Evangelizing Pilgrims and Strangers

The Institute of Spirituality in Asia (ISA) held a Public Lecture on “A Spirituality of Evangelical Itinerancy” on Saturday, June 24, 2017 at the St. Teresa of Avila Chapel, # 28 Acacia St., New Manila, Quezon City.

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Facilitator was Fray (Fr.) Paulo Maria Diosdado Casurao, CSFP, the founding moderator/abbot of the Pilgrim Brothers of St. Francis (Cong. S. Francesco Peregrinorum) which is aggregated to   the Order of Friars Minor (ORM Observant), Rome, 1990 as well as to the Congregation Jesu Peregrinorum, Inc. and to the Franciscan Sisters of the Incarnate Word, Inc.

Fray Paolo founded the Pilgrim Brothers of St. Francis in June 1987. Aside from governing this monastic order, he runs a cultural network of 17 organizations/institutions; serves as resource person and facilitator for the speakers’ bureau of the National Commission on Culture and the Arts (NCCA) and of cultural groups; and is a consultant to a number of nongovernment organizations.

He is also a poet-playwright who writes in three Philippine languages and four international languages, and whose works have been published in French, German, Japanese, Korean and English. During martial law in the Philippines, he directed the Institute of Dramatic Arts (IDA)  of the Diocese of Calbayog-Catbalogan in Samar, his home province.

 “The resistance moved across Mindoro province to Samar, and priests were at the forefront of the fight against Ferdinand Marcos, something which is hardly remembered now, “Fray Paolo said during the public lecture at ISA.

He also remembers how the people stood between the military and the theater workers he had trained for social action, adding, “And so, we continue education through the arts and theater.” 

Fray Paolo remains a community organizer, a researcher, a singer and instrumentalist (for a  time in jazz pubs in Japan, where he had to stay during martial law), a visual artist, a master artist in jewelry which he has taught to women and youth, an editor and publisher of books and journals, and a director of theater workshops and of seminars on strategic  cultural planning and management.

He was a classmate of Angeles Ureta, moderator of this particular public lecture of ISA, at a  course offered at the Asian Institute of Management (AIM) on the topic “Managing the Arts”. He was  introduced to ISA by Ms. Ureta, recalled Fr. Rico Ponce, O. Carm. ISA Executive and Academic Director.

“God never runs out of people of wisdom to be with us in our journey,” said Fr. Ponce  in awarding Fray Paolo a plaque of appreciation and in alluding to the journey of people, institutions, communities and cultures on the local, national and international levels  – a journey which Fray Paolo and the Pilgrims Brothers of St. Francis have vowed to accompany.

“There is a witnessing in being transient and pilgrim,” said Fray Paolo about being urged b in his youth to go to Brazil and teach the Indians: “No one is permanent here.”

The congregation seeks to discern new ways of witnessing for God in the midst of the world, as their brochure says. According to the same information material, while there is a preference for the hidden life – it being a monastic order – the Pilgrim Brothers of St. Francis has also founded religious communities, cultural groups, movements, and inter-religious organizations.

As Fray Paolo shared during the public lecture, he had been a seminarian with the OFM Observants order of the Franciscans when he sensed a calling to Go to the entire world, preach the good news …as pilgrims and exiles …” (Mark 10: 15: 1 Par 2:11).

 “In July 1987 I was accompanying my brother back to Cebu City after our father and sister had been assassinated in Samar, “Fray Paolo recalled.

“In Cebu I submitted a paper to then-Auxiliary Bishop =======Tumulak, whom we seminarians had helped in the Eucharistic Congress, for permission from the Archbishop of Cebu, Cardinal ——–Vidal, to establish our congregation.”

Fray Paolo received word from Bishop Tumulak that the Cardinal wanted him to articulate more the concept behind the congregation. He did, and was surprised to receive canonical permission on August 2, 1987, the feast of Our Lady of the Angels in Porciuncula, major to St. Francis.

On August 11, 1987 – the feast of St. Clare – he and his confreres  made the  profession of vows.

“For the second time after my father’s death I really collapsed,” Fray Paolo said. “I got sick. I was embarrassed. I felt so unworthy. I didn’t want to take the spotlight away from Clare. The  Litany of Saints during our profession was an embarrassing moment.”

Nevertheless, Fray Paolo believed he would work on a mission related to  Christ’s invitation “Walk with Me” and after a week, he received an announcement from Bishop Tumulak to work at the Cebu City Medical Center.

On his pastoral mission there he encountered prisoners sent to recover from donating their kidneys for a fee. Almost always, he could sense that they would die soon, he said, and he made efforts to pray for and with them.

In 1990 the Pilgrim Brothers of St. Francis received  a Decree of Aggregation signed by the OFM Minister General Fr. John Vaughn and addressed to the Moderator, Fray Paulo. That same year the community moved to their permanent home, the Christ the King Sanctuary in Punta Princesa, Cebu City.

“Our main engine is to go and preach the Gospel. That is my itinerary in life,” said Fray Paolo during the open forum. “And so, I have learned a constant frame of reference – a personal belief in a personal seal with a God who will stand by you.”

 He also cited reckless abandon in the grace of creating something, saying, “The Brothers do something;  otherwise, there is no sense of mission. I teach them jewelry making and I make sure them they learn it well and teach it to others.” 

On mission, he pointed out that one may ask, “What was I called upon to do?” and go on retreat.

“But one can have a retreat while doing the marketing in Quiapo or while giving a workshop to criminals 9-17 years old in a detention center. We can be contemplatives in the marketplace.”

Fray Paolo also pointed out that the congregation has no formation program, calling it expensive and ponderous. He was asked about this by members of older congregations when he was in Rome on a scholarship. .

He replied, “Francis had an itinerary but no formation program. At the end of the year, my classmates agreed that having no formation program makes the best formation program. What is important is screening the youth.”

Fray Paulo discussed other frames of reference, including a spirit of prayer, simplicity in life and in the structures of the congregation, solidarity (“Let us not compete with the poor for resources”), and continual divestment.

“The Brothers come in with a paper bag, but some leave with big, massive suitcases,” he explained. “But the farmers out in the mountains would recoil at the lunches of the leisure class, and the Little Brothers of Jesus have nuclear physicists who are now canal diggers. How dare we live in extreme comfort?”

The congregation chose a very poor neighborhood  for their headquarters. They had a house without water or drainage. They had only P80,000 on hand “but the Cardinal and the socialites came for the house blessing,” said Fray Paolo.

He added, “In Sugod, Cebu  I converted a place abandoned by the Missionaries of Charity in a poor diocese to a small and quiet monastery. In a place donated by my brother-in-law and  my foster father, we maximize space; 3 sq m can be a prayer house to replenish us spiritually.”

Fray Paolo also discussed liturgical rootedness as a frame of reference, saying, “At the Pontifical Institute of Spirituality of the Capuchins, I learned that if it is not lived, it is not liturgy. What is liturgy but constant service to God, and loving God and our neighbors as ourselves? The Lord said equal proportions of love, and that is our only guide. We are dehumanized when we see our neighbor dehumanized.  The system has to be changed so that we see in it the true face of God.”

He also sees living with Mary as one’s mother and friend as a frame of reference, and respect for committed pluralism as the very pattern of creation but not allowing it to destroy a community.

“The door is open in welcome, but I will not allow anyone to destroy a project we have started,” Fray Paolo explained. 

In closing, he said of the congregation: “We continue to be open. The gospel of hope must be clear, and we say, `Lord, I shall grow with you.’ ” 


Perla Aragon-Choudhury