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Divine Word society marks 100 years in Philippines

Updated: August 28, 2009 09:36 AM GMT
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Missionary work started 100 years ago in the northern Philippines by foreign priests from the Society of the Divine Word (SVD) is now largely continued by Filipinos.


A Divine Word priest conducting a program for Philippine teachers

Much of the society’s work now involves local laypeople, Divine Word Father Antonio Pernia told about 5,000 people gathered at a thanksgiving Mass at Our Lady of the Pillar Church in San Isidro, Abra province, on Aug. 23. The Filipino priest is the first Asian to serve as superior general of the society, founded in the Netherlands. The Mass he led capped a three-year celebration of SVD missioners´ arrival in the country. Fathers Ludwig Beckert and John Sheiermann arrived on horseback in San Isidro, then called Cagutongan, on Aug. 22, 1909, exactly one week after they arrived in Manila. Bangued diocese, which was established as a prelature in 1955 and became a diocese in 1982, now serves the area. Only eight of the 21 Bangued parishes listed in the Catholic Directory of the Philippines still are administered by Divine Word priests, who serve mostly in the mountains far from towns. However, more than 300 Divine Word and diocesan priests in the northern Philippines concelebrated the Mass at the site of the first SVD mission station in the country. Father Pernia, in his homily, called on SVD priests serving in the region today, as heirs to the Church their pioneering predecessors established, to live a life of missionary service in honor of those early missioners. Be disciples who are “chaste, poor, obedient,” he urged them, noting that it was these virtues that helped Fathers Beckert and Sheiermann persevere in the “rough and difficult beginning” of the Philippine mission. Today the Filipino SVD contingent of about 530, including seminarians, makes up the fourth-largest national grouping of Divine Word members. About 160 work in foreign missions. The Divine Word priests and brothers in the Philippines engage in ministries such as running parishes, missions, schools, universities, formation houses and retreat centers, as well as biblical and communication apostolates. They minister to indigenous peoples, street children, the poor and marginalized, and the Filipino-Chinese community. Father Pernia, who is based in Rome, also led centennial celebrations in the Manila area and in the central provinces of Bohol and Cebu. Father Bernard Teneza, formation director of the SVD Philippine Northern Province, noted the “good number” of Divine Word aspirants to the priesthood in the Philippines, where about eight men are ordained SVD priests annually.

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