Book publisher Ramoncito Ocampo Cruz (center) attends the launch of On the March: The Jesuits in the Philippines since the Restoration at the Ateneo de Manila University. (Photo by Jire Carreon)
A new book on the Society of Jesus in the Philippines tells a story of courage and commitment to take the mission to the peripheries.
The book titled On the March: The Jesuits in the Philippines since the Restoration is a collection of memories of and by Jesuits and their students.
Publisher Ramoncito Ocampo Cruz said the project is "a way of giving back" by former students "because we were educated by [Jesuits]."
Although the Jesuits have been working in many rural places in the country, the congregation is better known for its educational institutions that are among the best in the Philippines.
The first Jesuits arrived in the Philippines in 1581 from Mexico. The missionaries immediately opened mission stations, and in 1593 opened the first school.
In 1768, they were banished from the Philippines on orders from King Charles III of Spain that prohibited the Society of Jesus from Spain and its dominions.
After 90 years, the first Jesuit mission of the restored Society of Jesus would return to the Philippines. They then set up missions, built parishes and opened mission schools.
By the end of the 19th century, the Society of Jesus had taken over all the mission posts of Mindanao and Sulu.
The book is divided into three chapters: the history of the Jesuits since their return to the Philippines, the Jesuit ministry in education, and the various aspects of the religious order's apostolate.
Mission to the peripheries
Father Jose Quilongquilong, the Jesuit rector of the Loyola School of Theology in Manila, said what came out of the book project was actually an account of Jesuits in the missions.
"It has a very strong apostolic orientation," he said, adding that most of the areas covered by the book are in Mindanao, "the mission areas in the peripheries."
The priest noted that even before Pope Francis reminded priests and religious to leave their comfort zones, the Jesuits were already in places where there is greater need.
Father Quilongquilong said the "march to the missions" continues despite the challenges that the congregation faces from time to time.
He cited as an example the new thrust of Jesuits in Mindanao to give up established parishes and work in tribal communities.
The priest said the decline in vocations to the religious and missionary life "does not distract us from apostolic priorities. Even during the time of Ignatius there were fewer Jesuits, but they were already on four continents."
In the late 1980s, when Father Quilongquilong joined the congregation, there were about 400 Jesuits in the country, but now there are only 279.
The priest said the congregation is now getting an average of five Jesuits a year.
"We are very much reduced — we really have to strategize where we devote most of our apostolic resources," he said. "We choose to follow the principle that where there is greater impact, greater good, that's where we devote ourselves."
Years in the making
It took several years for the writer, the editor and the publishers to assemble the coffee table book, which aims to generate funds for old and sick members of the congregation.
Cruz, the publisher, said the idea came about in 2010 while another book, a history of Jesuits in the southern Philippine region of Mindanao, was being planned.
"We grew up in Mindanao, so we did the Mindanao book," said Cruz, a former student of the Jesuits at Cagayan de Oro's Xavier University.
He said the idea of a "Jesuits in the Philippines" book came from Jesuit historian and priest Jose Arcilla. "He sent us the concept of the book and the rest is history," said Cruz.
Instead of just coming up with a historical review of Jesuits in the mission, the book includes the current work of members of the congregation, even those newly ordained.
The stories of Filipino Jesuits in mission areas like Cambodia and East Timor are also included, giving an impression that the mission continues.
Cruz said that aside from raising funds for the wellness centers of older missionaries now, the book also reminds retired priests of their years in the mission.