October 1, 5:30 am, Miraculous Medal Parish, Quezon City, Manila
The megacity was relatively quiet still, as we gathered in the pre-dawn twilight. These Dawn Rosaries are pretty common in the Philippines. We had been invited this day to celebrate the beginning of “Rosary Month.”
As soon as we arrived, the ambiance—candlelight, a quiet procession through a working class neighborhood, the sense of peace—began to draw me in. However, when I noticed a blind man with the procession who was being guided along by his ten year old son, and the seamless harmony that existed between them, something hit me hard. I knew that, while we had come “on mission” to this place, it was this community that was ministering and giving witness to me! Upon arriving in the parish church we would celebrate Mass and I would preach, yet what I saw was much more significant than what I would say.
As we meandered slowly through city streets while praying decades of the Rosary, the love of God was being poured out, through our Merciful Mother, on all of the neighborhood; poured on all the participants, and on me. It filled my heart and my being, and brought tears to my eyes. For some years I have been something of a perpetually wandering missionary. There are sacrifices involved in being a priest, yet at moments like this I feel that what I receive is so much more than what I give.
However, I know that what I receive is not given for me to keep. As a priest, I am primarily a witness to what God is doing all the time, whether I am preaching, celebrating the Sacraments, or whatever I am called to do at that time.
Somehow, particularly when I visit the Philippines (which I do a couple of times a year), I am nurtured in this way. Despite there being a lot of economic activity here, as a meeting place of many cultures, the great majority of the people are poor. It is an island nation, often in the path of typhoons, and they suffer natural disasters as much as anywhere in the world. Yet their FAITH is awesome, and so their poverty becomes contentment with simplicity and their hope becomes an innate sense of caring, hospitality and gentleness. They live that faith from the heart, as children of the Blessed Virgin saying, “Mama Mary”.
Holy Cross was well represented at the packed church for Mass. At the beginning of October each year, the Board of Directors of Family Rosary Philippines has a meeting. Fr. John Phalen, C.S.C., President of Holy Cross Family Ministries (and my “boss”), and I were both in Manila, and were joined by Fr. Elias Palma, C.S.C., Director of Holy Cross Family Ministries Bangladesh.Together we joined Fr. Roque D'Costa, C.S.C., the Director of Family Rosary Philippines and also a member of the South Indian Province of Holy Cross, for the beautiful celebration that morning. October 1 being the feast of Saint Therese of the Child Jesus, “the Little Flower”, it was natural to preach on a very Holy Cross related theme: love of Christ Crucified, with Our Lady totally united with him, and of with this young nun who lived out this love in a simple, everyday way. The whole event was a natural way to let more people in Manila to know about our community and ministry.
Five years ago, our South Indian Province established the first Holy Cross community in the Philippines. I know that our charism has something very important and attractive to offer the church in the Philippines, particularly to young people there. Hopefully we will assume responsibility for a parish there soon, most likely in a poor area on the outskirts of Manila. Then Holy Cross will be poised to grow in the Philippines. As our Constitutions say, we are “men with hope to bring.” As we minister to the people of God in the Philippines, our hope will also be enriched by Filipino faith!
Fr. Jim Phalan, C.S.C., is the Director of Family Rosary International, which is a part of Holy Cross Family Ministries. HCFM was founded by Servant of God Patrick Peyton, a Holy Cross priest who had a special devotion to the Blessed Mother and preached that the “family that prays together, stays together.” Fr. Phalan will be writing for the Spes Unica Blog each month to share with us the great work of Family Rosary International, yet Family Ministries is one of the creative ways that Holy Cross continues to reach across borders of every sort to spread hope. Learn more about the missionary work of Holy Cross.