THE GOOD NEWS
Fr. Steve Baumbusch
Baumbusch was born in Columbus, Ohio. He is a graduate of the former PIME
Saints Peter and Paul High School Seminary in Newark, Ohio. He completed his undergraduate
degree at the University of Detroit, and studied theology at the Catholic Theological
Union in Chicago. Following his ordination in 1983, he spent six years as a teacher and
dean at Sts. Peter and Paul High School Seminary. In
1989, he began a six-year stint as PIME US Regional Superior at the regional headquarters
in Detroit. During his tenure as Regional Superior, he initiated the formation of the PIME
mission in Cuanacaxtitlan, Mexico, among the native Mixtec Indians, PIME's first mission
in Mexico. From 1995-1998, he served as Formation Director for PIME's college seminarians
in Detroit. In August 1998, Father Steve left
the United States to begin his permanent mission assignment in the Philippines,
he now resides on the island of Mindanao in the village of Columbio.
Most of us are comfortable within our American
homeland and do not seek to carry Gods message beyond a familiar radius. We have become so secure within our small
boundaries we do not know how to live without the conveniences of modern technology such
as computers and PDAS, not to mention the shortage of electricity to run them. But those
who venture away from the safety of family and homeland to bring Gods message are
people with a vision, a purpose outside of themselves.
CatholicView is proud to bring its readers this interview with an American Priest
who saw the reality of bringing the Gospel to Gods precious souls in a foreign land.
PIME, the Pontifical Institute for
Foreign Missions, is an international community of priests and brothers involved in
missionary work and, in particular, the evangelization of non-Christians. It seeks to
promote inter-religious dialogue between Christians and members of other religions. The
duties of a missionary priest are dependent on the needs of their individual location. In
keeping with the mission of PIME, activities of a priest or brother include but are not
limited to establishing the Kingdom of God through the proclamation of the Gospel while
making communities and local churches self-sufficient. They nurture human development,
promote peace and justice, initiate educational programs for literacy and economic
development, care for the sick (especially those with leprosy and tuberculosis), provide
aid to children and the poor and promote understanding among different religions through
CatholicView: Father Baumbusch, there is a verse from Mark
16:15 on your site that says Go
and proclaim the good news. It seems to be a motivation that has taken you
away from American soil to the Philippines. How
do you feel about that after five years?
received my mission assignment to the Philippines after 15 years of priesthood and service
to the PIME community in the U.S. (mostly in the areas of education and administration). Ive always believed that my missionary
vocation is not dependent upon the specific place I find myself; rather, the call to
proclaim the good news is constant, wherever I am and in whatever ministry I
am asked to perform. Thus, in no way do I
regret or begrudge those 15 years in my home country, as I discovered and experienced
Gods action among so many wonderful people.
Yet, for a missionary, theres
something special about that word, Go. As
much as we recognize the need for service and ministry in our homeland, as much as we
appreciate the wonders that God works among His people in every place, as much as we love
our family and friends, theres a yearning inside of us to go
to go to far-off
to go to the ends of the earth
to go and experience the
myriad ways in which God continues to act in our world
to go and witness to the
overwhelming love of the Lord.
How do I feel about that after 5 years? Let me explain in
this way: Just before leaving for the Philippines, I was talking to a friend of mine about
how lucky I considered myself. At an age when
many of my contemporaries were beginning to question their career choice, I was just
starting to do what I'd dreamed about all my life.
"You're right," he said, "You are lucky. But what if you finally get there and then find
out that this isn't it for you?"
That was a scary thought, but only for a
moment, since I was fully caught up in the enthusiasm of finally going to the missions. Now, the answer to the question is clear: this IS
it for me. I thank God every day that He has
called me to this place and to this service.
CatholicView: How long did it take before you became
comfortable in your new mission?
Father Steve: When
I first arrived at the parish in Columbio, Sultan Kudarat, I had a lot of doubts and
apprehensions about my ability to do this ministry. I had studied Tagalog, the national
language, for only 3 months and then discovered that the majority of the people here
dont even speak Tagalog as a first language, but rather converse in their own
tongue, of which there are four major ones in this area.
I had never worked in a parish setting before, since my entire priesthood was spent
in education and administration duties. The priest whose place I was taking left for his
new assignment only 4 days after my arrival, so I had no guidance.
be honest, each night as I drifted off to sleep, I said to myself: I cant do
this. Its just not going to work. Ill hang in here for a couple of months,
until the next meeting of the PIME Regional Council, and then Ill simply tell the
superiors that I need to be reassigned.
nighttime thoughts went on for about a week, and then a strange thing happened. As I was drifting off to sleep, I found myself
saying, I love this place! What a great
fit this is for me! It feels so right for me
to be here. I didnt know the language any better than I had a week before. I
didnt have any more pastoral experience than previously. Yet, I really felt that this was my place, the
place God wants me to be. I consider that to be pure grace, a gift from God that continues
to sustain me as I face the everyday challenges of the mission.
