The Case for the Defense of the Origin and Charism of CFC (Historiography 101)
by Arnel M. Santos, CFC West B3
February 26, 2008

During the writing of The Case for GK #4,[1] I encountered one jargon that truly mesmerized me—"historiography".

I came across this terminology while reading Pope John Paul II's Memory and Identity, which stated that:

"Like individuals, then, nations are endowed with historical memory. So it is understandable that they should seek to record in writing what they remember. In this way, history becomes historiography. People write the history of the particular group to which they belong. Sometimes they also write their personal history, but more important for our purposes is what they write about their respective nations. And the histories of nations, objectified and recorded in writing, are among the essential elements of culture—the element which determines the nation's identity in the temporal dimension...."[2]

Since then, I have become a historiography student.

Of course, it was initially the jargon that mesmerized me.

I had a fair idea of what "history" is, and "biography". But fuse the two to make "historiography,"—that was something new.

More so when they are combined in such a way that one records personal memories (biography), while fully and consciously acknowledging the indispensable role of the societal and the historical context in which one lives. This already involves reflection—not only of the personal memories, but of history—itself, a very difficult task.

In fact, if I may say, this type of reflection has already graduated into a form of a discipline, what our sociologists call "the sociological imagination". As Professor Randolf S. David puts it:[3]

"The quality of mind that C. Wright Mills called 'the sociological imagination' consists in the ability to view social reality as it is projected from three coordinates—history, society, and biography...
Instead of talking about society in the abstract, we give it names—our families, our communities, the Filipino nation, or the vast planet that we must share with the different nations of the world. Instead of just talking about just anybody's autobiography, we refer to one's own lifeproject of building, negotiating, and asserting a self. We look at the projects of nationhood and selfhood as ongoing achievements, subject to the blind imprints of the past, the contingencies of the present, and our individual and collective strivings for a better future."

Even more exciting is "historiography" as viewed and suggested by Pope John Paul II.

To me, he speaks of the coordinates—history, society and biography—with God integrating them all. For not only does God write history with us, the Bible says, "You saw me before I was born and scheduled each day of my life before I began to breathe. Everyday was recorded in your Book" (Psalm 139:16) and "The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me." (Psalm 138:8a)

Note too, that JPII speaks not just of "history" in its ordinary layman term, but of "salvation history"—one that has God's imprints in all the dimensions thereof, and His design and purpose revealed by stages. He also appeared to have highlighted a fourth, if not an underlying coordinate—the Church,—both the "religious" and the "lay faithful"—and in them, "the particular group" to which one belongs.

Settled to me then is that history and biography intersect and intertwine. Hence, I write my biography with my family and others. In the particular context that God has placed me now, I write my biography, with a particular group (CFC), with my nation, my even larger group, the Church, and of course, God. There is always the personal in the universal, the local in the global, the biography in the history, God in man. And, it is not supposed to be even all about me. It is about Him.

But beyond the jargon (that is historiography), is its relevance.

First. Last year, a historical and epochal event—the birth, existence and rise of Gawad Kalinga in Couples for Christ—was put under microscopic scrutiny. What triggered this was Frank Padilla's CFC AND GK-3—At the Crossroads on our Journey of Hope and Joy dated April 8, 2007.

Unfortunately, in resolving the debates, the isolated events—the alleged personal experiences (the claimed prohibition to wear CFC ID, the alleged instruction not to mention CFC, and the like) on which the attacks against GK were anchored, were so magnified that we have failed to even pose and answer the more fundamental questions—Is GK doing the nation and the Church good? Is GK doing me good? Am I drawn closer to God because of GK? Is GK drawing others closer to God?

We have become so focused on our respective biographies that we failed to note our history as a community, a nation and a Church. For most of us, we have become so consumed with just one coordinate—the "I", that we turned a blind eye on the other coordinates—especially, the "others". We have also become focused on the alleged veering away "now," instead of giving room to a Christian hope that if there was any of such veering away, we could actually sort things out even in the unpredictable future.

Hence, those whose biographies were not touched by GK then, or were viewed to have bad experiences of GK then, or were of the thought that GK was causing CFC to veer away then, have formed their own group and decided to break away from CFC.

The greater majority in CFC, though, decided to pursue the issues to their logical conclusion. As Bro. Joe Tale put it: "We believe the storm was there for us to stop and pause, to look inwardly, to revisit everything that we are about as a community, to look back to the first 25 years, as well as to look forward and discern how the Lord wants us to proceed in the next 25 years."

