History of the Christian Life Community of the Philippines
HISTORY OF THE CHRISTIAN LIFE COMMUNITY OF THE PHILIPPINES
A. THE YEARS OF SEARCH (1967 -1970)
Up to 1967, the movement or organization was known as the Sodality of Our Lady. Membership was confined mostly to students of Catholic girl schools, with the exception of some Jesuit colleges and one or two more catholic boy schools.
In the Philippines there was a National Office connected with the Jesuit Sodality Promotion Office. In Manila, there was the Manila Archdiocesan Board of Sodalities (MABOS) composed of students under a director appointed by the Archbishop who wanted greater control over the Sodalities.
The growth from Sodality years into the CLC was catalyzed by the arrival of Fr. Jose Blanco, S.J. from the World Assembly in Rome. He came with the news about the General Principles of the CLC. He came also with the new name and the charge of renewing the Sodalities. This was no easy task since centuries of tradition had to be seen in the wider perspective of the CLC. Also, change was being ushered in, and old ways and structures of authority, leadership and responsibility were to be seen in the light of Vatican II.
Strangely enough it was a group of students from various schools in Manila who gave a listening ear to Fr. Blanco’s experience. There were some adults but they very soon diminished in numbers since confusion and turbulent changes in the nature and structure of the CLC proved to be very demanding.
The young college students of the Manila Archdiocesan Board of Sodalities was the center of change. Notable in the early efforts were: Realistica Realica, Jose Carlos Jr., Sesinando Flores Sr., and Leonel Sumpaico all were students from various colleges in Manila. However, things were not easy for them, since the archbishop, the late Cardinal Santos proved to be insensitive to the call of Vatican II and the changes called for CLC. Even his assistant to CLC, Msgr. Tizon proved to be inadequate in providing guidance and support for the changes in CLC. In 1967, the MABOD, quietly (without the knowledge of the Archbishop) changed the Board back to a Federation to be more in keeping with the spirit of CLC General Principles. It was understandable however, since it was difficult to disseminate and communicate its contents. In fact, a point of contention was the growing need for autonomy of lay groups and movements, and the response to being in responsible positions in the Church and her mandated organizations. Later on, during the same year the name “Sodality” was changed to Christian life Community (CLC).
The years 1967 – 1970 were the introspective years. They were years of searching and intense, and oftentimes tense organizational attempts. The results were found in decreasing numbers in membership, lack of interest by ecclesiastical authorities, including Jesuits themselves! These years also brought about various attempts at organizing and setting up communication lines and formation programs. The burden of the centuries proved too heavy for the initial years.
So at this time a new center of enthusiasm had emerged. From the catholic colleges, a group of college students, who, by bonds of friendship and vision tried to promote the CLC. They were members of the Sodality and were involved in the early years of its adaptation into CLC. Leonel Sumpaico, Jody Sim, Bebs Abuel, Kara Castell, Ronnie Villegas, Cora Sim, Meny Vera Cruz, Celle Cortez, Carol Salas, Rose Salazar, Didi Villegas.
To top it all, Jesuit Scholastics Benjamin Y. Sim and Geoffrey Coland got involved in this Jesuit apostolate. Other Jesuits involved in the early years were Antonio Lambino, Simon Chu and others like Fr. Kenneth Bogart who provided a lot of Spiritual Direction for the movement.
For the beginning of CLC and its purposes, these men and women dedicated their time. It was a difficult time due to many factors: the rise of activism, the down-playing (downgrading) of the need for spirituality and the relationship with the Manila hierarchy who acted as negative forces in the growth of CLC. However, there were some trends in favor of the growth of CLC. The trend toward the Group Dynamics, the use of prayer sessions and a printing of a Commentary for the General Principles did act as supportive mechanisms for the CLC. There was also a trend towards liturgical renewal which aided members in appreciating the Eucharist.
