Dead or Alive? Remembering the Missing

cemetery

Come November 1 and 2, the celebration of All Saints Day and All Souls Day respectively, all roads in the Philippines leads to the cemetery.  Millions of Filipinos will visit the tombs and graves of their deceased family members. Families will be reunited  around the graves of their dearly departed ones sharing stories, laughter, food and drinks. Some will even spend the night around their loved ones’ tombs, passing the long hours of the evening by playing card games, eating, drinking, and singing.

But how about those who have died yet have no graves or urns of their ashes where their families could gather around? Where would their families go to? What object can they hold on to to commemorate their dearly departed loved ones?

First of all, this begs the question, why are there dead people who have no graves or ashes? There are people who have disappeared and believed to have died due to an accident, crime, death in a location where their bodies were not found (for example, at sea). There are also those who disappeared because they were forcefully abducted and believed to have been killed by armed elements because of their beliefs and principles. Families of missing persons suffer grievously because they do not know whether their beloved is still alive or dead as his or her location and fate are not known. For many of these families, there is no closure to the pain and sadness they have long endured.

Over 1,600 people were disappeared in the Philippines during the Marcos dictatorship and since. None of them has ever been found. The successive governments that have followed the Marcos regime have failed to bring both light as to the fate of the disappeared, and justice. The families of the disappeared have received neither compensation or redress of any kind. Yet, they continue struggling for truth and justice. Meanwhile, human rights violations persist; people continue to be extra-judicially executed and murdered as well as tortured and imprisoned for political reasons.

rudy-romano

One of the better known among the thousands of desaparecidos–victims of the Marcos dictatorial rule is our very own Redemptorist Fr. Rudy Romano. Fr. Rudy was a Redemptorist assigned in Cebu who was actively involved in struggle against the Marcos dictatorial regime. He courageously spoke out against the abuses under martial law. On July 11, 185 he was abducted by military intelligence agents and since then has not been found. After Marcos was deposed by people power, we heard from sources within the military that he died during interrogation. Until now we still don’t know where they buried him.

The Baclaran shrine has reserved a special place for Fr. Rudy Romano and his fellow desaparecido. At a corner of the shrine lawn fronting Roxas Boulevard, is the monument called Bantayog ng Desaparecido (Memorial for the Disappeared) in memory of Fr. Rudy Romano and many other missing persons during the Marcos regime. The Bantayog lists the names of Fr. Rudy and hundreds of other missing people etched in granite panels. Unveiled in September 2004, the memorial is the refurbished “Flame of Courage Monument,” designed and created by sculptor Lito Mondejar. It features a mother carrying a torch, which symbolizes the courage of those left behind and continuing the struggle for justice. For families and friends of the disappeared, the Bantayog stands as a common ground for remembrance.

bantayog-ng-mga-desaparecido

The families of desaparecidos come here every year in November 1 because they have no tomb to visit on All Souls’ Day.  Despite that they do not have any tangible object that remains part of their loved ones, they hold on to to the memories, principles and beliefs their missing beloved have dedicated and died for.

 

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Fr. John Maguire, CSsR: A Man with No Guile

John Maguire

Fr. John Michael Maguire, “Fr. Mags” as we fondly call him, was born on the 19th day of November, 1932 at Leichhardt, New South Wales, Sydney, Australia. His parents were John Thomas Maguire and Ivy May O’Neill. He was professed a Redemptorist on February 11, 1954.

His sister Anne, told Fr. Frank Pidgeon about how Mags practice his faith during his childhood years:[1] 

“John made his First Communion at the age of 6. From that day on, he was never absent from daily Mass. At that early age, he became an altar boy.”

His sister also narrated to Fr. Pidgeon how Mags decided to join the Redemptorists:

“John came down from Sydney to Wagga Wagga with our parents for my profession as a religious sister. Someone had given him a small booklet entitled ‘Van, beloved of God and man’, which told the story of a young American Redemptorist seminarian who died shortly before his ordination. John read that book while he was with us, and afterwards decided to write to the Redemptorists to learn more about their life and work. A short time later, John found himself in the Redemptorist seminary – he was 18 at the time – studying Latin.”

On March 20, 1960, he was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop J. O’Collins of the Diocese of Ballarat. A year after his ordination, Fr. Maguire took part in parish mission in New South Wales, Australia until the early months in 1963. In the same year, he was sent to the Philippines. He arrived in Manila on March 3, 1963 at the age of 30.

He spent the best years of his life in the missions and in the shrine ministry in Baclaran. He spent about half of his missionary life in the Philippines in mission and half in the shrine ministry in Baclaran.

The first thing he did upon arriving in the Philippines is to learn Tagalog. He became very fluent in it that he was able to talk in Tagalog very fast. Even in his native English, he doesn’t mince lots of words and could get across his message in simple and few words. More than words he was a man of action. He was a man without pretense, without “airs”; a man who would do you no wrong and who was open to the world.

Besides learning the language, Mags understood the culture and made friends with a lot of people especially from the mission areas. He gave mission mostly in Tagalog provinces especially in Quezon. He also gave missions in Bulacan, Zambales, Nueva Ecija, Cavite as well as many Squatter areas in Manila, like Tondo, Tramo in Pasay, Pandacan, Paranaque, Muntinglupa, Cubao etc.

