Seven Thousand Islands
The Angelus: Fr. Peter Fortin, you have an older brother already a priest in the Society and working now in Australia. Can you present yourself to your US readers?
Fr. Peter Fortin: I was ordained last year at St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary. After a short time spent in Canada caring for the Ottawa chapel, I was transferred to the Philippines on New Year’s Eve. When yet a seminarian, a priest asked me where I saw myself after ordination, and my response was “Southeast Asia”. In most of our US SSPX chapels, we have Filipinos who had always struck me as being hard working, generous, and overall happy. They have a deep sense of piety, which is part of belonging to a very Catholic culture. The Faith is very much a part of their daily lives. They keep the old Spanish custom of greeting priests and religious by taking their hand and pressing it to their forehead.
The Angelus: Have you traveled much in your new mission area?
Fr. Peter Fortin: I have also travelled to Malaysia and Saba. But I am based in Manila, and I service the missions of Tanay and Baguio. St. Philomena Chapel in Tanay, Rizal is set in the mountains to the southeast of Manila. It is a very beautiful area that overlooks Laguna Lake, which is set in a volcano crater. I am struck by the generosity and fervor of the faithful, who have almost finished their little chapel.
Baguio is very beautiful as well. Set in the mountains to the north of Manila, it was founded as a resort town by Americans over 100 years ago because it is quite cooler at the higher altitude.
The temperature can drop to about 60 degrees at night. During the Second World War, the Japanese took over the area and captured the US service men and executed them.
There is a great appreciation for the US effort to liberate the Philippines from the occupying Japanese forces. MacArthur and the American servicemen are much appreciated. I remember speaking with one of our US parishioners who had gone to Manila in the 1950s, and he told me to give the country a “hello” from him. He said that in all his travels he has never ran across a more amicable people. It is true, the Filipinos are very friendly and altruistic.
The Angelus: What is the Filipino way of life? How does it have an impact on the apostolate?
Fr. Peter Fortin: We are talking about a third world country. This means that the government and institutions thrive on corruption. Truly, it is not so much what you know, but who you know.
This means also that most people live from hand to mouth with no savings for difficult times, but it is the norm everywhere, and life goes on. That is why they have a cheerful face and never lose hope. Mind you, The Filipinos are very well connected! There is a strong sense of family and friendship. In the Philippines one is never more than three steps away from someone else in a position to help. For a priest, it a beautiful apostolate to see our parishioners really committed to their faith and to Tradition. It is very edifying to see the sacrifices that many make.
The Angelus: You are now pretty much settled in your “mission” country. What was your first impression of the surroundings?
Fr. Peter Fortin: I would not qualify the Philippines as a “mission” country, since it was brought to the Faith in the 16th century. With a population that is 80% Catholic, it is the only Catholic country in East Asia. Despite highly corrupt politicians, the laws in this country are very Catholic, particularly against contraception and abortion, although the sects are also in progress here like everywhere else.
The Angelus: What about the priory setting and your confreres?
Fr. Peter Fortin: The priory setting is in a pleasant neighborhood of the greater metro Manila area, which counts close to 27 million people. It presents the picture of every large city: dangerous areas, noise, traffic congestion, and pollution. The one unique aspect is that there are many people, lots of people, everywhere! It is crowded everywhere. The sidewalks, streets, public transit, markets, stores, and shops are packed! The priory likewise is busy servicing a large parish and several chapels throughout East Asia.
The Angelus: How does an American priest fare with foreign confreres?
Fr. Peter Fortin: If one is in a good community, then he has everything, even if some things are lacking, such as American company. Likewise, if there is no good community spirit, life becomes burdensome. Fr. Onoda, the only SSPX Japanese priest as yet, is the prior, and was assigned here on a “temporary” basis, which has lasted now 20 years! I think that he is a priest after the heart of the Archbishop. Other confreres are local: Fr. Saa came back home after a long time in Africa and brought a wealth of knowledge and experience. Fr. Gela is the real “missionary priest” who has many missions in the eastern Visayas region, where the typhoons have hit the islands in the last two years.
The Angelus: How indebted are you to the pioneers who sowed the seeds before you in the mission field?
Fr. Peter Fortin: The real pioneers were the Spanish missionaries, Jesuits, Augustinians, Dominicans, and Franciscans who, through the intercession of Our Lady, were able to take a pagan land and turn it into a Catholic civilization not unlike that of Mexico. The Archipelago was under the viceroyalty of Mexico for a long time.
