The Congregation in new lands and in new situations
STEPS TOWARDS THE EAST
The Congregation in new lands and in new situations
Fr. Flavio Peloso
One in two citizens of the Earth lives in Asia, and the population is growing fast. Christians are small minority, with the exception of the Philippines, yet still significant and much esteemed.
Above all after the Synod for Asia in 1998, Pope John Paul II and the Pastors of the Church invited attention on Asia and encouragement for the meeting of Christ with ancient and glorious cultures.
Also our Congregation is giving attention to Asia and making it first steps towards the East: the Philippines, India and now Korea. Just as Don Orione moved towards the Latin-American continent in the 1920's and 1930's; just as the Congregation started in Africa in the 1970's and then reached the countries of Eastern Europe after the fall of the Communist regime (1989), so, most recently, it is beginning to dialogue with the Peoples of the Far East, trusting in Divine Providence and in the generosity of Missionary Confreres.
NEW COMMUNITY AT CHANGWON IN SOUTH KOREA
On 2 nd February, feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple and feast of Consecrated Life, a discreet yet also great event took place at Changwon, a coastal town of South Korea. It was the incardination of an Orionine community in that Asian nation.
With the signing of the “contract” with the bishop of Masan, the Right Reverend Ahn Myeong Ok, the Congregation of Don Orione has been welcomed into South Korea. At that meeting in the bishop's house in Masan, those present, apart from the bishop, were the vicar general, Lee Hyeong Su, and the priest in charge of the diocesan social apostolate, Joseph Kwak, with me were Malcolm Dyer, superior of the English-speaking Missionary Delegation and the two Korean Confreres Bernard Seo Young-Tae and Andrew Kim Tae Gun.
For a decade the opening in Korea has moved from being a desire to becoming part of the plan for development in Asia after the Philippines and India. Now it has become a reality. After some personal contacts, then the first explorative presence from 2006 to 2007, now the two Korean Confreres, Bernard Seo Young-Tae, Andrew Kim Tae Gun and the Belorussian student Br. Yury Prakapiuk constitute the first community in Korea.
The day of 2 nd February began – 8 hours ahead of Rome and 14 hours ahead of New York – with Mass presided over by the Delegate, Malcolm Dyer, in the little apartment of the community. There were just us four Confreres, but we made our little procession of “light” and celebrated around the little altar of the house. “The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple reminds us of our presentation to God as consecrated people ”, said Fr Malcolm, “and this day will be remembered also for the presentation to the Church in Korea of this little community which begins its journey of service to the most poor”.
At 10.30am there was the meeting in the bishop's house. The bishop, the Right Reverend Ahn Myeong Ok, entrusted to the Congregation the pastoral and social care of the many immigrants in the town of Changwon, an industrial town of more than one million inhabitants. The immigrants are living in a very precarious situation and in great need. At the moment the activities will take place in the premises of a social centre of the diocese, but soon we must find other premises.
After signing the act of incardination, we returned to bless this new “religious house” dedicated to the Mother of Divine Providence: it is an apartment in a block of flats No. 114, with 23 floors in an ordinary area, in the quarter of Sapa-Dong.
As I introduced the brief rite, I pointed out that that modest apartment was special because there is an altar, the Eucharistic presence of Jesus, an icon of Our Lady – from Romania and blessed by Pope Benedict XVI – and because there lives a community of consecrated people. The parish priests of that part of the town kindly crowned the act of blessing the house and the fraternal agape which flowed in characteristic Korean style.
Changwon represents a new “beginning” in orionine style, for the poorest with poverty, so as to relive the parable of Divine Providence. Let us thank the Confreres who are the joyful, yet generous chief actors.
FROM KOREA TO THE PHILIPPINES
In Korea we visited some institutions, a centre for rehabilitation of the diocese, the “Fatima” hospital and the social centre run by the Benedictines of Sr. Charity.
On 4 th February, Fr. Malcolm and I left Seoul and Korea where the temperature was 8 degrees below zero to arrive in the Philippines and its tropical climate. Thus the visit continues to this other country in East Asia to support and encourage our missionaries and the development of our Congregation.
