Bishop Felixberto Calang called on priests to incarnate “a simple life offered to the people” and the faithful to strive in the fullness of Christ.
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA — The Lenten season is a time of solemn spiritual journey, but journeying through this holy season needs more than practice of piety and penance.
The Church observes this season through prayers and fasting, and the practice of charity, a witness to Christ’s love for the poor — two inseparable duties that would be meaningless without the other.
The voice of Lent is urging the faithful to examine how to walk with greater fidelity to Christ and in faithfulness to the Gospel.
Lent also offers the clergy to renew their own commitment to the priestly life where they were called to.
Here are the stories of two priests and a bishop and their reflections giving voices to the spirit of the Lenten season.
Fr. Jonash Joyohoy said he came from a ‘PPB’ family. Asked what it means, he said in jest, a “poor petty bourgeois.”
Joyohoy, chairperson of the Council of Priests, came from a middle class family in the northern province of Cebu. His father was a local government employee and his mother was a rural dentist. Both his parents dreamed that he, too, would pursue a career.
But the path Joyohoy took was far from what his parents dreamed of, to a path that others refer to as the least taken. His parents were reluctant to give him their blessing to enter the seminary. But they eventually agreed.
Life in the seminary was hard, he remembered. And at times, he added, he took his seminary life in stride. Until that fateful day that Joyohoy, along with his three other friends, were suspended for two weeks as disciplinary action.
“After the suspension, my morale was really low. I was paranoid, feeling that everyone in the school thought I was a troublemaker,” he said.
After that semester, he returned to his province to reflect on what he wants to do in his life. It was then, he related, that he realized that he truly wanted to become a priest.
When Joyohoy returned to the seminary, it was also the time when he was awakened to the dire social and economic conditions of the Filipino people.
“As Jesus stayed in the wilderness for forty days before he started his ministry, retreating home seemed to have been my ‘forty days in the desert’ where I came to truly realize my calling,” Joyojoy said.
His commitment to pursuing the people’s struggle became deeper. Soon, he was elected chairperson of the IFI Seminarians for Transformation and Nationalism. Outside the seminary, he joined protest actions against oil price increases and against the US bases.
Joyohoy believes there is nothing wrong with becoming an activist priest. The activist in him, he added, allows him to fully explain the liberating messages of the Gospel and to educate the people about the sad, ironic realities in the country.
Today, Joyohoy is also the executive director of the Ramento Project for Rights Defenders, the IFI human rights advocacy and service arm.
“The people’s struggle for their rights is growing. The masses are supporting it. If our analysis and approaches in pursuing genuine change are not accurate, then the Filipino people would have long abandoned this cause,” he said.
Joyohoy urged the faithful to live up to the liberating messages of the Gospel and the revolutionary tradition of the Church. In the same way, he added, that fasting and reaching out to those in need could never be separated.
“The more that you help people, the more that your fasting would become meaningful,” he said.
‘The woman priest’
It took years of convincing before Rev. Laarni Salaguinto-Inquito’s parents finally agreed to allow her to enter the seminary and become a priest.
“At first, I told them that I will just finish my 72 units in my college before I enter the seminary. But they told me that I should finish my studies first. After I graduated, they said, I should experience working and earning money,” Inquito said.
But two years later as a Mathematics teacher at St. Theresa’s College, Inquito knew where her heart truly lies. And that was to be in a parish, working for and with the people.
Asked why she had a strong sense of wanting to become a priest, Inquito said she grew up active in their parish in Pangasinan. She saw how priests are welcomed and loved by the people and how their ministry has touched lives.
“I did not wait for our parish priest to ask if I wanted to become a priest. I volunteered,” she added jokingly.
Being a woman seminarian was never an issue at the Aglipay Central Theological Seminary. Though there were only six women out of the more than 40 seminarians during her time.
“It was a bit hard to live in a predominantly male world. But we were never discriminated for being a woman. We have inputs every now and then on gender perspective,” she said.
But out in the hackneyed “real world,” was where the challenge lies.
“I would hear some parishioners asking, ‘why do we have a woman priest?’ At times, I felt it was degrading. But later on, when they saw the hard work I pour in the parish, they realized that gender should never be an issue,” Inquito said.
Later, she learned to appreciate that being a woman could come handy in understanding what women faithful were going through, especially to sensitive topics that they would not otherwise share to a male priest.
Sometime in 2011, a seemingly troubled woman came knocking in her parish, looking for the priest.
“When I told her that I am the priest, she hugged me. She was very thankful that the priest was a woman. She was being abused by her partner, being prostituted so they could buy a kilo of rice,” Inquito related.
Inquito provided her shelter for the night and consoled her. She convinced the woman to stay away from her partner. The woman left the parish the following day.
“I never heard from her again. But I guess she is well now because I managed to convinced her to leave her abusive partner,” she said.
True to the revolutionary tradition of the Church, Inquito finds joy in being with the masses, especially the peasants. She added that Jesus’ priesthood, after all, is not confined within the four walls of the church but being with the marginalized people — joining them in their struggle to take their rightful place in society and oganizing them in their fight against the ills of the society.
‘A bishop of the people’
There is a reason why priests are called on to live simply, said Bishop Felixberto Calang.
“If we live simply, then we will have time to care for others,” he said.
Bishop Calang could no longer remember why he wanted to become a priest. He found no memory of any significant or perhaps life-changing moment in his life that could have pushed him to enter priesthood. But he was committed to the ministry and the same remains ever fervent today.
It was his humble beginnings that molded him to be an advocate of the marginalized peoples, he related.
“We lived a simple life back in Agusan del Sur. My mother was a teacher and my father was a farmer. But it is the heritage of the Church that really molded me to see the society in a different light, especially where inequality is concerned,” Bishop Calang said.
He was already an Engineering student in a university in Cebu when he decided to enter the seminary.
“My parents had no misgivings when I entered priesthood. But they were very surprised. They asked me to continue my studies and, after graduation, I would have the liberty to do what I wanted. But they supported me nonetheless, saying that as long as what I do is right,” he recalled.
Bishop Calang said he survived the seminary one semester after the other. It was their pastoral assignments, usually during summer, that inspired him and gave him strength to finish the seminary.
He was ordained in 1982 and consecrated as bishop in 1997, shortly after Bishop Delfin Callao Sr. of the Diocese of Davao passed away.
Bishop Calang was assigned to small parishes during the early days of his priesthood. Most of their members, he added, come from poor families. He said that he never aspired to become a bishop. Though he was initially reluctant, he accepted the challenge, in the same way that he did when he was still a seminary.
His advocacy for the marginalized, however, has also made him earn the ire of the government.
Bishop Calang was included in the infamous “Order of Battle,” a military hit list. His name was also posted along the streets of Tagum City in Davao del Norte and was tagged as a member of the New People’s Army.
Though he expected that there would be threats to his life due to his advocacy, he still found those days difficult.
“If you do not want threats, then do away with what you are doing. But as a Bishop of the Church, my ministry would be worthless if I allow myself to be cowed by these people,” he said.
His advocacy, he added, is not just about denouncing the oppressive system but to organize the people to strive for a genuine social transformation.
“As a bishop, shepherding the faithful means announcing the good news to the poor and oppressed people, and that makes denouncing the evils of society an important part of my ministry” Bishop Calang said.
This Lenten Season, said Bishop Calang, is an opportunity to remind the people of their humble beginnings. “You are dust and to dust you shall return,” he said, quoting the Bible.
This article was reposted from The Christian Register, the official publication of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente.