Last month, all roads led to Digos City as about 5,000 leaders of the Couples for Christ (CFC) community gathered at the beautiful and brand new Davao del Sur Coliseum in Mati for the Mindanao Leaders Conference. The theme for this year’s celebration is “Proclaiming the Greatness of the Lord” taken from the Magnificat or Canticle of Mary (Luke 1:46-55).
The three-day event started on Friday afternoon with a Mass presided by Digos City Bishop Jimmy Afable assisted by Fr. Bong Lunas and guest priests. In his homily, Bishop Afable expressed happiness that CFC now embraces Mary as part of its devotion. The bishop was the first parish priest in Davao to formally accept CFC as a community when he was still parish priest of San Pablo Parish of Davao City. He recalled that even then, he had advised CFC to include Mary in its formation and teachings.
Davao Sur AGT member Roel Habaradas led the worship that opened the conference, followed by a cultural presentation by the Davao del Sur Provincial Tourism Office and Southern Philippines Agri-Business and Marine and Aquatic School of Technology (SPAMAST) featuring native and modern dances. Provincial Board Member Didi Cagas welcomed the delegates. The highlight of the evening was the dance interpretations of Broadway musicals Phantom of the Opera, Cats, West Side Story and Grease by CFC members from the Mindanao regions. CFC North Central Mindanao was judged the best presentation with their rendition of Grease.
Day 2 started with a mass presided by Fr. Bong Lunas and the guest priests. After the Mass, Davao del Sur Governor Douglas “Dodo” Cagas welcomed the delegates. The conference proper began with a powerful worship led by Jimmy Ilagan of the CFC Board of Elders. As an introduction to the chosen theme, Fr. Bong Lunas expounded on Magnificat as a canticle of God’s love for the lowly, and a canticle of adoration, trust and gratitude. He ended by saying that “the Magnificat is not just the song of Mary. It is the song of the Church. It is the song of our community, our own song.”
Jun Uriarte, a member of the CFC International Council, expounded on Talk 1, “Proclaim the Greatness of the Lord.” Quoting Pope John Paul II’s Redemptoris Missio, he declared: “I sense that the moment has come to commit all of the Church’s energies to a new evangelization and to the mission ad gentes. No believer in Christ, no institution of the Church can avoid this supreme duty: to proclaim Christ to all peoples.” Narrating a personal experience, he emphasized that “devotion to Mary is authentic only if it leads to Jesus.”
Talk 2, “All Ages Will Call Me Blessed: Call to Holiness and Discipleship,” was delivered by Bong Arjonillo, a member of the CFC Board of Elders. He described Mary as “the first and perfect disciple” (St. Agustine), “great sign of the Church in the contemporary world, fully consecrated to Christ” (Pope Paul VI, Signum Magnum), and “a woman of silence and attentiveness”, among other descriptions.
Talk No. 3, “Lifting Up the Lowly” was given by Arnel Santos, another member of the CFC Board of Elders. Quoting Pope John Paul II when he first visited the Philippines to beatify St. Lorenzo Ruiz, he said that “lifting up the lowly happens when we truly live our faith as Christians.” Arnel said that “working with and serving the poor is one of the expressions of discipleship and a natural consequence of personal holiness.”
The third day started with a concelebrated Mass again presided by Bishop Afable with Fr. Bong Lunas and other priests. His homily was interrupted by applause and loud shouts of “Viva Maria, Viva Jesus!.” He exhorted everyone to treasure the experiences each one got from the conference and thanked all participants for making the Diocese of Davao del Sur a part of the conference. The final talk, Talk 4 on the topic “God is Faithful to All Generations” was given by CFC Executive Director Melo Villaroman. He said: “As we continue with our work of evangelization, as we struggle to be a good disciple of Christ, as we endeavor towards personal holiness, as we serve the poor, there will be difficulties and trials, but we should remember God’s promise that he will be with us forever, that his mercy is infinite and everlasting.”
He traced his own lineage of believers from his grandparents --his grandfather is still strong at 100 — to his parents, and now to his own children, all four generations. The occasion was memorable to Melo as that day (March 11) was also the birthday of his wife, Nini, and at the same time their wedding anniversary. To the delight of the participants, Melo serenaded Nini with their love song of yesteryears. As a fitting end to the talk, Bishop Afable did the imposition of the Brown Scapular on the leaders of the community who in turn imposed the scapular on all the delegates.
The conference ended with a very lively praisefest led by Bebot Matela of General Santos City. Filling the coliseum to the rafters, the jubilant crowd vowed to proclaim the greatness of the Lord in their respective areas, following the example of Mary.
This year’s conference was jointly hosted by the CFC communities of Davao City and Davao del Sur.