19 May Philippines: the testimony of the missionary friars of mercy
Their names are Br Jose Litigio and Br Andrew Litigio, and they are missionaries of mercy. Since 2016, the Year of Mercy, they have received a special ministry at the behest of Pope Francis: to bring God’s mercy to their dioceses through confessions. Br Jose and Br Andrew, who work in the Philippines, are among more than a thousand priests designated by the Holy Father to absolve from sins reserved to the Apostolic See. The missionaries of mercy, scattered in many nations, every two years have the opportunity to gather in the Vatican for their world meeting, which this year took place from 23 to 25 April.
«This ministry helps me to truly show the concreteness of mercy, especially with the rosary,» explains Br Jose, who lives in Manila. «We were chosen at the suggestion of the Minister Provincial, and we travel to the places where they request our presence. Br Jose is in charge of formation for adults and religious, is Commissary for the Holy Land and heads the ethics committee. «God’s mercy is the heart that leads us to move forward and to have the hope that there is a better future,» continues Br Jose.
On the other hand, Br Andrew is in charge of pastoral work on one of the islands north of Manila, where he is pastor of two churches, numbering about ten thousand faithful. For both friars, their ministry as missionaries of mercy is practically implemented in the hearing of confessions.
«In the rule of St Francis, we received this invitation to be among the people and learn from them,» says Br Andrew. «That is why our presence among the parishioners is especially important. For example, during the pandemic, it was to hear confessions and all the people’s problems. That is why we have also been active in donating basic necessities to the needy in times of difficulty».
In the Philippines today, there are two entities of the Order: the Province of St Peter Baptist, which has 128 friars, and the Custody of St Anthony of Padua, which has 73. In a context where Catholics make up about 70-80 per cent of the population, the friars try to be a reference point in the parishes entrusted to them, in charitable works, in schools and interreligious dialogue.
«In my experience, confession really offers hope,» says Br Jose. «People see that they can rise from their weakness and that they can find God’s grace even in sin and weakness. It is a blessing when people recognise that there is a meaning to their life. There is always an invitation to be a better person».
The world meeting of the Missionaries of Mercy in Rome gave much inner strength to the two friars: «We spoke with other missionaries doing their part, and we feel reassured because we are not alone. About 400 missionaries of mercy were present due to the problems related to the pandemic. Still, the small number did not prevent those present from sharing their personal testimonies about this ministry. «I shared some essential points that characterised my experience,» said Br Jose. «Opening to hope is fundamental and, as a missionary of mercy, I wanted to encourage people, even those who have fallen into depression or feel dejected, because of the difficulties caused by Covid-19. Challenging times will pass, but God’s love is always there to sustain us». According to the friar, it is crucial to stay among the people and make oneself available to listen to everyone. «We can only become an instrument of hope by listening and welcoming all those who have no one to turn to».