How long did it take you to speak the Tagalog language fluently enough to be
Father Steve: The
language challenge continues. I have no
problem saying the Mass and preaching. For
Sunday Masses, I still write out my homily and have a member of the parish team check it
over for mistakes. On weekdays, the
short reflection I give is more spontaneous. As
I mentioned before, there are actual several languages in this area. Among the villages under my care, 4 are
predominantly Ilonggo and 2 are Cebuano. I am
able to celebrate the Mass in those languages, but I always preach in Tagalog.
biggest challenge in understanding actually comes in casual conversation. This is not only because of my limitations in the
language, but because Filipinos are by nature rather indirect in their communication. A lot is left unsaid. There are nuances of tone
and body language that I have not yet become fully adept at interpreting. So, sometimes I might understand every
word that is spoken, but I remain completely in the dark as to what the person
is actually communicating. My own cultural
directness in speech is often surprising to them.
the lighter side, let me tell you just one language gaffe from my first year here in
Columbio. My PIME Superior was coming to
visit, and I wanted to be sure that he had a mattress to sleep on (the people here
normally just sleep on a kind of raised platform). I was told that there was an extra one
at the Tribal Training Center next to the rectory. I
went over to ask the woman in charge (Angie) if I could borrow it. I didn't know the Tagalog word for mattress, but
I was sure that I had heard people using the English word, so was confident that she would
understand. In fact, she seemed to know what
I was talking about, but wasn't sure just where the extra mattress was. She said she would ask the students who lived
there, and let me know later.
About a half hour later, a student came over and said,
"Father, Angie wants to know what you mean by 'mattress'." Still not knowing the Tagalog word, I tried to
describe it, then finally went to my room and pointed at the mattress on my bed. "Oh, Ok Father," came the response, and
later someone brought the mattress over. At dinner that night, I found that the story had
spread to the students who live with me, and they told me the source of the confusion. When I asked Angie for an extra
"mattress", the closest Tagalog word she could come up with was
"matris", which means uterus! In
the typical Filipino way, she didn't want to embarrass me, so she acted like she knew what
I was talking about, but she was quite sure that she didn't have an extra one!
But this language stuff goes both ways. Quite a few English expressions are used, but with
a distinctly Filipino accent. So, for
example, at a parish team meeting, one of the members suggested that we start planning for
the "Parish Youth Days, using the English words. The first few times I heard it, I could have
sworn she was saying "Parachute Days", and I couldnt figure out why
skydivers would be coming to Columbio. Once
I deciphered what she really meant, I had my own little private joke as I asked,
"Tell me what goes on during Parachute Days," and they answered as if it were
the most natural question in the world, telling me all about the ballgames and other
activities of the Parish Youth Days.
Is the Mass celebrated in the Philippines the same way as in the United States?
Father Steve: The
structure and flow of the Mass are the same: Penitential Rite, Readings, Gospel, Homily,
Creed, Offertory, Consecration, Communion, Blessing.
I would say that the participation of the people is a bit more active here. The Filipino people love to sing, so its no
struggle to get them to join in on the hymns. For
bigger celebrations, there are often creative expressions in the liturgy, such as dance or
CatholicView: What percentage of the people in the Philippines is
Father Steve: As
a result of 400 years of Spanish colonial rule, the Philippines is the only Christian
country in Asia, and Catholics make up well over 90% of the population. The Catholic faith is thus deeply rooted, in one
sense. Yet, as is the case for people
everywhere, there remains a need for deeper understanding and commitment. The major expressions of the faith continue to be
the popular devotions to which the people are very attached: statues,
processions, fiestas, etc.
within the past 20-25 years, the Catholic Church in the Philippines has been committed to
the Basic Ecclesial Community model (BEC). In
each village, groups of families make up a BEC. They
gather together for the weekly Scripture and Communion Service led by the Lay Catechist
(or kaabag), for the monthly Mass, and other opportunities for prayer and
sharing. Essentially, the BEC is the way of
being church in the Philippines. As
opposed to a large parish experience which can be virtually anonymous, the BEC is
intentionally kept rather small, so that the people come to know one another well and can
share deeply about their experiences in the light of the Gospel. Particularly in times of tension, violence, and
oppression (e.g. during the Martial Law years here under Marcos), the BEC offers a chance
for solidarity, mutual support, and just trying to make sense of what is going on. It can also be a vehicle for community organizing
among the poor, in order to work together to better their condition.
are many changes that have happened for the betterment of your parish community such as
the building of your new church. How were you
able to orchestrate and accomplish this with limited resources?
