549 - November 2014
September 30th, 2014 - October 31st, 2014



Zeal and martyrdom: 75 years in Mindanao

The seemingly endless odds facing its missions and the gory tales of martyrdom of its four members never dampened the zeal of the Oblate Congregation to keep on working for the needy southern Moro, Christian and Lumad communities.

The Oblates celebrated on September 25th through the 27th their 75 years of presence in the country’s south, a mission pioneered by seven foreign missionaries led by Gerard MONGEAU, a French-Canadian priest from Quebec.

Thousands of volunteer lay workers and representatives of the Catholic communities from different barrios in Mindanao converged on Midsayap town in North Cotabato to commemorate the historic arrival in the country of Mongeau’s group on Sept. 25, 1939.

The rosy 75-year history of the presence in the country of the Oblates is one written in the blood, sweat and tears of its Filipino and foreign missionaries, some of them jailed by the Japanese during World War II on suspicions they were spies of American forces.

Many Oblate priests were also persecuted by the military in the 1970s for maintaining close contact with leaders of Moro rebel groups—mostly students of schools their Congregation established—who dropped out to join the secessionist uprising.

Mongeau and his companions arrived in Manila by boat, the Empress of Japan, which departed from a port in the United States of America on August 15, 1939. The seven Oblates then took over the missions of the Jesuits, in what were known in those days as the Empire Province of Cotabato and in the Sulu archipelago. After setting foot in Mindanao, Mongeau and his six companions, Egide BEAUDOIN, Cutbert BILLMAN, Francis MCSORLEY, Joseph BOYD, Emile BOLDUC and George DION, immediately started organizing communities of mixed Muslim, Christian and Lumad communities in far-flung areas, some reachable only on horseback and carts drawn by water buffaloes.

The seven priests opened Catholic schools, admitting non-Christians and Lumads. Today, the schools are part of the influential Notre Dame Educational Association, which groups more than 100 academic institutions scattered in Central Mindanao and the island provinces of Sulu and Tawi-Tawi.

Oblate Missionary Eliseo MERCADO Jr., director of the Institute for Autonomy and Governance, said their missionary works in southern Philippines is one fraught with never-ending challenges, which fan what is for him “flames of devotion” in their hearts. Mercado, who had served in Moro enclaves in Maguindanao, is presently engaged in various peace-building activities in Mindanao, assisted by the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung of Germany.

“I feel so proud being an Oblate. There is closeness with people in areas where we serve. Our media (ministry) is known for bringing the Muslims and Christians close to each other,” said Orlando Cardinal QUEVEDO, Mindanao’s Catholic archbishop.

Four members of the OMI have been killed in one attack after another, while performing missionary works in Mindanao. The killings never dampened the congregation’s zeal to serve the area’s poor and needy sectors.

The first Oblate martyred in the Philippines was Nelson JAVELLANA, who was killed in an ambush on Nov. 3, 1971 somewhere at the borders of what are now chartered provinces of Maguindanao and Sultan Kudarat.

Bishop Benjamin DE JESUS, head of the Jolo vicariate, was gunned down near the Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in downtown Jolo, capital of Sulu, on Feb. 4, 1997.

The murder of De Jesus preceded the brutal killing of another Oblate priest, Benjamin INOCENCIO, also in a busy spot in Jolo on December 28, 2000. He was shot dead by a gunman armed with a .45 caliber pistol.

Oblate priest Rey RODA, who was born and raised in Cotabato City, was gunned down by Abu Sayyaf bandits in a bungled attempt to snatch him while inside a campus of a Notre Dame school in the island town of Tabawan in Tawi-Tawi on Jan. 15, 2008.

Two foreign Oblate priests, American Clarence BERTELSMAN and Frenchman Yves CAROFF, were kidnapped in separate incidents in Jolo and in South Upi town in Maguindanao, respectively, during the 1990s. Bertelsman and Caroff both never left the country after having been rescued from their captors and went on with their missionary works until they died of old age. (By John Unson in philstar.com)

New ways of being “close to people”

Fr Maurizio GIORGIANNI is an Italian Oblate who has worked as a missionary in South Korea for 21 years. The ministry of the Oblate missionaries in Korea is not only connected with traditional parish life but is also centered on the homeless, the street people and immigrants from other countries. Below are some excerpts from an interview he did with ucanews.it prior to the August visit of Pope Francis to Korea.

