Cast out into the deep: missionary reflections (2003 – 2010)

Fr. Sergio Fossati, PIME

I read the account of Pentecost countless times. But years after I started my missionary work in Sibuco, in the southern Philippines, did the dramatic story of the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles finally strike a different chord within me. The Apostles were gathered together in the Upper Room for fear of the Jews. It was better than hanging around Jerusalem, because those who had the Master killed would have recognized them immediately by their Galilean accent.

Despite their undisputed love for the Master, fear was now what gathered them together – unfortunately, a very common human experience. Commander Perez was a ruthless militia leader and a successful illegal logger. He suffered a significant loss when authorities confiscated two of his trucks and quite a few thousand board feet of illegally-cut red mahogany.

Who could have informed the authorities? Certainly not the terrified farmers. Who then? Surely the missionaries. “Si mira yo con el padre, tira yo con ele,” he said in a local dialect (“If I see the priest, I’ll shoot him”).

It is true that we spoke against wild deforestation. Fields, now exposed to the scorching sun, became barren. Water sources dried up, too. Because of the greed of few, thousands who always depended on the forest for their sustenance now had to move and look for fertile land. Abuse of creation implies abuse of humanity. That is why, as missionaries, we raised our voices.

The fact that we were totally unaware of the on-going police operation did not calm my nerves. The death threat was real. That man had a long record of brutal killings. Fear became my unwanted companion for at least three days. Fear paralyzed me during the day and prevented me from sleep during the night. Oh, yes, now I knew how the Apostles felt. I did not see any tongue of fire upon me, but definitely, all of a sudden I found the courage that deserted me. I confess that the temptation to leave my mission for an easier one was strong, but somehow I kept hearing in my heart the most reassuring words in my life: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians, 12:9)

That was all I needed. The Holy Spirit, the true Evangelizer, found the way to put me back on track with renewed enthusiasm and stronger faith.