Survey Promo
RVA App Promo Image

‘Face-to-face’ is the best way to evangelize, says Filipino bishop

Even though the pandemic pushed the Church to adopt various digital practices in proclaiming the Gospel, a Filipino prelate stressed that the best way of evangelization is still the face-to-face approach.

In an interview with Radio Veritas Asia, Bishop Bartolome Santos of the Diocese of Iba, Philippines, explained that online conferences and live streaming simply cannot replace the genuine experience of meeting people personally.

“It’s different when you go to their places and meet them face-to-face,” said Bishop Santos. 

“We always have to practice this dialogue of listening to give more space and time to listen rather than to talk. I think we have spoken so much… we need more action,” he also said.

Bishop Santos revealed that empowering face-to-face evangelization is particularly essential in their diocese, which is located in the central region of the country and composed of mountainous areas many indigenous people call home.

He shared how he travels hours just to meet, talk, eat, laugh, and play with them.

“Just being with them [is] more than enough for them,” said the prelate.

Aside from reaching out to indigenous groups, Bishop Santos also said they are proud of having good relations with Muslims and other religious denominations living within the diocese.

“We invite them to pray with us,” said the bishop. “We are like brothers and neighbors. We do not quarrel with each other.”

Moreover, Bishop Santos explained how their ten-year Basic Ecclesial Communities (BEC) program plays a huge role in weaving together the diocese’s 24 parishes, three mission stations, 20 parochial schools, and four colleges.

“[BEC] is more of a grouping together, even to the peripheries... We will be able to [address] all the issues in the diocese and [at] least respond by evangelization,” he said.

Furthermore, Bishop Santos explained how the data gathered by their catechists, volunteers, and youth ministry representatives during the Synodal process is now being used in their pastoral program in preparation for the 50th anniversary of the Diocese of Iba in 2032.

Voice Of Asian Bishops with Bp. Bart Santos - Fr. Kasmir

Read the full transcript of the interview below.


Fr. Kasmir:  Bishop Bart, welcome. You have served more than 50 years in the diocese for the IBA, and you are the fifth bishop in the diocese. Can you tell us the general picture of your diocese or the diocese of IBA?

Bishop Bartolome:

The diocese of IBA, Zambales, is located on the West Philippine Sea side, and it is also part of the northwest of the biggest island of the Philippines to the sun. We have a population of more than 900,000, but 85% are Catholic. And so it's like more than 700,000. We only have 24 parishes and three mission stations. The three mission stations are in the power plant area near Mount Pinatubo, the mining area, and a place, we call the New Zealand of the Philippines because it is in the lake.

And so the diocese has existed as a diocese only for more than 40 years because it was only in late 1982 that it was established as a diocese. But Christianity has been here for more than 400 years, starting in the northern side. It is called the Seguin Sea guys like a Shell challenger that was the former name of Santa Cruz town. And we have three towns, three parishes, more than 400 years old now.

Fr. Kasmir:  What are the ministries you offer in the diocese? The most, perhaps the most appreciated by the people?

Bishop Bartholome:

Well, we only have a very rural way of life in Subic Town up north. But here and the longer we are located now in Sbma, we are in San Rocket Chapel. This is our urbanized north, but we have more of our indigenous people. We call the eight people. So our apostolate will be very, very challenging when we go up on the mountain because, on the seaside, we don't have island parishes, we don't have we have island communities, but not island parishes, but we have a lot of mission stations on the mountain. That's where the town proper, the parishes have challenges on our mission and in our apostolate.

Fr. Kasmir: Then listen to those explanations. Where do you want to see your diocese four or five years from now?

Bishop Bartolome:

Well, five years from now, the development in the diocese will be a blitzkrieg, or very fast because of the highways being constructed. At the moment, three highways are being constructed. One of the mountains up north is called Dung Kaleka, son, one of the middle. It is called the Zambales Luck Road and one here nearby going to the triple exit because if you only be going to the Sun Valley proper, you have to pass by the zigzag where the burial places of the people no longer fall. So that is the only gateway. That is why if that is closed, nobody can get in, get out of Zambales because that's the only way. But since there will be three highways being built at the moment, being constructed by DPWH, they're done. Dunkarikasan is almost done.

The Zambales still lack roads like 70% like this Subic Depo exit where you have the exit that will be done soon, too. So, if these three highways are open, then you can see the development of the whole province and even of the city and even of Sbma. So that will drive along the Catholic Church. But since we are preparing for the golden anniversary of the diocese in 2032, we have been developing a lot of things, especially our schools. We have an innovative educational system. We have 20 parochial schools, and four colleges under one board. We don't have school directors; we only have the board and then the principal. And then our campus ministry has been active after the pandemic. I think we are the only diocese in the Philippines. The during pandemic, we didn't lose faith. I mean, there are more things to do. Parishes are now alive again and parishes are now back to their normal way of living.