From 1967 – 68 the college and high school members held meetings in common. It was often felt that the level of maturity and life’s concerns of the two groups were quite different. So in April 1969 a study of the structure was made. It was clarified that the General Council was the highest policy-making body. It was also decided that the high school groups be considered as affiliates and not as members, and that membership to the General Council no longer be based on units, but on the qualification of members. By that time because of the renewal and formation efforts, there were already several regional federations with their corresponding vice-presidents. On December 27-30, 1969 at a national aggiornamento seminar at the Cervini Hall of the Ateneo de Manila the participants decided to form themselves into the First National General Council and elected Jody Sim as its first National President.
The question of identity – of how CLC is different from Marian and Catholic organizations became clear to the members when they made the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. The Ignatian Spirituality provided the identity.
Another element that clarified the identity of CLC was the insistence on service or apostolic life. When the community experienced a strong bonding they were challenged by the question “What service or apostolate can you offer to society?” Otherwise you may be a nice and comfortable community but you are irrelevant to society.
In 1970 the CLC World Assembly took place in Sto. Domingo, Central America. Fr. Ben Sim, S.J. Sr. Soledad Perpinan, RGS, and Nerlinda Angbetic Tan represented the Philippine CLC. They also attended the European meeting in Manresa, Spain.
One crucial factor for the revitalization of the Sodality (Christian Life Community) was the decision of the late Fr. Horacio de la Costa, Jesuit Provincial at that time to appoint a full-time Jesuit for the Sodality work in order for the movement to have more impact. As a result of this decision, Fr. Ben Sim, S.J. was appointed to work full-time with the National Office. Several local communities and local federations were established. There were CLCs as far as Tuguegarao, Baguio, Pangasinan and Bulacan. In Southern Luzon - Batangas, San Pablo, Bicol and Sorsogon. In Central Philippines (Visayas) there were communities in Cebu City, Dumaguete City and Iloilo. Down South in Mindanao, there were local federations in Davao City and Zamboanga Peninsula. The rapid growth was largely due to the traveling team composed of a group of college students from Manila and Fr. Ben Sim, S.J.
In 1970 the Cebu and Ilocos Federations broke up while Zamboanga Del Sur Federation flourished.
The Philippine National Federation of CLC had also at this time initiated consolidating its membership by holding annually the General Council Meeting (GCM). We now call it the General Assembly (GA). The GCM established the theme for the year and expected the various communities to follow it, considering of course their level of maturity and situation. Another facet of this line of development is that these councils were not arenas of debate or deliberative bodies ruled by majority-minority rules. The Council was characterized by the Ignatian method of discernment. Even its officers are elected by the discernment method.
The typical process of the National Assembly (GCM) was: (1) getting acquainted or updating acquaintances with one another; (2) data gathering on Socio-Cultural-Political-Economics-Spiritual (SPES) situation in the various regions of the country; (3) reflection and prayer on what God is saying to the CLC and WHAT SHOULD OUR CHRISTIAN RESPONSE be; (4) consolidation of the responses of the different regions into a national stand or statement.
1971 was in some way an important turning point in the Philippine CLC history. The Third General Council Meeting was held in Zamboanga City with the theme: “A Deepening and Integration of Life of Christ” turned into a kind of community discernment resulting in the statement of concern and priority known as the ZAMBOANGA STAND.
Subsequent National Assemblies reaffirmed the Zamboanga Stand with little modifications and updates.
Also in 1971, with financial assistance from the Jesuit Promotion Office and German CLC Twin, Ronnie Villegas was sent to Germany for a more intense training in Ignatian Spirituality and the CLC dynamics.
While locally there were several full-time lay promoters for CLC: Ignacio Ebol Jr in Zamboanga del Sur, Stanley Lee in Bicol, Ming Espero in Davao, Luay (Hocson) Vinzons in Metro Manila, Aleli and Cel Cortez for the youth. Other full timers to follow were Sonia Sison, Sonya Gomez, Angel Nagrampa and Virginia Orbita. Bebs Abuel Sim was the first Executive Secretary who worked full time.
