Interview with Fr. Summers about the Joys and Challenges of the Asian Apostolate

September 16, 2019
Source: District of the USA

SSPX Podcast: Interview with Fr. Patrick Summers, District Superior of Asia

You can listen to the interview by clicking play above - or by visiting sspxpodcast.com

In late Spring, 2019, the SSPX Podcast spoke with Fr. Patrick Summers, who is the District Superior of Asia for the Society of Saint Pius X.  We have transcribed this interview for sspx.org, which discusses the immense work of the SSPX in Asia.

The interview discussed his schedule, the breadth of the District of Asia, and developments in a few of the countries.  We also spoke about the differences in pastoral care for this region of the world, and the challenges facing priests today in Asian countries.

If you would like more information about the work of the SSPX in Asia, please visit sspx.asia.  And if you would like to support the work of the SSPX Podcast so we can provide more interviews like this in the future, please visit sspxpodcast.com and set up a monthly donation.  Even a small amount monthly will assist us greatly!


Overview of the District:

SSPX Podcast:  Hello, Father! I was speaking with you a few months ago, and you spoke with me a little bit about your travels and, now as the District Superior of Asia, you travel routinely from Singapore to India, and…  I don’t know, you mentioned three or four other countries…  Could you tell us a little bit about your schedule, and what it is you need to oversee?

Fr. Summers: Yes, it’s an unusual district in many ways because it’s spread out across what we call Asia, and, there are roughly 10 countries that we visit, where we have either priories, or weekend chapels or circuits, or occasional visits depending upon the location. 

So we go all the way from quarterly visits to the Middle East – for some reason that got stuck on us [laughs] – Middle East, just every quarter, then priory and mass centers in India, a priory and mass centers in Sri Lanka, traveling across in that area, you’ve got Japan, South Korea.  Then moving down, our priory - our district headquarters - is in Singapore, which is one of the most densely populated countries in the world.

So then, if you look at a map, right next to it, all around it is Malaysia which is across two different regions and then Indonesia. So from Singapore we take care of several chapels in different parts of Malaysia, and also Indonesia.  And then we go to monthly masses, for example in Japan and South Korea.  We help out with that because the priests who take care of that are very busy, and so we give them some time off every now and then.

And then you move over to the Philippines, and that’s where we have three priories, they’re all very active and busy.  We have Manilla, which is a very large parish, almost getting up to about 900 parishioners, and they take care of several chapels on circuit.  They have a school, of course a very good school in Manilla.  And then moving down, you have the SSPX Brothers’ Novitiate in Ilo Ilo, in the town of Santa Barbara.  That’s been a long-standing priory and the Brothers Novitiate does very good work there.  They also take care of Cebu, and manage other circuits from there.

Then moving down, there’s the largest island of the Philippines, Mindanao, and we have another priory in Davao, which is the largest city there. They take care of quite a few large Mass centers in Mindanao.  We have a fellow American there, Father Timothy Pfeiffer, who is the prior there, doing very good work. In fact, across Asia, I think I have five American priests in total.
 

SSPX Podcast:  So, as the Superior of Asia, you’re overseeing, what 6 priories, 30 or chapels in 10 countries?

Fr. Summers: Yes, I just put in the most recent Apostle magazine, which we are just mailing out now but is already online, I have an infographic there, we have 6 priories, we have 16 priests, one Brothers’ Novitiate for training SSPX Brothers, and we have also just recently started an SSPX Oblates novitiate, in the last year where we are training quite a few young ladies from quite a few countries.  They go to Davao in the Philippines to this new novitiate, where there are at least 10-15 sisters there, either in training, or doing the training.

So we count 40 chapels across 10 countries, roughly 4,000 faithful.  And also, the good news is, besides our brother and sisters, we have from our district, 11 seminarians at Holy Cross Seminary in Australia.  I am very happy with that. Of course we always want more, but…

Work in the Philippines

SSPX Podcast: That’s amazing!  So if we could pivot to the Philippines for a minute – there was a new chapel that was consecrated there recently, 2017 I believe, was it at the Brothers’ Novitiate?

Fr. Summers: It started really at the end of Fr. Adam Purdy’s time there.  Fr. Conraad Daniels is a South African priest, but I think for the first 30 years, he was an engineer.  He did a lot of the design and construction, with the Brothers doing the work.  It took him about 8 years to build this massive and beautiful church in honor of the Immaculate Heart of Our Lady.  I was just there a few weeks ago, and yes, it’s not quite finished, there are more decorations to be done, but it is impressive when you go to it. It’s been put on the local tourism board website!  It’s funny because it’s so unique in that region. It really is magnificent.