Fr. Kasmir:  Let's move on to the other question about your vacation as a priest and, of course, as bishop. Can you tell us what has inspired you to say yes to getting to school to be a priest?

Bishop Bartolome:

And of course, it's a bit strange. When I started my life as a seminary at the age of 12, not because of priesthood, not because of spirituality, I didn't have one during my 12-year-old life. I only have my basketball and my football. So, I went into the seminary because of the football field and also because of the basketball court. That's the beginning. That's my yes. That is why even up to my latter years of priesthood before I became bishop, I was ordained a bishop at the age of 50. I was still playing basketball and the official game at the age of 50 and in one game I suffered a knee injury and that was the stop by God. God telling me, you stop playing basketball because you will soon. But I didn't know that then. But after a few months, I was a Bishop then.

Fr. Kasmir:  You've been serving as bishop for several years. Are you supposed to tell us what major challenges you face as a bishop?

Bishop Bartolome:

Yeah, you know, I'm a happy person. I am a joyful person. I always believe in the grace of God those suppliers and suppliers and provides me the strength to be persevering, always eager in whatever God wants me to do in my mission. Yeah, there will always be challenges from issues, from the parishes, clergy, and the people, not to mention the issues of the environment, not to mention the issues of the political arena in the country. And even in our province. But of them, with the grace of God, you can overcome all of them. You just have to always have the dialogue with this People always have to have a dialogue with your priest, a dialogue with your people, listen to them, be kind, be good to them, always show a compassionate heart, always let the presence of God be around so that all your challenges will be overcome.

Fr. Kasmir:  Talk about your style of approaching the priest's dialogue with the people. If FABC is known for people dialogues, dialogue with culture, dialogue with religion, and dialogue with the poor, how has this triple dialogue been implemented in your diocese?

Bishop Bartolome:

You know, we always have this organizational culture in every parish diocese or even in every company For sure, RVA has an organizational culture. How do you organize yourself? How do you put up? How do you set up things? How do you relate? So this culture, including the cultural way of life, of the indigenous people, you have to when I arrive, I ask the priests who are the poorest of the poorest in the diocese, they all said the indigenous people, the eyes, the people. Maybe you already have encountered some, you know, so they are mountain dwellers. They do not go to the town proper because of inferiority.

So, I have to go up to them like, you know, challenging myself to ride the car, about to cross the river, to take the poor by poor sometimes stay with them, dine with them, eat with them, just listen to them, play with them, laugh with them, not necessarily converting them immediately, but just being with them will be more than enough for them. Also with the other religions here, we have a good relationship with the other sects, with others even with the broader Muslims, because we have some common meetings and dialogue. Also, we dine and we talk about issues and we share our mission with the youth. And sometimes because of the occasions in the province and the diocese, we invite them to pray with us. And this is very good, the ugly.

And they are very, very good with us and me. We do them because we are like brothers and neighbours. We do not quarrel with each other. We even join during the procession and Holy Week. We share. We do even not have a kind of exchange of priests. No, we do not do that. Not even an exchange of people. But we join together on some occasions of the Catholic faith and similarly like a procession. Holy.

Fr. Kasmir:  We talk about that dialogue, Bishop, and how the Synod process took place in your diocese.

Bishop Bartolome:

Yeah. Why do you guys mean we follow the process given to us by the cassoulet on how to proceed with the Synodality from the poorest of the poor, from the periphery? Our Catechists, our representatives, our volunteers, our youth, and every parish made a theme that they will be going to the peripheries and starting the dialogue and data and all of the questions they have to ask the people. The simplest one is this one.

We were able to gather very good data on the Synodal process and now it is being used it for the pastoral program that we have prepared to reach our 2032 golden anniversary for the dioceses. I will be seeing our pastoral programs, our social action, our formation, not to mention even our school, because this is the strength of the dioceses, both the parochial schools and our social action in our parishes. Since we are relatively few because we only have 24 parishes, three missions and we have 20 parochial schools and four colleges, we already have people who can provide the strength to us all our mission and apostolate also to take good care of those people seemingly left behind. And so, we are practising. Nobody should be left behind.

Fr. Kasmir: If you would like to give suggestions to your priest or laypeople in your diocese, what suggestion would they like? So, they develop a more synodal mindset in their ministries.

Bishop Bartolome:

We always had to practice this dialogue of listening to give more space and time to listen rather than to talk, because we have, I think, spoken so much and so much verbally using words to proclaim. But I think I am suggesting doing more of the action rather than of the talking. So, the walk, the talk is really like your idiomatic expression, but seen modalities really like walk the talk instead of just talking a lot. But it's walking a lot. Meaning, actions.