1972 was the year of the Martial Law (but that happened in September 21). Before that the impetus at renewal continued with the establishment of the “Think Tank” composed of the cross section of CLC members. Because the units and the regional federations were not stable enough, the system of direct affiliation to the National Federation was adopted. Several committees were established to facilitate the work of the National Federation namely, the Publications, the Finance and the Institute.
1972 was also the year of the big typhoon that flooded most of Central Luzon. The Executive Council in consultation with the Pangasinan CLC ventured into an economic relief project by soliciting aid from abroad and giving loans to the farmers in Bo. Darawey. This project was under the supervision of the Finance Committee. Because of the distance the Committee depended on the Bo. Captain who turned out to be an oppressor of the farmers. Practically all the loans became bad debts.
1972 was also significant in terms of the role of the Philippine CLC in the World Federation. Fr. Ben Sim was invited by the president of the World Federation to be the Consultor of the Executive Council (ExCo). Since then he was elected and served as Consultor until 1976. At this time too, a Youth Secretariat of the World Federation was set up in the Philippines with Aleli (Raymundo) Belonia as the secretary. Fr. Ben Sim and Veronica Villegas were also members of the World Youth Commission. Reciprocal visits by the officials of the CLC Secretariat in Rome were made and this ushered in the role of the Philippine CLC in the World Federation. A highlight of this interaction was the holding of the World Assembly in Manila in 1976.
Because of the restriction of the Martial Law on all organizations, both the college and the high school federation of CLCs died out. However, the Ex Co set up a Youth Commission with Virginia (Orbita) Abadia and Aleli (Raymundo) Belonia as members. Luay (Hocson) Vinzons took charge of the Institute.
In 1973 there were key persons in several provinces – Max Hernandez and Corbee (Batusin) Ilagan in Batangas, Ming Espero in Davao, Jun Ebol, Velia Ebol and Prissy Abelardo in Zamboanga Del Sur, Stanley Lee in Bicol. There were also religious moderators from St. Paul de Chartres like Sr. Marie du Rosaire who brought the CLC to Tuguegarao and Dumaguete. The RVM Sisters and Good Shepeherd Sisters also got involved for a while. One problem however, with the religious sisters was that oftentimes, the ones interested in CLC were transferred somewhere else and assigned another job, leaving the CLC to deteriorate and die a natural death.
Among the Jesuits in the Philippines were Frs. Bob Hogan, John Phelan, Ben Carlos, Alex Tan, Jose Dacanay, and Antonio Lambino proved to be very helpful in the process and growth in the early years. The CLC also caught the interest and involvement of a number of diocesan priests. (e.g. Fr. Fred Madlangbayan of Batangas, Msgr. Bert Nero, Frs. Max Jacob and Sol Saez of Bicol.
Later on the other full-timers followed: Mila Pasco, Aurora Valdellon, Lita Bambilla, Potsie Centeno, Aidah Endaya.
In 1974, the Mindanao Commission was formed to determine the authenticity of the CLC in Mindanao. As an echo to the effort of the World Federation, a Liberation Commission was also set up to facilitate the political-social involvement of CLC. That year the Vice-President, Max Hernandez was from Batangas and secretary of the Ex Co was Aurora Valdellon from San Pablo.
Martial Law momentarily stemmed the tide of CLC activities. Recouping of forces and the setting up of other plans to cope with the contingencies of Martial Law were instituted. The following years saw the growth and continuation of the training seminars, Formation Programs in the Spiritual Exercises and new attention was placed on the youth.
In the following years, in view of the worsening conditions of life under martial rule, CLCP members found themselves getting more and more involved in efforts to regain human freedom in a democratic system of government. So we responded to the call of active non-violence.
B. 1976 TO THE LATE ‘80’s
This is a period of institutionalization as gleaned from the Philippines hosting the World General Assembly in 1976. Two international formation courses were held prior to the Assembly. Called Manila ’76 its theme was: “Poor with Christ for Better Service, the Role of CLC in the Mission of the Church.” Delegates from National Federations came to Manila and Baguio to discuss and discern plans for the future of CLC. The General Assembly reached its peak in the election of the first Filipino President, Marte Vinzons, one of the pillars of the Philippine CLC movement. At this time also Cora Sim went to Rome to serve in the World Secretariate.
