewardship even when Father Israel was transferred to another parish in the prelature. Fortunately for them, Father Mario Establecida, who succeeded, also attended the Cebu Conference and was convinced of the practice. Among his first official act of business as parish priest was sending lay leaders to a Facilitators’ Training on stewardship, offered by the Socio Pastoral Institute and the Cebu Conference Task Force.
Father Mario and his lay leaders, convinced of the value of education in promoting stewardship, immediately scheduled workshop seminars for various sectors of the parish — farmers, fishermen, government employees, women and youth. I had the privilege of attending all three seminars conducted by the lay leaders. I was very impressed at the knowledge of the facilitators — a team of five — and how they have embraced the spirituality of stewardship. The teaching module developed by the Task Force as mandated by the Cebu Conference is very culture appropriate and very well received by the ordinary parishioner. “I realized I have not given enough to God — in time, talent or treasure,’ said one government employee.
The seminars flowed smoothly and presented using chalkboards and charts. Using a lot of storytelling, the seminars also are a time to look at how their parish evolved, when it was created and the stories of its growth. The seminars also encouraged audience participation and were, therefore, usually lively. After the third conference on the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Father Mario conducted the Commitment Sunday for treasure, which Father Israel did not have a chance to conduct. The result was an incredible outpouring of generosity, which brought in that Sunday, more than 6,000 pesos, almost unheard of in the parish. Father Mario reports that sometimes, when a “balikbayan” comes to visit the parish, the offertory goes up to as high as 28,000 pesos. Obviously, stewardship teaching continues to inspire even visitors to give generously in thanksgiving for God’s blessings.
Typhoons of 2004
Then came November 29, 2004, a day that all of us will never forget. General Nakar and several neighboring towns were hit by a devastating typhoon, followed by three others in a week’s time, each one stronger than the other, and causing flashfloods and mudslides and sending logs — hundreds of them — crashing down anything on their path from the mountains, killing thousands and destroying properties and livelihood. It was almost unbearable to listen to the stories of death and survival. And we heard many of them. Yet we also heard of stories of hope and faith and love. They are now etched in our memories and then some.
Sr. Angie saw the inspiration St. Anne’s model could provide others and had the presence of mind to monitor and document of how stewardship is being lived out in General Nakar, even after the calamity. The video tape, entitled, “Ako’y Anak ng Diyos,” is a powerful and inspiring 30-minute testimony of how one of the poorest of the poor parishes has embraced stewardship and how this new way of life has affected the lives of parishioners.
Indeed, in their embrace of stewardship spirituality, parishioners have made the church of the poor come alive at St. Anne Parish. “I’ve learned,” said one bishop who saw the video during our day of reflection for the Catholic Bishops Conference in 2005, “that even in the midst of poverty and suffering the Gospel can be brought to life in our people. I felt uplifted to know that great things for people are possible.” St. Anne Parish has become an inspiration to the bishops, clergy religious and lay leaders and to the entire Philippine Church. “If they can do it,” they said, “we can do it too.”