He had always a genuine interest in people. He was willing to put himself out to anyone who had any special needs especially for the young. He helped a lot of young people in their education and other needs. In recognition of his work for the youth, the shrine named its newly established youth center as John Maguire Youth Center.

Above all, he had a great love for the Baclaran shrine and the many thousands of ordinary people who flock there each Wednesday and Sunday. The wellspring of his love for the shrine and the devotees is his love for Mary. His Rosary was always beside him. He gave flesh and blood to the instruction of Mary to His apostles—“Do whatever (Jesus) tells you.” In generously offering his time and life in service to God and his people in an uncomplaining way, he took his Mother at her word.

Mags was a prolific writer. He was one of the original writer and editor of the shrine’s newsletter, The Icon. In fact, he was the most sought after writer of The Icon with his humorous section—Shrine Trivia and the interesting bit of historical chronicle—Ala-ala ng Kahapon. He also wrote a book, To Give Missions to the Filipino People Wherever they were Needed, an enlightening short book on the missionary endeavors of the Baclaran community since 1932.

In his later years, he was into painting. He painted about the meaning of all he encountered in his lifetime: his hopes and dreams and faith, the suffering of the people he ministered to, their unanswered prayers of yearning and longing for a more beautiful life.

In the last year of his life, Fr. Mags had suffered from both lung and brain cancer. Didoy Fajarda, the man who took care of him during his six months of illness recalled that two days before he died, Father John told him:

“Lahat ng gagawin ay para sa tao, sa mga kabataan, at mga bata. Huwag humingi ng tulong sa iba, tumulong sa kapwa.” (Whatever you do, you do it for others, the people, the youth, the children. Do not seek help from others. Rather give them your help.”

Here two days before he died, John had laid bare his soul. He had revealed with utter clarity the truth about himself. He had made his own the quintessential message of the Gospel: He was prepared, like Jesus, to give his life for others; “to serve and not to be served.[2]

On October 11, 2007, at around 9:20 in the evening in San Juan de Dios Hospital in Manila, Fr. Mags, a true servant of Jesus and Mary, passed over to eternal peace.

Is it allowed to have beer in heaven? I am sure Mags would love to. But more than enjoying beer in heaven, in the presence of a most loving God, he is enjoying the company of ordinary people who have genuinely served God and others.

Joey Echano, CSsR

(This article is an excerpt from the book National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help: Tips, Trivia and Tribute by John Maguire, Joey Echano, et. al., soon to be published)


 

[1] Fr. Frank Pidgeon, CSsR.,  “Fr. John Michael Maguire, CSsR.,” The Icon, November, 2007, Baclaran.

[2] Fr. Frank Pidgeon, CSsR.,  “Fr. John Michael Maguire, CSsR.,” The Icon, November, 2007, Baclaran.

Fr. Phil Vinteres: Composer for the Masses

fr.-phil-vinteres

When I was still young and active on the missions Fr Phil and I were members of the Community of Lipa. Most of our work at the time was in the Province of Quezon and we only returned to Lipa to rest between Missions. On one of those nights during our rest time I said to Fr. Phil I have a few ideas I wrote down today, can you make them fit some tune (I suggested a possible tune) so that we can use it to teach the children more easily. He took the paper and said nothing. Next morning at breakfast he gave me another bit of paper. All the ideas were present but now it was in poetic form and it fitted perfectly the tune of a well-known Kundiman. We sang it for many years on Missions and it is still remembered as Ang Salita ng Diyos.

Fr Phil was a well-known musician and composer of religious and liturgical songs. In the early seventies just a few months after Mass was permitted in the vernacular, he had produced a Tagalog Folk Mass, which was so Filipino, that it was quickly learned by the people, and so popular that it was translated into many Filipino Languages. During the visits of Pope John Paul 11 to the Philippines, Fr Phil’s composition of the Ama Namin was sung during the Pope’s Masses and caught the attention of the Pope. Another much better known priest composer of Liturgical Music is reported to have said, I would be willing to give up all my compositions and be the composer of the Ama Namin of Fr. Phil. He was not as prolific as most composers because he usually found his inspiration in happenings and Liturgical Seasons. Also music was only his hobby. He wrote his songs to teach the people and help them to remember.

Who then was Fr. Teofilo Vinteres or Fr.Phil?

Fr Phil was born in Dagupan in 1932, the 7th, of 8 children. He entered St. Clements College in Iloilo in 1954, after 2 years of college at the UP in Diliman, Quezon City and the UE in Sampaloc, Manila. He was professed as a Redemptorist on July 22nd, 1957, and was sent to Ballarat, in Australia to study Theology. After a few years in 1963, he had to return to the Philippines due to ill health. However, after a short break and one semester teaching Catechism in the Juvenate he was able to return to his studies in Australia and was ordained on Sept 24th 1966. He was ordained by Msg. Hernando Antiporda, Auxiliary Bishop of Manila.

