THANKS BE TO GOD! FIAT!
My beloved brother priests in Bataan:
Greetings in the Lord'
As I celebrate this coming, July 3 my first year as Bishop of Balanga, I want to express personally to you my gratitude for your fraternal openness and support. I did not have any difficulty adjusting to my first assignment as Diocesan Bishop because the clergy of Bataan have been so supportive from the very start of my ministry. What can a bishop do without his priests? I know I can turn to you for help all the time. The Lord blesses me everyday in Bataan through you.
In my first informal meeting with the clergy of Bataan even prior to my installation, you shared with me the low morale of the presbyterium arising from uncharitable divisions manifesting itself in the difficulty to arrive at a consensus when making decisions. You told me that you asked the Holy See for a bishop who will unite the presbyterium, set the pastoral vision of the diocese and pursue that vision with utmost political will.
By the grace of God and solely because of Him, I have been trying my best to meet this expressed need. My whole heart and mind is on this vision.
I have visited parish churches and barrio chapels and met our Catholic faithful under various circumstances and conditions. I have been much consoled seeing how our poor Catholic faithful and the Aetas express their conviction that the Church loves them. I was deeply touched seeing Aetas cry with joy after blessing them. They admitted that they have been crying for so long because of pain and anguish. It has been so long that they cried from joy and the experience that they are loved.
I have tried my best to visit campuses and meet the youth in the context of the Mass and praying the rosary. We have institutionalized the campus ministry in high schools and colleges province wide. It is important for me that the youth know that they are loved personally by their bishop and priests. I have tried my utmost to accept every invitation for a youth gathering no matter how small or insignificant. There is no youth gathering that does not deserve a blessing from the Church.
We have also established regular formation meetings for the clergy, for the lay leaders, for the religious women and for the youth. In my first month of ministry, I conducted a survey of the perceived needs of these Church sectors. Foremost among the expressed concerns during the consultations was the need for pastoral direction and formation.
THE CLERGY RENEWAL
Allow me to express my full appreciation for your consistent presence and participation during the monthly meetings of the clergy consisting of a holy hour, spiritual reflection and business meeting. How good it is for priests to kneel down together in prayer, pray the Liturgy of me Hours in common and confess to one another.
There is a general sentiment that our teambuilding workshop in Binangonan last September was a milestone for the presbyterium. There we started to trust again and promised to live as brothers .We started to enjoy a good laugh once again. We confronted our own fears and set our common dreams. There we set our diocesan vision HERO. We went on retreat in Tagaytay and recommitted ourselves to wellness and wholeness. The more important things happening to the clergy are known only to God. But even if many of our strides are known only to God, the effects are being perceived by our own parishioners. They say they can see the renewed spirit and apostolic zest from their priests. The strength of our diocese is the clergy. Kabanalan ng kaparian, kabanalan ng sambayanun.
Our lay leaders prepared a surprise affirmation program for you last Holy Thursday after our Chrism Mass. I was so touched to see them publicly expressing their affection for you and their gratitude to God for giving Bataan priests like you. You are the blessing of God for His people.
The coming into the diocese of eight religious congregations of men was perceived as a positive presence in the diocese not only in terms of meeting the sacramental needs of the people but even more by the enriching witnessing of the religious priests to the evangelical counsels.
THE LAY RENEWAL
Since July last year after my installation, I have been meeting the parish lay leaders and the youth leaders in campuses and parishes regularly every month for ongoing formation. From a small group at the parish hall of the cathedral, we have moved to a bigger venue at the Bishop Celso Guevarra Formation Center in Calaguiman, Samal. The formation modules are actually catechetical talks about me fundamentals of the Catholic faith. There is an evident thirst for catechesis even among our long time parish leaders. I have taken it upon myself to conduct the formation meetings myself. This is a pastoral priority.
On the thirtieth anniversary of the establishment of the diocese, we opened the Pandayan ng Layko ng Diyosesis or PALAD meant to be a school for the formation of lay leaders in the church. The program continues to enjoy good attendance from all over the diocese and the facilitators and teachers all come from our local personnel. We are wealthy in the charisms of the Spirit!