Thus, instead of dictating how one should peremptorily describe CFC now, the CFC International Council initiated and conducted Pastoral Congresses, a "centerpiece process" involving a "massive consultation at all levels of the structure of our community". It asked us all—from members in the households to the international leaders—to reflect in a prayerful environment on specific questions: on evangelization (personal and family renewal); on how our thrust for total human liberation lead people to Christ; and what kind of formation we need to sustain our work of evangelization and total human liberation.

The result is: "Our vision has not changed. We are to be Families in the Holy Spirit Renewing the Face of the Earth". And, to express the elements that form part of it, CFC has an expanded statement of this vision, in this wise:

"Moved by the Holy Spirit
One with the Catholic Church
Blessed to Witness Christ's Love and Service
Couples for Christ is a United Global Community
Of Family Evangelizers
That Sets the World on Fire
With the Fullness of God's Transforming Love."

I most humbly argue that that centerpiece process is CFC historiography par excellence. Imagine the thousands of biographies presented to one another, shared with the community in the open, and processed by taking into account the history of our community, our nation and our Church. The whole process was characterized by both “updating” and “retrieval”, reflecting upon the past, here and now, to prepare for the future.

Second. Last year too, a dispute on GK's history was brought to the fore. Is Bro. Tony Meloto the "founder", the "father" or "the driving force" of GK?

Frank Padilla asserted, No! It was God who founded GK. God is our only Father. And the driving force of GK is the Holy Spirit.

Everyone in CFC agreed. Including Tony Meloto, who even went a step further and said:

"The first phase of GK started in 1981. When we joined CFC, we started to love God. We made the decision to honor God." Our personal and family renewal was foundational. "It brought to us the fundamentals of [our] own faith; not just religiosity, piety nor purely devotional."

In other words, Bro. Tony Meloto even claimed and boldly so, that indeed God founded GK. God has even made use of an instrument to found it: that instrument is not an individual, but a particular group—CFC, as founded in 1981. With this, GK's historical origins had been settled.

Third. At present, there emerge historical, rather, historiographical, disputes:

One. Who is the founder of Couples for Christ?

Since last year, the Easter group has been claiming that Frank Padilla is the founder of Couples for Christ. This representation has even permeated the declarations of a bishop, openly saying that Frank Padilla is the "Global Founder" of Couples for Christ.

Curiously, Frank Padilla, is not doing a Tony Meloto. He neither affirms nor denies that he is the Global Founder of Couples for Christ. Hence, the existence still of a historiographical dispute today.

Fortunately, CFC itself has its own historiography, written by Frank Padilla himself, as follows:


In Witnesses to the Ends of the Earth,[4] Frank Padilla says that:

"Couples for Christ was established in June 26, 1981...
Couples for Christ had been established by the Ang Ligaya ng Panginoon Community (LNP), a covenant community based in Manila. LNP is in turn part of an international ecumenical community called The Sword of the Spirit (SOS)."
"The founding of Couples for Christ came as a result of a local Christian Community in Manila [i.e. LNP], just wanting to bring men (the husbands) to renewal. There was no thought at all of establishing a new ministry, but the intention was just to add the newly evangelized to the existing community. But God used man's plans to further his own. Thus when a second batch of 16 couples finished the community's program in 1981, [of which Frank and Gerry Padilla were participants], they could not be brought into the community for some reason. And so they were kept together as a separate group, and then a few months it was decided that a new ministry would be established, and Couples for Christ was born."[5]

Indeed, CFC is "first and foremost a movement of the Holy Spirit during these crucial times in the life of the world. It was established by God, not man, and is guided and empowered by God's spirit. Its phenomenal growth and the fruit of its work can be explained in no other way."[6] And per Frank Padilla's own accounts, as aforequoted, he did not found Couples for Christ in 1981.

If not the founder, what about "Global Founder"?

Tito Frank also disclaims having been CFC's global founder. Thus:


"[I]n August of 1989, the leaders of Couples for Christ met to plan for the decade of the 1990s and came up with the thrust of Couples for Christ—rapid, massive and global evangelization..."[7] At the time (1989), Frank Padilla described himself as "one of its [CFC] major leaders."[8]


The same is true in 1993.