Our Congregation started in the Philippines in October 1991. Now there are 10 religious, two communities and two centres of activity: Payatas, with a high and poor parish population and numerous social-charitable activities, and Montalban, with a Little Cottolengo and the Seminary. Three years ago the Little Missionary Sisters of Charity arrived in Payatas and they work with children and have a medical apostolate.
THE FIRST PERPETUAL PROFESSION
In the parish church “Mother of Divine Providence” of Payatas, on 7 th February, the student Br. Richard Maguad made his perpetual profession.
In the homily I remembered the sacrifice, the generosity and the many difficulties met by the orionine mission in the Philippines, symbolised by the sacrifice of the life of Fr. Luigi Piccoli (+1992) and Fr. Angelo Falardi (+1997).
There was great joy because Richard is the first young Philippino to reach perpetual profession and this is a great encouragement for all the others who follow him. Around Richard were gathered a fine group of 14 seminarians, of whom three were postulants soon to become novices.
On the same day, Fr. Anderson returned from a vocations drive with the news that a dozen young candidates would enter the seminary in the next scholastic year. To complete the family picture, our Sisters with their General Councillor, Sr. Maria Priscila were also present.
On the preceding day, in the chapel of the seminary at Montalban, I had conferred the ministries to Anthony Eucinei, John Castillo and to the same Richard Maguad. I felt like laughing when I, an Italian, gave the homily in Portuguese, so that Br. Eucinei, a Brazilian, could translate into Tagalog, so that the Philippinos could understand. This is the Church. This is our Congregation today.
VISIT TO LUCENA
Lucena is a town on the sea coast, capital of the Province of Quezon. Its 236,390 (in 2007) inhabitants are spread over 33 “barangay” or districts. It is situated less than 200 km from Manila, but it requires more than a four hour journey to reach it. The road is good but goes through many small towns which make the progress slow. Added to that, there are many “jeepnies” (jeep-taxis) and tricycles (motorbike and sidecar-taxis) which go slowly and stop and start anywhere and anyhow.
The diocese was founded in 1950. Now it comprises 36 parishes with 92 priests. From 2002 the bishop has been the Right Reverend Emilio Z. Marquez. The diocese is well organised, having a major and minor seminary, 19 schools, a hospital, a radio station and a newspaper. There are no male religious communities in the diocese.
There had been contacts with the diocese in view of starting a possible orionine community in the diocese. With Fr. Malcolm Dyer, Br. Anthony Eucinei and Fr. Martin Mroz we arrived in Lucena, 8 february, at 11.30am, at the Diocesan Pastoral Centre, on the outskirts of the town, where the Bishop's House, the Clergy House, the Diocesan Offices and the Major Seminary are situated. The priests were there for a day of recollection. We saw them coming out of the conference room going towards the church for concelebration with the bishop.
The bishop came to greet us cordially and invite us to join with them for the Eucharistic celebration. At the beginning of the celebration he presented us to the clergy and to his greeting was joined the applause of the priests. The very first meeting with the diocese happened at the Eucharist with the Bishop and all his Clergy.
After Mass lunch followed. The Bishop wanted us to be at his table and talked with us using Tagalog, English and Italian (7 years of study in Rome) and also some Spanish. You could feel the good relationship between the Bishop and his priests. “Many vocations are not accepted because the young men cannot afford to pay for their studies ”, said the Bishop, “We have set up a fond to collect money for them”.
After lunch Fr. Ramil, the secretary of the Bishop and Fr. Edwin, the vicar for the diocesan schools, accompanied us to Pagbilao , a borough of 60,000 inhabitants, half an hour's drive from Lucena. Next to the monumental parish church, and the presbytery in Franciscan colonial convent style, stands the school of the “Santo Nino Jesus” which the Bishop would like to entrust to our Congregation. The structure is poor and basic and there are 460 pupils spread over baby-class, pre-school, 6 classes of primary and 8 classes of the 4- year middle school. It is a school which needs reviving, it was said. It does not have debts but income is low, the salaries are low and the academic level is low. In addition, the parish priest, who is supposed to be the director, does not intend to be involved with the school.
We greeted the pupils in some classes, took some photos and returned to the Pastoral Centre at Lucena. The Bishop came to see us again. “ Looking after the school can be one activity, but by itself does not justify the presence of an orionine communit,.” we referred to our charism of help for the poorest as sign of the love of the Church.
