Redemptorist, Baclaran, Philippines
Mission - Justice and Peace
Proclaiming God's perpetual help through Blessed Mary cannot be blind to the burning socio-political issues of the day. The shrine through the years have integrated social issues, justice and peace and integrity of creation in the mission and shrine ministry. The shrine have become well-known among the devotees as actively promoting justice and peace in preaching and seasonal liturgical celebrations.
Liturgical and sacramental services like masses, novenas, confessions and blessings continue to be the main services of our shrines. Novena to Our Mother of Perpetual Help on Wednesdays is still the main attraction of the people to the shrine, even eclipsing Sunday Masses.
Another essential program of shrine ministry is evangelization both for church volunteers and church goers. The ministry of evangelization is primarily exercised through prophetic preaching, connecting the Word of God to the daily issues, concerns and aspirations especially of the ordinary people. Evangelization in is also done through retreats, seminars, short catechesis, instructions before the mass, etc. We believe that an organized and robust evangelization will lead to the active participation of church group members and church goers in the mission of the shrine.
The original purpose of the Redemptorist in settling down in Baclaran is to do mission. This changed however, as history unfolded through the grace of God when the devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help became the primary attraction of the shrine. But the Redemptorist never abandoned their original charism. Thus, throughout these years the shrine have been going around the parishes of the local Diocese doing parish missions, assisting them in Christian community building in line with the thrust of the Philippine Church and our local church.
Today in the shrine, the proclamation of the Word from the pulpit is complemented by social services which try to address the concrete day to day problems of the people, especially the abandoned poor.
We have many young people involved in our shrine. At the same time the shrine reaches out to the youth especially those at risk around the shrine who are involved in drug addiction, juvenile delinquency, and other difficulties. An ongoing challenge to us is to become more connected to the complex and delicate demands of the youth of today and to open more our community to young people.
The shrine in the past has been known as a strong advocate of justice and peace. The continuing oppressive situation in our country-the widening gap between the rich and the poor, the pervasive poverty of our people, the exploitation and destruction of our environment, the many evils in our society-challenges us to opens our eyes and hearts to the situation of the poor and commit ourselves in journeying with them towards justice and peace and integrity of creation.
The shrine is a popular pilgrimage center. Everyday the shrine welcomes hundreds of people from even the far-flung provinces who visit the shrine to pray and express their devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help. This challenges us to become more ministers of mercy and hospitality by welcoming the pilgrims who feel burdened by the weight of their sins and the consequences of injustice, violence and social marginalization.
One of the popular appeal of the shrine is the availability of the sacrament of reconciliation. Confessions are heard daily in the Shrine, except Sundays, at almost every hour of the day. On Wednesdays, the Confessional boxes are occupied all day long. The celebration of the sacrament of reconciliation makes the Shrine an important centre of spiritual renewal.
Justice and Peace Involvement, Through Martial Law and Beyond
The Rationale of the Baclaran Justice and Peace Program reads: "The contemporary situation of the Philippines challenges the (Redemptorist) Congregation to be more radical in witnessing to the Gospel today. The oppressive situation in our country-the widening gap between the rich and the poor, the pervasive poverty of our people, the exploitation and destruction of our environment, the many evils in our society-opens our eyes and hearts and calls us to revitalize and inculturate our Alphonsian spirit of commitment to the poor."
When Redemptorist Father Rudy Romano was kidnapped in Cebu on July 11, 1985 amidst strong suspicion of military perpetrators, Baclaran Church gave his case all out support, even dedicating a hall in his memory. Today, near the guard station facing Redemptorist Road, there is a marker embedded into the wall that records the visit of Cardinal Thomas O'Fiaich, Primate of Ireland, who came to show his solidarity with Fr. Rudy Romano's case on Dec. 5, 1986.