"[I]n 1993, Couples for Christ separated from its parent, the community that established it in 1981. This was a result of a growing conflict between the vision and mission of Couples for Christ and that of its parent. The leaders of Couples for Christ did not want this separation to happen, being intimately connected with the parent community for so long. They discussed and argued and made proposals for over a year, trying hard to find a way by which Couples for Christ could be true to its divine calling without getting in the way of the parent community's own vision and mission. It was to no avail. Relationships deteriorated, many top CFC leaders started leaving the parent community to just be in Couples for Christ, until in the end, it was the parent community's elders who unilaterally decided that there should be a total break."[9]

Parenthetically, the first Executive Director of Couples for Christ after the LNP break was Bro. Rouquel Ponte who served for three (3) consecutive terms (1993-1999), and not Tito Frank. In fact, from 1993-1995, Tito Frank was not even a council member.

It bears stressing too that the CBCP recognition was granted to CFC in 1997. At the time, it was Bro. Rouquel Ponte who was CFC Executive Director. Meanwhile, in 1998, CFC, still under Rouquel Ponte and upon the advice of CBCP itself, started submitting to the process for Vatican recognition as a private international lay association of the faithful.

The foregoing discussion really puts me in a deep dilemma.

On the one hand is a circular released by Archbishop Angel N. Lagdameo addressed to the clergy, CFC members and lay organizations of the Archdiocese of Jaro dated February 6, 2008, describing "Mr. Frank Padilla" as the "Global Founder of Couples for Christ." On the other hand is a contrary account by CFC's only authoritative historiographer of CFC to this date—Tito Frank Padilla himself. Who should I believe?

Two. Is Tito Frank the "keeper of CFC charism"?

Since last year, and even more notable now, the Easter Group/FFL has been describing Tito Frank as "the keeper of charism" of Couples for Christ. Again, Tito Frank has not done a Bro. Tony Meloto yet. He neither affirms nor denies the assertion of his own group that he is the "keeper of the CFC charism".

Is he?

To me, CFC's historiography as written by Tito Frank also answers the question in the negative.

Tito Frank has taught us that:

"[w]e need to realize our nothingness without God. 'For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he is deluding himself.'(Gal 6:3) Let us not delude ourselves. Our work and our achievements are not due to us but are due to God.... It is Jesus who has won the victory, and it is the Holy Spirit that provides power. We are merely instruments.... In fact, the reality is that God works in spite of us!"[10]

More exhaustively, in Friend of Foe (sic), Tito Frank taught us about the "Myths about Elders", negating the existence in CFC of such a person as "keeper of CFC charism".

Thus, according to Tito Frank:

  1. It is a "myth" to say that all elders are anointed by God:
    "[a]n elder might start out with God's anointing but later lose such due to his own sin, often hidden from public view. Paul did say that a renewed person who begins with the Spirit can end with the flesh.... Is an elder a sheep or a wolf? Is he a true or a false shepherd? Is he a friend or a foe? God recognizes a true or false shepherd. But how do we? We do so by looking at the fruit. First, seeing if he is manifesting the fruit of the Spirit, which is "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control" (Gal 5:22-23). Second, by looking at the fruit of his service. Is he able to move the community members forward in their life in the Lord? Is he able to make a contribution to expanding the kingdom of God on earth? As Jesus said, "by their fruits you will know them" (Mt 7:20).[11]
    "An elder can only retain the anointing of God if he continues to grow in holiness and as he does the work of a true shepherd, always being cognizant of his own weaknesses and his total dependence on God."[12]
  2. It is a "myth" to say that all elders are holy
    "Yes, elders still sin, and sometime sin big! Elders can fall, and in fact are special targets of the enemy for temptation in order to bring them down. The enemy realizes that when an individual member sins seriously, he has won one soul; but if an elder sins seriously, he can take down many others who look up to him.... Elders are well advised to heed the warning of Paul: "whoever thinks he is standing secure should take care not to fall" (1 Cor 10:12).[13]
  3. It is a "myth" to say that all elders have a direct link to God
    "We must always be mindful of the danger that the whole community would just be dependent upon the elder's decisions and would themselves no longer actively seek God for the direction of the community. But the reality is God speaks to all, and can choose to speak to even the least among the members. Elders are well advised to be humbly open to what the Spirit might be saying through any member."[14]
  4. It is a "myth" to say that all elders are accountable only to God
    "An elder is also accountable to those more senior elders over him. He needs to subordinate himself to them. It would be dangerous if he insisted that he only has to answer to God, and proceeds to do his own thing. The other elders are in fact there for his own protection and for the purification of his discernment."[15]
  5. It is a "myth" to say that elders have all the wisdom
    "[I]n Christian community we can also tap on God's wisdom by turning to the wisdom of other elders. "Walk with wise men and you will become wise" (Prv 13:20a). And of course, in a community where there are many elders, we can trust that "a great number of wise men is the safety of the world." (Wis 6:24a)[16]
  6. It is a "myth" to say that elders are the most gifted people around
    "The Holy Spirit distributes gifts as He wills, and in fact every member of the community is given at least one gift (1 Cor 12:6,11). There are many kinds of spiritual gifts (1 Cor 12:4). The gift of being "over others" (Rom 12:8) i.e. leadership, or being "pastors and teachers" (Eph 4:11), i.e. shepherd, is only one of the gifts.
    Thus elders are not necessarily those who have the most gifts, nor those who have the greatest gift. In fact, all the gifts in the community are important and necessary for building up the body."[17]
  7. It is a "myth" to say that elders are Chosen Only from the Cream of the Crop
    "So people of God, if you see your elder as ordinary and unimpressive, do not worry but rather rejoice. He may have just passed a basic requirement to be an elder. He is among those whom the world counts as nothing.
    Now respect him and love him and support him. This way he can become the elder that God intends for him to become."[18]
  8. It is a "myth" to say that Elders do not make mistakes
    "If elders can sin, they can certainly make mistakes. Anointing does not mean not making mistake.
    But here is the important thing. If decisions are made after seeking the Lord and with purity of heart and intention, then the Lord can bring good out of bad decisions.... Why would God do that? Because elders are His shepherds appointed to care for His people. If they try to do so with purity of heart, but are just hampered by their own weaknesses and shortcomings, then God will fill up what is lacking and even overturn wrong situations in order that His will regarding His people might come to pass.
    This has important pastoral implication. Subordinates should be submitted to and be willing to obey their elders even when they do not agree with the latter's decision. This is important for unity, order and peace in the body."[19]