He was appointed Prefect of the college from 1972 to 1975, and was the first Formator to change the locus of a Formation House from a big building separated from the people to a rented house among the ordinary people. This was the inserted community in Libertad St, Mandaluyong. He was Novice Master from 1978-81 and Prefect of Students in 1990.

He was the first Filipino Vice-Provincial of the Manila Vice Province and was elected for three consecutive terms 1981-90. He took a break as Vice Provincial for two terms and then was elected again from 1996 until his death in 2001. Fr Phil had his gall bladder removed in 1998 but this was not the end of his medical problems as he had hoped. He had recurring trouble with his pancreas and in 2000 had an operation to bypass the pancreas. He was diagnosed to have chronic pancreatitis, and suspected cancers. He refused to give up his work and often had to call time-out during meetings when the pain became too great to bear. For the last year of his life he was in and out of hospital. He died in Baclaran on the 5th of November 2001 at 12:07 just after midnight, surrounded by his Community and most of the Formation Community.

He will always be remembered by us who knew him as a wonderful confrere, a person of tremendous gifts, with a great fighting spirit, and a remarkable hobby.

John Maguire, C.Ss.R.

(This article is an excerpt from the book National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help: Tips, Trivia and Tribute by John Maguire, Joey Echano, et. al., soon to be published)

Fr. George Tither: God is Rich!

tither

Fr. David Januarius Tither C.Ss.R. was born on August 20, 1920, at Edendale, Southland, New Zealand. His father, William Tither was from County Kerry, Ireland.   His mother was Frances Snodgrass, the first European child born in Te Anau, at the time a backwater. Though he was officially David Januarius, he was widely known as “George”, a name bestowed on him by his contemporaries in the Redemptorist juvenate.[1]

Fr. George always dreamed of becoming a priest. He was introduced to the Redemptorists by a teaching brother in his parish, who told him that by becoming a missionary he could do more good, and save more souls.

He was professed as a Redemptorist on February 2, 1940, and ordained priest on September 9, 1945.  He was appointed to the Philippines in 1948.  He was to minister there, apart from brief home visits, for the next sixty years.

Because of his beard and chubby frame, people would call him Fidel Castro. But the kids loved to call him Santa Clause. He loved to gather the kids around him and would sit the kids one by one over his legs and let them touch his beard. Then he would teach the kids the song, “Ang mga ibon …” The kids loved him and would always follow him wherever he goes.

He preferred speaking in Tagalog than in his native English, and he was very fluent at it. He was a fast talker just as he was a fast doer.  He is known for great energy and drive. The word “No” seems to be not part of his vocabulary. He had unbounded energy and zeal in mission and vocation.  He was a zealous promoter of vocation having recruited a number of Filipino Redemptorists.  Many of today’s Filipino Redemptorists and even those who have left the Redemptorists have testified that he was a decisive influence in their lives.

He had a knack for connecting with the young especially those who attended his Vocation search-in and “Night with the Lord.” In his correspondence to them, he would always sign his letters with words like utol George (brother George) or ang iyong ka chokaran (your buddy).  Whenever any of his recruits would hesitate to enter the seminary especially because of financial problems, he would always tell them, don’t worry, mayaman ang Diyos (God is rich!). Because of George’s magnanimity in giving his time, assistance and resources to anyone, people saw in George that, indeed, God is rich!

In mission, he was a hard worker and innovator. He especially inspired the explosion of the pioneering Kilusang Ilaw (Light Movement) mission.  In 1968, George challenged his confreres to give a mission in the entire fourth district of Manila and in the process he was able to secure the approval of the archbishop and the support of the parish priests. The mission was conducted simultaneously in the parishes of Paco, Pandacan, Peñafrancia, San Andres, Sta. Ana and Pius X. The mission was called Kilusang Ilaw and ran from 4 January to 29 March 1969.

Apart from being a missionary, he was famous for being a water diviner.  He can pinpoint streams of water underground in lands that were bone-dry using nothing but a Y- or an L-shaped twig. Sometimes he would just use a rod or a pendulum.  Those sceptical of his ability to divine water were silenced when a well drilled in the spot indicated by him provided a copious flow.  His reputation at this mystical craft had apparently spread far and wide that even the Philippines’ biggest landowning families were sending for him to search for water in their vast haciendas and farmlands.  It was far cheaper to get him than consign the job to a group of earth-digging geologists from the state university.

George’s commitment to the confessional was exceptional. Even in advanced old age he devoted many hours each week to this ministry.  One penitent who had known him for years had this to say after sharing with him last year a very personal problem.  “As I looked into George’s tear-filled eyes and listened to his soft, trembling voice, I realized more clearly than I ever did before, that I was truly in the presence of a holy man, hallowed by living, loving, and compassionately walking with the poor and the suffering. “[2]

In 1990, after serving in various capacities at the Redemptorist community in Baclaran, Manila, he was assigned to the community in Legazpi City, and never really left the place, except for a few periods. He was a popular confessor and spiritual director for many of Legazpi’s faithful – clergy, religious and laity alike. He had long suffered the debilitating effects of Parkinson’s disease before finally succumbing to severe pneumonia.

