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Families Beyond Borders: CEFAM at Twenty Five

AGNES PRIETO

In 1987, three Jesuits, Fathers Ruben Tanseco, Ted Gonzales and Nilo Tanalega established the Center for Family Ministries or Cefam to nurture Filipino families; training counsellors and facilitators -multiplying competencies who would enable families to face life challenges serving as a base for communities of love, justice, peace and freedom. However as early as the nineteen fifties a young Jesuit just back from special studies abroad, inspired by his own happy childhood and his parents eternal love affair decided to focus his ministry on Filipino families. Fr. Ruben Tanseco began to bring together , initially, couples who wanted to raise strong families. CFM or the Christian Family Movemen offered a hands-on, Christ-based approach for families.Marriage Encounter and Tipanan were weekend retreats. Magis Deo was for sharing with others less fortunate. Discovery Weekends prepare just engaged couples to objectively consider family background, personalities , views and attitudes for compatibility assessment; providing grounding for a lifetime. CEFAM would become a by-word in the next quarter century for emotional health in family life and psycho-spiritual wellness for individuals in the Philippines and Southeast Asia. Training intensified for counsellors and facilitators with Masters degrees and professional diplomas. Catholic nuns, priests, Buddhist monks, Indian prelates, Sri Lankan community workers, Indonesian family workers, Vietnamese seminarians, challenged housewives, men in midlife and Filipino clerics on sabbattical would come from all over for the learning at CEFAM. Many of the lay people were going thru their midlife transitions wives reeling from infidelity of partners, errant children and other burdens . They sought comfort and meaning to transform their experience in an integrated psycho-spiritual process with academic foundation. The CEFAM academic offerings : a Certificate on Clinicial Apprenticeship in Pastoral COunseling, a Diploma and an MA course on Pastoral Ministry, major in Family Ministry and Counseling would be attended by hundreds from all over truly multiplying competencies. Programs such as Agimat (for spiritual empowerment), On Fire (for sexuality), San Jose (for the man of the house), Lifes Directions (for quarter lifers) would focus on individual growth. Over time, CEFAM has reached out to marginalized barangays, to rural barrios, to urban communities, and now Filipino migrant workers the world over. In the ensuing years, a tremendous wave of change would hit the family ,weakening its traditional pillars. The human cost of the billions gained needs to be addressed.

This unprecedented exodus of Filipinos brings fresh challenge -- for couples :forced separation, for parents: heart wrenching abandonment of young children, for youngsters: the lack of guidance and emotional nurturance despite material comforts and for the overseas workers themselves : onerous contracts and psycho-emotional difficulties which diminish their person. The Pinoy s famed family centerdness is shaken. The improvement in income levels, better education and standard of living would not compensate for the devastation on unparented children and uncoupled relationships. Overseas workers have sought counsel and solace at CEFAM, says Fr Ted Gonzales, Program Director, who ministers their broken families, with counsellors such as Herald Cruz , a Cefam graduate has ministering to migrant workers for the past seven years. He has conducted workshops and done extensive counselling in Thailand, Singapore, Hongkong and England. Cruz who is also a minister, sums up the situation the rot begins in the marriage, couples grow apart with physical separation, infidelity sets in, miscommunication happens. Absentee parenting equates with zero values; children are taught by media computer games and tv shows ;they are guided by peers. When there is one parent left, it might be the father, who is not trained to be a primary care giver; parental children surface (kids who act as parents) and family finances, suffer from mishandling due to wrong set of priorities. In answer, he says it is important to evaluate the long term effect of separation on children creating a contract on the duration of the parents absence. Can the marriage handle the separation, will previous unresolved issues disintegrate the marriage, he asks. Communicate, he advises: use available technology and keep in touch with the kids in a way that is consistent, affirming and loving. Amidst all these, hope burns brightly. Fr. Ted tells moving stories a woman weighted down by so much indebtedness had to leave and work abroad as a domestic. Her husband too had to work in another country, and in the process, marry another woman so he could legally stay on. She however kept constantly in touch with her children, always connecting . Finally after long years of separation, she was able to be reunited with them, and her husband. She sought counselling to heal wounds brought on by the gap of so many years. Despite adversity , she kept her family together and kept spirit alive Fr. Ted relates. Families will find a way, Fr. Ted says, no matter how heartbroken. All sailors have a girl in every port False! says Fr. Ted Flor, the seaman keeps constant touch with his family and prays. He makes sure that resources are preserved. He also shares bring enhanced skills and a broad perspective gained from exposure to other cultures. There was a family who had lost their mother Fr. Ted continues, an admirable woman who worked abroad starting as a maintenance person until she became the Vice-President of that bank. Her devastated family came back to the Philippines; facing their grief , they were asked how would they remember her? She was a good cook, organizing fun timeseach one had a story, and from there they