At a corner of the lawn fronting Roxas Boulevard, there are two statues dedicated to all who, like Fr. Romano, remain" desaparecidos" (disappeared). These are the hundreds of silent victims of human rights violations who merely vanished into thin air and probably ended in unmarked graves. They are specially remembered each year during All Souls' Day. Perhaps the only vindication of their cause is the fact that the Marcos dictatorship ended with the ignominious flight of the dictator and his family out of, the country after the "snap elections" of January 1986 and the massive "People Power" protests in February that year.
Without too much fanfare, Baclaran made its own contribution to the cause of justice and peace during those trying times. When the main opposition leader, Ninoy Aquino, returning from exile in 1983, was assassinated at the Manila International Airport (now named after him), it was to Baclaran that his family and welcoming party went to pray. A spokesman addressed the Sunday congregation asking for prayers for Ninoy and for the country he said was worth dying for. That tragic event rudely awakened the middle class from its complacency and timidity, ushering in an era of unｬprecedented activism.
One of the most original expressions of dissent that was used against the Marcos regime after the Ninoy assassination was jogging. Some thought it a ludicrous show of the Filipino's lack of seriousness. Others saw it as typical of Filipino creativity. On Sundays, a group, led by Ninoy's brother Butch and their sympathizers, would jog from Rizal Park along Roxas Boulevard and end up in Baclaran for the 9 a.m. Mass. They were conspicuous for the yellow bands around their foreheads and now and again would get the preacher's attention and even some kind of recognition or mention during the sermon. Usually they were given a chance to deliver a short message to the assembled congregation. Activities such as these, and the strong preaching on justice and peace subjected Baclaran church to a continuous surveillance by the Marcos Intelligence forces.
When Marcos called a "snap election" and Ninoy's widow, Cory, was persuaded to run against him, things began to heat up to boiling point. During the counting of the ballots, some computer technicians began to notice how the official figures on the tally board kept showing a widening Marcos lead, even as the citizen's NAMFREL count was showing the very opposite. Sensing a highly sophisticated scam manipulating the results, 35 of the technicians found the courage to walk out, dealing a major blow to the credibility of the whole electoral process. Not surprisingly, the Marcos people attacked the walkｬout as "staged" for the benefit of the foreign press. One cited the fact that the group that walked out proceeded to Baclaran where they were interviewed by the press, "when we all know that the Redemptorist church is a haven for the opposition."
What happened in fact was that someone from the crowd shouted out the suggestion for them to proceed to Baclaran. There, one of the priests, Fr. Warren, happened to notice the group outside in the grounds. When he heard what they had done, he brought them into the convento in an act of humanitarian sympathy, to shield them from inquisitive reporters. He prepared a bit of supper for them and provided them with mats and sheets so they could spend the night in what used to be the community oratory on the second floor. They stayed there through the small hours of the morning until it was thought safe enough for them to transfer elsewhere (to the Ateneo, I believe).
When Marcos endeavored to nullify Cory's victory, the Bishops issued their now famous pastoral letter declaring the elections so "unparalleled in the fraudulence of their conduct," that there was "no moral basis" (on Marcos' part) for continuing to govern. Cardinal Sin chose to air the official hierarchy's stand during the 6 PM Mass at Baclaran. Cory, who was present, began to address the crowd, but a gun threat caused the people to make a hasty exit.
Then came the brutal assassination of the former governor of Antique, Evelio Javier, whose remains were brought to Manila for burial. From the Manila Domestic Airport,. the remains were brought to Baclaran Church where a concelebrated mass was immediately said. This was followed by an all-night vigil and another mass the following day, attended by _ory. The huge crowd accompanied his remains on foot from Baclaran all the way to Ateneo, Evelio's alma mater, a distance of some 20 kilometers. He had been an idealistic Atenean who went back to his native province to try to reform the political system. He had succeeded as far as getting elected governor, a feat in itself considerｬing the rough and dangerous game that was the politics of those days. In the end, the system got him and murdered him. Thousands viewed Evelio's remains and saluted him as a martyr for the cause of justice, thus helping to galvanize opposition to the perpetuation of Marcos' rule. One consolation from this whole episode is that the suspected mastermind, a traditional politician and warlord, is actually in detention at the moment of writing, having surrendered after fleeing the country.