When U.S. Catholics talk about a shortage of priests, we’re talking about how we have one priest for every 2,000 Catholics. But the priest shortage in the Philipines is five times more dire; one priest from every 10,000 Catholics in the most Catholic of Asian nations.
Yesterday at Mass in my home parish, Father John Wykes, O.M.V., spoke about his order and its mission, which includes fostering vocations in the Philippines.
The Oblates of the Virgin Mary was founded in the early 19th century in Italy by the Venerable Pio Bruno Lanteri to encourage the spiritual rebirth of Catholics through retreats and parish missions. In 1994 an Oblate began giving Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius in Cebu, the Philippines. By 1999, the order was building the Oblates of Virgin Mary Formation and Retreat Center. Here, seminarians prepare for ordination and lay and religious can stay for extended retreats. From the Center, Oblates regularly offer the Spiritual Exercises to other parts of Asia: Japan, Korea, Mongolia and so on.
I was unfamiliar with this order. Those of you who live in the Boston area might know of the Oblates because since 1983 they have directed the Saint Francis Chapel on the ground floor of the Prudential Center in Boston. It has Eucharistic Adoration during the morning and afternoon hours six days a week, and one hour in the afternoon on Sundays. Father Wykes directed the chapel from 2005 until earlier this year, when he became Director of Media Communications for the U.S. Province, which comprises communities in Massachusetts, Colorado, Illinois and California, as well as the Cebu mission.
I was touched by Father Wykes’ story of how, as a six year old in Detroit, he spent 35 cents on his very first book. Published by Paulist Press, the book is called “Who Knows Me?” Now middle-aged, Father Wykes still has the book, which he held up during his homily. He compared the joy of that purchase to the joy of Oblate seminarians given their very first book – Blessed John Paul II’s Encyclical Veritatis Spendor - in the seminary.
The poverty in the Philippines is so great, he said, students usually share or photocopy their books. When folks tell Father Wykes they are amazed he still owns the book he bought when he was six, he said he tells them he is amazed he was able to buy a book at the age, while in other parts of the world, a young man must wait until he is 21 or 22 before he owns a book.
Loving Father, as Jesus taught us to beg the harvest master to send laborers into his vineyard, so we now ask you to bless the Oblates of the Virgin Mary with new vocations. May your Spirit draw men of integrity to love you intensely, and to serve you courageously in poverty, chastity, and obedience. Reveal your mercy to them, and remove the distractions and fears that keep them from echoing Mary’s joyful Yes. Guide them in discerning the mission for which you created them, so that they will become wise and gentle shepherds of souls. We ask this through the intercession of Fr. Lanteri, and in the name of Jesus the Lord. Amen.