Talk with the Provincial: An interview with Fr. Gregorio Banaga, Jr., CM on the 150th Founding Anniversary of the Congregation of the Mission’s Philippine Province

Date Posted: December 17, 2021 at 11:36 AM


The Philippine Province of the Congregation of the Mission celebrated its sesquicentennial founding anniversary last December 13. As the community remembers this momentous occasion, the Adamson News got the chance to interview the Provincial Visitor, Fr. Gregorio Bañaga, Jr., CM about the Vincentian Family in the Philippines.

Here is our transcript:

Interviwer: What does the 150 years of Vincentian arrival in the Philippines mean to the Vincentian community?

Fr. Bañaga: The Vincentians came from Spain in 1862, and then 10 years later in 1872, we became [an] independent province, which means to say that we are not dependent on Spain anymore. One of the reasons for this is because Spain is about, if I’m not mistaken, 12,000 miles from the Philippines and during that time, it took them about more than 3 months at sea in order to reach the Philippines. So, because of the distance, the Superior General thought that it would be better if the Philippines becomes an independent province. And so, 10 years later, we became an independent province, although, because we did not have vocations at the time, we are still dependent on Spain. So, the province of Madrid was sending, practically every year, missionaries to the Philippines in order to help those who were already here running the seminaries because in the beginning, we handled San Carlos Seminary. And then later on, we took over the seminary of Naga, then the seminary of Jaro, and finally the seminary of Vigan. I think that was in 1872, and then 4 years later, we left Vigan. So, the major archdiocesans and seminaries were under the Vincentians in the first 10-15 years of our existence as a province. So what does it mean to us? Well, the 150 years actually means that we are independent from the Mother province and we have been actually blossoming as a Philippine province because of it.

Interviewer: Since you mentioned that the Vincentian province here is independent, how does the CM Philippines, in its own right, continue channeling St. Vincent’s profound love for the poor? How does the congregation here show this as the independent Philippine province?

Fr. Bañaga: When the Vincentians came to the Philippines, they came with a specific mission and that was the formation of the native local clergy here in the Philippines. So, for more than a hundred years, they were involved in that and then gradually, they started to do the other ministries in the province, in the Philippines. For example, they started with parishes, in fact the first parish was St. Vincent de Paul parish which is beside Adamson University; and then there were the social ministries, education, devotion to the miraculous medal, and the Marian devotion, and the, of course, we continue our service to the daughters of charity. So, if you ask me how do we channel our love for the poor, as St. Vincent said, it is mainly through our social ministry, and right now, our social ministry is focused on the problem of homelessness in the Philippines - and this is the ministry of the Vincentian social ministry -- the Vincentian foundation. Also, in some of our parishes, we are serving the poor; and during this time of the pandemic, of course, we have organized Vincent helps which is organizing community pantries. It is also organizing feeding programs for the poor. Our parish in St. Vincent de Paul has daily feeding of 500 homeless people, and that was since last March of last year. So it's [been] more than a year that we’ve been feeding 500 homeless people. So these are just some of the programs that we do that channel our energies and our resources our masters – our lords and masters of St. Vincent who are the poor people.

 

Interviewer: With this idea of how you channel St Vincent’s profound of the poor, what do you think is the role of the Vincentian family in the CM Philippines, and the congregation of the mission in general?

Fr. Bañaga: The Vincentian family is actually a family that is made up of different branches. If I’m not mistaken, more than almost 200 branches have sprout[ed] out of the charism and the spirituality of St. Vincent de Paul. And here in the Philippines, we have several branches. I think here are 10 of them - different religious congregations and associations follow the spirit of St Vincent de Paul.

              The Vincentian family in the Philippines actually is also involved in several projects and programs to help poor people. From financial assistance to scholarships, to pabahay or housing programs, [inaudible 7:59], to feeding programs, to helping people during disaster operations, all of that and of course we should never forget the Society of St Vincent de Paul is doing person-to-person apostolate for the poor. That is the charism -- the specific charism, that Frederick Ozanam left to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul - that they will do a personal visit to the poor. Pero not only to give, not only like an agency to give to a lot of people. For them, it’s encountering the poor in their situation because that is where they will seek Christ most. 