All the parishes have embarked on the "Bataan: Bayani at Banal Paghubog sa Pananampalataya". We have set our diocesan vision HERO and the eight pastoral priorities or tandis to insure the clear direction for the diocese. The program is open ended and will continue to be the program of formation until we have reached the farthest sitios and barangays of Bataan. The results from the pastoral spiral section of the program will be used as data base for a possible diocesan assembly or synod.
THE CHURCH IS PEOPLE
In July 2004, the Diocese of Balanga had 24 parishes and 1 chaplaincy. Since then we have created 8 new parishes under the care of the religious priests and 1 chaplaincy for the indigenous peoples. All the new parishes were created from interior barangays and mountain sitios.-The Church of the poor must be with the poor and must be established at the fringes and margins and no longer in the poblacions.
The kinder departments of the Jaime Hilario La Salle Bagac and the Siena College of Hermosa opened in June 2005. The construction of five new Catholic schools will begin soon so that they can operate by June 2006. They are: 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 Tukop, Dinalupihan. These schools will provide high standard education with minimal school fees. Our goal is to be able to prepare our youth in Bataan to face the economic boom that is due to come with the full development of dark and Subic. This is total human development. This is renewed evangelization.
The diocese has a scholarship program for fifty Aeta children and fifty Tagalog children studying in Bataan. We have thirteen college scholars now studying in four Catholic colleges in Manila. There can be no true evangelization without education.
We have opened our website www.balangadiocese.com as one of our instruments of communication and evangelization. Our website continues to receive daily visitors mostly young people who gladly post their questions and comments in me community message board. We have received heartwarming commendations from various sectors here and abroad for our well maintained website.
The diocese had seven major seminarians last school year. At the opening of the current seminary academic year, the Diocese of Balanga will have twenty five major seminarians. The best vocation campaign is seeing a priest fulfilled and happy in his ministry for the Church.
THE PILGRIM CHURCH
I look back with immense gratitude at the overwhelming welcome motorcade and liturgical reception that you prepared for me on July 2 and 3, 2004. I do not claim it for myself but for the Lord whom I represent unworthy as I am. I came to Bataan as a pilgrim among pilgrims walking on hallowed ground where heroes and saints traversed.
We had that now historic pilgrimage to Mount Samat on November 27, the Saturday before the first Sunday of advent. We went up the mountain praying our rosary and entrusting Bataan to her Immaculate Heart. How can we forget that memorable candle lighting of fifteen thousand people atop the mountain of valor which we have now claimed as our mountain of sanctity! How can we forget the soft mountain breeze that evening lit by the moon in its lull radiance ! Atop the mountain of valor, we lit our candles and we pledged to make "Bataan.... Bayani at Banal!"
We had a popular celebration of the pearl anniversary of the diocese by a concert "Triple B sa Thirty" where television personalities sang and entertained our Catholic faithful.
For the first time, we held a festival to honor Aetas on the eve of Mothers' Day. Aetas from central Luzon came to Bataan not as beneficiaries or evacuees but as honorees! The parade of Aeta mothers was almost a kilometer long. What a sight to behold! Unat at katutubo, pinag-isa nina Jesus at Maria!
THE CHURCH BUILDINGS
We initiated and successfully completed the restoration and renovation of the cathedral in time for the thirtieth anniversary celebration of the diocese on March 17. The brick walls were restored, the granite flooring were laid, the lighting and ventilation fixtures were improved and the sanctuary and retablo were refurbished. We undertook the renovation following strictly the guidelines set by experts on brick preservation and restoration artists.
The former Simbayanan ng Kabataan has been renovated to accommodate the need for a comfortable venue for the various formation programs of the diocese. It has been renamed Bishop Celso Guevarra Formation Center in honor of our first bishop.
The Bahay ng Obispo in Balanga is in the final phase of construction. Located on a lot donated to the diocese by the Banson family, the bishop's house is actually a ninety year old house from San Miguel, Bulacan demolished systematically and being reconstructed in its new site in Balanga according to the original design.
May the will of God be done: that is our only plan for tomorrow. We are only stewards. This is the Church of the Lord- Let His will be done every step along the way. My dearly beloved brothers, you are the love of my life! You will never realize how much I really love you until I have died laying all that I have for you. FIAT. AMEN.
+SOCRATES B. VILLEGAS
Bishop of Balanga
June 29, 2005
Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul