Ruth Rayel Arcega
(Note: The reflections and views expressed herein are those of the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of the St. Michael the Archangel Parish or the Parish TADA Program Core Group.)
Parallel Personal Journey in Faith and the TADA Program Planning and Implementation
The opportunity to lead the TADA Program in our Parish came at a time when I was in the process of trying to discern my mission and purpose in life. I had been restless for a year, having resigned from a lucrative albeit, stressful career in investments and portfolio management abroad and travelled trying to find quiet and my heart’s longing for meaning. St. Augustine’s words were like an unending refrain on my mind: “My heart is restless until it rests in You.” So, I “came home” — literally, to Oas after more than two decades since graduating from high school, and spiritually, to Him after years of a demanding and stressful career and unbalanced lifestyle that left me “spiritually barren like a desert” and which, I belatedly realized, were akin to chasing the wind.
I volunteered for the TADA Program after learning there was no volunteer to attend and represent the Parish to the Program Orientation in Bacacay on September 29, 2012. That act had become a most wonderful blessing and challenge that I am really thankful for. For me, the TADA Program experience in our Parish was, therefore, a parallel personal journey in faith and love and a rediscovery of my roots and Oaseño culture on the one hand, and, an opportunity to serve and make a difference on the other.
Armed with project and corporate planning and management skills and experience from a management consulting stint early in my career, I initially thought that planning for, launching, implementing, and, managing and sustaining the Program would be relatively easy. I thought that, after all, everyone in the Parish or community had a stake in making a Program such as this work well and sustainably. I thought that, the same way that I had easily and warmly embraced the concept and rationale for the TADA Program as well as its thrusts in relation to the Diocesan Vision, people would easily take to it and support it because of its potential to make a difference in the lives of people and in the way we live as Christian communities. I was mistaken. I needed to immerse and familiarize myself again with the local culture, and develop a greater capacity for understanding, patience, acceptance and love. I also needed to trust Him more, humbly submit to His will, and continually check the purity of my motivations.
It has been a great learning experience for me as a person and as a Catholic since I attended the Program Orientation and Diocesan Launching and came back to present my proposed TADA Program Action Plan to our Parish Priest. I have learned to ride the “habal-habal,” enjoy the barrio trips, and relate with people without the reserve that was so characteristic of my old self. I have reconnected with old friends and developed new ones. Whereas I used to be anxious that I might not deliver the TADA message well, I believe with God’s grace I have learned to speak in front of people, including school children, in a manner that they understood and hopefully, related with. I learned to appreciate the wealth of the poor especially those in the barrios: the beauty of nature, the smiles and laughter of children even in the midst of poverty and hunger, and the simplicity of their lives without the superficialities, complexities and sophistication of the corporate rat race, ostentatious urban lifestlyles and materialism. I also learned to temper the agonizing “why’s” of indifference in situations I have encountered and/or the paranoia or insecurity of not doing well or enough. I grow in acceptance and trust that, in one of our Parochial Vicars’ words of encouragement, “we will just sow the seeds and the Holy Spirit will do the rest.”
I am a “work-in-progress” in the same way that the TADA Program in our Parish is. Every day is a struggle — to live the ultimate TADA message which is love and a culture of caring and sharing especially for the poorest of the poor as an expression of our faith; to grow in patience and tolerance with understanding and love and contain my old demanding, critical, perfectionist self without espousing mediocrity; to try to model for and influence and inspire others to walk together in this journey of faith and make a difference and be catalysts for change; and to honestly, humbly and steadfastly follow His will with love and courage particularly, in the pursuit of my mission.
Learnings and Insights about Our Oaseño Culture, Our Faith, and Our Church
The TADA Program has provided the opportunity for critical insights and learnings about our Oaseño culture and how we, Oaseños, generally live our faith individually and collectively as a Christian community. The experience has made me and, I believe, the rest of the TADA Program Core Group in our Parish, realize the urgent need for renewed evangelization to deepen and joyfully live our faith as individuals and as a Christian community. The celebration of the Year of Faith is especially timely, critical and a welcome opportunity for our Parish. The TADA Program official launching in our Parish on November 18, 2012 was very opportune in that it was done within the same timeframe from the start of the official launching of the Year of Faith on October 11, 2012 worldwide and in our Parish on December 2, 2012.
