Homily delivered by Fr. Ramel O. Portula, CICM Provincial Superior
On the occasion of the CICM Sesquicentennial Launch and
SLU’s Centennial Closing, Bonifacio campus, 28 November 2011
Allow me to extend to all of you my warm greetings and congratulations on the occasion of the CICM day and the SLU Foundation Week. Last year’s CICM Foundation Day here in SLU was the opening of the Centennial Foundation Celebrations of this prestigious University. Today, we close those activities and we launch the CICM Sesquicentennial Celebrations with its theme “Mission Beyond Borders”.
The Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary since its birth in 1862 through the pioneering spirit of our founder, Fr. Theophile Verbist, has been at the service of God’s mission, dedicated to the proclamation of the good news to the poor and the marginalized. For the CICM pioneers in the Philippines, the school apostolate or the mission of education was seen as a concrete way to attain the vision of the CICM founder in the work of evangelization.
We are then called to a deep sense of gratitude for all the things that God has done through the CICM missionaries and their collaborators here in the Philippines and around the world. The late U.S. president John F. Kennedy once said about gratitude. He said: “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”
And so, let us not so much look for accolades and seek recognitions about what CICM missionaries had done in the Philippines and in other parts of the world. In the words of the Gospel, we are all but faithful servants who must do what is expected of us.
Rather, we should approach this launching of the 150 years of CICM at the service of God’s mission as an opportunity to look for creative ways to adapt to the changes around us and to spur change in order to strengthen our missionary presence. Hence, the theme “Mission Beyond Borders” calls our attention to the question of how are we called to be missionaries of today and tomorrow?
I, therefore, want to share with you the following reflection on Mission and how CICM is called to be at the service of Mission Dei (the mission of God). Mission comes from God. It is the attribute of God. Nobody has a claim or a monopoly of Mission. We don’t own God’s mission. Rather, mission which comes from God owns us.
This bears profound implications about the way we understand ourselves and the way we carry out the works of God’s mission through SLU’s commitment to excellence in academic and human formation for the transformation of society. We are participants, collaborators, agents, and workers of God’s mission.
We draw inspiration from today’s gospel of St. Luke. Jesus sees his mission as bringing the good news to the poor, proclaiming liberty to captives, and new sight to the blind, freeing the oppressed and announcing the Lord’s year of mercy.
The founders of religious missionary congregations including CICM established their respective congregations precisely to do what Jesus proclaims to us today. In CICM, we call this mission ad extra. The CICM mission ad extra is being sent to where we are most needed to proclaim the gospel of salvation, the gift of God which liberates. This Good News means liberation from all that oppresses humanity, from sin under all its forms, and from all that condemns millions of human beings to the margins of life.
In the mind of the founders, the main purpose of establishing that one-small classroom school in 1911 near Session Road was to teach, first of all, the Catholic faith to children and to form them so they can become future leaders and productive citizens of the Cordillera and the country.
The Ad extra mission of the CICM Catholic schools is directed to the youth and ultimately towards society in which the schools were situated. Our CICM schools, SLU for instance, have still the same mission ad extra to transform her students, and finally transform society through their contributions.
Do you feel this in what you do today? Do you see this becoming a reality? Is SLU transforming society through the contributions of her students and graduates? Your extension programs and institutes and other college-based extension programs are SLU’s ad extra mission. The medical missions conducted by MOMFI in far-flung municipalities, the Sunflower Children’s Center, and the Institute for Inclusive Education Foundation are some examples that come to mind about how you reach out to those who are most vulnerable in society.
I’m sure there are more examples we can give. You established programs, institutes and foundations as concrete expressions of this mission ad extra. I am sure, however, that you continue to look for ways to improve and involve more Louisians in these extension programs.
As CICM celebrates the 150 years of missionary involvement, we face certain challenges. The CICM Sesquicentennial Founding anniversary is a moment of grace for it not only gives us reason to celebrate because God has done great things for us, but also it is a unique moment to redefine its vision and strategies of actions toward the attainment of that vision started by Fr. Theophile Verbist, the CICM founder.
With changing human situations, emerging realities such as secularism, the negative effects of globalization, looming global crisis in the world, migration of peoples seeking employment abroad and its effects on family life, and global warming, the CICM and its school apostolate are challenged to seek creative means, rethink concepts and revise methods of teaching the Christian faith in the light of emerging challenges of the present times.
Because of these real demands and challenges affecting peoples and cultures, the old ways of evangelization will have to change. The business as usual attitude to religious instruction in our parishes and schools will have to give way to new methods.
For instance, we cannot ignore what has become of our religious instruction in our Catholic schools today. And what is the state of our religious education today in our parish communities and in our Catholic schools?
It is well recognized that many have fallen away from the practice of the faith and lack of foundation in the essentials of the faith. For many, the Gospel has lost its taste, its freshness and its luster.
