Saturday, January 7, 2012

Saint Luigi Orione’s Asian Contacts and Dreams (2): The Philippines

            Regarding the Philippines, there are two connections with St. Luigi Orione: one was his fervent wish to open a mission there, and the other concerned the Spanish servant of God, Fr. Ricardo Gil Barcelón.
Fr. Ricardo Gil Barcelón spent more than 12 years in the Philippines, from 1893 to 1905, during the transition of the Spanish Colony to the American Protectorate.
            There, he was first a soldier, and later studied philosophy and theology, being ordained as a priest on September 24, 1904. He then worked as assistant librarian at the Dominican University, and also as chaplain in the Cathedral of Manila until February 1905, when he returned to Spain.
It was surely Divine Providence which brought about a meeting between Fr. Gil Barcelon and Don Orione in Rome on February 4th, 1910, after which the Founder received him into the Congregation. Fr. Gil Barcelon worked in different houses in Italy (Cassano Jonio, Reggio Calabria, Tortona and Rome), taught Spanish to the missionaries, and opened the first Orionine house in Spain (December 1930), being a pioneer of the Congregation there. He and the aspirant Antonio Arrué Peiró were killed by revolutionaries because of their hatred for the faith, in Valencia (Spain), on August 3rd, 1936.
We can imagine how he must have shared his experience in the Philippines with the priests, the seminarians, and the people, as well as St. Luigi Orione[1], telling them all about his stay there, his time in the army, his studies, his vocation and so on, and describing the country, the customs, the religious traditions, etc.
So, we can definitely state that the first link between the founder and the Philippines was with Fr. Gil Barcelon and his experience.

            Some days after his arrival in Argentina[2] and the “32nd International Eucharistic Congress”[3] in Buenos Aires, Don Orione wrote a long letter to Fr. Sciaccaluga[4], in which he talked about 2 missions, one in Mato Grosso (Brazil), which he had already accepted, and another in the Philippines. Regarding the latter, he wrote:

            “I gave my word, but I have not made a definite decision yet, to open a mission in the Philippines, where the bishop told me that there is much poverty and great need, so great that they obtained permission, from the Pope, to change some words of the Pater noster; they do not say: “panem nostrum quotidianum”, but “cibum nostrum”, because they never eat bread.”

an extract from Don Orione's letter about the Philippines

From this short excerpt, we can deduce that St. Luigi Orione had received an invitation to open a mission in the Philippines and had given his word, so he was definitely considering going. He had reflected and thought about it, even though he had not at that time made any precise decision. The bishop who invited him gave him some information about the place: its economic situation “…much poverty and great need …” permission to change some words in the Lord’s Prayer, and that they did not eat bread. There was an impelling reason to go: poverty, because he saw Jesus in the poor.
            We do not know the reasons why St. Luigi Orione did not open a mission in the Philippines, because there is no other letter or person to tell us what happened. That is why we can only make some conjectures, such as a lack of religious personnel to send, invitations to other places, more pressing priorities, unfavorable conditions, various problems, etc.

Map of the Philippines

[1] Rough copy of a memorandum about Fr. Gil Barcelon. This memorandum was written in Messina and is undated, but from the context, we can suppose that it was written after 1928.
[2] Don Orione arrived in Buenos Aires on the evening of October 9th, 1934.
[3] The “32nd International Eucharistic Congress” took place in Buenos Aires from October 10th - 14th, 1934.
[4] Letter to then seminarian Sciaccaluga. Victoria (Buenos Aires, Argentina), October 20th, 1934.

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