Tuesday, May 12, 2015

SVD Priests’ Long Journey with the Mangyans

Since 1936, the Catholic missionary Society of the Divine Word or SVD been officially in-charge of the ecclesial responsibility for the whole Mindoro island and in 1950’s, the SVDs been active to support the Mangyans in many ways. Jurg Helbling and Volker Schult wrote, “The [SVD] missionaries helped the Mangyans with credit and medical care and they supported them in dealing with settlers, traders and provincial officials as well.” (p.156; “Mangyan Survival Strategies”; 2004; New Day Publishers). This blog entry is my humble tribute to pioneering SVD missionaries who worked utterly with the Mangyans of Mindoro particularly former SVD priest Antoon Postma, the time-tested clerics in Fr. Ewald Dinter, SVD and Fr. Dennis Flynn, SVD, to cite just three. Here’s a rejoinder: This lowly blogger is not an alumnus of a SVD-run school or in any way connected to the congregation. That is for the record.

Well, Postma is known for his various works about the Hanunuo (an ethno-linguistic group of the) Mangyans especially their distinct culture with his all-inclusive documentation. He is no doubt a world- renowned authority on the subject for he lived with them for more than 50 years and he is an anthropologist. On the other hand, Fr. Dinter is best known for his charismata in dialogue and “inculturation”. He is a recipient of Saint Joseph Freinademtz Award, one of the six categories of the SVD Mission Awards bestowed some years ago during the Centennial Celebration of SVDs presence in the Philippines. Fr. Flynn, a Filipino-American, as a little boy, spent the most of his youth in the Philippines, including the war years 1942-45 and later entered an SVD seminary in the US and eventually ordained a priest in October 1961. A year later, he was assigned to the Mindoro missions. Fr. Postma left priesthood in 1989 and Fr. Dinter came to Mindoro in 1966, while Fr. Flynn established Mangyan, Inc., an NGO, in 2003 focusing on modern upland agriculture and all of them are still connected with our brethren in the mountains.

When Apostolic Vicariate of San Jose (AVSJ) was created January 27, 1983, her Mangyan Mission, later known as the Vicarial Indigenous People’s Coordinating Office or VIPACO, together with religious congregations of nuns, holding dear to their mandate, facilitated programs and projects towards gaining equal opportunities and treatment, right to self-determination, protection of indigenous culture and arts, ancestral domain and sustainable human development of said indigenous peoples or IPs. The late Bishop Vicente C. Manuel, SVD, DD, having a degree in Sociology and a big heart for the Mangyans, who described them as the ”poorest of the poor in this forgotten half of the [Mindoro] island”  was into conviction that such ministry need not be confined to band aid solutions and dole outs like scholarships and mercy missions. Bp. Manuel’s SVD brothers struggled with the Mangyans against aggressive activities detrimental to the upland ecosystems. The Mangyans are the proximate stewards of God for our forests and mountains, as what the cleric often reminded us lay faithful.

Bp. Manuel, during his tenure has appointed three SVDs to said diocesan ministry. First was Fr. Wim Leijendekker, SVD, followed by Fr. Ramon “Monet” Bosch, SVD and later, Fr. Rodrigo Salazar, Jr, SVD. Fr. Salazar, a personal friend, believes that that large-scale mining is a threat to the livelihood and environment of the Mangyans. True enough, for all its seven sub-tribes, land is life.

The present Episcopal Vicar for the Indigenous Peoples of AVSJ is Fr. Fernando Suarez, MMMP who was appointed by another SVD prelate, the Most Rev. Antonio P. Palang, SVD, DD,- his bishop protector, to the position sometime in 2014. This was years after Suarez was incardinated to the vicariate. But we are still about to hear Suarez’ and/or his local ordinary’s official position on the recent reinstatement of Mindoro Nickel Project’s (MNP) Environmental Compliance Certificate or ECC by the DENR reportedly upon instruction of President BS Aquino III.

Despite the fact that the SVD missionaries I have mentioned differ in so many ways, in their approaches, programs, strategies and ways of evangelizing towards their mission for the Mangyans, they are true to their prophetic role, to say the least, in bringing The Word to the (Mangyan) world. The Catholic principle of Unity in Diversity is fully animated by and in them.

As I have told you, I am in no way connected with the SVD, though, now it can be told, I once tried to enter SVD’s Christ the King Seminary in 1978. I passed the entrance exam but for “quasi- secular and semi-worldly” reasons, I did not return to enroll (further elaboration is immaterial!).  

Seriously, like them, I work with the Mangyans and a missionary in my own right. We all are, actually..


(Photo: Mangyan Inc.)