Strengthening the Faith in the Philippines

In a recent tour to the Philippines, Father Salvador (Chava) Gonzalez, OMI, saw that the traits of perseverance and respect help the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate in their ministry.

Fr. Chava visited the Philippines at the request of Fr. Gerry de los Reyes, OMI, Provincial Superior for the nation of many islands.

“I was impressed by how the Oblates persevere to remain faithful to their ministry as Catholic missionaries and yet still are good neighbors and show respect for the local customs and traditions,” said Fr. Chava, Director of the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows in Belleville, Illinois. “That’s the idea behind what it means to be a missionary.”

While there, Fr. Chava led two retreats for the roughly 90 Missionary Oblates who serve there.

“To me, it was an exchange of spiritual riches,” said Fr. Chava upon his return. “I went to give spiritual insight to my brother Oblates, and, in turn, they gave me insight into the practicalities, the difficulties and the joys of missionary work in the Philippines. I, too, was changed by the visit.”

Help Overcoming Isolation

The Missionary Oblates serve in more than 70 countries around the globe, and none of their work is easy. Like most areas, the Philippines presents challenges for the Oblates to overcome in order to spread the message of God’s love.

The Philippines comprise 7,641 islands, some up to a 10-hour boat ride from another—and that’s if seas are cooperating. On top of that, the infrastructure on each island is often limited.

“Simply getting around is a challenge,” Fr. Chava said. “The roads are not reliable. It’s easy to get stuck in the mud. Communities become disconnected through natural disasters like floods and storms.”

This can lead to a sense of isolation for Missionary Oblates. Father Chava was invited to help his brother Oblates overcome their feelings of isolation.

He did that, in part, by emphasizing the Missionary Oblate tradition of oraison, a French
word that translates to “prayer.”

Missionary Oblates have two regularly scheduled times during the day where they practice oraison, a time of silent prayer.

“Many didn’t realize what a rich spiritual tradition we have and how that connects us through its deeper meaning,” Fr. Chava said. “When they discovered that this is an opportunity to be united in Christ no matter where they are—side by side in the presence of Jesus along with their brother Oblates—they realized it means they never are alone, no matter the distance.”

But the challenges go beyond isolation.

Respect For Different Faiths

The Missionary Oblates serve mostly in the southern portion of the chain, which features a heavily Islamic and indigenous population. This presents practical challenges the Missionary Oblates address with grace, Fr. Chava witnessed.

For example, many Missionary Oblates schools are the only educational institution on some of the islands, yet the students and their families nearly all practice Islam. The schools teach the Catholic faith while ensuring there are separate wash facilities and prayer spaces for Muslim students to keep to the tenets of their religion, Fr. Chava said.

Father Chava said he was happy to see how the perseverance and respect shown by his brother Oblates have led them to be accepted into their local communities.

One such Missionary Oblate holds a special place in his heart.

Brother Mauricio Zuyco, OMI, was the first Missionary Oblate in the Philippines, making his First Vows in 1960. Fr. Chava and he began exchanging letters while the latter was a seminarian who hoped he one day would be assigned as a missionary to the Philippines.

The opportunity for Fr. Chava to meet Bro. Mauricio, who has worked for years with the indigenous population, was among the most memorable moments of his journey, he said.

“Brother Mauricio’s constant presence in the community and dedication over the years brought the respect of the local chief of the people and they include him as part of the community and in the decisions of the tribe,” Fr. Chava said. “They saw him as one of them because he’s been there and stayed there, no matter the difficulties.”

Father Chava said he found that dedication among all the Missionary Oblates in the Philippines.

“There’s a difference between visiting a place and becoming a place,” he said. “Missionaries are sent to share in the lives of the people and become one with the place they serve, to the extent they can. That can only happen by living our vow of perseverance. You can’t just leave when the first difficulty occurs.”

Reflections Today 

Father Chava reflected on his journey and the opportunity to experience missionary work in the Philippines. He said he was grateful for his role in furthering God’s work in the Philippines.

“I felt a sense of gratitude, knowing that some of the spiritual insights I shared will remain with them and accompany them on their missionary journey,” he said. “I left a part of me there, not only in words but in the many friendships formed in a short time.”