Zeal and Martyrdom: 75 Years in Mindanao
Originally Published on OMIWORLD.ORG
The seemingly endless odds facing its missions and the gory tales of martyrdom of its four members never dampened the zeal of the Oblate Congregation to keep on working for the needy
southern Moro, Christian and Lumad communities.
The Oblates celebrated on September 25th through the 27th their 75 years of presence in the country’s south, a mission pioneered by seven foreign missionaries led by Gerard MONGEAU, a French-Canadian priest from Quebec.
Thousands of volunteer lay workers and representatives of the Catholic communities from different barrios in Mindanao converged on Midsayap town in North Cotabato to commemorate the historic arrival in the country of Mongeau’s group on Sept. 25, 1939.
Many Oblate priests were also persecuted by the military in the 1970s for maintaining close contact with leaders of Moro rebel groups—mostly students of schools their Congregation established—who dropped out to join the secessionist uprising.
Mongeau and his companions arrived in Manila by boat, the Empress of Japan, which departed from a port in the United States of America on August 15, 1939. The seven Oblates then took over the missions of the Jesuits, in what were known in those days as the Empire Province of Cotabato and in the Sulu archipelago. After setting foot in Mindanao, Mongeau and his six companions, Egide BEAUDOIN, Cutbert BILLMAN, Francis MCSORLEY, Joseph BOYD, Emile BOLDUC and George DION, immediately started organizing communities of mixed Muslim, Christian and Lumad communities in far-flung areas, some reachable only on horseback and carts drawn by water buffaloes.
The seven priests opened Catholic schools, admitting non-Christians and Lumads. Today, the schools are part of the influential Notre Dame Educational Association, which groups more than 100 academic institutions scattered in Central Mindanao and the island provinces of Sulu and Tawi-Tawi.
Oblate Missionary Eliseo MERCADO Jr., director of the Institute for Autonomy and Governance, said their missionary works in southern Philippines is one fraught with never-ending challenges, which fan what is for him “flames of devotion” in their hearts. Mercado, who had served in Moro enclaves in Maguindanao, is presently engaged in various peace-building activities in Mindanao, assisted by the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung of Germany.
“I feel so proud being an Oblate. There is closeness with people in areas where we serve. Our media (ministry) is known for bringing the Muslims and Christians close to each other,” said Orlando Cardinal QUEVEDO, Mindanao’s Catholic archbishop.
Four members of the OMI have been killed in one attack after another, while performing missionary works in Mindanao. The killings never dampened the congregation’s zeal to serve the area’s poor and needy sectors.
The first Oblate martyred in the Philippines was Nelson JAVELLANA, who was killed in an ambush on Nov. 3, 1971 somewhere at the borders of what are now chartered provinces of Maguindanao and Sultan Kudarat.
Bishop Benjamin DE JESUS, head of the Jolo vicariate, was gunned down near the Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in downtown Jolo, capital of Sulu, on Feb. 4, 1997.
The murder of De Jesus preceded the brutal killing of another Oblate priest, Benjamin INOCENCIO, also in a busy spot in Jolo on December 28, 2000. He was shot dead by a gunman armed with a .45 caliber pistol.
Oblate priest Rey RODA, who was born and raised in Cotabato City, was gunned down by Abu Sayyaf bandits in a bungled attempt to snatch him while inside a campus of a Notre Dame school in the island town of Tabawan in Tawi-Tawi on Jan. 15, 2008.
Two foreign Oblate priests, American Clarence BERTELSMAN and Frenchman Yves CAROFF, were kidnapped in separate incidents in Jolo and in South Upi town in Maguindanao, respectively, during the 1990s. Bertelsman and Caroff both never left the country after having been rescued from their captors and went on with their missionary works until they died of old age. (By John Unson in philstar.com)
The rosy 75-year history of the presence in the country of the Oblates is one written in the blood, sweat and tears of its Filipino and foreign missionaries, some of them jailed by the Japanese during World War II on suspicions they were spies of American forces.