Indeed, to my mind, in a private association of the lay faithful like Couples for Christ, there seems to be no such thing as a single individual serving as the "keeper of the charism". Such charism cannot inhere in a particular individual for as long as he lives. That is what we, members of CFC, have always been made to understand.

"[E]lders need to know that they and their subordinates are all servants of the one Master. And our own Master does not favor His leaders over their subordinates, since to Him they are all equal.[20]
It is also important for elders not to be attached to their position. They should be ready to be changed at any time. Their position is not a right but a privilege.
When they are changed, they should not necessarily think that it is because they did something wrong. It might be that, but then again it might not be. Changes are made not only when someone is no longer worthy for a particular service, but also when it would be advantageous for the over all work.[21]


"elders can fall into following their own agenda and no longer God's agenda. They can let their fears get in the way and no longer step forward in faith. They can get trapped in their comfort zones and no longer go the extra mile. They can fall into sinful pride about their own ideas and capabilities and no longer humbly seek guidance and direction from those other elders over them. They can be pressured by the ways of the world and no longer act as fools for Christ. They can be so obsessed with their own vision that they fail to move according to God's vision.... They can forget that they are mere instruments and no longer fervently seek God's mind and will.[22]

And, elders can be guilty of spiritual pride.

"Such pride is thinking how great they are, what wonderful things they are able to do for the community, how indispensable they are. It is considering newer or younger elders as inferior to them, since they were there first and they have accomplished things the others have not. It is thinking they always know best, because of what they have accomplished and how God has used them. This is a favorite attack by the evil one.... This is why Paul told everyone "not to think of himself more highly than one ought to think, but to think soberly" (Rom 12:3).[23]


"It is important to realize that God's work does not depend on any particular person, and God can use anyone whom He decides to use. Since God can change water into wine, raise the dead back to life, and do all kinds of miracles, it is just a small matter for Him to use even the most imperfect instrument for His purposes. And for that matter, none of us are that great either."[24]

In fact, "one test of an elder's anointing for leadership is his own submission, first to God and then to those over him in community.... Thus all members of Christian community, including leaders and elders, are instructed: "Obey your leaders and defer to them, for they keep watch over you and will have to give an account, that they may fulfill their task with joy and not with sorrow, for that would be of no advantage to you." (Heb 13:17) Why do we obey and submit to leaders over us? We do so because that is God's designated order so that there will be peace and unity in the community.[25]

Thus viewed, a teaching or an indoctrination that a single individual in CFC is the "keeper of its charism," and as such, CFC follows him as long as he lives, is something that veers away from the CFC life, vision, mission and culture. Its proponents, indeed, if they so insist, may then be allowed to be separated from the CFC community as they might be better off to join a group that would truly accede to such a belief.

The problem is that such a viewpoint also veers away from the Church's teaching.

