Good evening brothers and sisters.
We gather tonight, filled with gratitude to the Lord for the year that is about to end. How the year has flown! Parang kailan lang na tayo’y nagsaya sa ating A Time to Dance last December of 2007. Parang kailan lang na nagtipon tayo sa Leaders Conference nitong Enero. Punong puno ang Araneta Coliseum noon. Itong taon na ito, sa lahat ng ating mga events, nag-umapaw ang ating mga puso sa nakita nating support at attendance sa mga International Leaders Conferences (ILCs) ng ating mga Family Ministries, at lalo na dun sa ating very memorable na 27th anniversary sa Luneta.
Ngayong taon na ito, damang dama natin ang ating theme for 2008—“Love one another, as I have loved you.”
Tonight, our hearts are filled with thanksgiving because we recall that even as we passed through the wilderness, after the conflict of 2007, the Lord never abandoned us. Even with our own sinfulness and shortcomings, the Lord stood by our side, protecting us, guiding us, and empowering us. Totoong totoo that we truly have a faithful God and that, with Him beside us, we never really walk alone.
As a community, therefore, we are more confident of facing the future. Notwithstanding concerns we still need to address in our community, notwithstanding so many problems that flood our media, notwithstanding the global economic crisis, we stand confident. By being a loving, a caring and sharing community, we stand better prepared to weather whatever financial storm may come to our land, a storm that has already sown economic gloom in several countries of the world.
2008 – THE YEAR THAT WAS
Let’s review some highlights of the year 2008.
In terms of our global membership, by the grace of God, we have consolidated our membership here in the Philippines and the different countries abroad and assured our brethren that the relationship conflict of the past has not, and should not, in any way detract us from our focus on our mission. In many areas abroad, our leaders have reiterated their commitment to CFC and our way of life and mission.
Of course, we also recognize that there are still a few countries that appear to be confused because of the internal relationship conflict that we had in 2007. There are a handful of countries that have maintained an “independent” posture, notwithstanding the Vatican-approved statutes of CFC that clearly places the leadership and governance of the community on the CFC International Council.
While we continue to relate to them in love, and respect their views, we continue to move forward, focused on the mission of bringing God’s Word to all corners of the world. We have intensified our evangelization and pastoral formation globally through our various continental conferences and such initiatives as the Africa Eucharistic Congress held in South Africa, and the Canada Leaders Summit held in the key cities of that country. Just recently, we received very good news that another country, Belize, in the Central American region, has been activated and now has joined the list of countries where CFC is present.
We launched a series of pastoral congresses in the Philippines and in several areas abroad, such as Europe, Middle East, Africa, Canada and the United States. In these congresses, we gathered together and reflected on our community, its strengths and concerns, and suggested how we might better respond to the life and mission we have been blessed with, how we can better pursue our pastoral responsibilities and how to meld all of these with the very mission of Jesus—that of bringing glad tidings to the poor. And from these congresses evolved our expanded Vision and Mission statement, which, if you recall, was our central topic at our leaders conference in January.
The other outputs of the congresses have been collated, have undergone more discussion and more fine tuning. I will refer to some of the results later in this address.
In the area of evangelization, much more than the positive figures, what we have found so inspiring in our visits to brethren both here in the Philippines and abroad, and from the reports of our leaders, is the very real, very palpable sense of a renewed and revived spirit. I keep referring to the term, “new springtime,” because that is what it really is—our community is undergoing a resurgence of the spirit of love, unity, commitment and dedication to the mission. Many of the leaders have shared how their CLPs have grown to have double-digit number of participants and even record-breaking CLP participants in some areas.
We have seen the improvement in our mid-year figures and are now finalizing our evangelization data for the year-end. We will see even more positive data by then.
Migrant Workers Program
We would like to particularly cite a program that will potentially bring our evangelization to a new higher level—the Migrant Workers Program. The Department of Labor and Employment has asked CFC to conduct a values formation program for overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and their families.
