Parishes for MISSION  #5

Witness Dialogue Dimensions

SVD Mission Secretariat - Rome - 08 May 2003

The 15th SVD General Chapter called for specific efforts to clarify and enhance the missionary profile of the parishes where we work. This occasional email bulletin shares ideas, opinions, resources and hopes about SVD ministry in parishes.

In this bulletin: 

1. INTRODUCTION - Orientation for New Missionaries

2. PHS - Learning to be a Parish Missionary

3. Contribute to Parishes for MISSION


Year after year our Society has been blessed by the final profession of many young confreres. Over the past five years the General Council has made an average of 115 first appointments per year! As a result, it is not surprising that the last General Chapter emphasized the importance of having excellent programs of language learning and cultural orientation for new missionaries.

Generally a program of orientation for our young confreres includes some time in a parish. In fact, even in those few provinces where SVD's have little or no parish commitment, young confreres are often encouraged to spend a time in a parish operated by the diocese or by another congregation. Clearly one important benefit that SVD's receive from working in parishes is the opportunity to get to know the local people very well.

What sort of parish makes for a good introduction of new missionaries? The most important things, it seems to me, are:

In such a situation, what was begun in initial formation programs can come to fuller maturity in day to day missionary service.

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Cyrus Mercado is a young SVD missionary, ordained in December 2001, and is now assigned to parish ministry in central Mindanao. For just over one year he has been working with Rudy Montadas, a confrere who formerly served in Kenya.

Cyrus and Rudy work at Immaculate Conception Parish, founded by SVD's in 1976, which includes about 40,000 people gathered in 47 outlying chapels and the main church in Veruela, Agusan del Sur. These are all farming communities, though some logging continues to take place. Some of the parishioners are indigenous people, but most are migrants from other parts of Philippines, having arrived during the time of the Marcos regime.

Almost all of the people in the area identify themselves as Catholic, but the regular church-goers are only about 20 percent. In this part of Mindanao there are almost no Muslims, but there are some other Christian Churches. Most of the indigenous peoples practice a traditional religiosity based on Christianity and indigenous religious ideas.

The pastoral team, which includes FMM Sisters, stresses the formation of lay ministers and the organization and animation of Basic Christian Communities (BCC).

I interviewed Cyrus about his experiences of adapting to Mindanao just before his first vacation after a year of full-time ministry. Cyrus is a "city-boy" from Manila and is working in his home country. But it is evident that learning to live in Mindanao has required greater effort at adaptation than would have been needed for a "foreign" assignment to Los Angeles, USA!

In your first year in parish-ministry, what did you find that was surprising or unexpected?

Cyrus: I have to rely a lot more on God and not so much on my training, or talents, or strengths. I need to keep on learning that this work is not my mission, it is God's mission.

Can you say a bit more, perhaps give an example of what you mean?

Cyrus: Before I entered the seminary, I worked outside for a few years. I remember that I always wanted things to be just right, I always wanted to be in control of everything around me. Now I try to take time to listen more, to try and understand what other people want to tell me.

What problems have you faced in getting adjusted to life here in Mindanao?

Cyrus: Well, I think that my coming here is a case of "Manila City Boy meets Mindanao Rural Life." In this rural parish I walk a lot from one place to another. I kind of like that. But though it sounds a bit funny, I'm not used to trudging through the mud. I wear some big rubber boots, but sometimes one of the boots gets stuck and my foot comes out and the boot remains behind. With my bare foot dangling awkwardly over the mud I wonder how am I, a city kid, supposed to know what to do in that situation. When I feel tired and frustrated I feel a bit sorry for myself and ask: "What am I doing this for? What wrong have I done to have earned this?"

You came from Manila, but they speak Visayan here. How has the language learning been for you?

Cyrus: When I first came I only knew a few words in Visayan. But I did get the chance to have a couple of months of formal language study in Davao City, that helped a lot. Over the past months I've been writing my homilies down and reading them during Mass. But I always take the chance to ask the people to correct what I've written. That has really given them a chance to participate. They laugh, sometimes, at my mistakes – and I learn to laugh too. I tell them: "Even if you haven't understood my homily, at least I understand a bit better what I wanted to say!"

How is your adjustment from life at the seminary to life here in the district with other SVD missionaries?

Of course, most of the confreres here are older than I am. That has taken a big adjustment on my part. It's a bit easier for me to be with younger confreres. Personalities are different… I guess I am learning a lot about patience. This is different from being in the seminary at Tagaytay. There I was still a frater and I dealt with older confreres in the context of the formation program. But here I have been asked to take the job of treasurer for the district. It really is kind of strange. While I try to find the right way of dealing with the confreres as a peer, I am in some ways a "junior peer" because I am both young and recently arrived here. But I also have a "position" in the district. So I find myself praying: "Lord give me patience, but do it fast!"

So, do you have some words of advice for other confreres who are getting adjusted to a new place?

God is always there and he is the one who has called me here. I can trust that I will have the grace needed. I really have learned a lot about trusting in God over the past year. Another thing, since we are somewhat isolated here, I have found it really helpful to have a hobby. I like to take pictures, especially of the beautiful rice fields here in our area. It helps me to relax and it keeps my spirits up.

Maybe, if I were to give some advice, I think it would be three suggestions:

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Parishes for MISSION is meant primarily for SVD confreres working in parish ministry. It is also sent to SVD provincial and regional superiors and to others interested in the missionary profile of parishes. If you know of others who would like to receive this bulletin, please send a message to the editor, Tom Ascheman, at

If you would like to contribute your ideas for publication you are most welcome to do so. At present the bulletin is produced in English and Spanish. If you would like to see another language version of this bulletin or if you could help with translation please send a message to the editor. 

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Tom Ascheman SVD
Generalate Mission Secretary