SSPX Podcast: We could spend a lot of time going through each of the countries, but if we could touch on the Philippines just for a minute: Historically, the Philippines has been a very Catholic country, at least since the time that Spain was there, and through the time that the United States was there – but speaking generally, how is the Faith in the Philippines?  How do you see it, Father?

Fr. Summers: That’s a very good question, because it’s true that when you hear the word Philippines, you think it’s a very Catholic country, a country where the Faith was made very strong by the Spanish missionaries and the Spanish culture there, and so it reminds you a lot of Mexico, or Ireland, or Italy.  These are countries that were such bastions of the Faith that when you hear the name you think of a Catholic country.

But what the priests on the ground are finding out very quickly is that it’s a cultural and residual Catholicism, but not much beyond that. So Mass attendance is not great among the regular Catholics. They’ll definitely be at church on Christmas, or on the patron feast day of their church, they’ll have a big fiesta, and a big celebration for that.  Certain processions are very popular, and there’s cultural things that are very Catholic, but beyond that, there’s just a lot of indifference. So, it’s quite shocking when you see it.  Even what’s left of the Catholic culture is very quickly disappearing, because there’s no practice of it.
 

SSPX Podcast: So I guess it’s very similar to – I guess – everywhere, which is sad to hear. 
As far as the way in which you and the other priests work with the faithful from a pastoral standpoint: And we’re talking very generally here, I know we’re talking about 10 countries and cultures, but how different is it working pastorally, with people say in the Philippines or India, compared to people in Post Falls, Idaho, where you were the prior just about a year ago?

Fr. Summers: That’s another good question, because I think that’s one thing we often forget, we can easily make the mistake of applying either standards or practices – you know, things that we often think are the most Catholic thing in the world, then you go to a culture that is perhaps a majority Hindu or Muslim population.  The people there know that they are actively not allowed to convert people.  It’s against the law and they will be severely punished or removed.

[Speaking about] countries that are severely Hindu or severely Muslim, you start reading the lives of the missionaries because you have to take into account, how did these guys operate, these great men and women in the religious orders, when they first arrived in these places. What did they do?

And I think we are learning on the go, we are learning as we go along how to treat these situations with a lot more prudence than we used to. Because I was there 15 years ago, and things we did 15 years ago, we would never do now, in so far as publicity, online presence, because of the way technology has advanced. We have to be a much more careful how we operate in certain countries. In some countries we are very much a legal presence and there is no problem. Other countries it very much different – the faithful are begging for the Mass, the Sacraments, the Catholic faith, but their government is very much against that.

So I would say it is different in many ways because in America, lets say, Post Falls [Idaho], a priest can walk down the street and do whatever he wants. He can stand on the corner and preach the Faith if he wants, and there is no problem whatsoever. He can get on the radio, he can get on the internet and do whatever he wants, and spread the Faith however he wants, whatever way is possible. That would never be thinkable in some of these countries. I mean even in the Philippines which is a nominally Catholic country the government is not necessarily pro Catholic there had been a lot of fighting between the president of the Philippines and the Catholic bishops. [Laughing] Sometimes the president is right, and sometimes he’s not.  But it's very sad to see a country of 80-90% Catholics that have a very un-Catholic government.

Differing Practices in Asia

SSPX Podcast: So if I could ask a specific question, this came up a couple of months ago again when you were in the [United] States visiting for a family member's wedding, and you gave the sermon at the Nuptial Mass. You were talking about the rings used in the ceremony. You talked about the symbolism, the blessing of the rings, and you mentioned something which I was going to ask you about afterward but never had the chance. You said that in India instead of rings they trade necklaces during a marriage ceremony. So that got me thinking - is that something that, for the lack of a better word, do you "allow" as a priest when you're in these varied cultures? I guess my overall questions is -- how much of the local customs and practices do you integrate into the Faith when you're in Sri Lanka, or Indonesia. You know, you read about the missionaries in Mexico in 1500s and 1600s and they allowed certain practices to remain and to become integrated. So could you speak about this a little bit?

Fr. Summers:  Another good question, because it’s one that was often debated, as you say. When you read the old books, the missionaries, even among themselves, between Jesuits and Franciscan, or even within orders, or back and forth to Rome – “Can we do this?” “Can we not do this?”

How far can you go to validate the local culture? Is it pagan practice or is it a practice that is indifferent and can be made Catholic?