We live in a time guided by secularism that treats religion as a purely private matter. It is a time guided by an ingrained consumerism and materialism, by an isolating individualism and pervading relativism that erode confidence in the truths of faith and in human reason itself. For many people, their religious instruction failed them at several levels. Something went wrong.
But we are not without hope. At the same time, this is an age when many, especially the young, are experiencing a surge of interest in enduring values and a yearning for meaning, purpose and a spiritual life.
Our CICM schools are training grounds of integral human formation for the work of the mission. Our CICM schools as places of learning have the potential of shaping human character teaching students, faculty and employees the core values of hard work, honesty, integrity, leadership, and service – all these are necessary elements in transforming society.
There is no doubt that SLU has been known for its excellence in the field of quality education as can be attested by the many accomplishments achieved and the recognitions received over the years. There is another area, however, where we can measure SLU’s reputation for excellence. It is in the area of shaping the minds and hearts of the young people passing through the four-walls of our school and ensuring that they graduate with the mind and heart of a true Christian. Are we also excellent in this department?
We take a look at the role of Catholic education in our schools in the context of building a just and more humane society, in terms of transforming society. SLU has a mission to transform being the “Light of the North”. Are we educating and forming future doctors, engineers, accountants, and lawyers who are imbued with Christian values of honesty and genuine integrity, and be confident that when they are in private or government service that they won’t steal money from the people?
Are we educating and forming future teachers, nurses, businessmen and women, and social workers who are motivated to pursue their respective careers not primarily for personal and economic gains but also professionals who are willing to render service to the poor, marginalized, and the most vulnerable in our midst? Scriptures say that when these people -the poor and marginalized - are ignored by society, God becomes angry. Does SLU excel in making Louisians socially aware and involve in the building of our communities by encouraging them to be agents and partners in our outreach and community service programs?
Our CICM schools through Catholic education are called to continue to produce not only competent professionals but competent Christian professionals who will put into good use their acquired knowledge and skills for a transformed society.
Our nation is suffering from a pervasive corruption and abuse of power. There is a need for honest and dedicated public servants with high moral integrity who can do the task of nation building. Corruption and abuse of power continue to be committed with impunity in public and private sectors. Religious institutions are not foolproof to these sins. Abuse of the environment in the name of progress and development is damaging Mother Nature and making life in the planet less and less sustainable. These are just some realities and missionary needs we find ourselves in and where SLU and our catholic education are called forth to continue to respond to.
I was struck by the quotation printed on a shirt worn by one of the students in another CICM school when I was visiting. It made me stop and reflect. The quotation on the printed shirt says: “The heart of education is the education of the heart”. That is truly what Catholic education is all about, I found myself saying.
My dear Louisians, the pursuit for academic excellence of international standards that CICM schools strive to offer to society must diffuse Christian life through relevant human formation. This involves the ongoing education of the heart of all Louisians. This includes framing, articulating, and formulating school core values around which school priorities, academic programs, and best practices revolve.
In particular, this means living God’s justice, teaching through examples that our practices in our offices, in our departments and in our classrooms are just, and that our dealings with one another are based on respect and love, not on personal gains. It means leading students to successful professional lives with transformed missionary consciousness.
In conclusion, we turn our minds and hearts to Jesus who is the source of our strength and inspiration. May our celebrations and activities during this week’s SLU Foundation and the launching of the CICM Sesquicentennial be joyful occasions that will encourage us to better ourselves and propel us to a more dynamic and relevant missionary activity for the building of a just and more humane society.
On behalf of CICM-RP Province, I thank all of you administrators, faculty, employees and you thousands of students for your continuous commitment to the works of Mission and for making what SLU is now today. You and I make our humble contributions to the school and to society according to what we have received from God as our gifts and talents. After all, it is God’s mission -- not ours. Amen!
Ambassadors for Christ to the World
FATHER THEOPHILE VERBIST and four CICM missionaries set out East from Belgium in 1865. Their arrival in Xiwanzi, Inner Mongolia, sowed the seed of the Christian faith for the first time in that land. Overcoming the harsh terrain, severe weather, vast distances and language difficulties, the CICM missionaries organised small Christian communities, ran an orphanage and school, and trained seminarians. However, in 1868, just three years after arriving in Mongolia, Father Verbist succumbed to typhoid fever. He was only 45. Nevertheless Father Verbist's missionary zeal inspired others and the CICM congregation expanded.
There are now 999 CICM missionaries throughout the world, including one cardinal, 11 bishops, and 807 priests. Records indicate that as many as 40 CICM missionaries have been martyred since the congregation's founding. Many missionary initiatives started by CICM members are handed over to the local clergy once the local church is established; the missionaries themselves move on to newer challenges.
