Candid with the Archbishop of Zamboanga
Most Rev. Romulo G. Valles, DD speaks out on the Jubilee, the faith life of Zamboangueños, and celebrating mass in Chavacano with journalist Rey Luis Banagudos. Edited by Yenyen Blanco-Delgado.
In what way is the Jubilee significant for the local and Mindanao churches?
We start with the thought that this is God's work. (With the jubilee), we are looking at the past at the hand of the Lord, who has chosen Zamboanga to be the seat of the first diocese in Mindanao.
(A credit is also owed to) the hard work of the missionaries and the church people at that time. The church flourished in Zamboanga and we became an organized, very active a community of the faithtful in Zamboanga, so that it became the most logical community to be made the seat of the diocese of Zamboanga, which at that time covered the entire Mindanao.
What would be the main basis for declaring a place a diocese?
It should be a good seat with a visible community of Catholics. Also, the place is looked upon as strategic in terms of the work of the bishop, a center where the resources are there to support his mission.
How may Zamboanga Catholics live out the middle part of the Jubilee theme "Living the Present in Communion"?
It is a very concrete challenge for the local church of Zamboanga celebrating the centennial to concretize this middle part of the theme. To concretize it is to do much more in terms of inter-religious dialogue and the work of ecumenical initiatives and programs.
The theme challenges us to build bridges, to do more than what is there now. Can we think of creative ways? For example, inter-religious dialogue should become the concern of the parishes rather than just at the archdiocesan level. The jubilee is a good opportunity for us just to give a second look, or a third look into the situation and ask ourselves "What can we do?".
Living the present in communion does not only refer to communion amongst us but communion with God's children, everyone, men and women of goodwill. Goodwill is that special heart and mind that is there, reflective of God who created us. Reaching out should not be done in fear or (in the sense) that we are superior to others. Reaching out is discovering ourselves and discovering God who is working in his own mysterious ways in other people.
You have said that local Catholics are "pious". Is this fact due to the deep roots and long history and tradition of Catholicism in Zamboanga?
Certainly. But it is not only as simple as having the historical pedigree. The very palpable, deep-seated piety that I see now is also the work of previous leaders in the archdiocese.
That sense of piety and devotion has been maintained in a very positive way. That type of piety and sense of God is destroyed by too much "here and now". Comments like "procession lang na, that is not important", and "misa lang na, we have more important things to do" would diminish (the sense of God. And I am glad that it did not happen in Zamboanga.
These devotions, this kind of tradition in Zamboanga have kept the faith strong. It is a beautiful thing that I discovered here.
Is this partly the reason why you have commissioned a Chavacano Eucharistic liturgy?
Yes. If you have the mass in Chavacano, then that would strengthen the fervor of the people to expressions of our Catholic faith.
I have not encountered a priest or clergy of Zamboanga who did not subscribe to a (Chavacano Mass). It has been discouraging for the priests because they do not have a copy of the Chavacano mass. But if we have something beautiful printed, a new translatation agreed upon by everybody, that might help. We already have a New Testament in Chavacano and I have already asked the bible commission to work on a Chavacano version of the Old Testament.
What are your pastoral priorities?
I have many concerns but if I may wrap it up, the approach to these many concerns would be the developing and strengthening of the many basic ecclesiastical communities (BECs).
Developing BECs is already a priority of Zamboanga. I am just there to animate it. The previous archbishop already planted the seed. The Archdiocesan Pastoral Assembly of Zamboanga (APAZ) already had a dream and vision of developing BECs. I saw that (it should be) continued that and I can bring to it my experience in Kidapawan (where Msgr. Valles was bishop before he became archbishop of Zamboanga Ed.).
The APAZ was done ten years ago, anything you want to change about it?
One of the big things that we want to do is to convene a third APAZ. It is in the preparation stage and perhaps the process would help us see what areas to revisit. But I don't want to dictate or impose myself on others.
There are some programs to develop BECs done elsewhere that you want to adapt here in Zamboanga?
I am careful that it should not just be something transplanted here. I would like this program to be homegrown. We do not have to reinvent the wheel but I should really like to have it cooked here in Zamboanga.
While I am waiting for the APAZ, there are things I have been telling priests already about training BEC leaders. For example, as priest, know your leaders. Therefore, when you go there give attention to your lay leaders. I cannot imagine that these ideas will be overturned by APAZ. There are principles which I am already giving to the priests which are so basic that they are non-negotiable.
Do we need more priests?
Yes, definitely. One, many areas in Zamboanga need more priests than they have now. Two, for the quality and the well-being of our priests. We would like our priests to attend seminars and re-energize but we cannot do that if we do not have spare (priests). Third, how I wish we could also have diocesan priests attached to missionary congregations. Priests who can become experienced workers in mission areas on a temporary basis.