Bishop Socrates B Villegas accommodated the CBCP Monitor for an interview about the pastoral situation of the Diocese of Balanga and other concerns.
Question One: How does the Diocese of Balanga implement the social reform agenda of the CBCP specially in living out the Church of the Poor vision of the Church in the Philippines?
We are in the process of implementing the decrees and statutes of the First Synod of Balanga (2006). One of our eight pastoral priorities is the Communion with the Poor. The social concern agenda of the diocese rests on the theology of the Kingdom of God. We are not doing programs for the poor not because we want them to become millionaires. Our service for the poor must lead to the promotion of the plan of God for His people which is fullness of life. We are essentially different from the DSWD or other NGO’s helping the poor. Our real and only treasure to share with the poor is Jesus Christ.
Concretely, we have a diocesan home for abandoned children, a home for abandoned elderly, a micro financing program for small investors, a basic education full scholarship program for 150 children most them from the Aeta families and the diocesan program for helping the poor called AGAP (Alay Galing sa Pagpapakasakit)
Question Two: How do you look at Church involvement in politics?
Dirty politics is one of the great scourges of our nation. Politics becomes dirty and burdensome for the people when it is conducted without Christ. It is the duty of the Church—clerics and laity—to infuse the spirit of holiness into politics. There must be separation of Church and State but there should be no separation of man from God.
Question Three: What are your hopes about the forthcoming national and local elections?
Democracy will only work if the people in whom true democratic power emanates are educated and use their right responsively and wisely. There is an ongoing voters’ education in the whole diocese using the modules of the PPCRV. Vigilance is the small price that we must pay if we wish to remain free.
Question Four: How do you see yourself as the third Bishop of Balanga?
I am standing on the shoulders of two great Churchmen—Bishop Celso Guevarra and Bishop Honesto Ongtioco. They have sown good seeds in Bataan when they were bishops here. It is springtime for Bataan now because of the legacy of our first two bishops. Bishop Guevarra laid the foundations of the new diocese by promoting vocations to the priesthood. Bishop Nes laid the groundwork for the first synod through the diocesan pastoral consultation that he conducted. These two great bishops made life for me so much easier and the work very much lighter.
Question Five: How is the family life ministry of the Diocese of Balanga?
The seedbed of all our pastoral programs is the family. The end goal of all our pastoral action is the family. The agent for the various pastoral agenda is the family. You will notice that family life does not appear in any of the eight pastoral priorities of the diocese. It is because family life permeates all of them.
Question Six: Do you also have a crisis of vocations like the other dioceses? How do you think the vocation situation can improve?
By the grace of God, we are seeing a remarkable increase of seminarians from the Diocese of Balanga. How do I explain the increase of priestly vocations? First is the example of many good priests in Bataan. Second is the encouraging atmosphere of prayer within the family. Many more young men could have been admitted to the seminary if the standard of education in public schools were better than what it is now. There is a lamentable deterioration in English proficiency which is so vital for seminary studies. There is also the remarkable decline in the spirit of self discipline and sacrifice. The culture of easy and quick pleasure has also sadly affected our seminary applicants.
Question Seven: What program does the diocese have for the ongoing formation of priests?
Cardinal Sin and Cardinal Vidal both gave me the same advice when I was appointed Bishop of Balanga: “Love your priests!” I have always set the fraternal care of priests as first in my life agenda. We have a regular monthly recollection and penitential service together. I give some points for spiritual growth during these monthly gatherings. This is my regular way of ministering to my brothers. In addition to our annual retreat, we also have a five-day renewal program for some updating in canon law, liturgy, pastoral administration and of course, spirituality. The minister is more important than the ministry.
Question Eight: How do you look at secular media?
I have many friends in the mass media. Their involvement in the media is secondary for me. They are first of all friends. I hope their friendship with me helps leads them to friendship with Jesus. Only Jesus always Jesus.
Bishop Socrates B. Villegas