On the local scene, that same year the GCM adopted the same theme: “Poor with Christ for Better Service…….” Confusion and tension started with the training institute before the GCM and continued during the 1979 GCM.
Together with the ability to influence the World Federation, the National Federation embarked on a deeper method of spreading the CLC. It offered courses, not just seminars gave immersion programs to its members. The task of formation and training of the youth was given to specific committees with respective tasks, responsibilities and accountability.
ASIA ’81 was another Formation Course hosted by the Philippines. Participants were CLC leaders from Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Korea, Indonesia, India and the Philippines. Trainors were Jose Gsell, Fr. Patrick O’Sullivan, S.J. from the World Secretariate, Fr. Ben Sim, S.J. and Fr. Oriol Pujol, S.J. from India.
Methods of training, planning, information and organization were reaching maturation point. The CLC sought the help of experts in the Apostolate from members of the Apostolic Center in Sta. Ana.
At the General Council Meeting of 1978 in Cebu, through the process of discernment, the assembly was able to concretize the vision of CLC: “Towards a National Discerning Apostolic Community, with the members striving to become persons immersed in the dynamics of the Spiritual Exercises (S.E. Persons) working for a program for a just society imbued with gospel values.” This became the theme for 3 succeeding General Assemblies. A structural analysis of the National Federation was made by the Executive Council and recommendations were presented to the General Council Meeting of ’79. So that at the General Council Meeting of ’79 two changes in structure were made: (1) from the Philippine National Federation of Christian Life Communities to Christian Life Community of the Philippines and, (2) from an Executive Council to a Leadership Community (LC). The General Council Meeting was changed to General Assembly. Also, a re-formulation of the CLC vision was made.
A significant moment in 1980 was the purchase of a piece of land in Trece Martires, Cavite Province, which was developed into the Horacio Dela Costa Formation Center. It serves as an economical venue for retreats, seminars, assemblies both for CLC and non CLC groups who cannot afford the regular rates of the retreat houses. The decision was prompted by the desire to witness to Christ in the person of the poor.
Another landmark is the “Diwa ng Trece” (the Spirit of Trece), the fruit of the 18th General Assembly which took place in April 1982 in Trece Martires. The Diwa gives priority to sharing our charism of formation with non-CLC poor groups such as public school teachers and the poor youth.
The death of Ninoy Aquino in 1983 brought the CLC to stronger participation in prayer rallies and marches. In 1986 many of them were in the mainstream of the snap elections and in the ensuing “People Power Revolution”.
C. DECADE OF NEW CHALLENGES
The decade of the restoration of democratic systems in the country was for CLCP a time of continuing striving to serve Church and country. In the early nineties, CLCP revisited the vision-mission statement and arrived in 1994 at a renewed three – word catch phrase that expressed its mission “Spreading the Ignatian Fire”. This mission was further fine-tuned in 1997 when a “group of elders” gathered in the Dela Costa Formation Center to find an answer to the question “What is CLCP’s unique and specific contribution to Church and country?” One simple mandate emerged: Formation.
In response to the “CRY OF THE POOR” the Executive Council together with some of the April Fools Community initiated the PUNLA SA PAG-UNLAD (PUNLAD). Its mission was to provide small loans to enterprising poor to help them start livelihood, income-generating projects. The mission continues to this day.
Somehow the 1997 gathering of elders led to another important development – the creation of the CORE (Core of Responsibles) composed of veteran leaders of the CLC, who, because of their experience and expertise serve as a consultative group, but who are no longer eligible to assume elected office to give way to new leaders.
A joint meeting of the Leadership Community and the CORE decided that it was time for CLCP to go public – be more visible; to be involved in public life like government services, parish councils and NGO’s. As a consequence of this, we have a CLC town mayor on his third term running unopposed, and there are several CLC City Councilors. A number of the CLC members are active in their respective parish councils.
