Brother Angelo and Br. James, with students at Elizabeth Seton School in Imus, Philippines.
For their summer ministry, seminarians Br. James Cervantes, MIC, and Br. Angelo Casimiro, MIC, visited the Marian mission in the Philippines in June and July. The following is a reflection on their trip:
BR. JAMES: The Marians' new mission in the Philippines seems like a gift from God and from the people of the Philippines because, typically, when the Marians have started missions in the past, we've started virtually from scratch. But it has not been like that in the Philippines because the lay people got the mission off the ground even before our arrival. They started Divine Mercy Hills in El Salvador, Mindanao, and building the 50-foot-tall statue of The Divine Mercy there. So the Marians have been blessed to be in the Philippines with all of these faithful people who have been helping us so much since our arrival.
As far as the work the priests are doing with the people in the Philippines, it is pretty amazing. The priests do what priests everywhere normally do — but it just seems like they do a lot more of it! For example, Fr. Mariusz Jarzabek, MIC, who is at the Archdiocesan Shrine of The Divine Mercy in Mandaluyong City, Metro Manila, says Mass every day, hears confessions, and is at the same time taking classes because he wants to learn how to speak Tagalog, the native language. So he has homework every day from his classes, and on top of that, he also visits the sick in the hospital and spends time with the poor kids around the Shrine. At the end of the day, I mean, I would be exhausted. So it's pretty inspiring to see the work they do and to witness it.
BR. ANGELO: I was very impressed with the mission in the Philippines. When I went over there, I really didn't know what to expect. Just in the two months that Br. James and I were over there, I really fell in love with the mission, especially with Divine Mercy Hills in El Salvador on the island of Mindanao. I also enjoyed the Divine Mercy Shrine in Mandaluyong City. But in El Salvador, I just loved the slower pace of life there, and I just loved the people. Father Walerian Pozniak, MIC, and Fr. Jan Migacz, MIC, do so much work for all the pilgrims who come to the Shrine. During the weekends, they get at least a few thousand people going there for confession, Holy Mass, and for conversion. So I was really impressed with the mission in El Salvador.
In Mandaluyong City is where Fr. Mariusz is serving as a priest. He's a very hardworking priest and very zealous and prayerful. I was very impressed by his work ethic and his ability to minister to people. Every day he goes to the hospital and anoints the sick. It is very important for him that the Catholics do not die without the sacraments. Let us just say that the mission in the Philippines was a lot more than what I expected.
BR. JAMES: After the year 2000, I was able to personally visit the Philippines almost every year or every other year. So, in a sense, I kind of knew what to expect in terms of the weather, the people, and the culture. But being able to spend time in the Philippines for two months this time really allowed me learn more about the people, the culture, and the language. So I am really amazed at everything. The people in the Philippines are super generous and so welcoming. They are friendly, and they always want you to eat! So they are constantly asking you, "Come eat with us, join us." Some of them don't have a lot, but they so clearly find joy in being able to share what they have with you. So I am just in awe of their generosity. At the schools where Br. Angelo and I gave vocation talks, the people were also very generous in transporting us there. They offered us lunch and snacks. They were just very welcoming, very hospitable.
As far as learning or experiencing new things in the Philippines, this time I came during the summer season. As such, there happened to be a lot of different types of food that I hadn't experienced on previous visits. So I was able to try different fruits — rambutan, guyabano, mangosteen, and atis. So I took in not just the sights and sounds of the Philippines but also the flavors, which were amazing.
The other experience worth noting is travel by means of public transportation. I got to try the jeepney (long jeeps brightly painted with colorful artwork), the taxi, the MRT (train), and the bus. Some of these modes of transportation are very crowded, and some of them are very hard to get on. I remember waiting for a taxi for like 30 to 40 minutes and not getting one. I also remember riding the MRT during rush hour, and it was packed. I felt like a sardine in a can. It was standing room only. There wasn't any space. So that was interesting to experience.