This program has three aspects. One is to give values formation to departing OFWs, the pilot program of which was started in March this year. These sessions have been done twice a week with about 70 participants per session, or about 140 participants per week. While this may sound like a lot, there is so much more potential, since there is an average of about 2,000 Filipinos who leave for work abroad every single day. So, we are gearing up to pursue this program more expansively.
The second aspect is to continue the program in the country of destination of the OFWs, to be handled by our CFC groups in these countries. Due to our global presence, we are positioned well to do this.
The third aspect is to conduct the same program for the families left behind, referred to as “family circles.” Hopefully, this program will significantly help in addressing the concerns about the disintegration of family values because of the growing number of children growing up in parent-less homes.
On this point, we would like to emphasize that we now look at our evangelization work in a much broader context. Before, it used to be just referring to those who attend the CLPs. Now, as we have stated a number of times, we look at evangelization as sharing the love of God with others. And so whether those we interact with actually attend a CLP or not, for as long as we share God’s love, we share God’s Word, that is evangelization. This we do particularly in our witnessing in our day-to-day life. This witnessing, to reiterate, may not necessarily lead people to attend our CLPs, but we would have achieved success just the same if, by this interaction, others are transformed or are inspired to be transformed. That is truly evangelization too.
While the Family Ministries are truly doing wonderful work, we are also enhancing and improving the area of integration of the family ministries so that we continue to move as one family and we do away with activities that may be overlapping or that can be further integrated. We have begun this process, such as KFC and YFC holding joint family bonding activities together, and we will continue to bring this process to fruition.
I make special mention of our Youth for Christ—YFC was actively involved in organizing the activities during the recent World Youth Day in Sydney, Australia. They were given the rare opportunity to present YFC to all the other youth delegates from all over the world attending the World Youth Day. They attracted the attention of everyone, including the press, because of their exuberance, enthusiasm and obvious love for God.
Total Christian Liberation
When we speak of total Christian liberation, of course the program that immediately comes to mind is Gawad Kalinga. Gawad Kalinga continues to be the cornerstone of our work with the poor. But of course there are many challenges, challenges that have come up because of its fast growth, concerns that are brought about by the rapid upscaling of the work.
We have responded to these concerns by continuously looking at areas where we can improve our operations. For example, we have adopted a more realistic pricing scheme so that the administrative costs of this work are realistically provided for. We are moving towards a unified financial system software that will hopefully mean, once in operation, that anyone who donates to GK can immediately trace where that contribution or that donation goes—all the way to the specific GK site.
In our desire to practice good corporate governance, the GK Board and the Mancom underwent a good corporate governance workshop. Currently, GK is undergoing an organizational development process with the help of Ateneo de Manila University.
In the area of the Social Ministries, we are finishing up our review and hopefully, we will be ready to announce more definite action on this area by January.
However, may I make special mention of Isaiah 61:1, our prison ministry. They work silently such that many of us may not even know that for the past three years, we have been awarded the Gawad Paglilingkod Award from the CBCP Episcopal Commission on Prison Pastoral Care because of their outstanding work in this advocacy.
I would also like to mention the GKare Foundation which, again without much fanfare, continues to do surgical missions to the different provinces of the country particularly those that are hardly visited by other medical teams.
Of course the other social ministries continue to do their work notwithstanding our situation, and so, I truly honor all the workers in our social ministries.
We continue to undergo a review of all our teaching tracks. We have new offerings and, I think, we are about to finalize our MER 3 series. We hope to offer that early in the first quarter of next year.
This year, we also recognized specific membership groups in CFC that need special unique attention. In this light, we have come up with a distinct pastoral program for our young couples. Not that we are forming a new ministry or a chapter composed only of young couples. They will also be mainstreamed into the sectors but since they have special needs and special concerns, our pastoral formation should also include tracks to address these.
We are also initiating a special pastoral track that addresses the unique needs of our elderly members, though it hasn’t reached an advanced stage as yet.
