His Excellency, Most Rev. Giuseppe Pinto
His Excellency, Most Rev. Socrates Villegas
His Excellency, Most Rev. Jose Palma
Our sisters and brothers in the Consecrated Life
Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
We are present in this Eucharistic gathering, in this assembly of thanksgiving, to give praise and thanks to the One God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit for the grace of the golden jubilee of the elevation of the Church of Lingayen-Dagupan as a Metropolitan See. A mystic once said: to think is to thank! Indeed, when we think of the countless blessings of the past 50 years, we cannot but be thankful!
I am sure you are wondering why a stranger was assigned to give a homily on this important occasion. I am as perplexed as you are and only Archbishop Soc knows the answer! My “yes” to his invitation last Christmas Eve was motivated by gratitude to the Archbishop’s kindness and availability in the many occasions we have invited him. I thought then, that my “frightened-yes” constitutes a humble Christmas gift. I have a confrere who was invited to give a talk on a topic he hardly had any competence. After the talk, he knew in his heart that he did poorly. As he sat with the audience, he told one of his listeners, “I hope it was not that bad”. He got a quick reply: “Its alright, I do not blame you, I blame the one who invited you!”
“You are the salt of the earth.” Every Christian worth his salt knows what this means. But for a Pangasinense, the words of Jesus have an added meaning. The ancient name of the province is Panag-ASIN-nan, the place where salt is made along the sea. The purpose of salt is to bring out the best taste and flavor of food. When put to good use, salt does not make the food salty but makes “the fish taste fishier, the eggs more egg-like and the vegetable, more vegetable.” Without a pinch of Pangasinan salt, the vegetables of Baguio, the bagnet of Ilocos, the sisig of Pampanga, and the best cuisine all over the country would not taste as good. To be the salt of the earth is to draw out the best in people; it is about inspiring people so that their authentic selves, the divine image from which we were fashioned, become more transparent in us. To be the salt of the earth is to make our neighbors and ourselves better. You are a real salt of the earth, if, as parish priest, you enable those who serve the church to become better in their ministry, the lectors become better proclaimers of the word, the collecteras become better ones, the young people, more enthusiastic, the old people more hopeful for a better church community. Brothers and sisters, you are a real salt of the earth if your presence inspires people in your workplace, or school, or family to become better. You are the salt of the earth --- Panag-asin-nan. You provide salt for the Philippines; you can be salt of the Philippines, salt of the earth.
Today’s Jubilee celebration of the Archdiocese of Lingayen-Dagupan, together with the Dioceses of Alaminos, Cabanatuan, San Fernando de la Union, San Jose, and Urdaneta, is a celebration of the birth of a people-as-Church through the preaching of the Word and celebration of the sacraments. On this year of faith when we listen attentively to the call for a new evangelization, I propose to look at the “old evangelization” and see important lessons that could be useful for our work of evangelization today.
According to historians, the Augustinians were the first preachers of the Gospel in Pangasinan. But their missionary efforts have won more converts among the Ilocanos in the north and the Pampangos in the south than in Pangasinan itself. Except for Lingayen, Dagupan and Manaoag, the rest of Pangasinan was hostile to the missionaries. The Augustinians would attribute such behavior to the hardheartedness of the Pangasinenses; though it is most likely that such hostility was a result of the identification of the missionaries with the Spanish soldiers whose abuses against the natives were reported by the Augustinians to the King.
Barely two months after the first Dominicans arrived in the Philippines on July 21, 1587, six of them were sent by the Bishop of Manila, Domingo de Salazar, OP to Pangasinan. They settled in Binalatongan, now San Carlos, in a hut of bamboo and nipa. They labored hard without any success for three years. The natives refused to sell them food or provisions to make them feel unwelcome. At one point, the vicar, Fray Bernardo Santa Catalina was accused of impregnating a young woman who hailed from a noble family. When the attempt to destroy the missionaries’ reputation did not work, the natives tried a different strategy. A village chief offered the tenacious friars a chinanta of gold, about 6 kilos of gold, just so they would leave their village in peace. Imagine that: the natives were willing to pay, so that the friars would stop preaching! Either the Gospel really troubled their conscience so much; or the friars were extremely annoying preachers! (I think that could be a creative form of fund raising: “Donate, or else, I will continue to preach!”)
For three long years, the friars faced a different kind of martyrdom. Their lives were not threatened, but their reputation and integrity were constantly put to the test. Yet the missionaries persevered. How can they be threatened, when they have already placed their lives in the hands of God from the moment they decided to make a perilous journey across the Pacific? How can they be tempted with glittering gold when they have already decided to leave everything to follow the Lord? These were friars who responded to a recruitment letter of Fray Juan Crisostomo, which read, in part:
In the first place, the voyage is difficult; one has to go through many hardships; the food and drinks rot; the ship gets dirty and stinking…
I really wonder if we would get any vocations today if our vocation poster says: “be a priest, and we will offer you a dangerous journey with rotten food and drinks!”
