This time I’d like to share some nuts and bolts about the Philippine District –– how many SCJs and students are here and a bit about what the district does.
Already the Philippine District has 50 men in vows. They also have two men in Rome attending the year-long formation program for formation directors. Other Filipinos have taken this course in the past.
Their scholasticate (in Manila on the largest island of Luzon, a residence from which the men attend the two seminaries in the city) has a small number of SCJ priests who give specialized Dehonian formation and accompaniment. In residence there are also a few SCJ priests from other provinces who are attending university here to acquire advanced degrees. At the conclusion of their academic year on March 31, there were 19 in theological studies plus an additional five who were making their apostolic year.
At the novitiate in Dumalinao (on Mindanao, a large island in the south of the Philippine archipelago), there are five SCJs on staff and 15 novices (eight Filipino and seven Indian). The SCJs include an Indonesian superior and a Brazilian novice master, as well as the former superior of India, Fr. Martin van Ooij. The novitiate team also has responsibility for the local parish.
At Cagayan de Oro (on the northern edge of Mindanao), the SCJs have a college level seminary whose students must qualify for (as a condition for admission to the seminary) and then attend the nearby Jesuit-run Xavier University.
The local superior, who also serves as district superior, is Fr. Bene Machado. He is assisted by two formation directors. There are two other priests in residence who have responsibilities connected with parishes and other ministries, including the shelter for abused women which was begun by Fr. Eduardo Agüero). Finally, there is Fr. Francis Pupkowski who runs the district fund-raising effort. The lay staff consists of the English teacher, the librarian, and the assistant in the fund-raising work.
The SCJs here have many responsibilities – not just a single ministry or job. I was the only priest present here today at Sunday Mass for the English and university summer school students. All the other priests, including Fr. Bene, were out helping in the parishes by celebrating masses at various chapels or missions.
It boggles my American mind to learn that a “parish” may consist of a primary church and up to 90 mission out-stations. These mission churches are visited on occasion by one of the priests who always notifies the mission president in advance, usually by sending a text message (Filipinos are said to send more text messages in one day than most countries do in a year — it is less expensive than calling). When the priest comes, he celebrates mass, baptizes, hears confessions, aids and assists the people with the help of a catechist, and conducts business with a mission “president” who is responsible for the upkeep of the mission.
When the priest is not there, the mission president leads the people in prayer and the rosary, the catechist gives a lesson, and the choir practices hymns. No matter how poor and simple a mission chapel may be, it always seems to have an amplifier that can either play religious music or serve with a microphone as a loudspeaker. The people are extremely devout and respectful. Children and young people come up to the priest, grab his hand, and touch it to their foreheads in blessing, an expression of supreme trust.
These are just a few of my observations so far during my weeks here in the Philippines.