When I arrived here, I immediately studied the language for a couple of years. Then I began to follow the footsteps of Father Giovanni ZEVOLA, another Italian missionary who worked here for many years and is now working in China. He worked mostly with immigrants since 1995, meaning all those workers in small factories that do business for the big companies like Samsung and Hyundai.

The majority are Filipinos, but there are also some from Bangladesh and China. The bulk reached South Korea after the financial crisis of 1997, and that’s when the problems exploded. Father Giovanni went to the bus terminal where all those immigrants gathered in the evening. He talked to them; he showed interested in their problems. Often they did not receive a just wage, or the contracts were not fulfilled.

Especially in the small factories, the exploitation ran very high. On top of that, almost all of these foreigners had problems communicating. They did not know the language. I now continue the work that Father Giovanni had started. The situation today has changed slightly. In some ways it has even improved. The workers certainly have more rights today than twenty years ago. But there are other problems.

I also work in another field, that of mixed marriages: Filipina, Vietnamese, Cambodian women that marry Korean men. There are agencies that ‘scout’ for wives. But in fact, it is an actual purchase.

There are many Korean middle-aged men who fail to find a Korean wife, for various reasons. It may be a matter of social status, which in Korea is still very important; or maybe this person has mental or physical problems, or he comes from a previous marriage that ended in failure – a factor that still weighs on the image of a man in Korea.

And a Korean woman is more demanding than a Filipina. At that point, the best solution is offered by these agencies. They look for women in developing countries who often may come from remote villages, may be almost illiterate, and so to speak, don’t have high expectations. But there are incentives involved.

First of all, there is a lot of money at stake. These are mostly women who come from very poor families. For them, marrying a Korean means getting out of a troubled economic and social situation. The marriage represents an economic benefit for the whole family of the woman. And this is also the reason why these types of marriages, which are not based on solid foundations, don’t last long.

There is a culture and language difference between the couple. But often the reason for the failure is the motive that led to the formation of the union in the first place. A man that goes to these agencies to look for a wife often does it for reasons of loneliness or because maybe he needs someone to keep the house clean, or just to cook for him. And then there is the money. Finding a wife with this system can cost from 10 to 20 million won, or US$20,000.

Imagine what happens if the wife tries to rebel against the husband if she is treated badly. The typical reaction of the man is: with all that you cost me, how do you dare to contradict me? Of course there are happy couples too, but these are the most common problems.

When a girl comes to me, it means that she has already run away from the husband. And this can be a big problem. If the union did not last at least for two years, the husband can go to the immigration office and report her. Then, the girl, though still officially his wife, becomes illegal, an illegal in all respects, and when traced and caught, these women are sent to detention centers which are just like prisons.

For me, what matters is to be close to these people. It is not so much about solving the problems for the foreign workers, but it is essential that these people feel the presence of someone who is on their side. If I look at the results, I can honestly say that I do not have many, but I am satisfied if I know that they feel that they have been loved. These people need two things most of all: love and companionship.

A new house for Piumi and her family

Fr. Dilan PERERA works with the organization, Dream Team & Combined Charities, in helping to build decent houses for the poor. He says: “We continue our quest to help those in need from different walks of life as well as those whose wants are found in a variety of ways. Luke’s Gospel (chapter 10) tells the story of a brigand who set upon a man and, after beating him up, relieved him of his possessions, leaving him to die. After many passersby ignored him, a Good Samaritan befriended this battered stranger and ensured his wellbeing. The benefactors who support the Dream Team & Combined Charities can be likened to the Good Samaritan, when we consider the amount of caring and compassion that flows out to help a stranger in need. This willingness to donate has been forthcoming without question or preconditions and has been frequently seized upon as an opportunity to assist someone in need.”

In this regard, Fr. Perera and friends of the Dream Team, Combined Charities recently celebrated a joyous event. With the support of benefactors of the Dream Team & C. C., they were able to fully fund the building of a home for a young girl named Piumi Chathurika and her family. This family is now part of a lucky group of 44 families (recipients of “Houses for the Poor”) who now live in structures that they can truly call home.

Piumi’s mother earns 400 LKR per day (approximately US$ 3.08) working as a cleaner. She receives her salary at the end of the month and has no other means of support. The father does odd jobs and has very little income. What they earn, they spend on food. The children struggle to find financial support for their education.

