One for the Oasis of Love

Sometime ago an organization of "renewed" Catholics, the Oasis of Love, was placed in a bad light on account of what the media called an immoral conduct perpetuated by one of the confessors during a Life-in-Spirit seminar. More than a dozen female students from one city high school were the whistle blowers. This prompted the NBI to take action preparatory to filing a case against the alleged culprit priest.

For their refusal to reveal the name of the erring priest, the Oasis big shots, including DepEd's city schools superintendent, were ridiculed and reviled. Why are they protecting that pedophile of a priest? chorused some media pen-pushers. And why is Oasis so careless in using the service of that priest? some comments were heard. Despite such bad publicity, however, the Oasis leadership kept itself quiet and seemingly unperturbed - which must have riled some observers especially those who were not privy to what the organization was trying to do to serve the cause of young Cebuanos.

That cause pertains to effective educational upbringing of the students in government schools. Still operating under the influence of the American system, public schools in the country are bereft of spiritual orientation. There are a few which manage to put up some sort of religious programs, but on account of various restrictions, these have been on-and-off attempts. Add to this the almost instinctive fear of teachers and officials on possible charge of religious bias, and you have a school system where the mere mention of Jesus and the Virgin Mary in the classroom is taboo.

For legal basis on religious instruction the current Constitution is emphatic enough. Section 3 of Article XIV says that "at the option expressed by the parents or guardians, religion shall be allowed to be taught to their children or wards in public elementary and high school…" It also allows such instruction "within the regular class hours". But why the glaring neglect of religious programs in schools? Why have school authorities - and church authorities too - foot dragged in their efforts to infuse spiritual lessons in schools?

Part of the reasons is the prohibition against spending public funds for religious instruction. The government expects religious groups to finance their own instruction in schools. But since these people are short of funds most of the time, barely a trickle of church money find their way to school campuses.

Another reason is the ingrained pragmatic outlook among educational leaders. Even among education secretaries who are devoutly religious the pursuit of an honest-to-goodness religious program has never been attempted. For some reasons the obsession has been towards science and technology, or the tri-cornered thrust of liberal education - grammar, rhetorics, mathematics. This outlook inevitably cascades down the line to the rank and file in the system, and in the highly structured environment of DepEd those in the field never initiates anything not in the agenda of the Central office. Unless some gifted leaders emerge in the field and dare to do the unexpected - like a no-nonsense religious program for students.

Such a leader was in the person of the former Cebu City superintendent of schools and such program was the Oasis of Love's Life-in-Spirit seminars. Since 1996 and up to this year, the Cebu City schools division had been conducting spiritual renewal sessions for its Catholic high school seniors in tandem with the Oasis of Love. Through this effort tens of thousands of adolescent boys and girls got a fresh look of what their faith was about. Exposure to Bible precepts opened their eyes to the truths about God and man and the reality of their supernatural destiny. The result, as observed, was a crop of high school finishers who were better disciplined and more responsible members of their families and communities.

To those who are not familiar with this kind of work, especially the more practical minded, what the Oasis has been doing in city schools is of little value. But to other people whose faith has not been tarnished by the extremes of secularism such work is extremely important. To these people these words of the late Pope John Paul II ring land and clear: "… Sometimes when we look at the young, with the problems and weaknesses that characterized them in contemporary society, we tend to be pessimistic… young people, whatever their possible ambiguities, have a profound longing for these genuine values which find their fullness in Christ…"
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