INTERVIEW WITH Fr. EMANUELE BORELLI sx,
First Xaverian priest from the International Theologate of Asia
1. Theologasia.ph: Father Emanuele, you are the first Xaverian priest from the Theologate of the Philippines; would you like to share with us what motivated your choice to come to the Philippines, a Delegation that was at its beginning, with no structure in place yet?
Fr. Emanuele Borelli sx: It was in 1991 and at that time, I was in the novitiate in Italy; I did not think of going out of my country because I was adult vocation. As somebody came from the General Direction to look for candidates, it happened that for some strange reasons, they came to ask me if I was willing to go to Manila where a new xaverian community was open: The International Theologate of Asia. After consultations with my spiritual director and some relatives and friends, I thought it would be good to facilitate my insertion in mission as I was already aging. To say true, I did not ask or choose to come here; they asked me and I grasped it as a great opportunity for me.
2. Theologasia.ph: Would you like to share with us something on your first community in the Philippines?
Fr. Emanuele Borelli, sx: At that time, we were four students: 2 Mexican Vice and Memo; Patrick from Scotland and myself and two priests Frs. Vicente parish priest of St Francis Xavier and Peter Venturini as our Rector. Let us say that the Philippines were not yet a delegation as we were just six Xaverian. We were living in a small house we bought and sharing rooms. For example, we were sleeping three in one room. It was for me a great moment because of life shared with a family style around one table. We had also a lot of sharing among us and every Saturday, we could go out with Fr. Peter to meet people despite our broken Tagalog. This experience of pioneers left good memory in me.
3. Theologasia.ph: You speak Tagalog fluently and are able to communicate to the heart of the Filipinos. How was your experience of language learning and inculturation?
Fr. Emanuele Borelli sx: When we arrived, we had already learnt English in London. After a short time, we started with Filipino for three months under a tree with a tutor coming in our place. There was also Father Rocky a Mexican, we had three priests, not two as I said while ago. As Frs. Vicente and Peter were already living here for more than one year, so we started Filipino. It was very difficult, as we had no much resource. Anyway, in summer, we had an immersion with people so we had a chance to deepen our knowledge by using Bible in Filipino, communicating with people. Little by little, we picked it up. Yes, I can speak Tagalog; but it still a challenge for me. If you love Filipino people, we will also learn as soon as possible their language.
4. Theologasia.ph: It is broadly known that the Philippines are one of the countries where the majority of the population is catholic. From this point of view, what are the Filipino religious values that you have discovered in this country?
Fr. Emanuele Borelli sx: The patience and tolerance are the characteristics of Filipino people. The first is a virtue in a sense that there is place for everybody, no so much chachamenta and always you will find your place despite your limitations. There is a great degree of acceptance. On the other hand, it can be also negative in a sense that it establishes a kind of compromise. However, it is a virtue because it gives us a chance to journey towards conversion. Filipino people are compassionate; they show great compassion in face of unpleasant situations. The people allow you to live; they will not push you to death.
5. Theologasia.ph: After a long experience in the Philippines as student and priest, what has been the most remarkable experience?
Fr. Emanuele Borelli sx: There is not a particular experience for me. I remember that I was ordained here and the cardinal Sin came for my ordination. After, I went through different commitments: Formation, Vocation Ministry and now in Pastoral. I find this pastoral experience very meaningful and satisfactory in term of journeying with people. This is directly connected to the faith of people, to their life in a realistic way not idealistic one. It gave us many motivations and it is not boring as I hear some priests complaining of loneliness. It is obvious that if you are committed in pastoral ministry with people, this is a wonderful experience and time goes fast. If you do not advantage of this, you are missing your chance. A particular experience remains the ordination of Fr. Patrick, first Filipino xaverian priest and the beginning of the xaverian formation in the Philippines.
6. Theologasia.ph: Right now, you are working at the Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Marikina since its beginning. What have been the greatest joys and challenges that you experienced so far?
Fr. Emanuele Borelli sx: This is a very interesting experience especially in this context. We are working with Father Javier Mexicano sx, a great man who started this Parish out of nothing, without huge structures like St. Francis Xavier. Our Parish is located in an area composed of urban poor struggling against floods and calamities. This gives us a great challenge as missionaries. In the past, we had hard time of floods even last year with rains. For this, I need always to go out to assist the people in reconstructing; this is a great challenge. The great joy is that as missionaries, we are in a right place, where we should be because there are a lot to do even regarding social problems.
7. Theologasia.ph: Did the formation you received in our Theologate prepared you for the challenges you had to face in ministry?
Fr. Emanuele Borelli sx: That is a very good question. Our Superiors had chosen Mary hill School of Theology of CICM because of their pastoral and missionary approach. I do not regret having my Theology here in a context of theology of liberation with Gutierrez. The school has also supplied us with useful tools in order to be able to be efficient in pastoral with people; especially regarding Basics Ecclesial Community. This is now very helpful for me as currently I am director of BEC in our Parish. About Bible, the school had great professors like the Cardinal Tagle who gave us the chance to deepen our bible knowledge. At times, some priests in Italy were very surprised by our bible knowledge when we had confrontation or discussion among us. I am grateful to the CICM for the formation I received in their school.
8. Theologasia.ph: We are celebrating the twentieth anniversary of the foundation of the International Xaverian Theologate of Asia. Would you like to leave a particular message to the Xaverian students?
Fr. Emanuele Borelli sx: I know that it is not easy to go through academic studies; it is heavy as I said. Take advantage of all the opportunities offered to you by the school and community by doing your best in anything. Do not spend much time thinking of the future, focus on what you are doing now; this is your life and vocation. As the time goes by, you will find yourselves already priests and called to undergo great commitments. Love the people because sometimes we would like to run away of them: spend time with them in the church and apostolate with the youth. Our vocation is to be with people, to mingle with them by becoming part of their lives. Do not rely on means, live in simplicity without much worries about technologies (Face books, Computers, Medias…). As you know, we are here to stay and to live with people. Stay in Asia; remain here with all your heart, spirit and body. Do not give much time to your friends overseas; the challenge is that you can be physically here but concretely you are in your home. The Philippines is the place where the Lord is calling you.