A priest who swapped a medical career for a life of dangerous missions has been named the Philippines’ Provincial Superior of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI).
Father Lauro de los Santos De Guia will take over from Father Ramon Maria Bernabe, who has held the post since 2005, on October 11. The search by the OMI Superior General council in Rome was a lengthy one, lasting almost a year.
The OMI is the seventh largest religious congregation of men in the world, with a reputation for missionary work in arduous regions; Pope Pius XI named them “Specialists in the Most Difficult Missions of the Church.”
Accordingly, Father De Guia’s impressive CV includes a number of sizeable challenges. At the time of the OMI announcement on Sunday, the man who is fondly called “Father Doc” was in his third year as parish priest of Bongao, Tawi-Tawi.
He said he was prepared to live a “very simple” life when he first accepted the difficult mission in Jolo vicariate, where only about one percent of the 26,000 people are Catholics. Most of the rest are Muslims.
The 55 year-old from Bulacan joined the Oblates in 1986, three years after finishing his doctorate in medicine.
He said he gave up his career in medicine because “my heart belongs to the poor. My passion is working for them so they know God loves them so much.”
After his ordination in 1992, Father De Guia was sent to Datu Piang parish in Maguindanao, at the height of Moro rebellion.
His next assignments took him to high-risk areas in North Cotabato, and other parts of Maguindanao. In Bongao, his confrere Father Rey Roda was shot dead when resisting a kidnap attempt.
Even that incident in 2009 failed to dampen the Oblates’ enthusiasm to serve the people of Tawi-tawi. And despite its ordeals and deprivations, Father De Guia has derived great satisfaction from his chosen path.
“My being a doctor and priest in difficult and remote OMI missions has served a purpose,” he said, “because I can answer the spiritual, health and medical needs of people who have not seen a doctor. This has been very fulfilling.”