By Hugh Thomas C.Ss.R.
I thank God that, for a quarter of a century, I had the privilege of being part of a band of Australian and local Redemptorists in the Philippines. For many years we laboured among the abandoned poor in the rural villages. Taking with us our own battery-powered sound system, the missionaries moved from barrio to barrio, valley to valley, island to island preaching the Gospel. Life was rugged, sometimes hard, even for an Australian country lad like me.
I grew up in western Victoria’s wheat belt where we used tractors and other farm machinery. When I arrived in rural Philippines, it was an eye-opener to see farmers walking behind wooden ploughs pulled by water buffaloes or caribous.
In the Philippines, my first missionary outreaches were in the south of Luzon in the Bikol language region in the shadows of the breathtakingly beautiful Mount Mayon. Fifteen years later, I was transferred north to the Tagalong language region, and to the city of Lipa, about 100 kilometres from Manila.
By then, technological development was rapidly spreading through the Philippines. Accompanying it, but not necessarily because of it, there was a change in the way Redemptorists went about their mission.
We were developing an emphasis on social justice, a necessary response in the face of the considerable inequalities and obvious injustices of the time. The principal purpose of the missions became the setting up of small ecclesial communities. Considerable effort went into the formation of leaders. In contrast to the way we had previously worked, this meant staying a longer time in each district, and it meant we moved in larger mission teams – lay missionaries and Redemptorists together. My final mission in the Philippines lasted two years in contrast to an earlier time when the missionaries would have moved through four barrios in two weeks.
When transferred back to Australia in 1989, I found it sad to leave, but the timing was right. By then, Redemptorists in the Philippines were mostly Filipino; vocations were on the rise.