agreed to build life anew, taking on her various roles to perpetuate her memory .This was a way out of grief for this OFW family. Healing and resilience, courage and perseverance, preservation of resources and values these are the intangible pluses that do not figure in the gross income reflected in statistics. Hope will triumph always says Fr. Ted distance can be overcome with Magic jacks and much heart. Some bring other family members abroad, others bring their faithbecoming weekend catechists; stories are told of how the empty churches of Europe are filled with song by Filipino voices. L ove lives, and the Filipino family will not only survive, but thrive, beyond borders . **************

Part of the move to expand the mission of ministering to families has also been the interactive sharing between Asian countries, specifically Singapore and Thailand with the Philippines.

Another Jesuit, just graduated from studies abroad would enhance the effort to Filipinize the methods and systems for family healing; Fr. Ted Gonzales offered an agimat, a sorcerers stone , his symbol for power tools that would empower individuals and families in the process. Agimat is actually the name of a weekend workshop which deals with blessings and leadership, empowerment. Sourcing Filipino myth and traditional beliefs, Fr. Ted Gonzales would synthesize the stateside with the homegrown

interventions and systems and come up with a powerful formula for conflict resolution in families, for the traumatized and the bereft, the last, the least and the lost. In response to the weak Pinoy syndrome he targeted initially, the Filipino male in workshops called San Jose for strength and clarity of purpose in a predominantly matriarchal society; gathering them on weekends to help them look more closely on themselves. Life Directions, the workshop identified and focused on persons in transition, giving them space to tell their stories and to heal,who am I? and why am I here would be answered. On Fire was for those whose passions had led them astray and were battling with addictions; aging alcoholics, addicts and those just sexy ; they would see a clear path which connected their fire to spirituality. Basa is Bayan Akayin sa Abot Tanaw and would bring libraries to underprivileged areas, bringing readers for the many children and adults who needed stories (as we all do) to better understand themselves, and to find faith. Fr. Ted would spread out the Cefam vision to nooks and crannies , well beyond the confines of the Loyola campus. He visited grieving families in barangays and sat with beleaguered factory workers. He helped corporate persons re-structure their companies in equitable, spirit-based formats. He journeyed with a many a young person, in quarter life crisis on soul searching weekends. Eventually, he would be invited to other Asian countries to share his learnings.

Twenty five years, on the 7 Life Stages of a persons growth signifies a time to come into the mainstream and carve ones identity by establishing himself in the flow of life. Cefam has done this with the answers it has provided, the solace and sanctuary which honors what one is going thru, to enable clarity and wisdom for those who seek. At twenty five, CEFAM has spread out from the family of origin to the bigger families of corporations, communities, and ultimately the nation, and other nations. Fr. Tanseco, the CEFAM iconic founder sums up the growth and expansion when he says that we need Love, Peace and Justice. Justice however is foremost, we cannot have love and peace when so many are suffering from social injustice and economic deprivation; each individual has to find his own balance of love, peace and justice within in order to reach out and help to heal this nation.