Philippines – Spreading the Word

World Mission is a monthly Catholic magazine published by the Comboni Missionaries in the Philippines as part of their missionary ministry in Asia. It is an instrument of mission animation and evangelization, but also of promotion of justice, peace and integrity of the creation. Founded in March 1989, at the start of the Comboni Missionaries’ presence in Asia, World Mission (WM) was aiming at fostering missionary awareness and promoting the sharing of personnel and goods for the worldwide mission of the Church.

Those objectives couldn’t be more actual today: the Philippine archipelago is indeed an ‘island’ of Christianity in Asia, the biggest and most populated continent, but the ad gentes mission does not catch great enthusiasm around. Secondly, even if there’s a relative abundance of clergy in this great Far East Catholic country, it is easier for them to follow the migrant Filipino communities, especially in the ‘greener pastures’ of the United States and Canada than, obviously, to cater to the needs of other Asians or Africans. Thirdly, on the issue of sharing of goods, it seems that the country receives more than it gives to the universal Church. Certainly not for lack of resources, but parishes tend to concentrate on their needs and even the World Mission Sunday’s collection is never done as the first and main collection of the day!

Another issue of unquestionable relevance WM tries to address is that of social justice. In line with a conservative Catholic tradition, there’s an accent on charity, ignoring basic principles of the Church’s social doctrine, which suits perfectly the country’s elites who control power and reign over the institutions, perpetuating a culture of servitude and dependence. Corruption thrives and, in spite of so many charitable initiatives, poverty incidence is worsening. The poor have no other option but to survive in squalid misery, in rural areas and in crammed city shanties, under the patronage of some politicians. If they’ve got a bit of education, some are lucky to run away from the terrible social iniquities which condemn them to an ungodly existence.

Lastly, there’s a dire need to nurture Creation. The once paradisiacal islands have been greatly stripped of their beauty and wealth due to logging (that has tremendously reduced the rainforest), mining (that puts watersheds and other environmental resources at stake) and abusive fishing (that has been depleting the marine stocks and damaging coral reefs). Traffic and pollution make life in the megacities, like Metro Manila, almost unbearable.

Positive approach
World Mission is a privileged window overlooking the world – reflecting upon situations, prospecting the horizon for clues of interpretation of the fast-mutating reality, giving signs of hope for the future. A close attention to reality allowed us to warn readers, well in advance, about the excessive financial speculation and market deregulation and, more than two years ago, about the global land grabbing in developing countries and the unfolding food crisis.

The approach to issues is never that of a detached observer/reporter. As missionaries, we care for the dramas of humanity, strive to remove the causes of poverty and build a more just world for all God’s children. We cannot be neutral, silent and indifferent in face of injustice. The late Archbishop HÈlder C‚mara of Recife, Brazil, said: ‘Denunciation of injustice is an absolutely essential chapter in the proclamation of the Gospel.’ Thus, we cannot but raise alarm when life and the future are at stake. E.g.: the conversion of agricultural lands for biofuel production, the bet on genetically-modified organisms, the growing power of global corporations, their scramble to get the property rights of seeds, medicinal plants and even human genes, the increase of the rich-poor divide, corruption and climate change, just to mention a few social evils.

Saint Daniel Comboni, the founder of the Comboni Missionaries, was unique in the importance he gave to the printed word as a means of mission promotion – to keep people informed about his missionary work, and to foster the creation of groups and organizations to support his work, both spiritually and materially. Given Comboni’s relationship with the press of his time – either reading or collaborating with it – one wonders how he would masterfully use the media of the digital era to further his mission.
Taking cue from him, World Mission has always strived for excellence. But, it certainly would not have achieved such quality and sophistication in the last years were not for the collaboration of high-skilled and competent journalists and layout artists. WM’s consists of 40 pages (to keep it under 100gr in order to contain the postage costs), printed in full color on 90gr matt paper. It has been eliciting praise either for its challenging contents and aesthetic appeal.
WM has a monthly print run of, generally, over 9,000 copies with no leftovers. Due to great efforts in its promotion – done mainly on weekend appeals in parishes – circulation has been steady in the last years. The magazine is distributed by post to individual subscribers nationwide and overseas – in spite of the quite unreliable and expensive postal service. The magazine’s subscription is very affordable but, by keeping its production costs low, it has become almost financially self-supporting.

Besides fostering individual subscriptions, we have been proposing the magazine to schools. The result is that almost 3,000 copies of it are delivered in bulk to schools which distribute them to their respective students. The feedback is encouraging as the following recent letter shows: ‘I am a DepEd employee who subscribes to the World Mission magazine. We have been using the morally sound, substantive, informative and insightful articles of the magazine as reference for our readings for our Teaching Guide (for students’ and teachers’ use nationwide) in Values Education at the high school level. The latter’s discipline bases are Ethics and Career Guidance, that is why every issue of WM has pedagogical potential. The Missionary Vocation section is particularly inspiring and potentially transformative. Our Values Education teachers and supervisors circulate the magazine among their colleagues and friends.’ This is an excerpt from a letter, recently received, from Ms. Luisita B. Peralta, a Senior Education Program Specialist at the Bureau of Secondary Education. She concludes her appreciative letter by saying: ‘I always pray that our teacher-writers of Teaching Guides across subject areas will demonstrate in their outputs the culture of excellence evident in your multi-awarded magazine.’

Signs of appreciation
World Mission is an award-winning magazine. After having been distinguished as the Best Local Community/Parish Newspaper (magazine) for three consecutive years (2007, 2008 and 2009) by the Catholic Mass Media Awards (CMMA), the magazine was awarded a Hall of Fame trophy by the same awarding body last year. The prestigious Church-run contest granted another prize to WM for Best Special Feature in 2008. The particular text titled, A Farm of Hope, was authored by Frs. JosÈ Rebelo and Dave Domingues, and was a reportage on a farm at Masbate Island, belonging to the Fazenda da EsperanÁa chain where, through work, community life and prayer, Filipino youth are being rescued from drugs, alcohol and other self-destructive dependences.

On September 16, 2010, this writer, as the magazine’s editor, was distinguished with the International Award for Excellence in Journalism by the Geneva-based International Catholic Union of the Press (UCIP), during its triennial world congress in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. After 23 years of publication, WM has remained the only missionary magazine published in the Philippines today, thereby with an added responsibility to keep alive in the Far East the ideal of mission without borders.

Josè Rebelo,
WM’s Editor
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