Father Steve: In regard to the new church, which
has been a true blessing for the people, we have to thank the Lord for His goodness, and
for inspiring the generosity of many, many folks. In
particular, the people at St. Andrew parish in Columbus, Ohio (where I grew up and where
my parents are still members) have been so helpful and supportive. We joke about my place of origin and my present
assignment: from Columbus to Columbio! But
beyond the coincidence of names, its inspiring to me to see this connection and
support from the people of my home parish for the people of my new parish. A missionary, after all, should act as
bridge between local churches, linking the people of God to brothers and
sisters that they have never met. The church
construction also received funding from the PIME community in Italy and the U.S., which
means from benefactors who continually support mission projects around the world.
terms of local resources, it is correct to say that they are quite limited. The people of the Columbio parish engaged in
fundraisers, but as one can imagine, the amount raised is rather minimal in view of large
project like the new church. However, here in
the Philippines, there is the custom of bayanihan or working together for a
common cause. Thus, for any kind of project,
many volunteers contribute their time and work.
Baumbusch, on your website you have stated Our missionaries dedicate their lives to
serving Gods people throughout the world, especially the poor and forgotten. In
doing so, they give up the comfort and convenience of home to travel to countries where
they face danger, violence, poverty and illness on a day-to-day basis. To date, there are
18 PIME martyrs. You have had first
hand knowledge facing danger from the Muslims and were advised to keep a low profile
during a pressured time. What happened and are you still under threat?
Father Steve: To
make a long story short(er): In October of 2000, I went to the Bishops House in
Kidapawan, about 65 km away, for the regular monthly clergy meeting. In order to reach Kidapawan from Columbio, you
pass through several predominately Muslim areas. This
is no problem, and I have done so many, many times. This
time, I received a call on the radio from my parish council president, who told me not to
return to Columbio right away, because he had received reports that there were people
waiting along the road to kidnap me. In fact,
he was relieved to know that I had reached Kidapawan safely, because according to his
sources the kidnappers had already been in place the today before. By luck (or more likely by Providence) I must have
passed right by them.
with the Bishop and my fellow missionaries, we decided that the prudent course would be to
stay in Kidapawan until the danger passed. All
of us acknowledged that there will always be a general kind of danger, which would not
deter us from our work. But when there is a
specific, targeted threat against us, we should take steps to remain as safe as possible. As it turns out, I was able to return to Columbio
after a couple of months, when it became clear that the group planning the kidnapping had
moved out of the area. Since that time, more
than two years ago, we are in an almost constant state of alert, but there has
not been any specific threat or danger causing me to stay out of Columbio.
want to make one thing clear in regard to that experience.
While it is true that the group planning the kidnapping happened to be Muslims, I
never saw the situation as a Muslim threat.
In fact, it was our Muslim neighbors who first warned my Parish Council president
about the danger, and it was the Muslim leaders who finally succeeded in convincing this
group to move on, away from the Columbio area, and then informed us that it was safe to
return. Simply put, the kidnappers were
thugs, out to make a buck from ransom demands, not terrorists or religious zealots of any
kind. As I mentioned above, I do not feel any
personal or specific threat directed toward me by the Muslims of this area. If danger exists, it comes from these roving
groups of outlaws who are motivated not by religion or politics but by the lure of easy
money to be made from hold-ups and kidnappings.
one of your letters in your journal you spoke of a massacre that took place destroying an
entire family and believed to be perpetrated by members of the MILF (Moro Islamic
Liberation Front), a Muslim rebel group. Does
this kind of incident happen often and why?
Father Steve: Here
is what happened in the village of Lasak. On
November 12, 2000, armed men awoke the family of Mr. and Mrs. Geronimo Eleccion at 4:00 AM
and asked for coffee. After drinking their coffee, the armed group commanded the Eleccions
to go outside the house, where they were all shot. Geronimo (50 yrs. old) survived to tell
the horror. Killed on the spot were his wife
Luzviminda (35), his son (16) Richard, his daughter (18) Gemma, Gemmas boyfriend
Allan Seroco (34), and Luzvimindas nephew Benjie Sujede (5).
feigned death while he observed the movements of the group.
He saw that there were over 30 armed men surrounding them. Some of them began looting the house of clothes
and cash. The armed men also gathered and
set fire to pillows and blankets in the center of the house, intending to burn down the
entire structure. When Geronimo saw that the
group had left, he struggled to go upstairs, even though seriously wounded in his arms and
stomach (his intestines were exposed). In
several trips, he managed to fetch about 4 gallons of water and stop the burning. Then he fell under a table, since he could no
longer bear the pain of his wounds, which would eventually prove fatal.
perpetrators, who were speaking a mixture of languages (Tribal, Muslim, Ilonggo and
Cebuano), have not been identified. The
family cannot trace the motives; according to them, they do not have enemies in the
community. They are all innocent civilians. As active leaders and members of their local Basic
Ecclesial Community, they performed their responsibilities well. The first inclination of
the military is always to suspect the MILF, but there is no clear evidence that rebel
forces were behind this massacre.
ask if this kind of incident happens often. Thanks
be to God, such atrocities as this massacre are rather rare. However, other criminal incidents are common:
hold-ups, rustling of cattle and carabao (the water buffalo used in farmwork), etc. Our situation here could well be compared to the
Old West in the United States: there has been an influx of settlers from other parts of
the country, with resulting land claims and disputes; roving bands of outlaws act with
general impunity, escaping into mountain hideouts and other remote areas; as a result,
almost everyone is armed, and any conflict can quickly turn deadly.
