The Evolution of Frontiers

Note: This address was delivered during the National Convention of the Chinese-Filipino Apostolate,”FACING FRONTIERS WITH FIRE AND IN FRIENDSHIP,” in Cebu from September 10 t0 12, 2010.

What’s the big deal about frontiers?  Why do we have to face frontiers with fire and in friendship?  First of all, what are frontiers?  Maybe the best way to define frontiers would be that they are “places that few people have been to or want to go to, or things that few have done or want to do.”

In the recent 35th General Congregation, the Holy Father’s message to the Jesuits and all our partners in our work is :  “Look for today’s frontiers and go there!”   This is especially important for us because if we are here in this convention, it is because we are all of us products of frontiers.  All of us here are children of frontiers.

The Chinese-Filipino apostolate was the result of a continuing search for frontiers.  China was a frontier that St. Francis Xavier could only dream of when he died in 1552.

China was the frontier that Matteo Ricci reached when he became the first foreigner to be invited into the Forbidden City in 1601.

In 1949, the Jesuit missionaries expelled from China found themselves in the Philippines and stumbled into a different kind of frontier:  The Chinese-Filipino apostolate—which gave birth to our six institutions, starting with the parishes before venturing into education.

1952:  Sacred Heart Parish (Cebu)

1953:  Sta. Maria Parish (Iloilo)

1954:  Mary the Queen Parish (Pasay City; later, Greenhills, San Juan)

1955:  Sacred Heart School for Boys Cebu, now Ateneo de Cebu

1956:  Xavier School-Kuangchi (Echague; later, Greenhills, San Juan)

1958:  Sta. Maria Catholic School (Iloilo), now Ateneo de Iloilo

In 1989, forty years after the missionaries’ arrival in the Philippines, the Jesuits of the Philippine Province took over the running of the three schools and the three parishes.

Ten years later, in 1999, we had a consultation that included many of the original missionaries like Fr. Zuloaga, Fr. Nunez, Fr. Hernando, Fr. Barbero, the late Fr. Mena, Fr. Cortina, and Fr. Leon, among others.

Two important things came out of that meeting:

First, it reaffirmed the Jesuit mission to evangelize the Chinese in the Philippines.

Second, it proposed three goals for our schools and parishes.  You may want to think if this has been done in the lat ten years in your institution.

1.  To consciously reach out and serve the Chinese Filipinos

a) for schools:  by prioritizing them in admission policies

b) for parishes:  by emphasizing their being personal parishes to the Chinese Filipinos even if they are also territorial

2.  The promotion of Chinese language and tradition

a)  for schools:  by strengthening the Chinese Language Program

b)  for parishes:  by organizing special liturgies (using the Chinese language, observing Chinese festivals, and promoting Chinese rituals)

3.  Inculturation

a)  for schools:  by helping the Gospel values penetrate the Chinese culture

b)  for parishes:  by coming up with theological reflections to help make sense of Chinese customs and practices in the light of our faith

That consultation gave us the WHAT, but not so much the HOW.

Now ten years later, here we are gathered to help figure that out…  Frontiers change, and for the Chinese-Filipino apostolate to continue to bear fruit, we must continue to find those places and those works that the Lord may be asking us to today.

Today, the products are called to be partners in finding new frontiers.  During this convention, this rare gathering of products and partners of this 60-year old mission, we are invited to reflect, to discuss, and to pray over four possible frontiers.

Let me describe to you briefly each of the four frontiers–or what we can refer to as the 4 Is.

The first is IDENTITY.    Are we helping to clarify what it means to be Chinese Filipino?  The young Chinese Filipinos today are different from the older generations. The world has changed.  China has changed.  The Philippines has changed.  So there really are lots of questions about what it means to be Chinese Filipino today.  Some things have not changed.  I know of one young Chinese Filipino girl who refuses to go to the temple with her parents for the usual pai-pai.  According to her, her friends who agree to do it feel guilty and end up confused.  So the question to all of us here is:  “Are we doing enough to help clarify what it means to be Chinese Filipino?  Can we do more?”

The second frontier is INTERSECTIONS.  Are we working hard enough to address the tensions and contradictions that happen in the intersections between our faith and Chinese culture?

I remember a good friend of mine, a classmate in college, asked me to say the funeral Mass for her father, a well-loved Chinese gentleman who had helped a lot of people.  Before the Mass, I noticed that there were a lot of Mainlanders wearing white.  My friend informed me that these were relatives of theirs who had flown in because they wanted to pay their respects to her father who had helped them in so many ways.  As I was getting ready for Mass, the eldest son whispered to me that we don’t bless the body so that the coffin glass would not get wet.  I agreed, of course, but I kept thinking of that during the readings.  Then I thought, why not use incense sticks to “bless” the body?  So right after communion, I leaned over to my friend to ask her if that was okay, and she readily said yes.  After a few words, I lit an incense stick and knelt before the portrait.  The family was visibly moved as they did the same, followed by the hoardes of relatives, obviously non-Christians, who joined the ceremony.  I was really struck at how that simple ceremony, totally unplanned and decided on only at the last minute, had made such a difference.  Suddenly, the relatives who were initially not engaged suddenly found themselves included.

Again, my question is: “Are we doing enough of this? Can we do more?”

The third I is INSERTIONS:  Insertion into the lives of Chinese Filipinos and the Mainland Chinese in the Philippines that we have not yet reached.  Are we even thinking about reaching out to these people, or do we feel our hands are already full with our present work?

In Xavier School, we get a lot of Chinese teachers from the mainland.  A couple of years ago, a young Chinese girl joined us and, in one private conversation, told her friend that she did not believe in Christianity and would never convert.  Well, she spoke too soon.  Her exposure to the different Catholic rites in school, but most especially her friendship with one very devoted Catholic Chinese teacher, led her to start attending catechism classes in Mary the Queen, where fortunately there was a Mandarin-speaking volunteer.  That teacher was eventually baptized, but today I ask myself:  Did we make a deliberate effort to lead her to our faith, or did she discover it almost accidentally?  Could we have done more?

Finally, the frontier of IMPACT:  Are we doing enough to help those who are working in the same apostolate for China and for the Chinese Filipinos?    The present bishop of the Jingxian diocese in Hebei is Bishop Peter Feng.  For many years he studied at the Lorenzo Ruiz Mission Institute in Makati or LMI.    He was able to do so only because he received help from generous donors.   As far as we know, the Jesuit institutions were not among those who were able to help him.    So the question is:  Can we help more the increasing number of Chinese priests, seminarians, and sisters studying in the Philippines—not just financially, but maybe in their formation?  Can we do more?


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