by Paolo Affatato
Kalookan (Agenzia Fides) - In the diocese of Kalookan there are 32 parishes and 17 municipal missions. The diocese includes the southern part of the city of Caloocan and the cities of Malabon and Navotas, all in Greater Manila, a conglomerate of 17 cities with a total population of 12 million.
The initiative to create "points of light" in the slums or in areas where people experience great economic and social hardship was launched five years ago and wants to go to the "existential peripheries" to which the church is called to proclaim the Good News of God's love, explains 62-year-old Msgr. Pablo Virgilio David, Bishop of Kalookan, who is also President of the Bishops' Conference of the Philippines.
Less than 20% of baptized Catholics in the region are actively involved in parish life, according to local Church statistics. Pastoral care in metropolitan areas and in densely populated urban areas needs creative means, from "Church that goes forth" and the establishment of "mission stations" seemed to be a possible solution: traditionally, mission stations are places where a priest goes regularly to ensure a pastoral service that are mainly located in rural or mountainous areas. Often they are in the territory of very large parishes and in areas of first evangelization where the faithful could not otherwise participate in Church life.
But the same criterion, Bishop David said, could also be applied to a metropolis where the suburbs and slums are left to themselves, or where citizens spend much of their time in office work or in large shopping malls. In this way, spiritual needs are completely neglected, and in order to meet these needs, "urban mission stations" have emerged, which can be found in hospitals, train stations, airports, government offices, shopping centers and also in social hotspots. These "new oases of peace in the desert of the big city" in Kalookan are specially designed for people living in the vast, miserable, crime-ridden and violent slums of northern Greater Manila. As part of a new pastoral experiment, mission stations have been set up in the slums, where priests and religious settle to live with the people of these neighborhoods. "The idea is to start again with the last," emphasizes Bishop David, because "only when the Church becomes small and weak does the power of the Holy Spirit become present in this weakness".
The pastoral plan adopted by the diocese, entitled "Out of the box", specifically invites the religious communities of the diocese to "live among the poorest of the poor". Small spaces such as a room or warehouse were used as "mission stations" and converted into a chapel where masses could be celebrated for small communities. The mission stations have the fundamental task of administering the sacraments in these areas and taking care of the concrete needs of the poor. They accompany families in overcoming the drug problem, distribute food, support children and young people with tutoring: in a word, they try to be "catalysts of hope for the people in the communities", it is stated.
Such mission stations are intended to promote the fellowship of missionary disciples; make Christ present among men; give hope to the poorest of the poor; Fight drugs and violence and heal wounds. This is happening in Greater Manila, in areas where the phenomenon of "extrajudicial executions" is tragically widespread and which, in recent years, has become part of what the state had called the "war on drugs", and which had turned into a "war on the poor" drug users. The city of Kalolokan has the highest concentration of this type of killing, and "most of the victims are minors, innocent people and poor people," according to Jesuit Father Wilfredo M. Samson, who runs the Sacred Heart Mission in Kaunlaran District.
Recently, Father Stefano Mosca was entrusted by the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME) with a mission station in the Tunsoya district, in a slum ironically called "Paradise Village". The mission station was named after "Our Lady of the Poor". In this neighborhood, many people live on the streets: they cannot find an apartment or cannot afford to rent one while the impossibility of disposing of waste creates an unhealthy environment which is at the root of various diseases.
Unemployment is high and people are trying to survive. Our mission, according to the Italian Missionary, begins "with the celebration of the Eucharist: the beginning is to be nourished by the Eucharist in order to be strong in the life of faith, love and hope".
The pastoral concept of urban mission stations was also welcomed by the Archbishop of Manila, Cardinal Jose Advincula, after taking office in 2021, when he met with the clergy of the archdiocese, which counts 3 million Catholics in 93 parishes and the cities of Manila, Pasay, Makati, Mandaluyong and San Juan.
The Cardinal pointed out that by opening urban missions, younger priests could be given responsibility for a small proportion of the faithful, instead of working as vice-priests or temporary priests in the existing parishes. "Young priests can put their creativity at the service of the community, to be close to the people," said Cardinal Advincula, who has also launched mission stations and mission schools in remote areas in the dioceses of San Carlos and Capiz.
In December 2022, the Cardinal presided over the opening of a new mission station in the Makati neighborhood, Manila's financial hub. In one of the big shopping malls, the archdiocese has opened a chapel dedicated to Our Lady of the Holy Rosary and entrusts it to the priest Reginald Malicdem. The small church seats 200 and is close to the subway exits, making it easily accessible for commuters as well. "It will be a place of prayer, silence, devotion, reconciliation with God, a place to breathe a culture of welcome and love", said the Cardinal. Mass is celebrated in the chapel from Monday to Saturday at 12:15 p.m. (for the lunch break) and at 6:00 p.m. (after work), on Sundays and public holidays at 12:00 p.m., 4:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. The goal is to make each baptized feel that "the Lord is always near you, that he wants to accompany you wherever you are and whenever you need him," said Cardinal Avincula. Similar stations already exist in other shopping centers in the city. (PA) (Agenzia Fides, 17/1/2023)