The Bishop understands. He invites us to visit an area where the people are very much abandoned. He gets into our car, and, having crossed Lucena town, he guides us to the outskirts, near the sea. Leaving on our right the new church of San Raphael, we reach Dalahikan , a barangay of 21,302 inhabitants (2007).
He explains to us that it is a great agglomeration of immigrant and poor and also fishing people. There is a chapel, but it was abandoned because none of the diocesan clergy wanted to take charge of it. Three km. away a new church has been built, but now these people are without a priest and pastoral care.
This place reminds us of Payatas: narrow and confused streets, shacks and sheds very close to each other, disorder, many people and children moving around. Only the dominant smell is different. It is not that of the rubbish dump of Payatas, but that of fish being treated on the many stalls.
With difficulty our car makes its way in the crowded little road which gets ever narrower. We reach a derelict chapel. On the bare and colourless facade can still be read “Parish of San Raphael”. We have a look inside from the grills at the front of the building. Then a lady comes with a key and we enter. There is not much to see: a quite large and low ceilinged hall with two or three old benches, a crucifix, some faded pictures on the walls. Beyond the hall–cum-church we continue on to what must have been the sacristy joined to some other rooms. It is all in a bad and abandoned state.
“This the the church and this could be the community house”, the Bishop tells us. “We feel at home here. Everything seems like Payatas at the beginning”, says Fr Martin. “Here you have to start from the beginning”, continues the Bishop, “These people are completely abandoned. Many are permanent, but many others, when they arrive in the town, stay here until they find work or something better. It could become a parish. You can do whatever activities you like here”
100 metres from the chapel is a little harbour with fishing boats, with many shacks like houses made of cards. The people look at us and continue with their business. Only a few children come closer to us.
The Bishop says that he is ready to give us ownership of the chapel and the house, promising that he will restore them before the religious arrive. The dream of charity fires us up and lights up all our eyes. Experience makes us prudent and realistic: “Not far away there are 5 hectares of land which had been given to the diocese. It was a fish farm. If it will be useful you can also use that”.
We get back onto the car. The Bishop is amazed at our interest in so much poverty and need which had frightened off others. We see his surprise. Perhaps he is finding a solution to two problems that he was carrying in his heart: the school of Pagbilao and the abandoned people of Dalahikan.
“LET US SEE WHAT CARD THE LORD DEALS US”
In my long return journey, alone in the plane, my eyes often fell on the flight map projected on the screen. I saw the red line of our flight-path cross the countries of Asia. The Philippines, Korea, India: “Don Orione is already there”. And in the other countries along the flight-path...Vietnam, Japan, China, Russia?
Don Orione was looking towards the East. In Palestine he was already there. In 1927, he was invited to start in China: “We have calls for two new houses in China from a bishop and from the Apostolic Delegate for China himself, His Excellency Celzo Constantini”. In another letter, he observed, “China was inaccessible but now the wall of the heavenly empire has fallen. Japan was closed to strangers: now no longer the peoples are getting closer to one another...Even Tibet will soon have to open up to civilisation”. He often quoted Fr. Matteo Ricci and his work of inculturation in China. He knew the problems of the Countries of Asia, among which “the nationalisation of religion – China, Japan and India – where the Government has given a national form to religion” . He remembered that “Fr. Odorico from Pordenone travelled throughout Asia making journeys longer than those of Marco Polo”. He would mention the example of “Bishop Luigi Versiglia of Oliva Gessi, Missionary in China” , later martyr and saint.
On 20 th October 1934 , immediately after the Eucharistic Congress in Buenos Aires, he wrote to Fr.Enrico Sciaccaluga: I have given my word but I have not finalised anything yet, for a mission in the Philippines, where the Bishop told me that there is great need and great destitution”.
Don Orione was dreaming. But not only: he was also seeking information and preparing. He presents the “institute of the Divine Saviour for Overseas Missions, which is here in Rome, a via Sette Sale, 22, where a promising group of our students for the priesthood and aspirants...above all are preparing for China and for the East.”.
He was not able to do much for Asia. What about us today? We can do something.
With Don Orione let us repeat again: “Let us see what card the Lord deals us”.
Don Flavio Peloso