Our community has really grown in many respects. It is a wonderful thing to see everyone grow in community and so for every specific group that has special concerns, we will likewise come up with the pastoral support that is needed.
As you know, we have initiated an effort to have open and constructive discussion on the relationship between CFC and the clergy—how it can be improved, how it can be strengthened. The first Congress on this, if you will recall, was held in June as part of our anniversary week. That was truly an inspiring event, with more than a hundred priests, five bishops and some 400 of our brethren in attendance. An echo congress was held in Tarlac in November for the northern and central provinces of Luzon, which was equally inspiring. We will continue to conduct similar congresses in other regions of the country and our CFC communities abroad.
We organized this Congress because we saw that there is indeed a need to be more pro-active in our relationship with our pastors. We were pleasantly surprised to learn, from the workshop discussions, that the clergy has also come to the same realization. I would like to quote especially Fr. Manny Castro of Baguio, one of the participants in the Tarlac Congress who said: “I have known Couples for Christ for 20 years now but this is the first time that priests and bishops have come together to answer the question of how we look at CFC, to confront the good points and the areas that we need to improve and to listen to suggested programs where we can work together. As far as I know, CFC is the only movement that ever posed the question: What can we do for you, our priests, our bishops and our Church? What is your impression about us? Are we able to respond to the needs of the Church today? How can you guide us in responding to the Church?”
Brothers and sisters, our work in this bishop-clergy-lay congress has truly been appreciated by our pastors in the church. Let us thank the Lord for leading us to go into this area as part of our life and mission in CFC.
We stand squarely behind the Philippine Catholic Church in opposition to House Bill 5043 or the proposed Reproductive Health Act. We put out an ad in the leading newspaper clearly expressing this opposition. We urge you all to oppose this bill and to support efforts to make our lawmakers know of our stand. While the bill has not been enacted into law, as its sponsors wanted, the fight is not yet over. Our voices still need to be heard. Let us continue to attend hearings on the bill. Let us continue to monitor this bill and stand ready to join forces with other pro-life groups in order to present a united stand.
I daresay that there is none among us who can really question that indeed it was God’s hand that moved when He gave us the resources to pay off our huge P20 million loan that accumulated over several years in the past. And so in behalf of the International Council, we truly thank you, the entire CFC global family, for your generosity. “One Time Big Time” was an inspired concept, a blessing that God gave us to show that all that was needed to be done was to open our hearts and our wallets to be able to come to the rescue of our community.
I am also pleased to announce, based on what our brother Lito Tayag has reported, that for the second straight year we did not have to borrow in order to pay off the 13th month pay of our home office employees. We have reduced our expenses and, despite our initial apprehensions, we are seeing positive year-end results financially.
I would just like to be more specific. Compared to 2007, our manpower expenses was reduced from P52 million to P40.5 million this year. Transport cost was reduced from P7.7 million to P2 million this year. Printing cost was reduced from P 8.35 million last year to P3.7 million this year. Power, light and water are down from P2.3 million last year to P1.97 million this year.
But let me balance that out. There was a slight increase in our foreign mission expense from P12.6 million to P13.39 million. This is principally because we have absorbed the support for our mission in East and Central Africa that used to be supported by our US community. Unfortunately, because of the conflict that we all experienced, they could not sustain the support. So, while difficult, we have made the decision to continue our support for the foreign mission and particularly for our mission workers who are working so hard, who have given of their lives, given of themselves to work on foreign mission. That commitment stands.
Now, however healthy the financial position that we have achieved, thanks to everyone who worked hard to keep the expenses down and to improve our revenues, there is really a lot more room for growth. Our “tithes” performance show that we have stabilized since the time of the conflict. However, there is a lot of room for improvement. I would like to challenge Metro Manila to lead the way in making our tithe collections improve next year. There are many ways of doing this. There are many things that we are considering, but what is important is our heart. What is important is that we believe that everything truly comes from God and that we are given the privilege to participate in this great work. Of course, all of us recognize the difficulties of the present situation, but we continue to lift this area up to the Lord because we know that His blessings are also really there for us.