While the TADA Program, in and of itself, is noble and worthy of acceptance, support and commitment, our Program experience showed that it is not always something that would be appreciated, much less, supported and committed to by lay people who have generally grown numb, cynical and indifferent to decades of unfulfilled promises by political and civic leaders, perceptions of a generally uncaring Church, poverty and other socio-economic challenges, and moral deterioration. This is not helped by what seems to have been a growing gap or distance between the hierarchical Church and the laity.
The first major challenge that struck me in my “familiarization trips” to both lowland and upland barangays before we pre-launched and officially launched the TADA Program was the dearth of parishioners who come to hear mass, even on Sundays, particularly, in the barangays. Based on my discussions with lay leaders in some of the barangays, attendance would normally range from 5% to 15% of resident population. The mass-going Parishioners would mostly (approximately 85% to 95% of total estimated attendees) comprise old women and pre-school or school-age children.
The lack of a spirit of (committed) volunteerism and sense of community are also critical challenges to the Program, in particular, and to the Parish Church, in general. Especially among young adults, understandably precoccupied with earning a living or creating wealth or maintaining a lifestyle that includes acquiring better or finer things or attending socials, recruitment of volunteers, much more of really committed volunteers, is extremely difficult especially for TADA which, because of its focus on programs for the poor, inevitably creates an “unglamorous” impression. We, thus, find ourselves talking in our TADA presentations about sharing, not only of material resources but also, of ourselves – our time, our energies, our talents, as a way of living our faith. We talk to young men and women not to wait until they are in their 60’s – old and retired from employment, before they find time to volunteer and serve God, the Church, and the poor; to find meaning and fulfillment in life through “faith in action.”
I also realize for example, that there seems to be an inverse relationship between wealth or affluence and education on the one hand, and generosity and a sense of caring and sharing among Parishioners on the other, especially as one moves from the remotest barangays in the Parish towards the political and commercial ‘center’ of the town. Maybe because education and wealth create pride and elitism in one’s heart, it seems more difficult to promote a “change of heart and mind” and develop a “heart for the poor” among those more privileged.
The sadness I sometimes feel because of this indifference, however, would sometimes be overshadowed by pleasant unexpected surprises. I have experienced, for example, a willingness among poor old women and widows in a few of the poorest barangays in our town to list up and commit to share through TADA. I have experienced the generosity of poor children, who, even as I would still be speaking about TADA in their barangay chapels after mass, would come forward and drop their coins in the common TADA bottle we have prepared for their barangay. Children are almost always the most enthusiastic and ‘early adopters’ of the TADA Program. Even in one of the poorest barangays, Bagsa, I have heard of school children who have committed to go Christmas caroling so they can have something to offer for the TADA Program. Their generosity and spirit of sacrifice is touching and truly heart-warming. Lastly, my heart is always lifted up by the enthusiastic singing of two young boys who constitute a three-person choir (the other being an adult who plays the guitar) in the barangay masses in San Isidro, or the sense of community among a group of middle-aged women-volunteers as they clean or contribute to decorate the barangay chapel in Tobog.
Learnings and Insights about the TADA Program Implementation
- TADA Program in Parallel with Renewed Integral Evangelization
Therefore, more than presenting the TADA Program as a concept in a video brief or in visual aids in bulletin boards or in brochures or in oral presentations, we needed to present it from the foundations of the gospel readings during the barangay and school masses. We also needed to catechize and “conscienticize” to be able to touch the heart to elicit even just a response – whether favorable or unfavorable. A critical realization therefore, is that the Program would be more effective and successful when presented in parallel with catechism and formation programs. The soil must be ready and fertile for the seed to take root and grow and bear fruit. The hearts and minds – especially among adults, must be ready and full to be able to share. This requires time and a sustained evangelization and formation program to transform a culture of cynicism and indifference to a culture of sharing and caring, especially for the poor. Thus, the Diocesan Vision, Mission and Implementation Plan, with greater emphasis on the thrusts of “renewed integral evangelization and “building Christian communities,” and especially within the context of the Year of Faith, are critical to be implemented effectively in our Parish. Going forward, a close collaboration with the Parish Ecclesial Commission is also especially important during TADA Program implementation.