The specific goal of the CICM is to commit itself entirely to the proclamation of the Good News wherever a missionary presence is most needed, especially in remote areas among peoples where the Gospel is not known.
Congregation founded to help poor and needy in China
Father Theophile Verbist was born in Antwerp, Belgium in 1823. He was a diocesan priest in Brussels, when, inspired by the work of the Holy Childhood which took care of abandoned children in the Far East and other parts of the world, he felt that he too should do something more for the poor and needy in China. In 1862, at the age of 39, he founded the Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (CICM) in Scheut, a suburb of Brussels, Belgium (hence their popular name, Scheut Missions).
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CICM in Singapore
Right, CICM Fathers Frans de Ridder, Robert Sarwiseso, Angel Luciano, Paul Staes, and Romeo Yu Chang pose for a group photo at the Church of St Michael.
THE FIRST CICM member arrived in Singapore in 1931 when Father Richard Quintens (1892- 959) was assigned from China. He took up residence at 24 Nassim Road, which was to serve as a resting house for CICM missionaries passing by to and from China.
When China was taken over by the Communist regime in the 1950s, four CICM missionaries who were expelled from China came to Singapore. Among them was Bishop Carlo van Melckebeke (1898-1980) of the diocese of Ningxia. He was appointed Apostolic Visitator of the Chinese diaspora by the Holy See. In 1955, he started "Hai Sing Pao" (the Chinese Catholic newspaper) in Singapore. The Carlo Catholic Society, which today runs a Chinese and English bookshop at Queen Street, is named after Bishop van Melckebeke.
Also expelled from China was Father Antoon Schotte (1905-1980) who started the parish of Holy Spirit in 1960 and who was responsible for the completion of its first church building in 1964. Bishop Melckebeke and Father Schotte died in 1980, on consecutive days.
The CICM House at Nassim Road was also the birthplace of Marriage Encounter, as well as a religious instruction course later adopted by the Archdiocesan Commission for Missionary Activity.
Today there are seven CICM members in Singapore including Father Louis Fossion, who was parish priest of the Church of the Holy Spirit for 28 years, but is now retired and residing at Bethany, a home for elderly priests in Upper Thomson Road. The other six CICM priests in Singapore serve in parishes, and also in pastoral care of migrants, seafarers and prisoners, and in inter-religious dialogue. Vocation and mission animation is another priority.
Always faithful to their founder's concern for the people of China, the CICM members here continue to participate in programmes for missionary work for China in collaboration with other CICM members and the laity in Taiwan and Hong Kong. Since 1997, the CICM residence is in an apartment in Pandan Valley where at present only two members reside. All the CICM members meet once a week to share on mission experiences, and have recreation together.
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Two Singaporean CICM priests
Father Peter Koh (left) entered the CICM in 1988 and was ordained to the priesthood in 1997 at his parish of Christ the King. He served in Zambia for 10 years before his current assignment in Rome as CICM's Assistant Treasurer General. "While there are also many challenges in Singapore, I felt that my calling was to work as a missionary abroad, living among other people of another culture," he said.
(left) entered the CICM in 1988 and was ordained to the priesthood in 1997 at his parish of Christ the King. He served in Zambia for 10 years before his current assignment in Rome as CICM's Assistant Treasurer General. "While there are also many challenges in Singapore, I felt that my calling was to work as a missionary abroad, living among other people of another culture," he said.
"The most rewarding experience so far as a CICM priest is being able to live in another country, and to be accepted by others who are different from me. In Zambia I lived among the poor and it is a joy to be able to participate in their joys and sorrows and to be with them in their quest for a better life.
"I also feel very much supported by my friends and benefactors in Singapore. In this way I feel also like a bridge between the church in Singapore and the church in Zambia."â–
Right, Father Anthony Lim relaxes with CICM pre-novices in Zambia where he is on mission.
Father Anthony Lim joined the CICM in 1992 and has been serving in Zambia since 1995. He was ordained at the Church of the Holy Cross in 1999 and is currently the formator of CICM candidates in Zambia.
joined the CICM in 1992 and has been serving in Zambia since 1995. He was ordained at the Church of the Holy Cross in 1999 and is currently the formator of CICM candidates in Zambia.
"I was attracted to join the CICM Missionaries through the stories I read from the Missionhurst magazine," he said. "My most rewarding experience as a CICM priest was when we had the blessing of the new church in Chibuluma Parish in November 2002.
"For more than three years we worked together to build the new church and in the process we also built up our Christian community. With the generous contributions we received from the church of Singapore and other parts of the world, we were able to procure the materials needed and build the church ourselves. It was indeed a joyful day for me and the parishioners when the bishop came to bless the new church which was literally built by our hands." â–
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Apostle of the Sea
The late Pope John Paul II once noted in "Motu Proprio", his apostolic letter on the maritime apostolate, that "the seafaring world has become a missionary world." Undertaking this mission to seafarers in Singapore is CICM priest, Father Romeo Yu Chang. He shares on his call to the CICM and life as an apostle of the sea with Sister Wendy Ooi, fsp.
