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Catholics die without a priest to assist them in their last moments; for there is no priest within reach, or only a priest who cannot possibly attend to all the dying in his vast parish. Of late years this state of things has grown steadily worse, and at present it is appalling. On the one hand, there are few countries in Europe that can send out Missionaries now, and on the other godless education is turning the minds of young Filipinos to things other than the work for souls.
In the diocese of Jaro there are thirty-two parishes without a priest, and in the Seminary at Jaro there are only about twenty-five seminarists, including as seminarists boys who have only just begun to study Latin. In Cebu, in the olden time, there used to be about fifty students of Theology, whereas the seminarists, at present including students of Theology and others, are only about half that number. In the diocese of Zamboanga there are only four native priests, and there are thirty parishes without any priest.
It is not easy to state the exact number of parishes in the Philippines in which there is no priest. Mere numbers besides would not give any adequate idea of the state o things here. In reply to a letter asking for some details of the diocese of Jaro, Father L. Rogan, an Irish priest of the Mill Hill Society, wrote as follows, and what he says may be applied to many other districts of the Philippines :
Many of the parishes that have a resident priest could easily keep two active priests busy, and in quite a number of parishes there is plenty of work for three. Yet in all these places there is only one priest, a nd in many cases he is old and feeble. There are parishes in this Diocese that have sixteen, twenty, twenty-four, thirty thousand people in them, and only one priest to attend to all. The extent of some of the parishes is ten miles by ten, ten miles by twelve, ten miles by fourteen, twelve miles by twelve. This I find to be the extent of many of the parishes. Then in many cases there is no road, or only one road, and the result means biking' through rice-paddies, and you know what this can be in wet weather.
Owing to the death of some of the native clergy the want of priests is being very acutely felt at present in the Cebu diocese. Perhaps I could not do better, to make the reader realize the sad condition of things that obtains in the Philippines, than to take the example of one parish in the Cebu district, and see what the want of priests means to it. I select this particular parish, not because it is worse off than others, but because I happen to have lived in it for some time, and I have thus been able to get detailed information on the spot. Like many of the Philippine Islands, Cebu consists of a long, mountain-range, with plains extending from its base to the sea. The parish which I wish to describe extends from the coast-line some fourteen miles back into the heart of the mountains. It is about six miles in width. It has a population of 24,000, and how rapidly its population is increasing may be judged from the fact that the number of deaths in one year in the parish was 370, while the number of births was 1,253.
In this parish, in Spanish times, there were three priests, two Spaniards and a native. At present it has only one priest (a native) to administer to its 24,000 Catholics. And be it remembered that many of the parishioners live in the heart of a mountain-range over which there is no road. In fact there is only one road in the whole parish, and that is just at the extremity of it, along by the sea-coast. Supposing that every one who is of age to do so in the parish went to confession just once a year, this would mean that the Cura (Parish Priest) should hear on an average about fifty confessions every day of the year.
Hence it may be inferred that the decree on Frequent communion for children, or for anyone else, must remain a dead letter, through sheer impossibility of receiving the Sacraments. Indeed, Communion, even once a year, is practically impossible for many.
So also is assistance at Mass on Sundays. How can poor people, weak from constant heat, and oftentimes from lack of nourishing food, be expected to travel over many miles of mountain, with no road, and to attend in large numbers at a distant church The Spanish friars had little chapels built in outlying districts, but it is only very rarely that Mass can be said in these chapels now.
Into the parish which I have been describing-where one priest has charge of_24,000 souls—came the news, about a year ago, that the Parish Priest of a neighbouring parish had been transferred elsewhere by the Bishop. There was no one to take this priest's place, so the Bishop wrote to ask the Cura, who had already charge of 24,000 people, to take over the neighbouring parish as well. This, then, has been the arrangement for the past twelve months: the Cura, who had already work on hands for four or five priests, has now a second parish to attend to ! He is not a young man either; he is well over fifty.
This parish of Calmont may be regarded as a normal Philippine parish. There are others in a far worse condition. We have given Missions in many country parishes, with a population varying from thirty-one to forty-five thousand souls, all Catholic, and having only one priest to look after their spiritual wants. To make matters still worse, sometimes a parish is left to the care of a priest who, through age or infirmity, is incapable of any work. Take, for example, a parish just a little to the north of the one I have been describing. It has a population of 12,000, and the only priest in charge is eighty-three years of age !
These few facts are sufficient in themselves to show how great is the harvest in the Philippine Islands, and how few indeed are the labourers. Here the question arises : how has this state of things come about ?