Now let me remind you, even this early, so that you can all prepare—when we have our first Mission Core prayer assembly in January 4, we will have our First Fruits offering as a way of really thanking the Lord for the past year. Also you have all heard of the Prayer Bank. And just to erase any misperception, this is an attempt to reach out to many more of our members who somehow have not participated in this area of financial stewardship because they are embarrassed when they give little. We want to assure everyone that the focus is not on the amount; it’s our attitude and where our heart is. Thus, no matter how humble the contribution is, that is welcome. And the prayer bank is a tool to make that happen. Let us support the prayer bank.
The International Council continues to communicate with the Holy See and I am pleased to report that in our last visit to the Pontifical Commission on the Laity, brothers Rouquel Ponte, Joe Yamamoto and myself were assured that the recognition of the Vatican continues to be with CFC under the International Council.
Of course, aside from the Ecclesiastical recognition, they are also aware of and understand the step we had to take under our civil processes, to protect the name that is sacred to us—Couples for Christ. We had to appeal the SEC decision to the Court of Appeals. We have submitted all our documents and we believe in our hearts that we have a solid legal case.
We would like to assure everyone that this is not about selfish ownership of the name; this is about upholding our rights under our Vatican and CBCP mandate. We are happy to announce that the law firm that has been helping us here on a pro-bono basis continues to support us.
Building on the Blessings
Brothers and sisters, you have heard from us many pronouncements, many expressions of our moving on in our vision and mission when we began our term in 2007, during our A Time to Dance celebration and during the State of the Mission address for the year 2007 which I delivered early this year in January. We have not accomplished everything that we’ve said but essentially the promises we have made we have kept. And we continue to work on the remaining things that we have said we will do for the balance of the term of this International Council.
As we close the year, we focus our eyes, our hearts on recognizing the blessings that the Lord has given us this year. We should build on these blessings and move forward with our mission.
2009 – THE YEAR THAT IS TO COME
We now come to the challenges ahead in the year 2009. As you know we have adopted the theme for next year—“Forward in Christ,” which is taken from Philippians 3:13-14: This theme aptly describes our posture which is not to dwell in the past but to look forward and focus only on the task the Lord has given and on Jesus, our model and our guide.
But, brothers and sisters, again we emphasize: even as we end our theme for this year of “loving one another,” even if this ceases to be our theme, “loving one another” should continue to be our way of life in CFC. The things we have started this year should continue. We must put to mind always what our Lord Jesus says - it is by this love that all men will know that we are His disciples. What are the challenges ahead? There are many but we will address the main ones.
We will continue to consolidate our membership. In the few areas where we faltered, we will start anew. As regards our brothers and sisters who left us, we respect their decision and we will not campaign for them to come back, but we will continue to have a welcoming attitude for those who decide to do so.
In the area of the international mission, we will strengthen our support system by setting up regional mission centers to save on expenses and to make the work more efficient.
In addition to pursuing actively our Migrant Workers Program, I invite you to consider many ways of evangelizing. I would like to call your attention particularly to three approaches. First, is “focused” evangelization targeting certain specific groups. We used to call this “strategic” evangelization. We must continue with this in addition to our regular evangelization in our parishes.
We also would like you to consider “integrated” evangelization. What is meant by this? Review your membership lists. If there are CFC, HOLD or SOLD members whose children are not yet in the ministries, go out to them, reach out to them and bring them to community. Look at your list of KFC, YFC and SFC. If their parents are not yet in CFC, reach out and go out and evangelize the parents. We use the membership data of the community as a starting point for evangelizing the entire family and making us truly integrated as families in the Holy Spirit renewing the face of the earth.