In every country where the Society has mass centers there are or have been courageous priests who have fought for Tradition. The Philippines has had their share of a few friendly priests but, they can also pride themselves of a bishop, Bishop Salvador Lazo (+2001). He visited the US in the mid-90s and told his story. His body lies in Our Lady of Victories Church. He exerted a wide influence on the faithful and we still see the fruits of his return to Tradition today.
The Angelus: What would you say defines the Catholicity of the Filipinos?
Fr. Peter Fortin: As in Mexico, there is a deep sense of piety, and devotion to Our Lady is most important to the peoples and has played great roles in their lives. It was through the intercession of Our Lady that Manila was spared from being taken by the Dutch Protestants. The bishop, seeing the immediate danger, asked that all recite the rosary to be delivered from this danger.
In Mexico and in the Philippines, the Church was suppressed by the government. In the Philippines, the faithful kept the faith without having priests by their devotion to Our Lady, by praying the rosary. Indeed, to be Catholic means to pray the rosary, to belong to Our Lady.
The Angelus: Would you share any edifying anecdotes about your apostolate?
Fr. Peter Fortin: Recently a group of our children in the Philippines learned of a public meeting of a Protestant sect. This Protestant sect had paid a sum of money in order to rent a facility for this event. The children learned of it through the advertisements of the Protestants. They arrived before the meeting and knelt down and began to pray the rosary. The Protestants came and asked them to stop but the children kept praying. They prayed the rosary for about three long hours undisturbed. The Protestants left; there was nothing that they could do.
Also recently, I administered the sacrament of extreme unction to one of the earlier traditional faithful. I went to bring her Holy Communion several times in the hospital. One time, I had a bad cough, her face lit up and she asked if I would like one of her huge oxygen tanks. We both started to laugh. On the day of her death she received the consolation of the sacraments and she died while the monthly requiem Mass was offered for friends and benefactors.
The Angelus: I understand you are at the helm of a school. What are the projections for the school in the years to come?
Fr. Peter Fortin: The school is a wonderful little school with a family-like atmosphere that exists between the staff, students, and parents. Each successive priest has been able to build upon his predecessor.
I picked up the rudder from my elder brother, Fr. Michael Fortin. In fact, he was transferred to Tynong in Australia, to run a much larger school. I told him that he could probably ride on the torrent of tears shed because of his departure from here. Thank God, the acorn has grown, and we are proud to announce that we have all the grades available from K-12. We are blessed to have a wonderful faculty. They are very dedicated to our mission of providing the children with a traditional Catholic formation.
The Angelus: Has the US contributed to the Philippines, besides the sending of priests?
Fr. Peter Fortin: In fact, quite a few US priests have made their way through these shores: Fr. Griego, Fr. Purdy, Fr. Michael Fortin, and Fr. John Hattrup, to cite just a few. As I mentioned earlier, in many US chapels, we have Southeast Asian faithful who have been very supportive of the priories in this area. Also, on the more mundane side of things, the medical group ACIM has attracted volunteers from all over the world to bring traditional Catholic volunteers to help typhoon victims and to help the people spiritually and physically. And, needless to say, Americans have sent regular contributions to the Philippines.
The Angelus: Is it not rather new in the Philippines to have the involvement of mayors and government officials consecrating their country to the Blessed Mother, thanks to the Society’s work?
Fr. Peter Fortin: Indeed, this has been the case on numerous occasions under Fr. Couture in particular. Now, with the new Asian District Superior, Fr. Stehlin, the confraternity of the “Knights of the Immaculata” has really taken off. The date of 2017 has significance for us as Catholics, for it marks 100 years since the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima to counteract the rise of Communism in 1917.
Our Lady asked for the conversion of Russia and promised that Her Immaculate Heart will triumph. The “Knights of the Immaculata” are an elite group of soldiers who pray for the conversion of their neighbors and offer sacrifices for them. In the spirit of St. Maximilian Kolbe, we are poor instruments in the hands of Our Lady. She will triumph, and will it be with us as her instruments? It will be through her, the triumph of the Immaculate Heart, that Our Lord will once again rule in society. Will we be instruments in the hastening of his Kingship?
The Angelus: Any final thought or wish?
Fr. Peter Fortin: Prayers! Especially from those enrolled in the “Knights of the Immaculata.” I wish to send greetings to my fellow graduate priests, whom I have not seen since our ordination day. You may also think of sending us devotional books, lives of saints for adults and children, missals for faithful, Bibles either new or slightly used. And many would like their child to receive a traditional Catholic formation in our schools but cannot afford it.
P.S. To make donations from the US to the missions: send checks to the US District payable to
“Society St. Pius X Foreign Mission Trust-Asia” sent to: 11485 N Farley Rd—Platte City MO 64079 (with the special memo Manila Priory).