On November 29, 2020 the Claretian Missionaries–Philippine Province and Claretian Communications Foundation, Inc., through the initiative of the Bible Commission of the Claretian Missionaries in the Philippines, spearheaded the WORD CONFERENCE 2020. On its third year, the conference theme is: The Word and Worship: “…continually offer, through Jesus [the Word] a sacrifice of praise”. (Hebrews 13:15).  

The WordConPH was held via Zoom due to the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. More than 260 people registered for free to join this virtual conference from all over the Philippines and the world, with participants from as far as the United States, Papua New Guinea, Vietnam and Malta.

The scholastic students of the Claret Theology House Community opened the 1st Day of the Conference with the enthronement of the Holy Bible.  Followed by Br. Carlito “Karl” M. Gaspar, CSsR giving the first talk on “Taking Seriously the Inculturation Discourse: The Urgent Challenge for Missionaries’ Evangelization Work among the Indigenous Peoples”.  Br. Karl started by mentioning two relevant events to his topic, which are the Amazonia Synod held last October 2019 and the forthcoming 500th year Commemoration of the arrival of Christianity in the Philippines in March of 1521.

Br. Karl pointed out that if missionaries are to take to heart the message of the Amazonia Synod and provide some meaningful directions as to the mission of the Philippine Church beyond the 500th year, they have to take into consideration the challenge of inculturation and how to deal with our indigenous sisters and brothers who embraced the Catholic Faith. 

He said that up to now, “the Philippines has not evolved a Eucharistic celebration model that can be said to reflect the Filipino people’s collective identity, religious sensibility and their unique recognition of the divine in their midst.”

He mentioned that even Pope Francis himself has been at the forefront of the Church’s thrust of recognizing the need to reach out to the Indigenous Peoples and to take into consideration their indigenous spirituality. This is also the thrust of his historic encyclical Laudato Si’, which calls for dialogue with indigenous peoples, considered to be custodians of nature, as it calls to address ecological issues for the global common good.

For his reactions, Fr. Raymond Montero-Ambray emphasized the need to establish a commitment of dialogue among the Indigenous Peoples, which could be the response of the local church to the challenges of inculturation. He said, “to make our dialogue genuine, we need to listen and learn more from the lumads (Indigenous Peoples) whose voices are often muted by the colonial masters.”

Fr. Raymond, with his personal engagements and encounters with the lumads, quoted the speaker that the challenge for the local church is on how to manifest the meaning of inculturation into actual pastoral reality: in the liturgy, the services and the teaching capacity of the church.

The second talk was given by Dr. Michael Demetrius H. Asis on the topic: “Were Not Our Hearts Ablaze? Proclaiming The Word In Liturgy That Inspires Discipleship”, in which he narrated the story of the disciples on the Road to Emmaus as a paradigm of discipleship, as it speaks of the disciple’s journey in life. Dr. Asis refers to it as a pilgrimage of faith and a paschal journey.

Moreover, he stressed that, “it is in the constant listening to the Word, and being inspired and changed by it, that we grow in faith, and in love with the person of Jesus, the Risen Messiah of Israel.  And the Word is highlighted and celebrated in the Liturgy of the Eucharist, where we will recognize him if we so open our hearts and minds to what he is saying.”     

Dr. Asis then identified two principles relevant to his talk: Firstly, “If I am to proclaim, my whole person should be ablaze with what I preach.” He challenged the participants not to read the Word of God as if it were fiction, but to read it as the living Word of God addressed to the audience here and now. He quoted Pope Paul VI, who said that: “people would only listen to preachers when they themselves are witnesses to their message.”

Secondly, “Nothing is present in the mind that was not previously present in the senses.” Dr. Asis pointed out the need to always link what we say about Jesus today to what he was as a historical person.  Otherwise, he will always be a disembodied, purely mystical, completely spiritual figure.  

However, a purely historical approach to Jesus will fail to make him relevant to our lives today.  There will always be tension between the Jesus of History and the Christ of Faith.

To summarize his talk, Dr. Asis provided the following conclusions: (1) creative imagination will mediate the world of Jesus with our world; (2) we use symbols to achieve this in the context of Jesus’ world (the world of the text) and symbols in our own world, our context, our culture (the world in front of the text); (3) we must study the world of Jesus so that what we say to the audience now becomes plausible and realistic, hence, connecting the present to the past and be open to meaning that may transcend both past and present; and (4) we must be inspired and transformed by our own teaching, preaching, for our task is proclamation of the Word.

For her reactions, Ms. Tinnah dela Rosa appreciated that Dr. Asis begins his talks with the story of the two disciples “on the road to Emmaus”, which becomes a guiding image for catechists, those in religious education, youth ministry, especially how those in the preaching ministry can draw people to have a heart ablaze with love for God and His Word. 

She pointed out that Dr. Asis’s talks on the primacy of focusing on the Word of God by grasping the genuine meaning of the word as it emerged from the Biblical writer; by connecting that word to the paschal mystery celebrated by the church, and by transforming it so that the word takes on the personal and cultural context of this moment and of these believers today.

Moreover, Ms. Dela Rosa underscored the importance of creative imagination, as it allows both the homilist and the hearer to express and objectify non-sensible reality, and unify the sensible and spiritual. It also has a unique capability of uniting universal truths and principles to concrete reality.

The creative imagination presents embodied truth and experiential knowledge and has an immense transformative potential. And it calls for participation that is crucial for personal transformation.

She challenged the participants to “Grow in love for the Source of the Word that we preach, which is God Himself.

Ms. Dela Rosa also identified the qualities of the one who Preaches, which are holiness, love of scripture, a person with knowledge of Church tradition, in communion with signs of the times, and speaks with reverence and respect for others.

Finally, she said that Mary is “the one in whom the interplay between the word of God and faith was brought to perfection” (Verbum Dei, 27). We have to look at Mary as our guide that inspires discipleship.

Mr. Alvin Macaranas moderated the Salas on the first day of the Conference, where participants were given the chance to ask questions to both speakers and reactors.

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