By Fr. Salvador Gonzalez, OMI
From October 16, to October 30, 2024, I had the honor to embark on a pilgrimage to the Oblate Province of the Philippines to preach two retreats to the Oblates of that province. During my stay in the Philippines, I preached two retreats based on the General Chapter theme of Pilgrims of Hope In Communion, with an emphasis on the Spirituality of Pilgrimage and our Oblate Charism at the Shrine of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in the city of Kidapawan City near Cotabato.
I also had the privilege to con-celebrate the ordination Mass of two young Filipino Oblates at the Archdiocesan Shrine of the Santo Nino in Midsayap in the Archdiocese of Cotabato. About two thousand people attended the ordination Mass at the Shrine, and the celebration was filled with prayer, praise, and much hope for the two Oblates ordained to the priesthood.
Fr. Gerry Delos Reyes, OMI, Provincial Superior of the Philippines, included me in the Jubilee celebrations of his province for my 25 years of vows. I was honored to celebrate my jubilee with Archbishop Angelito Lampon, OMI, Archbishop of Cotabato. The Oblate Hospitality from our brothers did not disappoint, and I was continually grateful for being able to celebrate my jubilee in such a beautiful and challenging Oblate mission.
Two highlights stood out for me while in the Philippines.
First, I was finally able to meet Bro. Mauricio Zuyco, OMI, the first Oblate Brother in the Philippines. Bro. Mauricio entered the Oblates in 1958 and made his first vows in 1960. Bro. Mauricio and I used to exchange letters about the ministry of the Oblate Brothers when I was in the pre-novitiate in Tijuana, almost thirty years ago. This was before email, so we wrote actual letters to one another. Bro. Mauricio was stationed at a school in the remote island of Tawi-Tawi, where most people are Muslims. When I asked Bro. Mauricio what his highlight as an Oblate has been, he did not hesitate to respond, “I loved Kulaman, the mountains, working with Indigenous People, very simple people.” I asked Bro. Mauricio what Oblate ministry is like in a place where 99 % of the people are Muslim; he responded, “My heart is always for the people; no matter what their religion or language, everyone wants the same love and respect.” “One first has to identify as a religious by not making distinctions from rich or poor, friends or enemies” said Bro. Mauricio.
The second highlight was being able to pray at the tombs of two North American Oblates who became the first and second Bishops of Cotabato, Bishop Gerard Mongeau, OMI, +1994, and Bishop Philip F. Smith, OMI, +2002; both bishops are buried at the Cathedral in Cotabato.
Pilgrimage changes people. It enriches and brings them close to nature, others, and God. I returned home with a renewed sense of who I am as a person and an Oblate. I returned with a renewed purpose to give my all to the Oblate mission wherever I am assigned. I returned with the desire to live more intensely the experience of having encountered Christ in my brother Oblates and their ministry.