Right, Father Romeo Yu Chang visits up to four cruise or cargo vessels a day. His ministry is basically "a ministry of welcome" for the crew of these vessels.
FATHER ROMEO YU CHANG, 45, is the youngest of the CICM confreres based in Singapore. He is also the youngest in his Chinese Filipino family of 12 children from Bicol, Philippines. In 1980, he entered the CICM seminary in Baguio City. "The main attraction for me was the missions," he says. "On top of that, their seminary was in Baguio (a popular hill resort) which is nice and cool," he adds with a smile.
He went to Hong Kong in 1986 for his theological studies, was ordained to the priesthood in his home town of Naga in 1990, and then served as assistant parish priest in Hong Kong. After a total of eight years in Hong Kong, he was recalled to the Philippines to serve as Provincial Treasurer of the CICM Philippine Province.
While serving as treasurer, Father Romeo added an MBA to his first degree in Psychology. In 2000, when his six-year term as treasurer ended, he took a one-year sabbatical year at the Weston Jesuit School of Theology in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Father Romeo was then assigned to Singapore to be port chaplain, a position that had been vacant for 10 years.
The late Scheut Father Balthazar Chang, the previous port chaplain, had retired in 1990 and no Catholic chaplain had replaced him. Although it was a totally new ministry for him, Father Romeo nevertheless approached it with great enthusiasm. To facilitate his ministry, he stays at the Church of St. Teresa, the parish nearest to the ports. Father Romeo's ministry which takes care of the spiritual needs of seafarers is known among Catholics in the maritime world as Stella Maris - the Apostleship of the Sea.
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Left, Father Romeo Yu Chang poses for a photo with the crew of a cargo vessel.
He visits up to four cruise or cargo vessels a day. Although Father Romeo is sometimes requested to conduct Mass on vessels that call here regularly, "at times, it's just a quick visit as the seafarers have not much time," he says. "I distribute some literature, including CatholicNews, as well as Bibles. It's basically a ministry of welcome."
He says his work is just "a drop in the ocean" as there are many vessels coming to Singapore which is the busiest port in the world.
As he is the only Catholic chaplain in the maritime apostolate, he works together with chaplains of other Christian denominations in coordinating activities. One ecumenical effort is the International Drop-in Centre at Finger Pier. He elaborates, "This centre is open from 10am to 10pm for seafarers, where they can pick up free Bibles, literature on the faith, purchase phone cards, and use the internet or phones."
The centre is a home away from home where seafarers are warmly welcomed. There they have the opportunity to meet chaplains, and savour some quiet and peace away from the hustle and bustle of their ships. The most rewarding aspects of his ministry, Father Romeo reveals, is that "even though I meet most of the seafarers very briefly, they remember me." Most of his work entails counselling and ministering the sacrament of reconciliation. "The seafarers miss their families a lot," he shares.
"Their work is obviously not good for family life. Many end up having relationship problems, developing casual relationships, and for the married, problems of infidelity due to loneliness. It's an area that brings out their humanity. However it is changing. Seafarers are getting more responsible and if given the chance, many prefer to go back home and establish a business rather than work at sea."
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For Father Romeo, one of the disadvantages in his ministry to seafarers is the short term relationship he has with them which prevents community building. He compensates for this through his relationship with the parishioners and priests in his parish of St. Teresa. He discloses, "I draw strength from the parishioners, especially during festive occasions, and when we celebrate the Eucharist as a community."
In his free time, Father Romeo likes to work out in the gym "to be fit and strong" as he needs "stamina to climb the gangways." With his MBA background and previous work as treasurer, he also likes to read books on business and to keep track of business news and the stock market.
"Our CICM headquarters in Rome do make investments for the mission so I also keep track of certain industries," he reveals. "It also helps keep my mind alert." Father Romeo's energy is devoted mostly to his ministry as port chaplain where he faces many challenges. One difficulty is getting volunteers to help (due to the strict port regulations). With more ships calling at Singapore, he says that more resources must be poured into the Stella Maris maritime apostolate.
Pope John Paul II summed up the challenge of the Apostleship of the Sea as follows: "In fulfilling this mission to seafarers, you face a most challenging and difficult task. You are dealing with people who live in a dispersed milieu. They face painful problems, such as separation from family and friends, and the resulting feelings of isolation and loneliness; for extended periods of time they live and work at a great distance from a territorial parish. In a real sense the seafaring world has become a missionary world."
This is a mission that Father Romeo's CICM formation has trained him well for. "The CICM charism is such that you are always sent abroad so we are trained to be adaptable, globalise in outlook, ready to meet different races, and be respectful of different cultures," he explains.
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