Fr. Tither was deeply committed to his religious community.  In his final illness, when it was realized that he had only a short time still to live, he was brought back from hospital so that he could end his life among his brethren. As one who was present put it, “After he was wheeled into the living room of the community, George’s face lit up immediately.  He had come home.”[3]  On January 31, 2008 Father David “George” Tither, passed on to eternal life at the age of 87.

His death left many people grateful and inspired to seek the richness of God through the goodness and utmost holiness in their own lives. In 2015, the Chapter the Redemptorist Vice-Province of Manila approved the initial process of investigating the worthiness of his life for canonization purposes.

Joey Echano, CSsR

(This article is an excerpt from the book National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help: Tips, Trivia and Tribute by John Maguire, Joey Echano, et. al., soon to be published)

 


 

[1] Humphrey O’Leary, CSsR, Tribute to George Tither.

[2] Humphrey O’Leary, CSsR, Tribute to George Tither.

[3] Humphrey O’Leary, CSsR, Tribute to George Tither.

Rudy Romano, C.Ss.R: Friend of the Poor and Tireless Worker for Justice and Peace

July II, 2018 marks the 33rd year of the disappearance of Fr. Rudy Romano, CSsR. He was abducted in July 11, 1985 by military men in Cebu because of his work for justice and peace and advocacy for the poor workers. He remains missing to this day and presumed to be dead, but his legacy remains alive and strong among all people who continue to struggle for a just and peaceful society.

rudy-romano

One evening in July 1985 as the Baclaran community was watching television Fr. Rudy Romano came into the television room. He was on his way from somewhere returning to Cebu, where he was assigned at that time. As usual it was unannounced and he was not staying for very long. This was his usual custom and no one was surprised. He often dropped in on his way through Manila which in those days was still the doorway to and from most places in the Philippines. The next day he was gone, but no one realized that we would never see him again in this life. A few days later on July 11th he disappeared, he left the Monastery on his motorbike and has never been seen since.

Who was Rudy Romano? Who was so threatened by him that they had to get rid of him?

Rudy was born on September 26th 1940 in Manila but it was only a short time until the war broke out and his family fled to his father’s hometown of Villareal in Western Samar. He entered the Seminary at the age of 16 and was professed a Redemptorist on July 2nd 1958. After studying in Bangalore he was ordained a Priest on December 20th, 1964, a time when the messages of the second Vatican Council were just breaking on the world. He took part in the Missions in the Barrios and Towns of Samar, Dumaguete and Iligan for the next ten years. This was a time of experimentation with a new emphasis on the Laity and their role in the Church, the role of the Church in Social Action and a questioning of the rigidity of the old methods. He became Vocation Director from 1975 to 1980.

fr-rudy-romano

Due to his exposure to the people of his home province and his closeness to the people on Missions, he became involved in the people’s struggle against the dictatorial regime during Martial law. In December 1979, after taking part in a rally in Cebu, he was arrested but was released the same night. He was instrumental in setting up the Visayas Ecumenical Movement for Justice and Peace, and he was elected as its first chairperson. This was around 1980. In 1982, he left the Philippines for a Sabbatical year but on his return he went straight back to his work for Social Justice and Peace, and from this time on was almost always visible at rallies in Cebu, where he was often one of the main speakers.

On Friday July 12th 1985 he was scheduled for Mass in the Redemptorist Church. When he did not arrive, the Brother knocked on his door. There was no answer so he called the superior, who opened Fr. Rudy’s room, only to find that he had not slept there. Neither had he left a note as to where he had gone, which was his usual practice.

He was never seen again.

Two months earlier he had talked to his father who said I’ve heard a lot of rumors about your activities in Cebu. Why not concentrate solely on your work in the ministry as a priest?

Rudy replied.

“Dad, you have already given me to God and I think there is no turning back. If I follow your advice I will not be a worthy priest anymore, because I cannot bear to see these people, the poor of Cebu, especially the squatters, the poor laborers, who are crying to high heaven for help but they have nowhere to go; the government could not help them. They go to the priest, they go to the church, they come to me. I am their voice. I am fighting in their behalf. Don’t worry, dad. If I die, I have no family, and you will know who has killed me.”

 

Fr. John Maguire, C.Ss.R.

(This article is an excerpt from the book National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help: Tips, Trivia and Tribute by John Maguire, Joey Echano, et. al., soon to be published)

Bro. Tony Bernardo, CSsR: Friend of Alcoholics and Drug Addicts

 bro-tony-bernardo

Most Redemptorists, like all ordinary people, have experienced pains and wounds in their lives. These painful and wounded experiences ironically became a resource for ministering to others. A minister is compelled to heal others because the minister himself/herself is “wounded”.  An example of this is the story of Bro. Tony Bernardo C.SS.R.

Brother Tony was born in Velasquez, Tondo and was the youngest of eight children. He graduated from Feati University as a Radio Operator. He tried to become a Brother with the Blessed Sacrament Order but had to leave in 1968 due to bad health. The same happened with the Oblates of Mary Immaculate in the following year. He joined the Redemptorists in 1972 and once again had difficulties in Formation due to his arthritis and diabetes. His Formation took him to Legaspi, Lipa and Antipolo and in 1975 he entered the Novitiate in Lipa. He was professed temporarily on May 15th 1977 and took Final Vows in 1981.

