ON A HUMBLE note, Fr. Mario Castillo defined his talk as a fruit of his inspiration and research, with a little help from Ate Jojie Marasigan (indefatigable CEO of the Union of Church-based Cooperatives (UCC), who was manning the machine that contained his visuals. UCC decided that, since it was their 13th founding anniversary and 14th General Assembly, a Recollection before the Holy Mass would be in order. After his inspired, inspiring discourse, I toasted Coop’s decision as a move that could not have been cleverer.
As can be gleaned from the lead visual accompanying this piece, his talk was aimed at inspiring the next generation of cooperators, evidently the beloved, gifted and empowered youth sector, whose millennial merit the Church is celebrating this year. In the visual, the Holy Spirit is depicted as the inspirer, a heart-shaped semi-lit cluster of matchsticks. To be inspired, he said, means to be led by God, not by mammon because, when the latter goes, fear appears. “Parang Coop,” said he. “Habang lumiliit ang dibidendo, gayundin ang myembro. ”If it’s from God,” he continued, “it is sustainable, until eternity, and the Coop depends on our sustaining it, our inspiration having its origin from Jesus Christ. And because He is our inspiration, there is this responsibility for us to bring out the inspiration out of one another, through a fellowship that is the power of Cooperativism.”
Taking a cue from the word, he confessed that when he got involved in it for the first time in Cebu, there were no seminars then, and he was just driven by the desire to help the poor, they who sold banana cue, lived in cemeteries, on top of drainage pipes, edges of esteros and under bridges. Some of them were high school graduates whom he taught simple bookkeeping and enrolled in an accounting course for non-accountants and, in the process, “Pati ako na-review.”
After some time, out of those poor (determined) achievers emerged a man he made into a manager and a woman he turned into a bookkeeper. Chaos, however, crept up when he was replaced by someone who, because he didn’t know how to operate a Coop, could not help when kawatans (malefactors) swooped in on and bankrupted the Coop. Time passed, he returned, guards changed, the Coop recovered. He attributed that phenomenon as Jesus-inspired because Fr. Mar believed that inspiration is being able to inspire others who, in turn, inspire many more. (Inwardly, I thought of multiplication as no longer a monopoly for bread and fish.) But he wasn’t done yet. He said that it’s one thing to be inspired by Jesus and another to be inspirational. How? The answers Ate Jojie started to gradually project, thanks to Todd Alexander’s inspiration. They are hereunder detailed.
- Ask the right question. Jesus asked Peter the same question (Do you love Me?) three times; Bartimaeus (What do you want?) twice; and James and John the same thing He asked the blind man. Fr. Mar said that asking the right question is a way to inspire, if not ignite. And he told of their microfinance project in the past (which was pera pera lang) until he came into the picture, along with members from the INC and even the Muslim community. He started a BEC sort of soft educational immersion for them which gave the process the Bible as center. He admitted that the Book is hard to explain to plain people, especially the unchurched, but when they started asking, answering and sharing, he was inspired even to the touching point of crying. This, he mildly put, was probably the starting point of his levelled-up homilies (attested to by his fans and fellow priests) on Radio Veritas, about truth and life.
- Show love. Which is the face of Jesus, even to, especially to, enemies. This is the secret code of Christianity, to aim to do the work of God and no other ambition. To serve, sanctify, reconcile, unify, to follow God. He believed that if we can inspire people enough to connect money with faith, in a non-mercenary manner (my embellishment for what I felt was what he meant), we shall have devised an effective formation come-on. Love, he went on, is without hypocrisy. It is meant not only neighbors but also for theirs, not only for Coop MIGS but for other members as well, given the policies in place. UCC, Fr. Mar, proclaimed, has no price tag, their slogan being “What they can give (especially to the small ones), not what they can get.”
- Instill hope. It is the roadmap to recovery, the vision for victory. Man can live without food, water and air in varying periods of time, but without hope, he can only last for one second. When he was deeply involved in Coops, nuns, priests and parishioners cast doubt upon him because he was seen active in their advocacies but not as enthusiastic when it came to earning revenues for the church. Until Cardinal Rosales asked him to establish a Vincentian contingent in the former’s diocese and the eminent task ended his struggles.
- Inculcate integrity. By providing a moral foundation of operation, which values the same integrity that Jesus had when he did not shame Judas in public. Like, he added, the Vincentian Coop which sold the produce and products of their poor members. Like Fr. Nelson, when he was asked to manage the BEC in Antipolo on a stipulated salary; he resigned soon enough and returned to volunteer work in Angono because he missed keeping the origin and originality of the Coop.
- Impart power. By giving the individual tools to change, like Christ’s miracles and teachings, like when He told Nicodemus what being born again is (which the learned teacher did not comprehend), like walking on water to show His disciples what faith can do, like how to catch fish, in order to be fishers of men. Because power does not emanate from us (it can only be from God) but can go through us (if God is already there). God created the world so He can appreciate love, like we sing (a gift) so someone can listen (and share the gift). “Kahit mayaman ang kooperatiba, kung walang presensya ng Diyos, sayang ang kita,” was what he wrapped his words with. To illustrate, Fr. Mar added that Vincentians really tithe their income‘s 10% because the portion goes to the poor, feeds them, sends them to school and finds them shelter.
- Have a purpose. The most important human need is to be relevant to fammunity (family and community), how to inspire like Christ by denying the self, taking up one’s cross and following Him. We can only shine after His light in us does, “kasi, pag naranasan mo na Siya, wala nang takot, Fr. Mar concluded. (And I could not help inwardly add) dahil napalitan na ng paglilingkod.”
- Tell a story. Tell it right, he prodded. Through it, let the truth out and make a memory that can live forever, if possible, in a language that speaks His words, shows His actions and makes His power shine. And, just as I was gearing up for more stories, Fr. Mar looked like he had said enough and confirmed my dread that he was done. But not before convincing me that I have to be present at the next UCC where his next speaking engagement will be.