YEAR 2000: THE JOINT JUBILEE CONGRESS ON CATECHESIS AND CATHOLIC EDUCATION
The Dream and the Planning
Great feats are never the result of improvisation or chancy activities. Rather, they are the fruit of an original intuition, painstaking development of that idea, careful planning and consistent implementation. Such was the "JOINT JUBILEE CONGRESS ON CATECHESIS AND CATHOLIC EDUCATION" which was held at the Philippine International Convention Center, Manila, on September 11-13, 2000.
The great architect and prime mover of that Congress was Msgr. Gerry Santos who as early as November 1999 proposed first to the ECCCE Advisory Board and then to the CEAP Board of Directors that the two Organizations celebrate together the Jubilee of Catechists and Educators in September 2000 by holding a joint Congress.
The idea, though attractive to both parties in its overall intent, initially did not receive an unconditional and enthusiastic approval. Various difficulties were at the root of some reservations that were put forward. One initial difficulty was the great difference of interests and experiences of the major groups of expected participants, namely the school and the catechetical contingents. What common interest or idea could there be, aside from the celebration of the Jubilee, to bring and keep together for three days such a heterogeneous and huge gathering of people?
The need was felt, both in ECCCE and CEAP, for a deepening of the reasons why this congress should be held at all, even before the proposed Joint Organizing Committee could discuss a common theme, identify objectives and come up with a series of activities to be carried out during the event. The fact that such a joint Congress had no precedents on which to capitalize was an additional difficulty.
Paradoxically, it was precisely this last difficulty of a lack of a precedent which led a good number to conclude that it was about time that qualified representatives of Catechesis and Catholic Education should come together, pray together, listen and talk to each other, in order to know each other better, and plan together for the future. Besides, was not ECCCE the Episcopal Commission on Catechesis and Catholic Education? The need for greater collaboration between these two basic components of Catholic life had long been felt, but not much had been achieved so far. What better occasion than the Jubilee Year to try to do what had never been attempted before, i. e., bring Catechists and Catholic Educators together in view of knowing and strengthening each other?
A major difficulty having become an asset, it was now a question of venturing further and identifying a topic and a theme capable of arousing the interest of the two prospective groups of participants. The Great Jubilee widely divulged "Five R's" and its insistence on conversion and renewal seemed to offer enough ground for the elaboration of a common theme that would embrace more than the initial idea of coming together to "celebrate the growth and vitality of the local Church in the Philippines in the New Millennium through the educational and catechetical apostolate."
Another difficulty was likewise tackled in the preliminary meetings: What would make this Joint Congress different from all the previous ones which had usually ended with a series of "Recommendations" and "Desiderata" to be carried out by institutions or groups, usually other than the participants? What "novelty" aside from the fact that this congress would be celebrated during the Jubilee Year - would have convinced the prospective participants that it would be worthwhile to travel all the way to Manila, spending money for transportation and registration? The solution was found in the proposal that the Joint Congress should end not with a "Message" or a set of "Recommendations" but with a specific COMMITMENT to be taken by all the participants in behalf also of the other members of the sectors they represented.
Gradually and imperceptibly, the Holy Spirit had led the joint delegations of CEAP, ECCCE, and the Archdiocesan Catechetical Ministry of Manila to realize not only the opportuneness of holding the proposed Joint Congress on the occasion of the Jubilee Year, but actually the need for it. Its sense of "novelty" would have not only captured the interest of the participants, but insured its fruitfulness after the event.
Two major players were then identified in the persons of Archbishop Legaspi, the ECCCE Chairman, and Fr. Roderick Salazar, the CEAP President, who would conceptualize the theme of the Congress and prepare a set of ideas to be discussed in the Workshops which were expected to be its most important activity.
Once again, the Holy Spirit must have been especially active, judging from the result: a captivating theme and sub-theme:
Living Church, Learning Communities Visions, Revisions, Remembrances. . .
and a set of objectives perfectly in line with some of the main emphases of the Jubilee Year: "To examine how catechists and Catholic educators can best fulfill the thrusts of the Great Jubilee, and how we can work together toward this Goal.
As individuals and institutions, we shall
• rejoice in the call and achievements of Catechesis and Catholic Education;
• repent for our failures, weaknesses and shortcomings as individuals and institutions engaged in catechesis and Catholic education; and
• recommit ourselves to the mission of renewed evangelization and integral education."
In line with these objectives, the "particular thrusts" of the Congress, based on PCP II and "Ecclesia in Asia" began to be elaborated through a progressive interaction among the members of the Organizing Committee on a "Suggested Framework for the Congress" contributed by Archbishop Legaspi.
Committees were formed, and "target participants" were identified in school administrators and superintendents, representatives of faculty, non-teaching personnel, parents and students, as well as religious education coordinators, campus ministers, catechists, catechist coordinators and formators, as well as directors of diocesan catechetical centers. All in all some 3,500 participants were expected, 2,000 of whom would be coming from the school setting and some 1,500 from the catechetical setting.
Solicitation letters were sent to prospective corporate and institutional benefactors, while the drafting of the "Tentative program of Activities" began its tormented journey, which would see changes at almost every meeting of the Organizing Committee.
A logo of the Congress was also developed by Fr. Salvatore Putzu, SDB with the concurrence of Archbishop Legaspi and the group of artists of "Word & Life." Having been approved by the Organizing Committee, the Logo began to be circulated in all Catholic schools and parishes, thanks also to a poster disseminated nationwide.
Almost at the same time, a "Recollection Module" developing the three key words of the Objectives, namely: REJOICE, REPENT and RECOMMIT, was prepared by the Religious Education Commission of the CEAP with the collaboration of representatives from several religious congregations involved in teaching. The purpose of the "Recollection Module" was to enable all the components of the Catholic schools, including those who would not be able to participate in the Congress, to prepare themselves adequately for the great event by reflecting in a recollected and prayerful way on the theme and specific objectives of the Congress. Copies of the "Module" were entrusted to all Regional Directors for proper dissemination in their respective constituencies.
While these activities were going on, ECCCE was also busy disseminating in all parishes and then retrieving the Questionnaire of the Survey on the Catechetical situation in the pastoral setting. The data yielded were to be presented at the Congress as part of the "Situationer" that would enable the participants to reflect on the main features, needs and problems besetting the catechetical ministry in the country.
At the same time, both the ECCCE and the CEAP Secretariats were busy contacting their respective constituencies and getting the names of the participants. Unfortunately, and contrary to the initial expectations, the current economic crisis seemed to be discouraging many of the prospective participants.
The situation of uncertainty concerning the number of participants was bound to have a negative effect on the financial aspect of the organization of the Congress. This was compounded by the very low amount of donations from the corporate sponsors. The economic crunch with the consequent financial constraints placed on the organizers of the Congress repeatedly cast a dark cloud on the preparation of the Congress. Hence the constant concern on how to cut on costs, both in the food and the cultural show to be broadcast live on Channel 7, which eventually was cancelled altogether.
In the end, thanks to a very generous donation from Sagip Ka 2000/ABS-CBN Foundation and a great act of faith in Divine Providence, almost everything (except the cultural show) went on as planned. And, as the last days of preparation and the unfolding of the Congress will show, Divine Providence did not let the Organizers down. (cf. DOCETE, vol. XXIII, Nos. 102-103)
Episcopal Commission on Catechesis and Catholic Education (ECCCE)
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