Interviewer: Since you’ve mentioned that the Vincentian family has many more other branches, how do you think can the lay Vincentians and the youth collaborate in the endeavors of the Vincentian Family? 

Fr. Bañaga: Well, the lay members of the Vincentian family, especially are the one who engage themselves in the sociopolitical and economic spheres of life because they are not religious, they are not priests and sisters. So, they are in the what we call the arena of the world, and that is where they exercise their influence and their apostolate. One of the means of doing that, for example, you know since we are almost preparing for our elections, we want them to be socially and politically involved like St Vincent de Paul during his time, and even Frederick Ozanam. Why? Because we encounter today problems and issues that affect the poor, especially. The Vincentian family and the young people can be involved in that. Specifically, I will say my voter’s education, teaching people how to discern so that we will have the right leaders - the right political leaders - to lead our country. Because today, the poor are suffering because our leaders themselves, are not doing what they should be doing. So, I am appealing, especially to the youth and to the lay people to actually help in the education of our voters. 

Interviewer: What do you think Adamson University will play in this endeavor?

Fr. Bañaga: Well, Adamson University, first because of the faculty and the students, and the vast majority are mostly lay people. They can be engaged especially in the sociopolitical arena like voter’s education. I would also like to ask especially the young people to look, to discern well especially now because we have a lot of social media. There are so many trolls; there are lots of disinformation, revisionism in terms of our history and it projects that a particular candidate has been doing or has been the one who propelled the Philippines into its golden years, which is false because the money that this person and his family spent is actually the money of the Filipino people, and we have become a bankrupt nation because of the money that was stolen from us.

I wish the young people would open their eyes and not to just believe what is there in social media. As they say today, social media is the worst spreader of lies among people, and I hope the young people can help discern well the candidate to vote.

Interviewer: Going back to the mass earlier, Archbishop Villegas’ homily, how do you think can the congregation and the Vincentian family as a whole practice what he said for the Vicentians to be mystique missionaries, ignorant yet humble professors, and be rich enough to tender and help the poor?

Fr. Bañaga: There were three points in the homily of Archbishop Soc Villegas. The first one he said is that the Vincentians become mystique or mystical missionaries. Meaning to say that we should go back and develop our contemplative dimension. In fact, St Vincent himself said that we, missionaries, are supposed to be Carthusians of home and apostles in the country - meaning to say that there is contemplative dimension to our life, and how do we practice that? By prayer - the private personal prayer that we are in close relationship with God, so that we can contemplate God, we know the will of God and we follow the will of God in our lives. Secondly, he said that we should be ignorant and humble formators of the clergy. I think what the Archbishop actually meant is that we should not be proud formators. But we should be humble, listening to the Lord, as we teach these young seminarians and priests. We want them to also be educated properly by the kind of education that comes from the gospel and from the teachings of the church. So, the professors have to be humble and listen to the church. And the third one is he emphasized that the richness that we bring to the people is not material riches, just as Jesus did not build churches, hospitals, or orphanages. Jesus gave himself to the people. In the same way, this is our richness - we possess Jesus himself and this is what enriches our life, this is what our treasure, and this is what we should give to other people. So he said give Jesus, only Jesus, always Jesus, and by saying that, actually, the Archbishop reminded us of what Mother Theresa said to the priests. She said this what the mission of every priest - to bring Jesus to others, always Jesus, only Jesus. And if we do that, then we will be Vincentian missionaries according to God’s heart. 

Interviewer: What would be your message to non-Vincentians about the congregation in the Philippines.

Fr. Bañaga: Well, my message is if they open themselves to social media and to what we do as a congregation, they will see the spirit behind it and I hope that they would be attracted to it. But, you do not really need to be a Vincentian in order to do what St VIncent de Paul has wanted us to do which is go to the poor. Go to the poor and serve the poor, and you will find Jesus there. So even if you are not Vincentian in name, you can be a Vincentian in heart.