BR. ANGELO: It had been 12 years since I last visited the Philippines, and so when I went over there this summer, it was a culture shock — just getting used to the weather, the climate, and the bugs (there were a lot of mosquitoes there!). In the first week or so I had a difficult time getting adjusted. But I eventually got used to everything, and actually the time in El Salvador was very peaceful, very quiet. It gave me a lot of time to pray and to reflect. I really enjoyed my time in El Salvador.
Over in Mandaluyong City, it was a little busier and noisier, unlike the countryside in El Salvador. But I did enjoy meeting the people there in Mandaluyong City and in the metro Manila area. It was fortunate that my aunt and uncle, Drs. Linda and Ruben Padlan, live within walking distance from the Shrine. I was able to spend some time with them, and I was also able to visit some of my relatives in Quezon City. In Manila, I was able to do a little sightseeing. It was a very good experience to be able to ride all the different kinds of transportation, like the jeepney, the taxi, the bus and the MRT (train).
I think what I really enjoyed the most about my experience in the Philippines was being able to do the vocational talks with Br. James. We gave about seven talks to different high schools and colleges in the area. We would come in and talk about vocations in general. Then we would talk about the Marians and the Marian mission in the Philippines. We would also share our conversion stories. It was a very rewarding experience. We just hope that our visits to those schools will bear some fruit as far as vocations to the priesthood and religious life. We wanted to help young people to discern what their vocation in life may be and where God might be calling them because it is something that many young people don't think of very often. So just doing the vocation talks was very enjoyable for me because I'm not used to getting up in front of people and speaking. It is a fear that I have been trying to overcome the past several years. But the more that I do it, the more I enjoy it. So the Lord's been very good to me in that way and just helping me to grow more in confidence in terms of speaking. Just doing the vocational talks was just a really wonderful experience for me.
Overall, I just had such a great time in the Philippines. I really fell in love with the people over there and am thankful for their kindness and generosity, even though sometimes there was a language barrier since I don't speak Tagalog (or Visayan, the dialect in Mindanao) fluently. But the warmth and kindness of the people were always there. I fell in love with my own Filipino culture again. Even though I was born in Manila, I grew up in the United States. So the whole experience in the Philippines this time helped me to be able to reconnect with my Filipino culture.
Coming Back as Marian Priests?
BR. JAMES: I feel like it's Divine Providence being one of the few Marians who is actually of Filipino descent and then having our Congregation start a mission in the Philippines a year ago. I also see myself one day working in the Philippines as a priest. Being there this time really allowed me to, in a sense, fall in love with the Philippines. I love the people, I love the culture, to the point that I'm proud to be Filipino. It was like I discovered my identity as a Filipino. Yes, I want to serve there and work with the people and to learn the culture and the language even more. I think it would be a beautiful experience to work and serve the people in a place that I never knew growing up. I was born and raised in the United States. But I would really look forward to learning more about the Philippines and the people and also learning about the Filipino identity.
BR. ANGELO: As far as coming back to the Philippines as a Marian priest one day, in all honesty, now I can say yes. Originally, I had some apprehension about coming back to the Philippines and serving as a priest there. But in the two months of being in the Philippines, our Lord was very gentle with me. He helped me to see the beauty of the country, the people, and the culture. So, yes, I definitely do see myself coming back to the Philippines and serving there as a priest. I had a very special experience when I was in El Salvador. I was helping to distribute Holy Communion, and so the people were coming up to me to receive our Lord. I saw the beauty of my own people. An inner voice said to me, "Angelo, I want you to come back to serve my people." So, God willing, I definitely want to come back to the Philippines to serve as a priest so that I can be able to give back all the blessings that God has given me growing up in the United States. I think it would be a wonderful blessing.
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Brother James Cervantes, MIC, and Br. Angelo Casimiro, MIC, are seminarians living in Washington, D.C.