The answer to that question brings us back to the revolution of 1896. At the outbreak of the revolution there were over eleven hundred friars in the Philippines. The number of canonical parishes was seven hundred and fortysix, and there were in addition two hundred and twenty-one mission-parishes, and the total number of Catholics was calculated at 6,559,998. But the revolution brought with it the expulsion of the friars. Unfortunately they were popularly regarded as having identified themselves with the Government which the Filipinos were struggling to cast off, and thus lost the sympathy of the people, and incurred the hostility of the revolutionary leaders. This hostility was further increased by an almost world-wide campaign carried on by the Masonic Press against the friars. Thus it came about that after the revolution many of the friars had to leave the really splendid and heroic work to which they had devoted themselves in the Philippines. Some retired to Manila or Cebu, and about seven hundred of them left the Islands and returned to Spain, or sought new fields of work in China or South America.
This was indeed a sad ending to the glorious work of the friars in the Philippine Islands. Probably no body of men ever did so much for another nation as the friars did for the Philippines. If would be easy to give facts, and quote authorities, to show what zealous, devoted Missionaries the Spanish friars were. It will be sufficient to quote a paragraph from an excellent authority, Frederic Sawyer. Mr. Sawyer knew his subject well. He lived long years in the Philippines, travelled much, and wrote a large volume, full of detailed information, about the Islands. He is an Englishman and Protestant. Here is what he says with regard to the friars :
To sum up the religious Orders, they were hardy and adventurous pioneers of Christianity, and in the evangelization of the Philippines, by persuasion and teaching, they did more for Christianity and civilization than any other missionaries of modern times. Of undaunted courage, they have ever been to the front when calamities threatened their flocks ; they have witnessed and recorded some of the most dreadful convulsions of nature, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and destructive typhoons. In epidemics of plague and cholera they have not been dismayed, nor have they ever in such cases abandoned their flocks. When an enemy has attacked the Islands they have been the first to face the shot. Only fervent faith could have enabled these men to endure the hardships and overcome the danger that encompassed them. They have done much for education, have founded schools for both sexes, training colleges for teachers, the University of Santo Tomas in Manila, and other institutions, Hospitals and asylums attest their charity. They were formerly, and even lately, the protectors of the poor against the rich, and of the natives against the Spaniard. They have consistently resisted the enslavement of the natives. They restrained the constant inclination of the natives to wander away into the woods and return to primitive savagery by keeping them in the towns, or as they said, 'Under the bells.'
Now, however, the friars are gone, and the result is a lamentable want of priests in the Philippines to-day. The Mill Hill Society of London has sent some priests to the rescue. Austria, Germany, Belgium, Australia, and Ireland have also sent some priests. A few American priests have succeeded in getting away from their own vast work at home and coming here. But the numbers fall altogether short of the work to be done. As the country is progressing materially, it is sad to see the fine churches and convents built by the Spaniards in many places going to rack and ruin. It is still more sad to see the ruin of souls which is threatening to become widespread through the land. The late Dr. Boylan, Bishop of Kilmore, who spent some time in the Philippines studying conditions here, summed up his conclusions in a brief phrase : “There is no place in the world where priests are more needed than in the Philippine Islands.' And I may add, nowhere can they save more souls who, humanly speaking, will be lost without them.
THE REQUEST FOR MISSIONS To make the needs of the Philippines more clearly under: stood, I can hardly do better than take up some of the
letters that reach us, Redemptorists, from various sources in the Islands, but especially from Bishops and priests, asking for Missions, and telling of the distress of souls entrusted to their care. A few extracts, with a word of explanation on them, will suffice.
Among the letters preserved at our house at Opon there is, for instance, one from a native Filipino Bishop, asking for Missions in nine 'pueblos' (parishes), or at least in the pueblos mas importantes' (more important parishes). ' This letter was written three years ago, and although we are very anxious to go to his Lordship’s assistance we have not yet been able to give a Mission in even one of the parishes he mentions. Later on, the same Bishop wrote urging us to found a house in his diocese, and offering a site and a goodly sum of money to help on the building. This kind offer we have had to decline. Indeed we have had to decline similar offers from practically every Bishop in the Philippines. There is endless work for Missions in these Islands and a wide field for many Missionary Societies. Even in the Visayan group of Islands, where we work, we cannot cope with the Missions that come pouring in upon us. Last year a Superior of Spanish friars (there are of course some friars left in the Philippines) came to us from another diocese with a request for nine Missions in parishes entrusted to the care of his Order. It will be some years yet before these can be reached : other Missions nearer to us and longer asked for will claim attention for many a day to come.
When will you come to give a Mission to us ?' a young priest asked one of our Irish Missionaries recently; and he added, "I was ordained last December and now I have charge of five parishes.'
Among the letters on Mission topics at Opon there is one-written after a Mission-by a native Cura to one of our higher Superiors. Having stated his conviction that the Missions are, and ever will be, a powerful aid to the Secular Clergy in coping with the work of their parishes, especially in these days, when vocations to the priesthood are so few,' the writer proceeds to give a sketch of the work done and incidentally shows the need of workers.
There were 12,000 Communions during the Mission [he writes), and every day some three thousand people assisted at the exercises. About two thousand children attended the children's mission, and the number of First Communions was as high as eight hundred. Two hundred and thirty-five pairs who were living in concubinage returned to God, and