He was assigned to the Community in Antipolo to care for the needs of the professed students and later went with them when they transferred to 14th Street, New Manila. In 1987 he was given a chance to join the Mission team in Legaspi. He was always successful with the simple people and had a way of reaching their hearts and converting them.

In 1989 he was transferred to Baclaran and joined Alcoholics Anonymous in Makati. This was a turning point in his life. It began with his own need but it was here that he found his true vocation in life. He soon saw the need for a center for simple people who could not feel at home with the Regular AA meetings in Makati and the Army and Navy Club and it was not long until he had permission to hold his own meetings in one of the Consultation rooms in Baclaran. He also had a poster on the front door declaring himself available for those with drinking problems.

It was soon clear that his gift with simple people worked even with Drug Addicts. He studied Clinical Pastoral Education in 1991 and soon after became a regular counselor in Pasay City Jail especially with the addicts. His career as a counselor would not be a long one as God called him home on July 11th 1992 when he died of a massive heart attack. He was just 52 years of age.

John Maguire, CSsR.

(This article is an excerpt from the book National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help: Tips, Trivia and Tribute by John Maguire, Joey Echano, et. al., soon to be published)

Fr. Toru Albertus Nishimoto, CSsR: Father of the Night

nishimoto

Most of the Redemptorists buried in the ossuary of the shrine are either Australians, New Zealanders or Filipinos. The only exception is a lone Japanese–Fr. Toru Albertus Nishimoto, CSsR.

A native of Kyoto, Japan, Fr. Toru Albertus Nishimoto, was the first Japanese Redemptorist priest. He lived in the Philippines since 1975 as an urban missionary, a benefactor of Filipino students, chaplain of Japanese nationals in the country, and a relentless fund raiser for pastoral and civic projects benefiting countless Filipinos.

He came to Manila in 1974 to further his studies in Missiology at the East Asian Pastoral Institute at the Ateneo de Manila upon the recommendation of his former professor at the Gregorian University in Rome.  During his studies at the EAPI, he befriended a group of Japanese nationals and started to conduct regular meetings with them.  After his course at the Ateneo, he paid a visit to then Archbishop Jaime Sin and presented his report about this group. Archbishop Sin asked Fr. Nishimoto to stay in the Philippines and continue to take care of the Japanese nationals in the country.  Manila was a major tourist attraction in those days and Archbishop Sin was aware of the influx of Japanese tourists.  His sabbatical in the Philippines turned into a permanent ministry here that includes evangelizing Japanese nationals through encounters with Filipino communities. Thus, started Father Nishimoto’s missionary work in our country.

In 1975, he put up a Pre-evangelization Program for Japanese nationals that aimed to teach them the word of God, since most of them were non-Christians. Through this office (PEP for short), he gives mental and spiritual care and guidance to the Japanese in the Philippines regardless of their religion.

Beginning with teaching Sunday catechism to Japanese families in Manila between his classes at the Jesuit Ateneo de Manila, Father Nishimoto went on to visiting jails, hospitals and nightclubs frequented by Japanese tourists.

“When I reported to (Cardinal Jaime Sin of Manila) at the end of my sabbatical leave, he welcomed me to (his) house saying, ´Father of the night, welcome to the house of Sin,´” he told UCA News. [1]

He said the cardinal knew of his work at nightclubs, asked him to stay and assured him that as long as he was cardinal of Manila, the Japanese priest could continue his apostolate in the archdiocese.

According to Father Nishimoto, the Pre-Evangelization Program office offers Japanese nationals “a Christian experience in a Christian country.”

Aside from caring for troubled Japanese in the country, the priest counsels couples before marriage and conducts a youth exposure program for Japanese students.

Figures at his office indicate that intermarriage between Japanese men and Filipino women increased from 650 couples in 1987 to 6,840 by 1997.

Father Nishimoto said that he visits such couples who settle in Japan twice a year as a way to protect the faith of the Filipino spouse.

“Most Japanese have no sense of God,” he said, adding that he has organized groups in Japan similar to the Philippine-based Couples for Christ to monitor the marriages and build a community of married couples.

In 1982, while acting as a tourist guide to some Japanese students visiting our country, five students asked Fr. Nishimoto why there were so many children in the streets when they should be in school. Fr. Nishimoto replied, “They have no money to go to school.” This awakened the civic consciousness of his Japanese tourists and upon their return to Japan they sent him Y150,000 to fund the schooling of five deserving but poor children in the Philippines. The good priest gave the money to Sister Ueda, who has been helping poor Filipino students in their studies with her own personal funds.

In Japan, meanwhile, Sr. Ueda’s work was broadcast by the NHK, a Japanese radio and TV station, and this triggered a deluge of calls from good Samaritans offering financial assistance to the poor Filipino students. Since Sr. Ueda could not cope with all these, she asked Fr. Nishimoto’s help to handle the funds, and he in turn asked help from Professor Yabuki.  Thus started “Salamat Po Kai,” an organization that helps indigent Filipino children go to school.