Also as a response to the decision to go public and in keeping with the discernment of the “elders”, the National Leadership established in 1997 the Formation Institute headed by Bebs Sim assisted by Alwin Macalalad and a number of others. They give seminars and retreats based on Ignatian Spirituality to non CLC groups, both youth and adults, especially those sharing the same thrust of transforming the structure of society to a more Christian and humane one.
The charism (grace and ability) of CLCP for transforming adversity into opportunity was manifested in a significant way in the development of the CLC building for the National Secretariate.
In August of 2002, the CLC Secretariate which was located at the building of the Center of Ignatian Spirituality (CIS) was given a notice to vacate the premise for another office. This led to a discernment process by the CLC leadership as to where to transfer the National Office. The compassionate Jesuit Provincial offered a lot right next to the Center of Ignatian Spirituality (CIS) to build a CLC Secretariate, a three story building with the third floor owned by the Jesuit Philippine Province. Thus, from the adversity of being evicted from a good office, we now have our own building. God truly writes straight with crooked lines.
Another breakthrough with regards the relationship between the Society of Jesus and the CLCP was the entrusting of the management of the Mirador Jesuit Villa (a retreat house in Baguio City) by the Jesuit Provincial to the CLCP. After more than a year, this arrangement has yielded tremendous gains in Mirador in terms of infrastructure improvements and revenue increase.
The year 2003 marks the birth of a Five-Year Strategic Plan to give direction to the CLC and recognized the structures in the years to come.
D. WHAT OF THE CLC NOW
1. The CLC and its usefulness have been underrated through the years. There are still remnants of the Sodality type of thinking, most especially among the clergy. Nevertheless there has been a new crop of CLCers who have provided strength to areas which heretofore have remained untouched by the call to spirituality and service to neighbor, to country and to God.
2. CLC is a way of life and in this sense taxes the patience of the overly action-oriented. Being a way of life it has to look into the integration of the various elements of a layman’s life. To infuse and integrate the Ignatian Spirituality in a world still awakening to the needs of spirituality is made more difficult by the challenges faced by a layman living, suffering and dying in the Third World conditions of poverty of spirit, body and soul.
3. The unique element in CLC as its Ignatian influence and that of Ignatian Spirituality. There have been advances made in the dynamic synthesis to the exercises and the laymen’s way of life. There is a need for more Jesuits to work closely with these dedicated CLCs.
4. The current goal of CLC is to build more Christian communities. The CLC in its own way has quietly progressed much in this slow but enabling process of developing thriving responsive and service-oriented endeavors of the People of God. The CLC can be a potent force in efforts of Church personnel to develop a deeply human and spiritual, active-contemplative groups in their areas. Many opportunities like these have been given to CLCP.
The CLCP is a young vibrant attempt of people gathered in, for and with Christ, to be sensitive to the needs of their situation, to be discerning of God’s will in history and to respond in a happy, joyful way, like Mary, to this call, this vocation to the CLC way of life.
The CLCP has grown from the early years of updating its identity, the searching years to the years of stability and discovery, to the years of mission and service. It has produced competent lay persons in the life of discernment, of loving service on a full time basis to the working of the CLC way of life.
The future has to evolve, the will of God has to be constantly discerned, and this is how it is today for the CLC in the Philippines.
Perhaps we can say that the evolution and growth of CLC Philippines has been characterized by “trial and error” and “courage and daring” – venturing into uncertain grounds based on our conviction, even though we are not very certain of our potentials and resources. Perhaps some would say that it is our trust that the Lord would be with us as we venture into the mission with Him. Examples of this was throwing all our available (and non-available) resources into the purchase and development of the lot in Trece Martires, Cavite for a CLC Formation Center and accepting to manage the Mirador Jesuit Villa in Baguio City. Trust in the Lord!
As one member of the Leadership Community commented, “We may be having troubles and great financial crisis, still we are filled with joy!” Another comment by one who was trying to look for our meeting place in the middle of the night, “By the sound of the laughter, I know I am in the right place.”