Thirdly, you might also wish to consider what is being called “pocket CLPs.” This really means holding small CLPs in homes. In some provinces, this is working well. This is where one household invites maybe 5 to 7 new couples into their homes for a CLP. This is not a big number, but if we have several of this type of CLPs, these can add up to a great number. Those who have done this have given feedback that the participants are more relaxed because it is in a home setting and the way of introducing the CLP to them becomes more effective because the atmosphere is intimate. The atmosphere lends itself to the participants being able to fully receive the message that we give in the Christian Life Program.
Taking Care of the Flock
Brothers and sisters, I would also like to suggest that, this year particularly, we take to heart what our Lord tells us in the gospel of John—that we should take care of our flock, as a real way of expressing our love for Jesus. Who are these? Who is our flock? Well, first of all, we have our own families. This is the first flock that the Lord has given to us. Let us strengthen our home fronts. After all, we are a family renewal movement. However, in addition, the Lord also gave us our bigger family in CFC—our households. I would like all household heads to take to heart their responsibility as household heads: review the materials, review the manual and implement them. After all is said and done, the strength of CFC is in our household groups. We always say that when the family is strong, society is strong. We can also say that if the households of CFC are strong, then CFC will also be strong.
As we anticipate the global economic crisis that people are talking about, we need to strengthen our love and care for those under us in our household.
But your Council would also like to introduce certain programs on the community level that will address some of the concerns should the financial crisis reach our land as it has started to. We have firmed up our partnership with a group of companies that is in a position to help guide our members to livelihood opportunities, for our members who don’t have work or who will lose their job in case the financial crisis intensifies. This is the E-Pinoy Program (“E” for educate, employ and empower). Our partner, together with us, believes in harnessing the inherent wealth of the human resource. The objective is to develop a CFC preferred work force that will promote the Filipino (in this case) as leaders of the global and local work force and that will instill CFC work values and ethics into the work place and among co-workers.
The system that will be adopted is a cohesive and integrated system of contributors to this work composed of educational institutions, local industries, international clients or employers and the human resource company, all working together to help open up career and livelihood opportunities for what shall be known as the CFC preferred work force. What makes this program stand out is the respect that people have for CFC, particularly the Christian values and ethics that we develop in Couples for Christ.
We start this in the Philippines, but will also bring this program to other countries in time. Brothers and sisters, this is a modest start in our attempt to provide help for those who might be affected by the global crisis in terms of employment. We would like to state that, particularly for jobs abroad, we will set up an internal process within CFC to make sure that this is handled in a good way. And to start the ball rolling, I have set a meeting of Metro Manila Sector Heads and HR practitioners tomorrow to help set up the mechanics for this system. As you go out today from this teaching night, for those interested, there are sheets of paper being distributed that outline what job openings are available for a start.
We will continue to address issues and concerns that, as I said earlier, are particularly related to the upscaling of this movement. We would like to share with you what we believe are the principles that should govern us all in this area:
- GK is both God’s gift and His challenge to CFC for the fullness of our mission.
- We share the gift of GK to the world and help open up the blessings for all so that everyone will embrace the work with the poor. We will engage with partners within the boundaries of our core values.
- Christ, proclaimed in word and action, is the center and mover of the work. CFC and GK are consistent. We are one with the Catholic Church in our mission of building the Church of the Poor.
- We would like to move in this area with one united leadership, because the work is so vast and we should rally everyone around one vision and direction.
- Finally, we believe that Gawad Kalinga, our mission here in GK, should really be imbued with integrity. Integrity is about honesty and transparency. In addition integrity also covers delivering on promises made.
We have seen over the past year how important communications is and we would like to put greater emphasis on the need to have our policies and instructions and other communications delivered and received quickly. But beyond communicating policies and instructions, we also desire to proclaim God’s love, to share the numerous miracles that happen in our midst in CFC, to work hard that the Good News does not lose out to the bad news. To address our over-all communications concerns:
- We are putting in place an integrated communications structure so that we indeed speak with a consistent message.