So that was a massive debate for many, many years amongst the missionaries and sometimes it just came to a method of operating; what was okay. We all generally agree that this practice here is in itself is not against the Catholic Faith, it doesn’t endanger the Catholic Faith, so we try to baptize it, try to make it - give it a Catholic understanding.  So that the people are more comfortable with it, and they see that the Faith is not against them, but rather working with them to supernaturalize their normal things. 

And in some things the culture is just absolutely, it cannot be broadened to the Catholic Faith – some type of practice. You know the famous, I am going to get the word wrong Sati – when the British arrived in India, they see this widow burning; when the husband dies the wife must throw herself on the fire. His cremation, whether willingly or unwilling, she must go with him. That was a practice that was not allowed.
 

SSPX Podcast: So just to be clear, is the SSPX generally not okay with widow burning? [laughs]

Fr. Summers: That depends on who we’re talking about! [laughing]

[Turning more serious]
I think there is another complication in this whole matter. Is that there are a lot of things in the 1930’s and 40’s you can read in the books that the Catholic Church was operating in certain countries, and with certain practices, they were discouraging the faithful and they weren’t allowing certain practices saying “Okay, now that you’re Catholic you don’t do this anymore. We have something better, that’s more pleasing to God.” For example, the worship of idols or the worship of ancestors, whatever the problem was, being vey general.  

Then of course you have this massive problem that all of sudden in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, of this last century, you’ve got the ravishes of the Novus Ordo, where it totally confused people to no end. Because for a century or two they had been moving away from these pagan things, getting more of a Catholic culture. And all of sudden they are told “well no, actually interculturization, and sharing the local culture whether pagan or not is a very good thing,” And then everything goes backward. “Oh no, we’re allowed to do this now.”

So the Society of St. Pius X walks in there and it’s an absolute mine field because you’re trying to figure out if a certain practice was allowed before the council? Or is this something more recent that came along as a result of the Council? You’re researching a lot trying to find out what was done 100 years ago, and try to make a judgement there.
 

SSPX Podcast: And you want to balance it too, right? You don’t want to just walk in and wipe away everything they know. It brings to mind the missions of California, more locally here in the States. I was just there recently visiting some missions, and a little museum off to the side of one of these missions, there was a monstrance in a case. It was built by the natives and they actually wove the surrounding part of it out these reeds, or these grasses. My first thought was "eh – not great." But then after reading about it, it was Fr. Junipero Serra, who allowed it. And he even treasured this gift that they gave him. Because it was their best work. It was for God, and was a gift of respect for Father – they gave it to Father. How horrible would it be if he took it and then said “It isn’t good enough”. So he used it, and it was totally acceptable.

Fr. Summers: Exactly, I think in the Church and with the missionaries of great sanctity, they were very smart in many ways in saying, “Well okay.” It was in the early stages, the very beginning steps, missionaries were always very tolerant of these things and understood that so long as something wasn’t against the Faith, and while maybe it wasn’t perfect, they are going to move them along slowly. They were always quick to get a good school going, try to get a good catechism program going. And they knew it would take them several generations to get some of these practices reformed, or improved upon or even removed sometimes. I am sure the Franciscan missionaries in California were thinking “This was the best they have, and that is what we’re supposed to give God is the best we have. So that’s the best they can do.”

The priests of the SSPX work through all conditions in India

SSPX in India

SSPX Podcast: So pivoting to India for a second. We’ve heard some news recently about the Consoling Sisters of the Sacred Heart: the orphanage and school that they are doing. They’ve been doing a lot of wonderful work in the past 10-12 years or so, it seems. And you’ve been working with them?

Fr. Summers:  The apostolate has actually developed a lot since I was there, since I was there in the very beginning when they first moved down to the priory from another state. When they moved down, they were just ladies that were running an orphanage. It was that simple. And not just an orphanage, but also for older men and women, usually older women who’d been abandoned. So, it has developed a lot.

When they moved down we started a school. They are not so much directly involved in the school now, but they help out in any way they can. But the sisters’ main apostolate continues to be the orphans and the elderly. Well that and of course their own religious life, now that they’ve been trained by this Italian order of the Consoling Sisters of the Sacred Heart. So really, they assist in other ways of course, but their priority in outside work is orphans and the elderly.

The school there has developed a lot, we’re actually looking to get some land and actually build a proper school. We’ve been renting a building for about 10-15 years trying to grow, but can’t because there aren’t a lot of buildings. We also have a new convent there, that is called the Reparation Sisters. Their sort of a semi-cloistered order of nuns who work for the reparation for the sins of mankind, and they pray most of the day.