- The Role of the Parish Priests
In general, a significant part of the success of TADA Program implementation is the “endorsement” and sustained support by the Parish Priest and Parochial Vicars. After all, parishioners take their cue from their priests, especially, their Parish Priest. Our TADA Program is blessed to have the support of our priests. They have not only allowed our TADA Program team to tag-along in their barangay, school and LGU masses to be able to present the Program, but have also been promoting the same even without the team being present.
- TADA Program and Our “Wait-and-See” Culture
Typical of any “marketing program,” (after all, launching and implementing the TADA Program is also, in a manner, a marketing of a concept, a program or a habit/practice), acceptance by and development of the “market” (parishioners) for the TADA Program, would require time and a sustained “marketing and promotion” program. While we have been relatively successful in registering a considerable number of ‘early adopters’ of the Program, we still have a long way towards a broadbased support for and commitment to the Program. I believe majority of the parishioners are also still adopting a “wait-and-see” attitude towards the Program before committing to it — waiting to see whether or not it can really make a difference in the lives of people and thus, worth supporting, or if it can be sustained or otherwise fail either through inability to gain further and broader support or mismanagement.
It is, therefore, critical for us/the Parish Commission on Social Concerns to be able to plan and lay the preliminary groundwork for the implementation of the programs under the “Caring” thrust (HELPED) for the poorest of the poor within a reasonable timeframe of 3-4 months from launching of the Program. It is also important to be able to show a clear, consistent and credible or sincere message, by way of written or spoken words and actions, of our commitment for the poorest of the poor under the TADA Program. Only then when we really mean what we say and we say what we really mean — particularly about the spirit of self-sacrifice for the poor and the needy, would we hopefully gain greater acceptance of and commitment to the Program by our parishioners.
- Transparency and Financial and Operating Controls
Creating an environment and a perception of transparency and effective financial management and control are also critical to the success of TADA Program implementation, particularly, in building credibility and sustaining support. When discussed during our presentations, this aspect of TADA Program implementation (apart from the “Caring” thrust or “HELPED” subprograms for implementation by the PCSC) generally cause parishioners to pay more attention. We, therefore, needed to outline to them the flow of their contribution from the time they offer their TADA bottles during Offertory to their safekeeping and counting in the Parish until they get deposited in a separate TADA Program Parish account. It was important to emphasize that the account, apart from the implementation, management and monitoring of the “HELPED” subprograms, would be “audited” or “evaluated” by the Diocese’s Social Action Center (SAC). The one difficulty we have experienced, however, was opening a commercial bank account for the Parish TADA Program, for lack of standard documentation (SEC Registration, Board Resolutions, Articles of Association, etc.) as typically required by commercial banks. Pending implementation of planned Diocesan and subsequently, Parish, Finance Council Policies, Guidelines and Procedures Manual and other documentation, we have temporarily opened an account with the Oas Teachers’ Credit Cooperative, Inc. (OTCCI) where we deposit the TADA Collections on a weekly basis.
As a monitor and control tool to know that TADA stickers get back to us as offered TADA bottles, we list down the names of offerors of every offered TADA bottle and check this against our Registration list. We know now, for example, that despite repeated exhortation to offer the TADA bottles within a month from Registration regardless whether these are full or not, there is a significant percentage of Registered TADA Commitments that have not been offered up within a month. When asked, they explain that they would rather offer them full because they are embarrassed to offer half-empty bottles — a strong mindset that is proving to be a challenge to change as well
- TADA Needs to Take Root in the Heart
Beyond the weekly TADA Program contributions that we now continually receive as Sunday mass offerings, we believe the TADA message needs to take root deep into our hearts. When deeply rooted and the hearts are “full,” only then could we hope to see the kind of generosity and giving that would hopefully make a big difference in alleviating the plight of the poorest of the poor in our Parish.