CatholicView: How do you give comfort to
surviving members after a terrific travesty of human life?
Father Steve: Comfort
comes, I think, from active presence and from the close-knit community of the BEC. At the same time, these happenings provide a great
challenge to all of us in terms of how we will respond to evil. Let me use the same massacre as a example. Two funeral Masses were celebrated for the
victims. The first was shortly after the
event itself, and was presided by the Bishop of Kidapawan, Most Reverend Romulo G. Valles. I presided at the second Mass, which took place
just before the burial of the victims. (If you noticed the dates, you will realize that
this was one of the first things I did after returning from Columbio from my
exile during the kidnap threat against me.)
During the homily, I said to the people:
week, Bishop Valles mentioned that at times like this, some people, in a search for
consolation, cling to the idea that it is all to be accepted as the will of
God. The Bishop asserted that in this
case, we can state clearly that the massacre of these innocent victims is absolutely NOT
the will of God. And Bishop Valles was
correct. The death of your loved ones was an
evil act, and we know that there is no room for evil in the will of God.
this presents each one of us with an important question.
As Christians, how do we confront evil? What
is our reaction as we stand face to face with evil actions?
Just as the death of your loved ones is not in the will of God, neither can it be
God's will that our reaction is one of hatred or seeking revenge. Yesterday, we celebrated the Feast of Christ the
King, and we know that the Kingdom of God, which is the expression of His will, is a
Kingdom of peace, of mercy, of forgiveness and reconciliation.
our King, is also our model. He too was a
victim of evil. As he hung upon the cross, he
had the power to respond in anger and revenge upon the perpetrators of evil. Instead, he chose to pray for them: Father,
forgive them, for they know not what they do. This
is the challenge for each one of us: to face evil with a heart full of goodness and mercy.
After all, we're only human beings, and we're filled with many emotions at this
time. Let us seek the help and the strength
of the Lord, to overcome whatever anger and bitterness we feel. Let us be sure that the Lord is with us in our
trials, providing us with the grace we need to be true disciples, true witnesses to His
Kingdom of love."
you feel that the simplicity and courage of the people add great strength to their faith
Father Steve: Definitely. Earlier, I mentioned that the task of a missionary
is to act as a bridge between local churches, each offering to the other
something of their experience, their richness, their gifts, for the upbuilding of the
Universal Church and witness to the presence of the Kingdom. I believe that what the church in the Philippines
has to offer is an example of deep faith and perseverance in the face of daily trials and
struggles for survival that many people cant even imagine. You can sense this in common sayings of the
people: God is good
all the time! Carry
on! No retreat, no
surrender! These are not mere slogans nor feel-good platitudes, but real expressions
of their belief in the constant presence and care of the Lord, even in the midst of great
difficulties, and their conviction that it is worthwhile to continue working together in
want to idealize anyone, so Im not saying that this attitude is 100% consistent
among 100% of the people. Like all people,
the Filipino is subject to doubt, discouragement, selfishness, pride and all the other
weaknesses of human nature. But there is also
an underlying strength among many, strength that comes from a firm trust and confidence in
the love of God for them, come what may. That
continues to be a great lesson and inspiration for me in my own faith relationship with
CatholicView: Would you consider coming back home to
bring your knowledge and expertise to us?
Father Steve: Every
three years, we PIME Missionaries have a three-month vacation in our homeland. My first vacation was in 2001, and I was very
happy to share my experiences in a number of different groups and venues: parishes, high
schools and elementary schools, youth groups, etc. I
imagine that the same will take place during my next vacation in 2004.
Thank you Father
Baumbusch, for giving CatholicView this insightful look at how the faithful are
worshipping our heavenly Father in the face of strong opposition and under sometimes
primitive conditions. It is a testament to
people like you who persevere and inspire others to continue to trust and follow
Gods plan. We can all benefit from your
unselfish gifts. May God send a legion of
angels to protect you as you continue in your special missionary service for Him.
Father Steve: Many thanks to you and all of your
readers for your interest and concern, and most especially for your constant prayers, upon
which my people and I will continue to rely. Lets
remain united in our commitment to work together for the fulfillment of the Kingdom. God bless you always!
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