Thursday, November 18, 2010

Fr. Bernhard's Mission Possible


This German missionary had been brought to Lubang by his congregation, the Society of the Divine Word (SVD), more than forty years ago and he practically spent most of his life in that northern tip island of Occidental Mindoro. He is Fr. Bernhard Kasselmann, SVD who will be more than 70 come Monday, November 22, his natal day.

Looking back from our province’s past, in 1922, the Philippine SVD took over Lubang Island in 1923 where Fr. Henry Demond SVD pioneered the work and later, another missionary, Fr. Carlos Krusenbaum, SVD, was assigned in Tilik. The “chronologically-enhanced” Fr. Bernie, as we fondly call him, is the most senior (sounds like “monsignor”, huh?) priest in my diocese. The cigarette puffin’ cleric transferred to the Bishop Residence here in San Jose few months ago and he will be staying here until Only- God- Knows-When.

A missionary is always a missionary regardless where s/he is and what social and spiritual realities s/he is facing. The Encyclical called “Redemptoris Missio” is quite clear in emphasizing that geography cannot be the sole criterion for determining the frontiers of the mission “ad gentes” in our modern day (RM, n. 37). A little trivia : the Second Vatican Council passed a decree on the Missionary Activity of the Church called “Ad Gentes” from the Latin “To the Nations,” and is from the first line of the decree, as is customary with the Roman Catholic documents. It was promulgated by Pope Paul VI on December 7, 1967.

Let us go back to our birthday boy. I first met him in his San Raphael Parish in Looc sometime in the late 80s when I was invited to conduct a political education training there. Fr. Bernie is so fluent in Tagalog and I know no German. So, I did not bother to retrieve my unreliable English from my mental bookshelf that day and onwards. Riding alone in his blue Yamaha DT-125 motorcycle, he travel mountainous, rough and dangerous roads going to Agkawayan, Balikyas, Bulacan, Burol and the rest of the villages in mainland Looc. I was even shocked to see from my very eye that this old priest is also an acrobat. He gave us a little show or exhibition of sort using his bicycle,- pedaling in backward motion and other awkward biking positions- that amazed us all. But that was before. Now, he's no longer allowed even to set his foot on the kick starter.

Fr. Bernhard make things possible. In 1972, it is well remembered by the people of Cabra, an island community in Lubang, when he constructed a windmill and two deep wells as source of potable water in said coastal area. The project was funded by his friends and benefactors in Germany and elsewhere. Another ambitious project he accomplished is the computerized codification of individual profile of all his parishioners. He extensively gathered data of every single people within his parish. This work had been very useful in many pastoral and civic initiatives in Looc.

In his message for the World Mission Sunday 2010, Fr. Bernie’s compatriot, Pope Benedict XVI, said : “Like the Greek pilgrims of two thousand years ago, the people of our time too, even perhaps unbeknown to them, ask believers not only to "speak" of Jesus, but to "make Jesus seen", to make the face of the Redeemer shine out in every corner of the earth before the generations of the new millennium and especially before the young people of every continent, the privileged ones to whom the Gospel proclamation is intended.” Understandably, not only men of cloth can be missionaries but also the laity, specially those who are away from home. Like the Filipino migrant workers, the OFWs,- Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

Beer and finger foods will be served this weekend I’m sure, including packs of Marlboro for this special celebration of life. Let me reiterate, the OFWs are missionaries in their own special ways. To work hard in a faraway land for your family is also an expression of faith. To care for people in need, regardless of nationality, is proclamation of Good News as well. Ask Fr. Bernie if this statement is true and he will surely throw you his patented big wide grin, nod his head until his cone-shaped nose point to the sky.

For Fr. Kasselmann : “Herzlichen Gl├╝ckwunsch zum Geburtstag und alles Gute!”…

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(Photo of two SVD Saints from svdphc)

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