Beyond the Wednesday novena

By: Malou Guanzon Apalisok February 20,2017 - 08:57 PM


The “Walk for Life” rally held in Luneta Park in the capital region last Saturday drew a large crowd that has Church officials feeling upbeat. The turnout, estimated at more than 10,000 was meant to be a show of force and underline the opposition of the Church and the lay faithful against extra-judicial killings and moves in Congress to revive the death penalty.

I heard Church officials were surprised by the turnout in Manila because the causes are opposed to the stance of President Rodrigo Duterte who remains highly popular. Moreover, people would rather make donations and leave the nitty-gritty of projects to lay organizations working closely with the Church; but this time they went out in the streets to voice out their sentiments in a peaceful rally.

In Cebu City, the numbers were rather dismal, around 800 attended according to media reports. The rally featured speeches by lay leaders and local politicians who expressed their resentment over the aforementioned state policies.

Interestingly, the “Walk For Life” in Cebu City happened as the Congregation of the Holy Redeemer a.k.a. Redemptorists wrapped up the 3-day Our Mother of Perpetual Help (OMPH) Visayas Congress. The Cebu leg of the Congress followed similar conferences held this past couple of years in Davao City, Bacolod and Iloilo to highlight the 150th year of the handing over of the sacred OMPH icon by Pope Pius IX to the congregation.

The historic 1866 entrustment went with a marching order that animates the Redemptorist mission to this day: “Make her known throughout the world”.

Fr. Cris Mostajo, C.Ss.R., main priest of the Perpetual Help parish in Cebu City, told this corner that close to 700 delegates from Lipa City, Batangas, Baclaran in Paranaque City, Davao, Tacloban, Bacolod, Iloilo, Malaybalay, Palawan and many other places joined the event. About one-third of the pre-registered participants were billeted in the Holy Family Retreat House in Lahug, while some opted to stay in nearby hotels or with family and friends residing around Cebu City.

* * *

Cebu has a special place in the Redemptorist narrative.

It was on June 30, 1906 when seven pioneering missionaries from Ireland and Australia arrived in Opon, (old name of Lapu-Lapu City) on Mactan Island, Cebu to set up the first Redemptorist foundation in the Philippines and Asia. After more than three decades, the Redemptorists went to Leyte and Samar to do mission work.

I’m quite familiar with this part of the Redemptorist history because I documented a remarkable self-help organization in Tacloban City which the Redemptorists, notably Fr. Flan Daffy, C.Ss.R. and Fr. Abdon Josol, C.Ss.R. helped establish in the late ’60s.

Fr. Abdon Josol and Fr. Flan Daffy have since passed on, but their zealous efforts in enabling people to rise from abject poverty is a concrete witness to their fidelity to the mission that carried a special preference for the poor and the weak.

I had this in my mind when I engaged historian and professor Dale Mansueto after he gave a background on how the OMPH icon and novena spread in the country.

Prof. Mansueto said that as the devotion grew in popularity, numerous hospitals, schools and universities were dedicated and named after Our Mother of Perpetual Help. I rose to contribute a bit to the discourse saying that at least two cooperative enterprises in the Visayas were also named after the particular avocation of the Blessed Virgin Mary with the help of the Redemptorists.

The Perpetual Help Credit Cooperative in Tacloban City which has adopted the legal name PHCCI MPC Tacloban and the Perpetual Help in Dumaguete City which also adopts PHCCI Dumaguete for its formal appellation are such entities that proudly bear the icon.

What makes the stories worth retelling even in the co-op movement is that these two co-ops started from scratch and the people, including the Redemptorist missionaries who journeyed with them during the infancy stages of their organizations, were also clueless about the business model.

Today, these enterprises which started with measly capitalization are considered elite co-ops with combined aggregate assets of over P3 billion collectively owned by more than 200,000 members. The impact of these co-ops in transforming lives, communities and even rewriting political agenda will be hard to quantify.

The Redemptorists learned about the self-help business model from the Scarborough Missionaries of Nova Scotia, Canada who landed in Hinundayan, Leyte in the ’60s. To help people get out of misery, the Scarborough fathers introduced the co-op system through a parish program called, “Saving Souls the Credit Union Way”. The highly successful program became the template for the Redemptorists in Tacloban and later on in Dumaguete City to pursue what economic policy makers now call inclusivity.

The congress’s subtitle, “A devotee is a missionary”, brought home the point that the OMPH devotion should be imbued with a missionary zeal.

“DeboMisyon” coined by Fr. Victorino Cueto, C.Ss.R. encapsulates the great call of the devotees, that is, to go beyond saying the Wednesday novena and making personal petitions but to be attentive to the needs of one’s neighbor, conscious of social and ecological conditions and more importantly, to take a stand on very important issues affecting our life as a people and nation.

An international Congress slated in April 24 – 27 in Baclaran will cap the celebration; but in the context of 150 years of “making her known throughout the world,” it will be the response of the lay faithful to the culture of death and impunity currently stalking our country that will define this huge milestone.

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TAGS: Bacolod, Batangas, church, Congress, Davao, Iloilo, Lipa City, Luneta Park, Malaybalay, narrative, OMPH, Opinion, Palawan, Parañaque City, penalty, Redemptorists, Tacloban, Walk for Life

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