Marching to Heroism and Holiness
Most Rev. Socrates B. Villegas, D.D.
Bataan is the home of heroes. Along its main highway are markers indicating the route of the Death March, the historical event in World War II, that followed the last stand made by the brave men who fought for their country.
Today, everyone is still called to be HERO in Bataan but this time it is not for a one-time victory in battle but in the ordinariness of daily life, in relationships with others and in spiritual growth.
The call is being made by the Diocese of Balanga to its flock and HERO is its vision. HERO is an acronym that stands for:
Holiness through prayer
Evangelization by all, for all, in all
Relationship of Love
Openness to receive and to give.
This vision became clear to the clergy of the diocese after an updating session in 2004 with its then newly installed bishop, Bishop Socrates B. Villegas. The word embodies the legacy of heroism which the province’s rendezvous with history has bequeathed to its citizens and the yearning for holiness which every faithful child of God carries in his or her heart.
Thus shortly after its 30th year, the Diocese of Balanga embarked on the mission to realize its vision. The first diocesan synod was convoked on September 14, 2005. The Synod took place on March 6 to 17 and the teachings and decrees were promulgated on June 3, 2006.
The Synod is a long jump from the establishment of the diocese in 1975, when it was carved from the Archdiocese of San Fernando (Pampanga), and at 30, the Diocese as a community of believers, was ready to respond to the challenge of heroism and holiness as a new church, revitalized and renewed.
The Diocese of Balanga comprises the entire civil province of Bataan, the smallest among the provinces in Central Luzon. The province is a peninsula jutting out to sea, with Manila Bay to the east, China Sea to the west, and the province of Zambales to the north.
It is divided from north to south by two mountain ridges. In the east are the valley towns of Hermosa, Orani, Samal, Abucay, Pilar, Orion and Limay. To the west are the towns of Morong, Bagac and Mariveles.
The sea and the land made farmers and fisherfolk of most the province’s people, but its proximity to Manila has also made it a base for industries such as oil refinery and manufacturing of products for exports in economic and business zones such as the one in Mariveles. These industries have attracted workers from neighboring, and even far-flung provinces to Bataan.
Tourism is also beginning to blossom in this province blessed with sand and sea, and local and foreign tourist swell the province during holidays and summer vacation. Bataan’s natural beauty has slowly emerged.
Heritage of faith
The seed of faith planted in the peninsula by the Dominicans and Recollects and by a handful of Filipino priests the past centuries bore fruit with the establishment of the Diocese of Balanga on March 17, 1975, by Pope Paul VI. Bishop Celso N. Guevarra was named its first bishop on November 8, 1975.
Bishop Guevarra’s ministry of 23 years was marked by building up the people of God. He scoured the region’s seminaries for priests willing to serve by his side in the new diocese. His persistence and perseverance paid off when he attracted not only priests but new vocations to the priesthood from young men of the province. When he started out only one of the 15 priests was a native of Bataan. In 2007, there were 26 of the 43, while some 25 other young men of Bataan are enrolled in studies for the priesthood.
Bishop Honesto F. Ongtioco succeeded Bishop Guevarra in 1998 and guided the diocese towards its silver jubilee, making plans for a Diocesan Pastoral Assembly, to discern and map out the directions that it should take after the important milestone. The organizational plans for this assembly were beginning to take shape when Bishop Ongtioco was named bishop of the newly-created Diocese of Cubao in 2003.
Bishop Soc Villegas of the Archdiocese of Manila was appointed by the Pope John Paul II on May 3, 2004, to be the third bishop of the Diocese of Balanga. It is said that he came to Balanga at a serendipitous moment, when the clergy needed touch love and the local church needed to be pointed to the right direction. At his installation on July 3, 2004, he called on his clergy and laity and all the people of Bataan, “Let us be heroes and saints together.” And bishop, clergy and laity have, since then, embarked on a dizzying journey that has brought them, three years after, to a vibrant Church committed to achieve the fullness of life that God will for His beloved children through holiness and heroism; loving the land of their birth and loving the God who gives life and life to the full.
