By: Ace Baltazar & Cicero Lagarde
Impact, succinctly dubbed—its current drophead so
says—as the “Asian Magazine for Human Transformation,” turns 40 this year. And so thus with its revered founder, Most Rev, Julio Xavier Labayen, OCD, bishop emeritus of the Prelature of Infanta in the eastern province of Quezon, who likewise this year is marking the 40th anniversary of his episcopal ordination.
At its inception 40 years ago, Bishop Labayen, then as the first national director of the National Secretariat for Social Action of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, and his editor, Fr. Cornelius Breed, a Dutch missionary, unfalteringly christened the magazine, IMPACT, adopting the same moniker of a newsletter published by the participating clergy of the Priests Institute of Social Action (PISA) held in Hong Kong in August of 1965. IMPACT’s maiden issue thus reeled on April 1966, some few weeks only after the birth of NASSA.
“IMPACT,” recounts now the 79-year old Labayen, “was founded to serve as the voice of the social action program in every realm of our society. We wanted to motivate and inspire those in leading positions in Asia to focus on ways and means of attaining human, social and economic transformation and development.”
With such primal formula, IMPACT immediately captured the wide attention of the entire Asian community, brandishing the euphoria of the social teachings of the Church that came trendy with the new perspectives of the Second Vatican Council in the sixties. Shortly thereafter, IMPACT was, then already a celebrity, basking in success. It was the flag bearer of the National Congress for Rural Development which was organized by the Philippine Catholic Hierarchy in 1967. It became the official organ of the National Social Action and Economic Development Year, proclaimed by then President Marcos the following year.
On cursory blush, irrefutably it can be said, IMPACT’s panoramic saga—its sterling success and undaunted character—resonates or closely hews with that of its founder, Bishop Labayen. For fulsome forty years, both—Labayen and IMPACT—have lived up to the same merit as a “voice in the wilderness,” trekking the precarious route of confronting the unjust powers that be.
Sometime last year, Inquirer columnist Ma. Ceres Doyo wrote about Bishop Labayen’s unflinching prominence: “Bishop Julio Xvier Labayen, a member of the Order of the Discalced Carmelites, is viewed by many as ‘controversial,’ having figured in clashes with the Marcos dictatorship. In a sea of conservatives in the Philippines Church hierarchy, the bishop is considered a voice in the wilderness.”
That indeed, on hindsight, Labayen did cross paths with the Marcos dictatorship is certainly unquestionable. In fact, history has it that Bishop Labayen was among, if not its principal figure, the famed “Magnificent 7” who tilted at the windmills of President Marcos’ martial rule.
As a consummate activist, in its real sense, Bishop Labayen claims, in his book “Revolution and the Church of the Poor,” that his rich experience in the field of social action has undeniably been interwoven “with the dark strands of trials, crisis, harassment, persecution and marginalization, and also with the bright strands of pastoral breakthroughs, deep insights, qualitative turning points, reassuring faith-experiences of the living God of history.”
In the late sixties, bishop Labayen, then as national director of NASSA, and upon the request of the Society for Development and Peace (SODEPAX), a joint body of the Pontifical Commission on Justice and Peace and the World Council of Churches, launched the movement called Asian Cultural Forum on Development (ACFOD). Since his episcopal ordination as bishop of Infanta in 1966, Labayen has unfailingly served the cause of the poor of Infanta and various sectors in the field of social action.
On June 12 of last year, the 106th anniversary of Philippine Independence, and in a venue that couldn’t have been more appropriate—the Bantayog ng mga Bayani (Monument of Heroes) in Quezon City where the names of those who served and died for freedom are etched—Bishop Labayen was conferred the Gawad Kagitingan national award.
Despite his retirement as bishop of Infanta in August 2003, there ain’t any stopping yet for Bishop Labayen in his struggle for the promotion of a spirituality that is rooted and lived in the humanity of each person, particularly the poorest of the poor who, according to him, are the “wretched of the earth, the teeming masses gods and governments truly take to be sheep.”
Currently, amid the wrenching national issues and problems swirling around the country, the indefatigable radical in Labayen makes him even more visible—or ‘omnipresent’, so to speak—in almost every circle or forum that bring to fore the country’s debilitating ills.
As with Bishop Labayen, there’s no coming to an end too for IMPACT. Both, Bishop Labayen and IMPACT, having survived the test of time and likewise having withstood even the most stringent political regimes and societal upheavals in the Philippines as well as those in other parts of the world, continue to live, undaunted as ever, as a “voice in the wilderness.” Both, no denying, are veritable living legends. Both refuse to die.