ITINERANCY

I might have stayed too long in Santo Domingo so that one could base simply on statistics that I must have vowed stability in one convent alone. From year 1968 to the present, I have become a fixture in Santo Domingo. This duration has been punctured by no more than five times but the transfer to another community lasted only for one or three years at most, then, back to Santo Domingo again. I have nothing to complain about though. Santo Domingo has been my home where charity begins. There, I learn to be in one place and yet itinerant. For even if charity begins at home – that is Santo Domingo – it does not end within the walls of this convent only. Santo Domingo is just the starting point whence the line is drawn and extended to the infinity, so to speak. From Santo Domingo my preaching assignments bring me to the four corners of the Philippines and at times, even beyond. So, even if I have only one address – Santo Domingo – I had been affiliated to so many communities – Dominican or otherwise – who welcomed me home. To be welcomed by so many communities because I am a preacher opens my eyes to the real meaning of itinerancy. Itinerancy is not just “locomotion” – a physical transfer from one location to another. If such were the case, then, airplane pilots, stewards and stewardesses would have been the best models of itinerancy. But they are not. In travelling they do not forge lasting and meaningful relationship with persons. The process involved in the interaction starts with hello and sooner than expected ends with good-bye. Heart to heart engagement is not encouraged; for all we know, it might even be forbidden as a matter of policy. Well, it is just business as usual – nothing more, nothing less.

Being moved from one place to another is not the total meaning of itinerancy; at most, it is just its superficial denotation. After all, there are cases when persons are transferred from one community to another not because of their service in any particular apostolic project but simply because they need an address. For, alas, no community seems to be willing to accept them. The Provincial leadership needs to intervene lest they become homeless or worse, vagrants. But vagrancy is surely not itinerancy. In itinerancy, we are sent from one community to another for one simple reason: mission. We are sent to extend our home to others. We always aim at building an extended family, that is, a family without frontiers, a family where spirit is thicker than blood. So, our journey goes beyond locomotion since we are sent on a mission to establish communion with people whoever they are and wherever they are. It is indeed a gross misunderstanding to think that we are sent just to manage resources, construct buildings or any other infrastructure projects and call all these our missionary endeavours. Our mission is definitely not for things but for persons, not for objects but for people. To move out of this missionary vision is to betray our Dominican vocation itself. We become traitors to God so that instead of promoting his Kingdom, we embark on a religious imperialism which enslaves people rather than liberates them.

It is now “assignment-season” in the Province. Today I see fresh faces gracing Santo Domingo and miss the usual ones who left as soon as they received their new posting. In the midst of this traffic of coming and going, I stay in my usual place. Standing like a watchman, I welcome those who are arriving and send off those who are leaving Santo Domingo. Should I feel sorry for myself for being left alone by this merry-go-round? Not at all. In Santo Domingo, I am moving without being moved. The missionary call to preach keeps me on my toes and leads me to read the signs of the times on the faces of people with whom the Spirit has brought me to share the power of his word. I might not be able to describe adequately amazing places on earth. The glory that was Rome nor the loveliness of Paris left no indelible marks in my memory but encounters with people were etched in my consciousness as though they just happened yesterday. The latest instance is my recent sojourn in Seoul, South Korea. Invited to facilitate a weeklong dialogue among young Dominicans in the Asia-Pacific Region, I squeezed this program into my tight-packed schedule in the Philippines. From Manila to Seoul, then back again is the only itinerary my schedule can allow me for what could have been a much needed leisure in South Korea. My trip is “business as usual” after all. So, what more will I expect? I tried to console myself with the thought that I had been all too familiar with the historical places of my interest in South Korea. An avid fan of Korean telenovelas, I hardly missed episodes of epic dramas of adventure, romance and politics in Korea during the classical period of Joseon and Goryeon dynasties. I have resigned myself to this vicarious enjoyment of Korea until some bright idea entered into the mind of our gracious host. On the night before I left for Manila, the Korean Dominican Community invited me to an evening cruise of Han River. This river snaking along the main thoroughfares of Seoul is so strategically located and historically loaded that in just one evening I had the vision of Korea in a nutshell. But more than this new acquisition of historical knowledge, I likewise had a review of the salient points of the personal story of my itinerancy. Right on the table where I enjoyed the sights and sounds of Seoul in that evening ferry, were seated beside me two landmarks of my itinerancy: Fr. Javier Arrazola, OP, and Fr. Thomas Bae, OP. Fr. Javier is a pioneer missionary of Korea, having stayed there since the beginning of our Dominican presence more than twenty- five years ago. Before Korea, he lived in our own University of Santo Tomas (UST) distinguishing himself as a much beloved rector of its Central Seminary for so many years. As a young postulant, I was privileged to have him as one of my mentors. More than the academics, he had taught me through his examples how to harmonize firmness and gentleness in a well-balanced personality. Fr. Thomas, on the other hand, is the superior of all Dominicans living and working in South Korea. He was under my charge as his Master of Students during his formative phase as a theology student of UST. Patient and hardworking, he already showed himself a leader in action more than in word during those years.

I returned to Manila the next day with nothing but the memory of that evening cruise. That memory though is for me everything. It marks the distance my itinerancy has taken me so far. Han River ceases to be just a river. It is alive and as it keeps flowing, it brings along everything that enjoys its course until it merges with the ocean where limits and boundaries are no more. The promise of Han River is the promise of itinerancy:

Follow the bidding of the Spirit. Take courage. Cut off the knot and sail to the unknown. Surely God is waiting for us …. somewhere. 

By Br. Enrico D. Gonzales, OP

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