Joseph Rudyard Kipling , the english author, born in Mumbai, India, and best known for his works The Jungle Book (1894), was a bad prophet when he wrote, “East and West will never meet.” In fact, even by his own time (the beginning of the 20th century), East and West had not only met, but also merged together to create an extraordinarily fascinating country: the Philippines, the only nation in Asia with a Catholic majority. Through three centuries of Spanish colonial rule, Catholicism in the Philippines has brought together two civilizations, peoples and continents as diverse and distant as Asia and Europe.
An Institute for Foreing Mission like PIME, which has a preferential option for Asia, could not help but go to the Philippines. In January of 1967, Bishop Aristide Pirovano (then Superior General) responded to the invitation of some bishops and went to visit the apostolic nuncio and four bishops, together with the Regional Superior of Hong Kong, Fr. Secondo Einaudi. A year later, he sent Fr. Einaudi and Fr. Piero Gheddo for further discussions. An agreement was reached with two bishops who were inviting PIME to their dioceses: San Pablo, on the island of Luzon; and Dipolog on the southern island of Mindanao.
The first PIME members to reach the Philippines were Frs. Pietro Bonaldo (missionary in Hong Kong, to which the Philippine delegation was attached), Egidio Biffi (formerly in Burma), Pio Signò (expelled from China), Joseph Vancio (from the USA) and Brother Giovanni Arici. Others followed in a short time: in 1969 Frs. Bruno Piccolo and Francesco Alessi; in 1970 Frs. Adriano Cadei (like Biffi, expelled from Burma), Santo Di Guardo and Angelo Biancat; in 1971 Fr. Gigi Cocquio; in 1972 Frs. Peter Geremia, Vincenzo Bruno (both having been working in the USA) and Alessandro Bauducci; in 1974 Frs. Albert Booms, Alessandro Brambilla, Raymond Ridolfi and Giuseppe Zanotto; in 1975 Frs. Renato Contis, Giovanni Battista Roggeri and Br. Donald Kuester; and in 1977 Frs. Salvatore Carzedda, Sebastiano D’Ambra and Luigi Colombo.
In the first ten years, PIME sent 22 priests and 2 brothers for the two commitments agreed upon with the bishops: the parish of Santa Cruz (diocese of San Pablo) and the mission district of Siocon (diocese of Dipolog). In December 1968, the first to arrive approached the Archbishop of Manila to request a church or chapel as a point of reference in the capital. That desire was realized in 1970 when Bishop Pirovano visited the missionaries. Bishop Nuncio Carmine Rocco invited PIME to minister to the endless mass of squatters in the downtown area called Tondo. In view of Pope Paul VI’s coming visit to Manila, there was a desire to address the needs of these people with the institution of two new parishes, in order to demonstrate to the Pope and the Asian Bishops the commitment of the Philippine Church for the most poor and marginalized.
Thus, after two years, PIME found itself in three separate pastoral areas, each one very different and distant from the other. There some people could have said, seeing these strange men coming from far away, with the words of Kipling himself:
The Stranger within my gates,
He may be evil or good,
But I cannot tell what powers control- –
What reasons sway his mood;
Nor when the Gods of his far-off land
Shall repossess his blood.