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BULACAN, Philippines – The Catholic bishop's right-hand man in Malolos, Bulacan, almost broke into tears as he recounted criticism that the Catholic Church has done nothing to rehabilitate former drug users.
"Pasensya na po kasi minsan, ang sabi, wala namang ginagawa ang simbahan. Matagal na po kaming may ginagawa," said Monsignor Bartolome Santos, vicar general of the Diocese of Malolos, in a news conference Thursday, January 19.
(Pardon me because sometimes, they say that the Catholic Church is doing nothing. We've long been doing something.)
For nearly 27 years, the Diocese of Malolos has been running a drug rehabilitation program in Galilee Home, Doña Remedios Trinidad.
Father Joshua Panganiban, the priest in charge of Galilee Home, said they have helped reform hundreds of former drug addicts and people with other vices and behavioral problems.
Panganiban said Galilee Home has been doing this since April 1990.
It currently houses around 25 drug addicts and 25 other young and elderly people with other needs, Panganiban told Rappler.
Galilee Home was one of the "Places of Mercy" visited by delegates of the World Apostolic Congress on Mercy (WACOM) on Thursday.
Incidentally on Thursday, President Rodrigo Duterte also launched fresh tirades against the Catholic Church, lambasting priests and bishops for supposedly failing to help in drug rehabilitation. (READ: Bishop on Duterte tirades: 'Sick doctor still cures others')
Duterte said: "Kayong mga pari, mga obispo, ang gaganda ng suot ninyo, mga kotse. Meron ba kayong isang bahay lang, maski limang kuwarto para rehab? Anong ginawa 'nyo sa simbahan ninyo?"
(You priests and bishops, you have beautiful clothes and cars. Have you built even just one house, even just 5 rooms, for rehabilitation? What has your church done?)
'Even before Duterte'
In a homily that was not in direct response to Duterte, Malolos Bishop Jose Oliveros pointed out, "Even before Duterte became our president, we already had a rehabilitation program in our diocese."
Santos said Galilee Home stands out because it caters to former drug addicts' spiritual needs. Part of their rehabilitation program is prayer.
Referring to Galilee Home, Santos said, "Ito po, maniwala kayo't hindi, wala po itong bakod." (Here, believe it or not, it has no fences.)
He continued: "'Pag tinanggap po doon ang isang naligaw ng landas ay tatanungin siya, gusto mo ba dito? Gusto mo bang magbago? Gusto mo ba uling bumalik sa Panginoon? Makiisa ka sa amin."
(Once we accept there one who has lost his way, he will be asked, do you really want it here? Do you want to change? Do you want to return to the Lord? Then be one with us.)
Santos added that Galilee Home offers its services for free. He said they rely on donors.
The vicar general said: "Aba'y mahirap po humingi ng tulong para po sa mga drug addict. May iba po, ang sasabihin, 'Father, bakit namin tutulungan 'yan, e adik nga 'yan?' Hindi po nananawa si Father Joshua. Nakikiusap po siya. Sa awa naman ho ng Diyos, hindi ho nagugutom ang mga nandoon."
(It is really hard to ask for help for drug addicts. Others would say, "Father, why will we help them when they are addicts?" But Father Joshua never gets tired. He begs for help. By the mercy of God, the people there never go hungry.)
Other Catholic rehab programs
Monsignor Sabino Vengco Jr, also a panelist during the WACOM news conference on Thursday, added that a drug rehabilitation program also exists in the Diocese of Novaliches, Quezon City.
Vengco said it is run by Father Luciano Felloni, an Argentinian priest who has lived for the Philippines for years, and who was once his student.
Vengco said Felloni has a "parish-administered rehabilitation program," which other parishes in the Diocese of Novaliches have sought to replicate.
Earlier, Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas, who runs the Archdiocese of Lingayen-Dagupan in Pangasinan, said they plan to open a "Narcotics Anonymous" counseling program.
Cagayan de Oro Archbishop Antonio Ledesma also requested priests in his archdiocese to open churches "for community-based drug recovery programs."
Recently, too, Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle signed a memorandum of agreement with Fazenda da Esperança, an international drug rehabilitation farm, to boost the Archdiocese of Manila's drug rehabilitation program.
Fazenda da Esperança itself is run by Catholic priests, and has been in the Philippines for 14 years. It is found in Milagros, Masbate, and Carolina, Naga City.
One of the graduates of Fazenda da Esperança, Richard Elson, spoke at the Manila Cathedral on January 8.
Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.