They do do some work; they make linens and they do other things to helping the priests. They teach catechism, and that is quite a new thing these last few years and they are actually growing too. There’s vocations in both convents. The priests are very busy there. There are two convents and a school and quite a few circuits. They are doing an heroic job out there. I am very impressed with them.

Helping the SSPX Asia District

SSPX Podcast: That is great news. So let’s turn toward the end here about different ways we can help: The US District gets some request for information from people, mostly young adults. They want to know if they can come in and help in some of these missions. One young lady asked about coming for the summer and the fall in the Philippines. Another young man asked about coming and working in India. Is that something you welcome?

Fr. Summers:  I think that is an excellent thing for young adults. If they’ve finished their education and are like “What do I do know? I am not quite sure. Do I have a vocation? Should I be getting married? What’s my career?”

We’ve actually had a lot of good young adults, men and women interested in our work.  I think the rule we’re trying to keep, or what we’re hoping for, is that they are 21 or older, because it makes it a bit easier. There has been a number of vocations, both men and women who have spent a year in India or the Philippines and have then gone off to the religious life. Other ones have been out there working for 6 months or a year, and then found their future spouse who was another volunteer out there working. But also they have grown up immensely.

Everyone I’ve talked to, regardless of what country they went to, especially for an American, [I encourage] to go see another completely different world. Not just as a tourist, going through a hotel in some major city, but actually spending six months or longer down in the nitty gritty, in the ditches with these people, actually doing some real charitable work that requires sacrifice.

They realize that they’ve been given very much in the United States, they’ve been very spoiled, not in a bad way, but they’ve become much more patriotic and much more charitable, I think and ready to apply themselves for their own country. They realize what a good base they have to build upon in the United States, and they stop complaining and stop grumbling and say “hey wait a minute, the only way we are going to convert our own country is by giving ourselves to the work of souls, our own soul, the souls of our family, or the souls of our parish or people outside, conversions.”

They see the real need for apostolic zeal, even as just lay people, they understand that when they see the reality of other cultures, they say “wow, we need to get busy here.”
 

SSPX Podcast: Well we’re going to link to way that people can get in touch and send inquiries, here in the description Father.  Lastly, obviously money would be helpful for the foreign missions, but people sometimes asks about sending material needs. Whether it’s rosaries, scapulars or Miraculous Medals, or other things. Is that a burden to have things shipped to you, or would you rather just have the cash so you can purchase the things you need?

Fr. Summers:  That is a good question, because it’s true, that is one of the things that comes up. People ask “Father can we send you rosaries, or scapulars.”

I would say for any of those kinds of requests, they simply need to contact the District of Asia, on our website, we have the contact information. And [if they could] let us know what they would like to send, because some places have boxes of rosaries and nothing to do with them, they have more than they will ever need. Other places need them more, so for distribution it is very good that they contact us to see what is the best use of them.

In so for as material needs, what we’re also working on in Asia, now that it is more stabilized, we’re trying to get each local chapel to be more self-sufficient, at least as much as they can be. Then we look for donations from other countries for projects that there is no way the local people could afford. For example, trying to put together some type of church or chapel.

Some of these people have had Mass for 20 years in a bamboo hut, which is just amazing, for them that is all they could ever afford. It’s all they can do to pay for bus fare for the priest to get there. That’s enough for them. So that’s when we will try to do some fundraising and try to ask people overseas: "Listen, your $25 will actually go a long way out here, because of the exchange rate because the cost of construction to build a beautiful church for $100,000 is crazy when you compare it to the cost in the United States to build."

The labor and materials is much cheaper out here, so it works out better. But generally speaking we always have operating expenses to house the priest or take care for the basic material needs, we understand that we’re giving ourselves up to the missions, but the [location] is hoping to take care of [the priest] as well. There are only 16 priests, so we don’t want a single one of them to go down, they are so valuable, over here. I mean they are valuable in every country, and no country is going to say they have too many priests, but we have 5 times zones and 10 countries, and we’ve only got 16 priests.

That is where we ask people to help out. People have been very generous in the past, and we hope they continue to be, even for our basic operations. All of our priests live in very humble circumstances, they are very generous and have zeal.
 

SSPX Podcast: Well Father, thank you for everything you and the priests and sisters are doing. And thank you for helping to coordinate this massive effort. It’s no big deal right, being the district superior of the largest continent on earth?

Fr. Summers:  [laughing] It’s just another day, you know?

 

If you would like more information about the work of the SSPX in Asia, please visit sspx.asia.  And if you would like to support the work of the SSPX Podcast so we can provide more interviews like this in the future, please visit sspxpodcast.com and set up a monthly donation.  Even a small amount monthly will assist us greatly!