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The Origin and Growth of the Redemptorists in the Southern Philippines


    In 1906 a group of Irish and Australian missionaries belonging to the Irish Redemptorist Province arrived in the Philippines. The country had gone through an upheaval following the revolution that began in 1896, the end of the Spanish colonial rule, the imposition of American rule and the Filipino resistance. The Catholic Church was also going through a crisis brought about by the conflict between the nationalist clergy and the Spanish leadership and religious orders, the withdrawal of the Spanish friars from the parishes, the Aglipayan schism and the influx of American protestant missionaries. Many of the Catholic faithful were like sheep without shepherds. The Redemptorists were part of the new wave of missionaries who came to respond to the urgent pastoral needs of the Philippine Church in a new situation.
    During the early years the Redemptorists took care of parishes in Opon, Cebu and in Malate, Manila. By 1913, they started giving missions in various parishes and barrios in the Visayas and Luzon. Consequently, the missionaries gave up their parishes and concentrated their efforts in the mission apostolate. The barrio missions preserved and revitalized the faith of the people and helped check the expansion of the Aglipayan and Protestant churches in the country.
       In 1928, the Redemptorist mission in the Philippines was divided into two units: The Manila vice-Province (under the newly-established Australian province) and the Cebu vice-Province (under the Irish province). The Manila vice-province became responsible for the mission work in Luzon. The Cebu vice-province took care of Visayas and Mindanao. During this period there were two mission communities in the South (Cebu and Iloilo). Their number gradually increased after the second world war. Redemptorist communities were established in Tacloban, Davao, Iligan, Bacolod, Dumaguete and Butuan. These communities were able to expand the mission apostolate in the Eastern Visayas, Western Visayas, Northern Mindanao and Southern Mindanao.
    The serious effort to recruit Filipino vocation began after World War II. In the late fifties and early sixties the number of Filipino Redemptorists started to grow. During this period they began working side by side with the Irish confreres in the mission apostolate.

    In the late sixties and early seventies, the Redemptorists began to expand the scope and nature of their apostolic work as a response to the changes in the Church following Vatican II and to the crisis in Philippine society. Parishes were established in the shrine churches in Iloilo, Tacloban, Cebu, Dumaguete, Davao and Butuan. The building of basic ecclesial communities became the pastoral thrust of these parishes. With the active involvement of Redemptorists in the Retreat movement, Retreat Houses were established in Cebu, Iloilo and Bacolod. In order to make use of the mass media as a means of evangelization, the Redemptorists set up a radio station, DYRF. A number of confreres also got involved in social action.

    The declaration of Martial Law in 1972 and the setting up of a dictatorial regime brought new challenges to the Redemptorists. The search began for a more relevant method and message for the mission and parish apostolates. The message of justice and liberation was adopted. In 1975, the mission council made two major decisions: (1) the recruitment and training of lay missioners who will work with the Redemptorists in the mission teams, (2) the experimentation on the use of community organizing in the building of basic Christian communities in the missions. As a result, longer missions with the involvement of lay missioners developed.

    Under the dictatorial rule the Redemptorists exercised their prophetic ministry by preaching explicitly the liberating message of the Gospel and by denouncing the injustices and violation of human rights. Some confreres got involved in justice and peace work. A Redemptorist justice and peace desk was established. As a consequence, some Redemptorist communities, mission teams and parishes were subjected to black propaganda and harassment. Several Redemptorists and seminarians were picked up and detained. Some parish workers trained during the missions were killed. In 1985, Fr. Rudy Romano was abducted by military intelligence operatives. Like hundreds of desaparecidos he remains missing.

    The EDSA event and the fall of the Marcos dictatorship in 1986 led to some changes in Philippine society - especially in the political terrain. A liberal democratic type of government has replaced the dictatorial system. The insurgency was has abated. However, the basic problems remain: poverty, inequality, graft and corruption and the foreign control of the economy. In response to the new situation the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines (PCP II) was held and this has given the Church some direction. The Redemptorists in their own way implement the vision of PCP II.

    The Redemptorists of the Cebu vice-Province continue their work today under a new climate and facing new challenges. At present there are four Redemptorist Mission Teams operating in Central Visayas, Western Visayas, Eastern Visayas and Mindanao. These teams are composed of Redemptorists and lay cooperators. The Redemptorist Itinerant Mission Community working in Mindanao is regarded as a new way of living the Redemptorist apostolic life. The shrine churches are functioning as centers of evangelization and devotion, especially to the Mother of Perpetual Help. There are five parishes run by Redemptorists and these are considered as permanent missions where Basic Ecclesial Communities are being built and strengthened. The Retreat Houses continue to be centers of on-going formation for the clergy, religious, lay people and other church groups. Some confreres continue their chaplaincy work in the Leprosarium and other hospitals within their parishes. The Justice and Peace desk continues to promote the integration of justice and peace work in the various apostolates.

    In all these various apostolic undertaking, the Redemptorist work in cooperation with lay people - the lay cooperators. They have become part of the Redemptorist life and apostolate since after Vatican II. To centralize and systematize their initial and ongoing formation the Alphonsian Lay Formation Institute was established.

    In 1996, the Redemptorists in the Southern Philippines became an indendent province taking as its official name the "Cebu province." This province comprises the islands in Visayas and Mindanao.  The Cebu province maintains its link and collaboration with the Manila vice-province.

In 2006, the Redemptorists will be celebrating its centenary in the Philippines.