Salamat Po Kai started funding 40 scholars during school year 1982-1983 and that number has grown to 9,264 after all these years. The total funds that Fr. Nishimoto’s organization has collected from 1982 to 2007 have reached a staggering P302,051,483.

Father Nishimoto’s apostolate has a twofold mission: Directly, his scholarships help less fortunate Filipino children in their education. Indirectly, his main aim is to evangelize and reawaken a “sense of God” among his Japanese benefactors.  His scholars are encouraged to write often to their benefactors, coursing their letters through the PEP office. Most of the benefactors come to know about the Christian faith through their scholars. In all these 34 years of missionary work in the Philippines, Fr. Nishimoto’s concern has always been the Japanese soul. He has tried to reawaken Japanese people to the presence of God through the Filipino people. He believes that the Filipino is the “Star of the East” sent to guide the Japanese to become closer to Jesus.

An excellent communicator, Fr. Nishi founded the Japanese section of Radio Veritas in 1976. He was so successful in his daily broadcasts that, within a particular period, out of the 21,670 letters received by Radio Veritas, 20,012 were about Fr. Nishi’s program. Unfortunately, the program had to be terminated in 1992, but this did not stop Fr. Nishi from using the mass media for his pastoral activities.

He was also a prolific writer on: his works as a priest in the Philippines, the Japanese-Filipino relations, and especially his messages to the Japanese people. He has written five books about his work in Manila, most notably Father By Night, a compilation of his radio program in Radio Veritas Asia.  A sixth book was written in 1994, New Life in Japan, a guidebook for Filipino wives married to Japanese husbands who are living in Japan.[2]

In 1997 he hosted 40 groups of 7-40 participants each who interacted with farmers, fisherfolk and other sectors on different islands of the archipelago.

Fr. Nishi was an achiever. But what will immortalize him in our hearts was the fact that he came as a foreigner but ended up as a Filipino who loved the Philippines better than most of us do. And he desired to be one like us, not by a naturalization decree from the Office of Immigration, but by the more rewarding way of humble and loving service.[3]

In the last years of his ministry Fr. Nishimoto had to have blood transfusions from Filipino friends during his long bout with kidney disease and leukemia. As Fr. Rolando V. de la Rosa, OP (former Rector Magnificus, University of Santo Tomas) relates it: “‘Father Nishi’ considered his sickness as God’s way of turning him into a full-blooded Filipino. He once told his niece, Mako, after several dialysis sessions: “Not a single drop of Japanese blood flows in my veins now. It is the blood of my Filipino donors that keeps me alive.”

He died in 2010 at the age of 76 in his beloved Manila (where he lived for 37 years) and was buried in the Redemptorist ossuary in Baclaran.

Joey Echano, CSsR

(This article is an excerpt from the book National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help: Tips, Trivia and Tribute by John Maguire, Joey Echano, et. al., soon to be published)

 


 

[1] https://www.ucanews.com/story-archive/?post_name=/1999/01/12/japanese-priest-ministers-in-the-philippines&post_id=12834

[2] SAVOIR FAIRE By Mayenne Carmona  | Updated June 14, 2008, “Father by night,” http://www.philstar.com/modern-living/67583/father-night

[3] FR. ROLANDO V. DE LA ROSA, O.P., God bless you Fr. Nishi, August 28, 2010, https://www.opednews.com/Diary/Father-Nishi-and-the-Post-by-Kevin-Anthony-Stod-100912-559.html?f=Father-Nishi-and-the-Post-by-Kevin-Anthony-Stod-100912-559.html

Father Leo James English, C.Ss.R: THE PRIEST WHO WROTE THE DICTIONARY

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Father Leo James English, C.Ss.R. is credited with leading the inauguration of the novena in Baclaran in June 23, 1948. He is more known, however, as the compiler and editor of two of the first most widely used bilingual dictionaries in the Philippines namely, the English–Tagalog Dictionary (1965) and the Tagalog–English Dictionary (1986).

Fr. English was an Australian Redemptorist who was born in Melbourne on the 8th, July 1907. He was ordained to the priesthood on 10th, March 1935 and was assigned to the Philippines in 1936 arriving on December 5th. He had been assigned to Lipa City and went there almost immediately. He soon had a working knowledge of the language and joined the Missions in the Lipa Archdiocese. He remained in Lipa until the Japanese occupation, when all the Australian priests and Religious were called to Manila and eventually found themselves in the concentration camp in Los Banos. While interned by the Japanese occupation forces at Los Baňos, Father English started compiling an English-Tagalog dictionary largely in response to a need which he had long felt for a thorough work of this nature.

After the war and a short break in Australia he returned to the Philippines and was stationed in Baclaran until 1950 when he was appointed Superior of the Redemptorist community in Lipa City. During this time he continued to work on the Missions but the dictionary, that he had dreamed of, was never far from his mind. So he continued his work on the dictionary. In the final stages, he secured the assistance of Dr. Jose Villa Panganiban, Director of the Institute of National Language, and Dr. Rufino Alejandro, then Assistant Director of the Institute, as well as many other Filipino friends. It was completed in 1965. When it was published in 1965 he then began the formidable task of producing a  Tagalog -English Dictionary.