The letter continues:
We must preach, moreover, through our life style so that, if our teaching of doctrine does not move hearts, our lives will move all those who see us; this is the best of teaching.
The friars must have taken this to heart so that after three years of unsuccessful efforts, a chief decided to ask for baptism. Aduarte reports:
One native chief approached one missionary one night and said: “I have observed you for three years; if one does not eat, neither do the others; if one prays at midnight, so do the rest; if one avoids women, so do the others; all follow one rule or path; all have patience and do us good. Thus, I have determined to believe you, because I am persuaded that men of this manner do not lie.
This moving little story of the “old evangelization” of Pangasinan presents important enduring lessons for a “new evangelization” today.
First, those who are called to evangelize must have the proper motivation. The friars who were sent to Pangasinan in 1588 responded to a “recruitment letter” by Fray Juan Crisostomo in 1586 that minced no words in describing the hardships of both the journey and destination. The invitation attracted men with heroic motivation, who were fired up by the Spirit, summoned by the irresistible grace of God; hence they can face any danger and failure.
Second, the missionaries preached as a community. The group was called a barcada, for they arrived in a barca, a boat. Today, we call close friends “barkada”. For these missionaries, the first apostolate is to live in community. Our first Dominican communities were not called “conventus” or convent but sacra praedicatio, holy preaching, the task around which we were gathered. The first apostolate is to live in community. The unanimity of heart and mind of the church remains its most eloquent form of preaching. The “old evangelization” that is surprisingly ever-new bears witness to this. Tertullian reported that the Christians’ works of love captured the attention of the unbelievers who confessed in astonishment; See how they love one another!
To live in community is to preach as one community. The basic ministry of the parish priest and his parochial vicar is to live harmoniously in community. The foundational apostolate of the parish community is for all the parish organizations and their leaders to live in unanimity of heart and mind. Experience tells us that this is a very difficult apostolate, to live together in community and to preach with one voice.
It was during the same missionary era when the friar “Antonio de Montesinos preached a sermon in defense of the natives in Hispaniola (present-day Dominican Republic and Haiti). The Spanish conquistadors who were terribly offended by the sermon went to complain to the Prior, Pedro de Cordoba. And the Prior told them that when Antonio preached, it was the whole community who preached.”
A great number of our people today are confused because they hear divergent voices from our pulpits. Can we say today, that when a priest of Lingayen-Dagupan preaches, it is the entire church community that preaches? Let that be our hope.
A third and final lesson: the missionaries tried their best to listen to the voice of the people. The missionaries were given a very simple pastoral program: Once assigned to different places, we must begin to learn the language, which is hard work, and with its knowledge, we shall catechize the unbelievers on the matters of our holy Catholic faith…
This is the simple pastoral program that gave us the first book printed in the Philippines, La Doctrina Cristiana of 1593, that is written in Latin, Spanish and our very own native script, Baybayin. Our newest saint, San Pedro Calungsod, is depicted holding a copy of this book. This 420 year-old catechism is the oldest document that proves we have a native script. This means that the first evangelizers tried their best to learn the language of the people. The oldest translation of the Lord’s Prayer in Tagalog is a classic example of intercultural theology. For instance, the petition “lead us not into temptation”, which is difficult to understand because why would a good father lead his child to temptation, was translated as “Huwag mo po kaming iiwan upang di kami matalo ng tukso” (Houag mo caming eeuan nang di cami matalo nang tocso). The missionaries listened to the culture and discovered the Filipino value of “walang iwanan”.
To proclaim the Good News, motivated by no less than the compulsion to speak from the abundance of one’s heart about God’s boundless love; to preach the faith of the Church with a firm conviction that to live the values of the Gospel in community is the first form of preaching; and to listen attentively to the voice, values and culture of God’s people, these are important lessons of the “old evangelization” that should have an enduring influence in today’s new evangelization.
As we thank the Lord for the gift of a jubilee and pray for the blessing of more jubilees, let us remember that evangelization is about inviting people to gather around Jesus, to become a community nourished by Word and Sacrament. To baptize in the name of the Triune God is to build a community patterned after the perfect community of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Evangelization is ultimately the work of the God who is ever ancient yet ever new.
Congratulations and a Blessed Jubilee!
fr. Gerard Francisco Timoner III, OP
16 February 2013
The Roman Catholic
Archdiocese of Lingayen-Dagupan
(Central Pangasinan, Philippines)