ISA Launches Book by Bishop Labayen

The Institute of Spirituality in Asia (ISA) launched Spirituality of Bishop Labayen: Builder of the Church of the Poor on July23, 2016 at the Titus Brandsma Center.

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The 541-page publication contains the writings of the late Bishop Emeritus of the Prelature of Infanta on four themes: incarnational spirituality, mission today, Church of the Poor and basic ecclesial communities, and ecumenism and globalization.

ISA Executive and Academic Director, Fr. Rico Ponce, Ph.D, S.T.D. wrote “Living to the Full Potential,” preface to the book where he said of the Bishop, one of the first Filipinos to be ordained as  Carmelites: “We in ISA thank God for giving us an important figure in the history of the Church in the Philippines and in Asia – one who dared challenge people to be sensitive and responsive to the signs of the times. And so, let us savor his spiritual wisdom…”

Fr. Ponce recalled how the book editor, Fr. Dave Dean Capucao, Ph.D, S.T.D., “took it upon himself to patiently search for, collect and sort out the most relevant and interesting unpublished papers of the author.”

Fr. Capucao, coordinator for the book project and head of St. Joseph Formation House  of the Prelature of Infanta,  had organized in 2014 and 2015 two symposia on the theology of Bishop Labayen and was looking for reference materials for the paper writers.

‘’We came across a thick compilation of written works and talks … to various groups, both national and international,” said Fr. Capucao about the materials spanning five years from 1995 to 2000 and collected by the Socio-Pastoral Institute (SPI), a training institute founded in 1980 by Bishop Labayen and four other leaders to help church workers active in social reform.  

Fr. Capucao added that the book launch marked the 90th birthday of Bishop Labayen (July 23, 1926-April 27, 2016). An alternate date would have been September 8, 2016 which would have been his fiftieth year of episcopal ordination in 1966, after he was designated in 1961 as Apostolic Administrator of the Prelature with less than two years of pastoral experience. 

With words, songs and pictures, the launch honored Bishop Labayen. It was graced by Infanta Bishop Bernardino Cortez, who wrote in the foreword:  “Behind Bishop Labayen’s vision and mission was a spirituality that inspired him, guided him, and lived in him. The Bishop called it Incarnational Spirituality. How different is it from our understanding of spirituality? The various conferences, talks and sharings…  collected in this book will give the answers.”

Livestreamed globally, the launch gathered together priests, nuns and lay people from many of the sectors empowered by Bishop Labayen in his 42 years in Infanta.

“I am proud of `Bishop Nonoy’, as we call our third brother,” said Octavio  Labayen, the eighth and youngest of the Bishop’s brothers (they had just one sister).

“I remember how meek and mild the people were,” he added. “One of the first things he did was to open a radio station.  And the master plan for the electric cooperative was already there, but he still called in our brother Eduardo, CPA, to set the book of accounts in order.

“At the despedida-bienvenida for him and Bishop Tirona, I saw how happy and contented the people had become, and how he had already recruited some of the youth with vocations and sent them to Metro Manila. How he supported them, I don’t know.”

One of the youths recruited, Bro. Jojo Soltura, emceed the book launch and reminisced how the church bells ringing at 10 o’clock meant that Bishop Labayen was in town for Mass. School and office would be out that morning.

For his part Fr. Luciano `Nonong’ Pili  remembers being 19 in 1969 and meeting Bishop Labayen at the first assembly of the National Secretariat for Social Action, Justice and Peace (NASSA, established 1966 by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines).

“The Church of the Poor was not yet understood then, and so my friends and I joined the Prelature in 1971-72. And now I can say that no other bishop has helped engineer the building of the Church of the Poor and its punto de vista.”

Fr. Christian Buenafe, O.Carm, Prior Provincial of the Philippine Province of the Carmelites, recalled having Bishop Labayen as his ordaining bishops twenty years ago, and recently co-chairing Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP), co-founded by the Bishop.

“Whenever we met, he would always ask how we were doing,” said Fr. Buenafe.

Sr. Cres Lucero,  FSIC was also a pioneer at TFDP and had the same experience as Fr. Buenafe. She credits Bishop Labayen for guiding St. Joseph’s College’s shift to a pro-poor social action stance “from grade school up to college and our staff, even janitors, and we sisters.”

Bishop Labayen also founded congregations (Alagad ni Maria – reflecting his love for the Blessed Mother, said his brother Octavio) and guided fledging ones, said Sr. Yonni Biragay of the Apostles in ContemporaryTimes (ACT) and Sr. Alice Castillo of the Augustinian Missionaries of the Philippines.

“Refine your charism and see you in five years,” one of them remembers him saying.

Other speakers recalled the Bishop’s role in other equally crucial offices   during martial law and beyond: Sr. Rosario Battung, RGS for Ecumenical Bishops’ Forum, Pining Mariano for Bataris Formation Center in Baler, Joey Clemente for SPI, Brenda Samson for Notre Dame de Vie catechists  (“first from Baler and now nationwide”) and Juan Felipe of Calama (volunteer missionaries from a number of European countries).

Pinky Choudhury