We need more action that is why I have been asking about our commission and formation in the clergy. That's why we have the ten-year program of BEC and then the BEC Will all connect to the BEC because it's more of a grouping together, even to the peripheries, working together and visiting them, listening and healing so that we will be able to respond and address all the issues in the dioceses and we will be able to at least respond by evangelization.

Fr. Kasmir: That's interesting. Bishop One of the points discussed in the synod and synodality is laity participation at the church. How do you see laity participation and, of course, youth participation in your diocese?

Bishop Bartolome:

The lay empowerment and participation in the diocese is still ongoing? No, because they have been used to dependent on the priests for everything. What the priests do, what the priests command, what the priest program, what the priests initiate. That will be the program known. No, nowadays that is why we have the BEC so that the empowerment, the lay participation, the leaders will be more active, more participative. Let's say, for example, of the school. I mean, give you always the example of the school, formerly all the 20 parochial schools in poor colleges, they have their director, priest, and director. So we removed them because we did not like the priests, but we wanted more of the principal and the administrators to manage the school. And we priests should administer the spiritual site.

That's why all the parish priests and assistants there are chaplains of the school, but not directors. So in that way, you are giving the laypeople more participation on the active side and more responsibility on the evangelization rather than most of the things being done by the priest's Command, etc… But now it's a way of turning our eyes and turning our face on, doing our ministry as priests for the sacrament for the spirituality for the teaching, but not more of really the say too much action. You know, I mean, I'm not contradicting what I said earlier, but, you know, the priest cannot do much or more after him because he will leave some space for more important things like the sacrament, which we can only do and perform, but not the laypeople. So now the laypeople participating. More on the activities and program is very good for us.

Fr. Kasmir:   Still in line with that, Bishop, the COVID pandemic has challenged the mission of the church in terms of, you know, proclaiming evangelization in your observation of your diocese. Of course, based on your experience, what are you teaching how the church should continue, to disseminate the word of God after this post-pandemic?

Bishop Bartolome:

You know, during the pandemic time, Zambales became like one country. Nobody goes out, nobody goes in because we only have one highway. So, our governor shut the gates on the north side and south side. So, if you will be going out, you have to carry a lot of proof that you don't have any kind of bacteria or virus getting in. So, nobody goes out. Nobody goes in. During those times, we were able to please proclaim the gospel in a very different way. We didn't stop our schools. The school flourished because of the modular and the online classes. The youth keep on coming back because they're the only ones allowed outside the parish, outside the house, going to the parish.

So, they manage the livestreaming, the sacraments, the masses, the proclamation, the formation. So, no, we have to continue not only the livestreaming, not only the media, not only, but we have to combine it like you in the school. You have a blended learning of online classes and face-to-face. So just the same in our evangelization, you have to combine media, what you've been doing your best doing it and do face-to-face to go there and meet the people, touch them and let their heart meet feel not just to hi hello to them in the video call or the Zoom livestream. No, no, no, no. It's different when you go to their place and meet them face to face. So that's the learning. I am putting inside my mind that now when we proclaim the gospel, you have to do both ways. The bus this way, which is the media and the best way which is face to face, you let God be felt everywhere.

Fr. Kasmir: What do you want people to know about your diocese? Tell them!

Bishop Bartolome:

Well, just have to be going to Iba Zambales, to our province, to our diocese for you to know how God loves everyone, how God has taken care of nature, how God is taking care even of our poorest people. Nobody gets hungry in this province. And you know why? Because we have vast of plan to plan to till the land to Plow the land. And we have a bus, all sea, all water to take the source of food. That's why during the pandemic we have an oversupply of food. Not to mention if you have this resource then people can be up helping each other and we can do our way of helping our outsider brothers and sisters and neighbours. So for me,

Zambales is one of the places in the Philippines where most of our lakes waterfalls and rivers are undiscovered. But it doesn't matter if it will be undiscovered. But it gives us so much inspiration of how God has been taking care of us, of the diocese, of the province, and even of this city of Olongapo. I am not saying we are a class A No, I'm not saying that, but we are living a kind of way of life simple enough to ensure the joy and happiness and contentment of the people.

Fr. Kasmir: Thank you very much, Bishop. We have to end here. I am Fr. Kasmir Nema, SVD, from Radio Veritas Asia. Thanks for watching, and see you next time for more interesting conversations with Asian bishops.

Radio Veritas Asia (RVA), a media platform of the Catholic Church, aims to share Christ. RVA started in 1969 as a continental Catholic radio station to serve Asian countries in their respective local language, thus earning the tag “the Voice of Asian Christianity.”  Responding to the emerging context, RVA embraced media platforms to connect with the global Asian audience via its 21 language websites and various social media platforms.