From Frustration to Mission Consciousness
A transcript of the homily of Most Rev. Antonio R. Tobias, D.D., Bishop of Novaliches
Manila, August 16th, 2018
When I was a young student in Philosophy, I was very interested in mission. Part of our apostolate was to go to schools and colleges in Manila promoting mission consciousness in the young people. The idea of mission that we were proposing was those poor priests who were very far away in the missions living in remote areas with the pagans.
So we were praying for them, we were making sacrifices for them, we were making contributions and send them to missionaries. That was my "baptism" or rather say my interest in the missions. One of my companions became also a priest but now he is a communist. We were together promoting mission consciousness in Manila but he became a communist and he wanted to convert me to be a communist because we are missionaries... (laugher).
And so the idea of being in mission was always interesting. I wanted to be a missionary; and I will tell you what? I'm a frustrated missionary! (laugher). Because of this training, when we were young priests-Bishop Francisco San Diego, Gabriel Villaruz Reyes, etc. We had that crazy idea that we made that idea and we made somewhat a pact, a blood pact with these friends of mine that five to ten years of our own priesthood were going to be spent in foreign mission because when we noticed that even as we were prepared to be secular or diocesan priests, we were not complete missionaries.
But you know, the ones who did not believe in it was my bishop, our own bishops... (laugher). When I became a priest, I wished I could be given even 5 years to go for foreign missions because we were formed by the missionaries, the Belgian missionaries (CICM). But you know, my bishop told me: "Take that idea out of your head. You only want to go for a tour" (laugher).
The problem was our bishops, they did not subscribe to the idea. They wanted to keep us in our dioceses. By the way, even if I was a frustrated missionary, I took the work as a priest. When I was put in formation, I did put my whole heart in formation. Then I was put in a parish after 12 years of paying for my sins as a seminarian... (laugher). But the mission was really something that I always wanted.
That's why wherever I am, that idea of a priest-a diocesan priest-giving 5 to 10 years of his own life in the mission was something that I was obssessed of. When I became a bishop, Cardinnal Sin told me-and these were his exact words-he said: "Now you have become a misionary, go to Mindanao..." (laugher).
When I became a bishop, I knew that the ones who were objecting to the idea of mission were our own bishops. God, rest their souls! (laugher).
When I was bishop in Mindanao, I brought the idea to my own priests, i.e. to spend 5 years of their priesthood in missions. I made a pact with the religious missionaries and I convinced some of my priests to go to mission so that when they come back, they will be the ones in charge of missions. I worked with the Colomban Fathers because they needed associate diocesan priests.
And so I sent my first missionary priests. One of them was very angry with the Moslems because his 3 brothers were killed by the Moslems during the hight of the Moslem-Christian conflict in my diocese. But then he said: "I was angry with the Moslems but the bishop asked me to spend 5 years of my mission with the Moslems in Dhaka (Bangladesh) where I learned to love my Moslem brothers and sisters". Another went to Mexico for 5 years, but he stayed instead for 10 years...
When I went to La Union as a bishop, I brought the idea there, but that was a different diocese. There were no takers. Then I landed in Novaliches, and there were no takers as well.
That's why I asked the Xaverian Missionaries to keep the mission consciousness in the whole of the diocese with that idea of a secular priest staying at least for 5 to 10 years in mission. Then they go back to their own dioceses and they are very different because of that experience in mission. There is something in mission that changes a person. There is a diffrent paradigm of one's own priesthood. That paradigm is that I am a priest without boundaries...all are my people. And I think this how missionaries are now being formed, i.e. people who are not set by the boundaries of their own culture but people sent across boundaries to make Christ known to his people.
Am I a frustrated missionary? No, because I practiced being a misionary. I always remember my marching order. And so I gave also a marching order to the Xaverian missionaries when they come to my diocese because there were no takers to my proposal. I called myself a frustrated missionary but as I end my life as a bishop, I think that I were a missionary. Thanks to God for the formators that I had...
And now you have these young Xaverian Missionaries coming together for ongoing formation. The question is, what will be the result of this? I pray that what will be the outcome of this gathering is more awareness and more love for mission.
This is my life story which I decided to share with you but which the Lord gave to me as a debt that has to be repaid back. That's the gospel today (Mt 18, 21-19,1): What God gives you becomes a debt that you have to return a hundred fold. So let's pray and give thanks to God for the mission and for all those who are in mission. May God bless you and may you have a very fruitful life in your missions.