Fr. Everaldo dos Santos is Xaverian missionary from Brazil. He has been in the Philippines for 18 years. After his Novitiate, he was assigned in this country to study Theology as preparation to his priestly ministry. Ordained priest, he was asked to remain in Manila for his missionary work. He first worked in the pastoral in Saint Francis Xavier Parish of the Diocese of Novaliches, and now he is Rector and formator of Xaverian International Theologate of Manila.
As October, the month of mission, begins, I would like to share a bit of my missionary experience in the Philippines, the country where I have been since 1997. The Philippines is an archipelago located in the South-East Asia and, Manila, its capital, is just a four hours flight from Tokyo or two-hour flight from Hong Kong. The country’s population has already passed the mark of 100 million and they are concentrated mainly around few major metropolises, but they are also scattered over almost 7 thousand islands. With the exception of East Timor, the Philippines is the only Christian country in Asia – a legacy of four centuries of Spanish colonization.
Considering that the country is an archipelago of islands, one would certainly imagine Fr. Everaldo in a small boat sailing among the most remote of these tropical islands, at the extreme borders of Asia, totally dedicated to the evangelization of indigenous tribes not yet in touch with the modern world. Whoever thinks that my missionary work is done in this way will surely be very disappointed. Even if such romantic imagination is suggestive and beautiful, actually, since 1997 up to now, I have been always living, studying and working in Metro-Manila, a huge metropolis with more than 12 million people which I would call an “electronic forest.” Here one can find anything ranging from what there is of most beautiful and advanced in the field of technology to the cheap items of the informal market and to the luxury of the Lamborghini cars; here we have hundreds of world-class commercial centers and enjoy high standard three-dimensional cinematographic screens.
It is mainly here in Manila that people come to, from all the other islands, in search of opportunities and better life. Life in certain provinces is indeed hard, without comfort, without basic facilities and almost without hope for improvement. Once arrived in the city, many people join the already crowded slum areas, and, in order to survive, they do practically anything they can. It is in the midst of such reality of periphery that I have lived all these years.
Here I have learned so many things; and one of my realizations is that nowadays, the biggest challenge for the evangelizing activity of the Church is the evangelization of this mass of people in the urban centers and in the peripheries of the big cities. In this electrical and virtual forest, it is so easy for people to get lost. They lose the sense of direction in life, get uprooted from their culture, lose the sense of moral and ethical values, families are easily fragmented and disintegrated, religion becomes irrelevant and God is forgotten. It is this mass of people that needs missionaries. Often, some Catholic are happy because 3 or 4 Chinese are converted and baptized, failing to notice that also thousands of people are leaving the Church every year simply because they actually never knew well the Church they belonged to. If only they knew better the Gospel and the teachings of the Church, they would have remained. But the Church sometimes does not accomplish her mission and loses time, energy and resources in less significant matters while, in their dryness, people go to feed themselves in other corners of the town.Therefore, in my point of view, the true missionary challenge is not so much in the remote areas or in the mountains faraway from the city, but precisely in this ocean of people who go astray every single day in these huge peripheries of the world.
I have also learned that I personally do not have my own mission. God is the owner of the mission which He entrusted to Jesus, and that Jesus in turn entrusted to the Church. We, Xaverian Missionaries, are at the service of this mission of the Church. Now I understand that mission is not to be carried on by individuals, but by communities. An authentic testimony of mission can not be given by a single person, but by a community of missionaries. The realities of the mission, of the world and of the Church are so complex that missionary work can indeed be effective only if we work together and combine forces in cooperation with each other. Nowadays it is not possible that a missionary be person “specialized in everything” as it happened in the past, rather, it is better that within communities, individuals be trained in specific areas of expertise in order to be able to offer, as community, a quality service to the evangelizing activity of the Church.
Since I arrived here, I have always been in Xaverian communities composed by members coming from different countries. Living together is the best witness that we can give to others, with God’s grace. When others see this group of people (composed by a diversity of colors, nationalities, languages and cultures) that live, work and pray together, they come to be convinced that it is still possible a world more united as God wanted from the very moment of creation and as Jesus wished when he attempted to reconcile the whole humanity with his Father. Even our Founder, Saint Guido Maria Conforti, had the same desire and goal when he founded the Institute of Xaverian Missionaries. He wanted his children to collaborate in transforming the world into one single family.
Since 2008 I was assigned to work as a formator at the International Theologate Community. I have learned a very valuable thing: The Filipino people in general are an excellent formator to all the foreigners who come here for studies and further specializations. For whoever wants to see and hear, profound testimonies of real faith and trust in God abound among them. I would not like to be naïve and idealize or spiritualize the reality beyond what is due, but it would be really unfair to live here and not allow oneself to be formed by the following:
- The joy of living (zest for life). Even amidst very difficult situations, this people keep on smiling, joking and, even making fun of their own tragedies, finding ways to enjoy life, singing and dancing. Many times the immensity of problems could be more than enough to put them down and make them feel depressed, but on the contrary, these do not hinder them from being happy and find joy in simple things.
- The generosity of the poor. It is in the family that children learn to share and think of others’ needs even before their own are met. They know how to look around and calculate, reduce the portion and make sure that everyone gets a bite; even those not immediately present. They spontaneously give out of the blessings received.
- Natural calamities happen one after another like the alternation that exists between day and night: floods, typhoons, volcanoes and earthquakes that leave behind devastation and destruction. The reaction of victims should be that of despair, lack of courage and strengh to restart. Instead, on the contrary, even if they know that calamities will surely strike them again, they restart rebuilding as if devastation would never happen again. This capacity of restarting anew many times during a life-time is a great lesson for me.
When I arrived here in the Philippines, I could not imagine that I would stay all this long time. Today, this country, this people with their history is part of me and I can feel that this experience of being here has shaped me and changed my view of the world. Today, Brazil and Philippines are both my countries, my homes, my two histories, my languages, my cultures, my experiences of God that more and more get integrated within me, transforming me into what I am.
I am absolutely convinced that the experience of entering the universe and worldview of another people and culture is a grace from God that enables us to gain access to another perspective of God’s face.