- Our publications will continue. The Ugnayan magazine will continue on hard copy but should also be available to our other brethren in international countries as an e-magazine or a webbased magazine. We would also like to further increase our circulation of the CBCP Monitor because we have found this very effective not just in providing current news but in communicating the same to our clergy.
- CFC Official website — this is fully operational and updated on a daily basis. We ask you to visit this website because it also connects to other ministries and the other CFC groups in other countries.
- CFC email domain — this was launched a few months ago. There are still some glitches but we believe we have started a system that can make our communication go faster and more efficient.
- SMS Messaging — if our negotiations are successful, we shall launch a system that will allow us to communicate directly with all our members at one time through texts. This is a swift and cheap way to provide our schedules, mobilize our brethren and provide them with important information.
I referred earlier to our pastoral congresses and the results of the discussions. After a lot of discussion and exchange of views, the Council is now ready to share with the community the changes in our structure that we believe will be the basis and foundation for us to move forward in Christ in an even greater way.
- We have approved that the number of members of the CFC International Council, in view of the very fast expanding work, will be increased from 7 to 9 to make us respond fully to the demands of this great work.
- And true to our promise, we shall set term limits for those in the International Council and this term limit is six consecutive years consisting of two years per term. After the sixth consecutive year and after resting from his duties in the council for one term, should a former council member be nominated by the Elders Assembly, he can be elected to another six-year consecutive term.
- The Board of Elders’ role and membership will be modified. The Board of Elders will be the body of advisers for the community composed of all former CFC Council members who continue to be in good standing in CFC. Thus, membership in the BOE will no longer be chosen by election. The BOE’s role is clearly advisory.
- We have also agreed to change the nominating process. Many of you know that in our old system, under the old set up, nominations to the CFC Council are made by two bodies—the CFC Council itself and the Board of Elders. We have agreed that we shall do away with that system and make the nomination come directly from the members of the Elders Assembly. Please note though that all of these will still be submitted to the Elders Assembly for final approval. We ask all of your cooperation to ensure a smooth transition to this structure once finally approved by the EA.
Last January, in our Leaders Conference, we focused on our Vision statement. It is right that we follow that with a focus on our Mission Statement in our Leaders Conference this year. All of us must also know our Mission statement by heart—Building the Church of the Home and Building the Church of the Poor. As we spend energy, dedication and faith in bringing families to a close relationship with God through the Family Ministries, we shall work with the same fervor and zeal in building the Church of the Poor through GK and our Social Ministries.
GK is our convergence work for the poor, particularly the homeless. But our work for total Christian liberation embraces many others—those who are sick, those who are lonely and in despair, those who are forced to work far from home and the families they have left behind, including also those who are in prison.
All of these, although beyond GK, are part of our work of Building the Church of the Poor. In this connection, we would like all of us to reflect on, read and internalize what is written in Matthew 25:34-35, when Jesus said: “I was hungry and you fed me, thirsty and you gave me a drink; I was a stranger and you received me, naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” We look at this as our framework in our comprehensive work for the poor.
By way of conclusion, we believe truly that, collectively, we have accomplished many things, by the grace of God. But of course so much more needs to be done. We have been honed for 27 years to fully commit to God’s work. Blessed by our year of Love and strengthened by our recent challenges, we proceed to move FORWARD IN CHRIST. We are confident that we will be able to face up to the challenges of 2009 and do God’s work to the best of our abilities and by His grace.
Brothers and sisters, we have made changes to the structures to respond to the times. We have cleaned up our financial situation, we have established programs to expand our evangelization work and to deepen our own spirituality. We have put in place programs to help us achieve our mission to build the Church of the Home and to build the Church of the Poor. We have laid all of these down as we prepare for 2009 and onwards. Let us truly look forward to a jubilant 2009. No matter what difficulties lie ahead, let us set our sights on Jesus, run the race and win the prize!
God bless everyone!