A view from the margins

The simple message I took along that night was that if you serve the poor regularly, you can be seen as Jesus himself; if you serve them only occasionally, you can just be seen as ‘Robocop.’ ”

“So, what can you say?” I asked my daughter, after letting her watch the online clip of the man and letting her read the book he had written. “He is good,” she quipped. She has not realized until that moment that the man who used to jog outside the USC Main Gym and whom she sometimes met on Sundays when she was still young was the man who is now the Superior General of the Society of the Divine Word.

The man is Fr. Heinz Kulüke, SVD, who recently turned 60. And he still keeps himself physically fit by jogging and meditation. As a young man in Germany, he had a well-paying job doing electronic work but somehow he felt something was lacking.

The Society of the Divine Word (SVD) filled up the emptiness he had in him. It was also this religious order that brought him to this part of the world. This religious society brought him to the open dumpsites of Inayawan, Cebu City and Umapad, Mandaue City.

He seemed set for the academic life when he had his graduate philosophical training at the Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C. (MA) and at Gregorian University in Rome (Ph.D). Then in 1990, he taught at the Department of Philosophy of the University of San Carlos. But while teaching philosophy to seminarians and non-seminarians alike, he felt ill at ease with being an armchair philosopher. For him, philosophy is rooted in concrete daily experiences.

In 1999, he founded the Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation-Integrated Development Center (JPIC-IDC), which gained him more support for his advocacy. The NGO was able to provide dwelling places for families from the dumpsite in Compostela, Cebu and initiated livelihood programs for them. Last year, JPIC-IDC with the support of its benefactors turned over more than 200 houses to the victims of typhoon Yolanda.

Before his election as Superior General, Fr. Heinz served an unprecedented three terms as Provincial Superior of the SVD Southern Province from 2005.

Fr. Heinz’s efforts made a significant impact on the well-being of the poor and marginalized. For such care and concern for the underprivileged, he was awarded with the Bundesverdienstkreuz, the Federal Cross of Merit by his homeland, Germany.

Even with such feat, Fr. Heinz is humble and down-to-earth. He puts at the center of all his labors, the poor and the marginalized, among them, the street children, the scavengers, the fisher folk, and the women in the red-light districts. And, he acknowledges the significant roles contributed by his co-workers and fellow SVDs in his missionary work.

On a question regarding his personal life, Fr. Heinz replied, “About my person not much needs to be written. I prefer that the people whom we try to serve are at the center, those at the margins. It is their daily struggle for survival that is my biggest inspiration.”

For a person who puts so much energy for the people at the margins, his life need not be written. I dared asking, however, how the people would see him. My daughter finds him “good, real, simple, and understanding.” Then, I found another answer in Fr. Heinz’s book Where God Has Found His Home: Journeying with People at the Margins of Society: “That evening, I found myself surrounded by a group of Filipinos obviously wondering what I was doing. Without paying much attention I continued talking to Jeto, a crazy homeless person, but when they did not stop asking ‘Kinsa man na siya,’ (Who is he?) undoubtedly referring to me, I told them to just ask Jeto. A little bit skeptic whether the ‘buang’ would really be the right person to answer their question, they finally tried their luck and asked Jeto. Jeto looked at me, simply responded: ‘JESUS siya.’ The group continued to ask-who was my companion, also a non-Filipino. Without smiling and looking very strict, he [Jeto] said: ‘Robocop siya.’ (He is Robocop). The simple message I took along that night was that if you serve the poor regularly, you can be seen as Jesus himself; if you serve them only occasionally, you can just be seen as ‘Robocop.’ ”

Indeed, many speak about the teachings of the holy book and the promise of heaven; Fr Heinz makes the promise of heaven felt on earth and the teaching of the Bible lived—the Word made flesh.

by Ali Mandane, Ph.D. (Department of Philosophy)

Tags: SVD, Witness to the Word, Education with a mission

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