Love is stronger than death

It was one of the tenderest moments he had ever witnessed. Archbishop Roger SCHWIETZ, of the Archdiocese of Anchorage, Alaska, was celebrating the 20th anniversary of a small parish in rural Siberia. During a special service he presented a cross to a man named André. André took the cross, cupped it in his hands, and kissed the image of the Crucified Jesus. It was a powerful moment for the archbishop, because André knows all too well about suffering. He is one of the last survivors of the Siberian labor camps from the days of the former Soviet Union.

Archbishop Schwietz met André at one of the most unusual parishes in the world. The Church of the Nativity of Jesus is located in the town of Magadan, in the easternmost region of Russia. At one time Magadan was Russia’s Auschwitz. It was the administrative center of Stalin’s death camps where an estimated two million people perished from exposure, starvation and execution. Many were imprisoned for their religious beliefs or ethnicity. The parish is a mission of the Archdiocese of Anchorage, making Archbishop Schwietz one of only a handful of Catholic bishops whose diocese is in two countries on two continents.

“My trip there was not only an eventful one, it was also long,” said Archbishop Schwietz. “Having to travel east from Anchorage, through Moscow because of airline schedules, I experienced parts of Russia I had never seen before. Everywhere we went, the people were very interested in hearing about the life of the Church in the United States and especially in Alaska. They were grateful for the positive relationship we have in Alaska with our Russian Orthodox brothers and sisters.”

Archbishop Schwietz said the most memorable moment of his visit to Magadan was when he gathered with some of the few remaining survivors of the gulags. He was amazed at how much these people had suffered, and how they had been able to recover their lives because of the strong faith.

Archbishop Schwietz met a woman named Olga, who was beaten and tortured during her 11-year ordeal in the labor camps. Her “crime” was that she was suspected of having contact with nationalists, which she never did. Olga was only 18 years old when she was sent to Magadan. "They employed the most frightening tortures and beatings,” said Olga. “When I was returned (to my cell), I would be half-dead, black, beaten up like a piece of meat.”

Archbishop Schwietz also met Anastasia, who was arrested by the KGB on June 1, 1947, in Ukraine while attending Mass. Dozens of people, including most of Anastasia’s family, were arrested that day as the KGB cracked down on religious expression. Anastasia spent the next seven years working in the camps.

“What helped me to survive those seven years in prison?” Anastasia said. “Probably, like for all, it was God’s will, His strength and the Holy Spirit. Whatever I did, and wherever I went, I constantly prayed.” Andre, Olga and Anastasia each received a cross from Archbishop Schwietz to represent their suffering and triumph. Many of the survivors cried when they received their crosses.(By Michael Viola, originally published in Oblate World Magazine)

Becoming an “Indian” Province

Tamil missionaries from Jaffna worked for a long time only in Tamil Nadu with Tamil vocations for various reasons. This meant that the Oblates in India were often seen as a “Tamil Congregation”. St Eugene Oblate Province of India now seeks to become a truly Indian Oblate foundation and not a Tamil or South Indian Province.

Over the years we have had a few vocations from Andhra Pradesh and a few from the Oravan tribe of Central India. Our Province seeks to extend its missionary charism to various cultural and linguistic terrains rather than to one or two groups. We need to grow with a good cultural and linguistic mix and thus not become parochial. It is advantageous from the Oblate vocation point of view. And by spreading into many dioceses, we can have a positive influence on the Indian Church.

This is the dream of the Province and not of a few individuals: “Mission in the Northeast”. This proposal came up already in the last congress in 2007. The Northeast is on the border of China and Bangladesh. Northeast India is the eastern-most region of India connected to East India via a narrow corridor squeezed between Nepal and Bangladesh. Northeast India's population (all 8 states combined) is approximately 40 million (2011 census), which represents 3.1% of the total Indian population (1,210 million).

Our mission in Northeast India has been in progress for several years now. Between 2010 and 2012, we have established our presence in several states and dioceses.

Starting new missions in a given Unit is a clear sign of growth and vibrancy of the missionary charism. In keeping with the missionary vision of the province emerging from the Congress 2009 and the mission-vision of the Province in August 2011, the Provincial Council has been proactive in accepting new missions. The linguistic and cultural diversity in these new areas will add to the possibilities for new vocations and a truly Indian identity for the St. Eugene Province. (from BORN Newsletter, October 2014)

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