A Jesuit, Filipino, and Asian Ecclesiastical Faculty of Theology
Thanks, first of all, to Fr. Joe Quilongquilong for inviting us here. In his letter to us, he wrote: “This will … be an opportune time for the LST Community to join the Oblates of Mary Immaculate in gratitude and praise to God as you commemorate 75 years of OMI presence in the Philippines.” Thank you very much Fr. Joe and the whole LST community for honoring us with your kind invitation.
We would also like to take this opportunity to thank the Jesuits in general for your kind support to our Congregation all throughout these years. We would like to single out two Jesuit institutions − San Jose Seminary (in our early years) and the Loyola School of Theology (for many, many years) − for their role in the theological education and formation of many of our missionaries. Two Oblate alumni of these institutions are: Bishop Angelito Lampon (LST) of the Vicariate of Jolo and His Eminence, Orlando Cardinal Quevedo (San Jose Seminary) of the Archdiocese of Cotabato.
In a special way, we would also like to honor by mentioning their names, some of our “martyred” brothers, graduates of LST, who have fallen “in the line of duty”: one is Fr. Nelson Javellana who died in an ambush in Maguindanao; Bishop Benjamin de Jesus who was brutally murdered in Jolo, and Fr. Rey Roda who was cruelly killed in the island of Tabawan in Tawi-tawi. Hopefully, no more will be added to this list of martyrs in our Province.
Very importantly, we would like to thank the Jesuits for their role in the coming of the Oblates to the country. It was a Jesuit bishop, the late Bishop Luis del Rosario of the then Diocese of Zamboanga who invited the Oblates to come to the Philippines in the late 1930s. The Diocese of Zamboanga at that time covered the southern half of the whole island of Mindanao as well as the islands of Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-tawi. It was so vast and practically that’s the reason why the kind Bishop invited the Oblates to help in his diocese.
In his letter to us, Fr. Joe mentioned about the 75th anniversary of our missionary presence and he would like it to be touched in the homily. Very briefly then, although I believe by doing so I’ll not be giving justice to our history, let me tell a little about our story.
The Oblate mission in the Philippines began with seven pioneering Oblates from the United States. These seven are now known as the Magnificent Seven. They were indeed magnificent. Three of them would eventually become bishops. All of them, however, would have legendary contributions to the Oblate missions in the Philippines.
According to the late Max Soliven, the co-founder of the Philippine Star, when these missionaries arrived in the Philippines, "they did not tarry in the asphalt jungles of Manila - they went straight to the pioneer settlements of Cotabato in Mindanao and then hopped over to the deepest Tausog territory of Sulu".
Right from the beginning, their missionary expedition seemingly was bound to failure. They arrived in 1939. Two years after, the Second World War broke out. Thus, instead of tending to thriving missions, the early Oblate missionaries ended up in a Japanese concentration camp. Undeterred, however, after the war, they started all over again.
Seventy-five (75) years after, the work of evangelization began by the early Oblate missionaries and continued on by many others is a wonderful sight to behold. There are many concrete signs of mission and evangelization which can be seen in the territories ministered to by the Oblates, e.g., the organization of more ecclesiastical territories, the establishment of the diocesan clergy, the growth of local Oblate vocations and the sending of missionaries abroad, the founding of a society of nuns and of a Secular Institute, the establishment of strings of Notre Dame Schools, Mass Media entities, hospitals, clinics, housing projects for the poor, social action programs, ministry to the Lumad, Inter-religious Dialogue with the Muslims, involvement in peace-building efforts and many, many more. So many blessings indeed − not without pain, not without struggles, not without challenges, yet God in the inscrutability of his grace has indeed blessed the mission of the Oblates.
Pope Francis has just launched the Year of Consecrated Life. In his message, he exhorted consecrated persons and communities to:
a. look to the past with gratitude
b. live the present with passion
c. embrace the future with hope
Certainly, as Oblates, we are so thankful of our past heritage; we are also challenged to live the present with passion to continue the legacy of those who came before us and to move to the future with hope in spite of the challenges that continue to beset us, with faith in the One who sent us for this mission of evangelization.
Our story would find resonance with our gospel reading today. The joy of the gospel can immediately be found in the very opening line of the reading. Our Gospel would say: “The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth …”. And what is Nazareth? Nazareth in Jesus’ time was a small town situated in the fringes of the mighty Roman Empire. One theologian would say: ‘Nazareth was so insignificant and obscure that it was not even mentioned in the Old Testament.’ Yet, God has so honored it by sending his special envoy, the angel Gabriel to this simple town to a woman who herself humbly acknowledged that she was just a lowly handmaid. Nazareth then becomes paradigmatic for all marginal places which, though they remain marginal, have become special because they are at the center of God’s heart. And so is Mary − for all the poor and marginalized who are always close to the heart of God.
Cardinal Quevedo, during the grand culmination of our Jubilee celebration, said: “… in remembering our 75 years…, the words of our Blessed Mother … leap into life: ‘My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord…because he has looked upon his lowly handmaid’ (Lk. 1:46). For the past 75 years the Lord has truly looked upon the lowliness of a small Oblate band of missionary priests and brothers. The Lord has indeed given us the grace to work quietly, away from the center stage of the big cities, joyfully re-living among our marginalized people in Southern Mindanao the legacy that our predecessors left us. The original magnificent seven Oblate pioneers from the United States have left us their legacy, that we may relive them again and again in the service of our people. (Homily, OMI 75th Anniversary in the Philippines, September 25, 2014)
Today, our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has been consistent in urging us to go to the peripheries to share the joy of the Gospel as “missionary disciples” (Evangelii Gaudium, 120).
Certainly, there is room for mission and ministry in the center. It might be important, especially if one can influence matters which might have an impact on the poor and the marginalized. Still, the Holy Father would insist: “Each Christian and every community must discern the path that the Lord points out, but all of us are asked to obey his call to go forth from our own comfort zone in order to reach all the “peripheries” in need of the light of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium, 20)”.
In the launching of the Year of Consecrated Life which was but timed with the CBCP’s launching of the Year of the Poor, the Holy Father once again reiterated his message. To consecrated persons, he has these words: “I also expect from you what I have asked all the members of the Church: to come out of yourselves and go forth to the existential peripheries (Pope Francis' Message for the Year of Consecrated Life, November 29, 2014)”.
But most important of all, going forth to the peripheries was modeled himself by our Lord. Amid the glitter of our Christmas celebrations, we are invited to remember once again the poverty and humility of the very first Christmas. In solidarity with the homeless, the helpless, the hapless, the baby Jesus was born in a manger. Yet, in spite of such lowliness, he was able to bring joy to the simple, ordinary, unheralded, nameless shepherds who came to visit him; the Holy Infant was also able to bring joy to the Magis − the learned, the sages, men of wisdom − who left the comforts of their homes and journeyed to the margins to pay homage to the new-born child.
It is our prayer then that LST will continue to spawn more missionary disciples who are more than willing to be sent forth not only to the center but more so to the peripheries. Hopefully, there, we, who have been called to mission, will be given the grace to evangelize, to joyfully share Christ to others; or maybe we will be the ones who will be evangelized by the poor and the marginalized, we will be the ones who will be given the grace to meet Christ in them − because certainly, before our arrival, God is already there among them − there in the margins!
May all of us have a joyful and meaningful celebration of Christmas!
12 December 2014
Oratory of St. Ignatius of Loyola
Loyola House of Studies
Fr. Francis is an alumnus of Loyola School of Theology and is former Superior of the OMI Scholasticate.