I may be wrong but there is no such thing as "keeper of charism" of a private lay association of the faithful in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Nor is there any in the Catechism for the Filipino Catholics. All the more so in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church.

What we have is "spirituality of the founder" of religious orders, congregations and institutes. To them, Pope Benedict XVI made an address that to overcome a crisis of vocations is for them to live their love for Christ without concessions and to rediscover the original spirituality of their founder. (Although describing this crisis as "worrying," Benedict XVI highlighted certain positive signs, "especially when communities have chosen to return to the origins and live in a way more in keeping with the spirit of the founder. In almost all recent general chapters of religious institutes the recurring theme has been precisely that of rediscovering the original charism, to then incarnate it and renew it in the present.")

To apply the principle to CFC is to misquote the Pope.

The religious orders, congregations and institutes are differently situated from the lay faithful in the ecclesial communion. Christifidelis Laici 20, emphasizes thus:

"Ecclesial communion is more precisely likened to an "organic" communion, analogous to that of a living and functioning body. In fact, at one and the same time it is characterized by a diversity and a complementarity of vocations and states in life, of ministries, of charisms and responsibilities. Because of this diversity and complementarity every member of the lay faithful is seen in relation to the whole body and offers a totally unique contribution on behalf of the whole body."

Insofar as the lay are concerned (even the religious for that matter), they can never appropriate for themselves the authority to discern or judge the genuineness and proper use of their charisms. They ought not to usurp the authority of those whose special competence to do so has been granted by the Mother Church. Unless, I think, the founder of the association – whether lay or religious-- has already been canonized.

True, "[t]hese charisms are given to individual persons, and can even be shared by others in such ways as to continue in time a precious and effective heritage, serving as a source of a particular spiritual affinity among persons...." However, "In this sense the discernment of charisms is always necessary. Indeed, the Synod Fathers have stated: "The action of the Holy Spirit, who breathes where he will, is not always easily recognized and received. We know that God acts in all Christians, and we are aware of the benefits which flow from charisms both for individuals and for the whole Christian community. Nevertheless, at the same time we are also aware of the power of sin and how it can disturb and confuse the life of the faithful and of the community"(81).... For this reason no charism dispenses a person from reference and submission to the Pastors of the Church. The Council clearly states: "Judgment as to their (charisms) genuineness and proper use belongs to those who preside over the Church, and to whose special competence it belongs, not indeed to extinguish the Spirit, but to test all things and hold fast to what is good (cf. 1 Thess 5:12 and 19-21)"(82), so that all the charisms might work together, in their diversity and complementarity, for the common good (83)." (CL 24)

Considering these concepts, who then is the "keeper of CFC charism"? I most respectfully argue that at present, symbolically, it is the Vatican, the repository of CFC's Statutes and which gave it a definite approval on April 25, 2005. Anyone who claims to be CFC now should follow the Vatican-approved statutes; and not the other way around.

Hence, to be truly CFC is not a function of simply aligning with the alleged "keeper of the charism." The CFC Statutes are the formal and specific expression of the CFC charism at present. The Statutes have been referred and submitted to the Pastors of the Church, and judgment as to their genuineness and proper use, have been passed upon.

The true CFCs therefore are those who, by God's mercy and grace, effectively communicate and manifest the charism to others and to the world. They are those who struggle daily to embody the charism, to witness to it, and boldly give testimony about it, out of love. As to the others, they ought to be restored.

May God bless us all.

Arnel M. Santos
CFC WestB3
February 26, 2008
3:38 PM

  1. "The Lay Faithful as Nation-Builders," January 28, 2008.
  2. Pope John Paul II, Memory and Identity, pp.83-84.
  3. Nation, Self and Citizenship—An Introduction to Philippine Sociology, p. xi.
  4. p. 120, 122.
  5. P. 136.
  6. p. 125.
  7. p. 121.
  8. p. 121.
  9. p. 137.
  10. p. 142
  11. Friend of Foe, pp. 13-14.
  12. Friend or Foe, p. 14.
  13. Friend or Foe, pp. 14-15.
  14. Friend or Foe, p. 16.
  15. Friend or Foe, p. 17.
  16. Friend or Foe, p. 18.
  17. Friend or Foe, pp. 18-19.
  18. Friend or Foe, p.20.
  19. Friend or Foe, pp. 20-21.
  20. Friend or Foe, p. 26.
  21. Friend or Foe, p. 26.
  22. Friend or Foe, p. 29.
  23. Friend or Foe, pp. 30-31.
  24. Friend or Foe, p. 32
  25. Friend or Foe, p. 36.
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