The English–Tagalog Dictionary (1965) was published by the Australian Government, and given to the Filipino people as a gift of friendship. In his preface the honorable Paul Hasluck, M.P. Minister of State for External Affairs of the Commonwealth of Australia said:  Australians value very highly their friendly and sympathetic relations with the Philippines.

Fr. English’s dictionary was primarily a fruit of his missionary endeavors in the Philippines. Right at the beginning of his missionary assignment in the Philippines he committed to learning Tagalog. He understood fully well that to become a good missionary, learning the local language is a must. While on mission, he would gather every new Tagalog words. He also shared the words he collected to help his fellow Redemptorist missionaries in learning the language. After many years of going out in the mission and at the same time gathering new Tagalog words, he was able to gather several thousand Tagalog words to put into a dictionary. His efforts was supplemented by a scholarly method. Just like a linguistic anthropologist, he spent time working with language. His work was recognized by the Australian government that it agreed to partly finance it.

Near the end of 1973, he was transferred to Baclaran and from then on spent most of his time working on the second Dictionary. We have to remember that he had no access to a computer in those days and everything had to be typed, corrected and then re-typed. His main assistant was Teresita Castillo who faithfully typed all the manuscripts many times as they were corrected for typographical errors, inaccuracies in translation and accentuation. The second Dictionary was published in 1986.

The dual dictionaries of Fr. English pioneered the launching of many bilingual dictionaries and thesauruses in the Philippines. Fr. English’s dictionaries had been influential in the development and propagation of the Filipino language in the Philippines and abroad.

Until the day he died, he still worked each day looking for ways to improve his knowledge of Tagalog and improving the dictionaries if ever there should be a new revised edition. He died on the 19th, October, 1997 in Baclaran. He was 90 years of age and had spent 60 years in the Philippines. He did many other things during his long life but he will always be remembered as the Priest who wrote the Dictionary.

John Maguire, C.Ss.R.

(This article is an excerpt from the book National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help: Tips, Trivia and Tribute by John Maguire, Joey Echano, et. al., soon to be published)

Fr. Pete Robb – Missionary to the Mountains

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How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of  those who bring good news,
who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation,
who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!” (Isaiah 52: 7)

Fr. Peter Robb, CSsR was a Redemptorist missionary who went to the mountains to preach about God but discovered instead that God was there even before he arrived.

He was ordained a Redemptorist priest on 7th September 1947 in Australia. He came to the Philippines in the second half of 1950. 

He was a man of great stature and story.  And the last to pass of his generation of Australian and New Zealander Redemptorists in the Philippines.  He played many roles in the congregation, but his mission to the mountain people was remarkable in apostolic boldness.  He himself would always say, “The most enriching period of my life was the 15 years I spent in the mountains with tribal Filipinos.”

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How did it all started? He did not look for the tribal people.  The tribal people found him. Or shall we say, it was divine providence.

In 1973, he had a severe attack of typhoid fever and was hospitalised in San Juan de Dios Hospital, near Baclaran, Manila. A Philippine bishop and a good friend paid him a visit and asked him if he could minister to a community of 150 families who had resettled in the foothills of the Sierra Madre mountains. These families were formerly squatters around the Manila Cathedral for many years. And the pope was coming, Pope Paul VI and he must not see this, this mess around the cathedral. So they remove them by force, army trucks and dumped them in the foothills of Sierra Madre in Moltalban, Rizal.

So after his recovery, Peter Robb went to these families in three villages.  He spent three months there, preaching a bit and encouraging them. One bright morning, 5 men in g-string appeared.  He chatted with them in broken Tagalog on their part and also on him. “Where do you come from?” He asked. They gave a nod of the head with a movement of the eyebrows towards the mountains. Then one of them gave the Gospel invitation: “Come and see”. That’s how his mission in the mountain began.

Two days later, Peter Robb was with the 5 Dumagat trekking the mountains.  It did take him almost four hours, climbing steep tropical mountains and down to the rivers. They told him: “Halik tuhod ‘yong bundok”, which means: “You kiss your knee while you climb.” It was a good novitiate for the years to come. On arriving at a community of about 15 lean-tos for homes, the kids all fled to the surrounding forest.  “Kapre”, they shouted, referring to a giant of lore who perched atop a tree at night smoking a cigar and preying upon hapless passers-by.

He spent two days with them, ate their diet of carbohydrate roots from the mountains and the tender tips of different plants (Mga talbos). He fished with the men on the rivers, catching prawns and eels. After the simple evening meal, they gathered around the fire. They all bedded down together; men on one side, women on the other, and children all over the place. The dogs were also with them. There was no light of any kind except for the fire. The night was dark. The log caught fire. He could see it in the eyes of all intently looking at the fire. “The fire of the Holy Spirit was in our midst,” he would say. Conversation was very quiet and sporadic. This became the pattern of his life for 12 years.