From the Ground Up
If growth is to be measured in bricks and stones, in numbers, and in people, the Diocese of Balanga has surely grown since the call to be heroes and saints was sounded off. Among the developments in structure and organization are:
• There are now 33 parishes and 2 chaplaincies in the diocese, up from 24 parishes and one chaplaincy in July 2004. The nine new parishes are under the care of religious priests and the two chaplaincies are dedicated to the ministry to indigenous peoples.
• Institutionalization of the campus ministry in high schools and colleges province-wide, with the help of the brothers of the Marian Missionaries of the Holy Cross and the sisters of the congregation of the Franciscan Immaculitine sister. Amazingly Bataan is home to several educational institutions which count thousands of students.
• Aside from the five diocesan schools, five new schools have been put up: Jaime Hilario La Salle School in Bagac, Siena College of Hermosa, Letran sa Abucay, St. Joseph College in Balanga, and Our Lady of Mount Carmel School in Tucop, Dinalupihan.
• Pandayan ng Layko ng Diyosesis or PALAD, a school for the formation of lay leaders, was established. There have been 55 lay graduates from five different centers in four vicariates. About 600 lay students are now in the process of completing the course.
• The Diocese has a scholarship program for 50 Aeta children and 50 Tagalog children studying in Bataan. There are 13 college scholars enrolled in four Catholic colleges in Manila. It has 19 students taking up religious education in Manila, who will form the core of professional catechists in the diocese. Four of the 14 students are Aetas.
• The cathedral was restored and renovated in time for the 30th anniversary celebration while the former Simbahayanan ng Kabataan was renovated to respond to the need for venue for the diocese’s formation programs and activities. It was also named, Bishop Celso Guevarra Formation Center, in honor of the diocese’s first bishop.
• The diocese also built its Bahay Pari where the bishop resides and the priests come together regularly for fraternal activities.
• Following the successful holding of the First Synod of Balanga, the Diocesan pastoral Council was established to give flesh to its acts and decrees. Eight commissions, each headed by three persons—a priest, religious sister and lay faithful) compose the Council:
1. Buhay Panalangin
3. Mga Sakramento ng Pagpapagaling
4. Kristiyanong Pagpapakasakit
5. Bayanihan at Kabayanihan
The Path to Heroism and Holiness
How does one become a hero? How does one become holy?
To the Diocese of Balanga this entails a daily struggle and a daily commitment, little acts of heroism and holiness, that, in time, add up to greatness and sainthood. It begins with the family, which is the source of life of an individual. Here the person learns the basic lessons, values, and virtues—sharing, relating and understanding his or her role in each unit.
The path cannot be trekked alone; neither can it be achieved simply by one’s individual efforts. For the diocese, the path towards fullness is a three-legged journey of prayer life, formation life, and the life of commitment. And its formation programs have been designed to foster these three areas of life and bear interesting acronyms:
PUSO is an advanced formation program that articulates “Puso ng Diyos, Puso ng Bataan, Pusong Bayani at Banal” integrating the elements that combine for a deep love for one’s roots, one country and God.
KRISMA (Kristiyanong Magkakapitbahay) cultivates the formation undergone in PUSO towards concrete manifestation of love for others by service of God and neighbor. It is a basic cell of ecclesial community where members are related geographically or share a common life situation such as education, work, age, or apostolate in the Church.
AGAP forms the person’s heart into greater generosity and self-giving. It stands for Alay Galing sa Pagpapakasakit (Offering from sacrifice). It is a response to the need of our increasingly materialistic world to revivify the spirit of sacrifice, of love-filled sharing, of selfless service to those in need. It calls for the sharing of Time, Treasure and Talent (TTT).
Marching towards Heroism and Holiness
Bataan’s history has shown the bravery of Filipinos in the face of battle and foreign aggression. On its fertile soil flowed the blood of courage. The Diocese of Balanga embraces this history as its glorious heritage, and builds upon this courage to lead the people to holiness, to sainthood. Indeed heroism and holiness are brothers and sisters, sired by the great love of God who calls everyone to Fullness of Life.
+SOCRATES B. VILLEGAS
Obispo ng Balanga