Rev. Fr. Aaron Bamba, the Founder of Opifices Christi (OC) or Workers of Christ, and the coordinator of the branch of Religious men associated with the Focolare in Asia, shares a pastoral experience while he was serving in a parish.
I was a seminarian when the Church of the Philippines was on its way to renewing itself with the thrust of the Second Vatican Council. The historic Second Plenary Council of the Philippines, or PCP II, was eventually held in 1991. Thereafter, many, if not all, archdioceses and dioceses held pastoral assemblies to implement the Decrees of PCP II.
In those years, PCP II Ecclesiology, Theological Discussions and immersion with the poor were given emphasis, with a strong bearing on Discipleship and the Church of the Poor. The Bishops and Seminary Formators reorganized our seminary as a Basic Ecclesial Community (BEC). Lessons and interests were oriented towards forming Christ’s’ Discipleship through BEC and the Church of the Poor. On weekends, we would go to the barrios to live with the people. While in the seminary, we were grouped into BEC’s. Our priestly training was conducted along this line.
It was my first time to be in a parish. One morning, there was a funeral. When I got to the church, a rich man’s coffin was already placed along the center aisle, together with chandeliers and so many flowers that hid the altar from sight. Soon, another coffin made of plywood also came in, that of a young mother. The coffin bearers positioned the coffin just on one side of the Church, without any flowers or lights around it. I proceeded to celebrate the mass with a deep anguish. It was a difficult moment. After the mass, I fell silent, with a lot of questions inside me. I already foresaw that a pro-rich practice would collapse if I sided with the poor. While I prayed over it, then I remembered at that time a local archdiocesan practice of covering coffins with a Pall, or a kind of white cloth used for liturgical celebrations. With the pall funeral, there is no longer need for extravagant lights and flowers. I presented the idea to the co-workers of the parish, but didn’t get much of a response. So I tried to introduce the practice to the entire parish; a little later, we began to implement it. Subsequently, many people objected and they just wanted to continue with the status quo. Others, instead were happy because equality and attention to the poor were emphasized. After sometime, this practice of our parish came to the attention of our bishop. So he asked if the people wanted this practice for the whole diocese, and they said “YES”. Now the whole diocese has implemented this. In front of everyone, unnecessary distinction has been removed.
I had always been assigned to simple parishes which are not well-to-do. But their financial situation did not block me from launching pastoral initiatives. I believed that if I loved Jesus present in the poor, money would come. It is true. We did not discuss money as a focal point in our parish meetings, instead we always asked ourselves what Jesus wanted for our parish.
In the Parish Pastoral Council, we tried to live full unity and become a witnessing body to serve, and not use our position in the local church to lord it over other members of the parish. I am happy to have some parish members who adhere to the spirituality of unity of the Focolare, as we are thus able to promote the life of unity in the parish. In the life of unity, I have realized that our parish can be a school of life. It is a place where people can learn to become “saints” together in communion, in participation and mission, and where goals are met when the parish priest and parishioners live in mutual love and respect, thereby generating the presence of Christ in their midst, the real Parish Priest.
– Fr. Aaron Bamba, OC
Opifices Christi (OC) or Workers of Christ–OC is a family of priests, brothers, contemplatives, and missionaries, founded on May 1, 1999. It is animated by the earnest Desire of Jesus, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; (Luke 22:15), OC will continue Christ’s work of proclaiming the Good News, expressed through our advocacies, and drawing inspiration from the charism of unity of the Focolare Movement. It has a preferential ministry to marginalized groups as spiritual chaplains to farmers, fishermen, peasant groups, as well as to labor unions. Furthermore OC wants to collaborate with NGO’s (non-governmental organizations) and people’s organizations for the welfare of the poor. They desire to empower the rural folks, particularly families, the elderly, men, women, youth and children with special needs, through Christian Education and Integral Evangelization. They promote proper care for Mother Earth by means of example, education, and promotion, etc.
For more info about OC you may contact the following: Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. FB Page: Opifices Christi Life and Mission; Address: 140 Mapila-Pila Road, Burgos, Pangasinan, 2410 Philippines. Mobile: +63 09175014093