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He described his mission in the mountain in three stages:

From 1974 – 1978, the first four years he called this his education; living with the Dumagat, old time missionary, preaching at them.  Gradually, he realised the paternalism of this approach. He said: “It was condescending. I had everything to give and they had nothing. It was creating situations of dependence. No true personal relationships were established. I was a slow learner.”

Yet he felt something was missing.  During a five month holiday in Australia in 1979, he reflected on what it might be.  “The tribals listened to me but it was one way traffic,” he concludes. “He was the good, white Father with all kind of goodies.  It was a demeaning attitude. He had everything and they had nothing.”

On his return to the Philippines, Fr. Robb asked his superior for permission to live indefinitely with the tribals.  “No exceptions,” he says. This is the second stage of his mountain mission—from 1979-1981—which he called the stage of immersion, sharing and being ONE with them.

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For 18 months he lived with the tribals, shared life and hardships, asked for no exceptions, worked with them, ate their simple diet of root-crops, slept together around the fire at night, made himself dependent on them, tried to show that they were equals, and to some extent captured their values, attitudes and rhythm of life. Any talk of ‘belief’ was useless. It didn’t register. But when any hint of “experience” of his ‘Makedypat’ (or God) came up, He could share with them his experience of his ‘Makedypat’. He supposes He was a sort of “commodity” to be shared. That was evangelisation.

The third stage from 1981-1989, he called the stage of service as equal partners.  Tribals became subjects not objects of evangelisation. He recognised some important features of the tribal outlook on life and their way of life, learnt from experience and reflection. He suspects that many of his reflections here would apply to Australian Aborigines within the framework of their “Dreaming”. He speaks as one less wise!

He learned many things from the tribal Filipino but one of the most enduring things that he assimilated from them was their sort of mystical rhythm of life.  Peter Robb describes this rhythm: “To some extent, the tribals have assimilated the deepest core of life and things. Living with this interior harmony and rhythm of nature is a kind of secret prayer… Is not this interior harmony a secret prayer, a prefabricated liturgy hidden in the visible universe? Silently, it awaits the person of reflection and prayer to capture, disengage and make it known in all its splendours.”

In his own unique way, Peter Robb lived this contemplative rhythm of life.  He was an apostle of the ministry of presence. He gives full attention to the other.  This is perhaps the reason why his memory is amazing. He gives personal attention to people.  And this is why he demands the same attention from others especially when he tells his stories.  Unfortunately, perhaps we are of lesser mortals than him in this regard.

A tragic experience happened when two of his women leaders both social workers in the mission were killed by the military and declared communist guerrillas afterwards, their bodies dumped into watermelon patch, completely naked, no IDs of any kind. They exhumed the bodies from the shallow grave–mutilated by bullet wounds and badly decomposed. It was shattering, absolutely shattering for him.

He was an angry man after that and it seemed to increase. He had become a victim of the atrocity. It would be foolish to return to the mountains, he said. The problem was solved by joining the Trappists on the island of Guimaras, near Iloilo, 500 kilometres south of Manila. For over three weeks, the monks took him into their community of prayer and work, rising at 2.15am each day. The hurt was healed, but he can’t obliterate such a memory.

But not all experience in the mountain was tragic.  One funny experience was one Maundy Thursday, he decided to have a washing of the feet, going to great pains to explain again and again the significance of the ceremony. Some kind of expectancy was aroused. Four men and four women were seated on a bench in the outdoor meeting place. An old tin basin of sorts was provided and he proceeded to wash and kiss each foot. When he finished, the basin was half full of very muddy water. He might have known that the only time they washed their feet was when they waded through streams.

It was not fire and brimstone sermons that impressed in the memory of the tribal people when he left. He saved the lives of many, including diarrhea-stricken children threatened with dehydration. (He told their parents to give them boiled water to replace lost fluids).  He obtained medicine for lepers and drove the gravely ill to Tanay or Manila. He raised 10,000 pesos to buy a village water buffalo and worked hard to organize a rattan cooperative to boost tribal incomes (it failed on government red tape and the opposition of middlemen who controlled the trade).  And of course, the meaningful masses, baptisms, marriages and other sacraments that he presided over.

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Fr. Robb cared for people body and soul—sometimes at his own risk.  He vigorously championed local needs and rights, drawing the ire of powerful interests.  The national waterworks agency wanted him to convince people to drop their opposition to a massive dam project in eastern Luzon called Kaliwa-Kanan (“left-right”).  Concerned about communist rebels passing through, the military invited the missionary for questioning and kept him under surveillance.

By 1988, as much as he might have wanted to fight for his beloved tribals, the onset of painful arthritis in his knees forced him to leave the mountains.

But He brought back more.  He came to evangelize the tribals but he left being more evangelized by them.  His experience of God in the Makijapat of the tribals, strengthened and deepened his belief in our God.  He sought to bring faith to the tribals and discovered himself. This sort of spiritual transfiguration experience in the mountains did not leave him, he would talk about it over and over again.  It stayed with him until death.

Fr. Pete died in Melbourne on December 9,  2011.

Joey Echano

(This article is an excerpt from the book National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help: Tips, Trivia and Tribute by John Maguire, Joey Echano, et. al., soon to be published)