Fr. Pierre Samson brings hope to Philippine missions

By  Faye N. Arellano, Catholic Register Special
  • April 15, 2009
{mosimage}He is constantly on the move, climbing the steep mountain slopes, crossing meandering rivers and trekking the forest for hours and at times days to be with the indigenous people whom he calls his “family by adoption.”

“This is my life and missionary condition and this brings me to meet with all sorts of people, hear all kinds of stories and be mixed up in a variety of situations,” says Fr. Pierre Samson, describing his reality living with members of the Manobos, the B’laan and the Tagakaolos tribes that eke out an existence in isolated settlements at the edge of jungles in the southern Philippines.

Even among their countrymen, not much is known about the vanishing culture of these tribes who struggle to hold onto their centuries-old traditions against the unceasing onslaught of modern society. Incursions by urban settlers, large-scale cattle growers and militia forces waging decades-long civil wars against local communist rebels threaten their lives and way of life.

The villagers simply refer to this Canadian Catholic missionary as their padre and they turn to him for all kinds of much-needed help. 

Samson, 64, is one of the many Canadian priests from the Prêtres des Missions-Étrangères (PME) order who have come to the Philippines to serve in various missions across the country. 

The PME, also known as Foreign Missions Society, is based in Laval, Que. Its mission is to build a more humane and fraternal world while proclaiming Gospel values.

Samson, a Quebec City native, first arrived in the tribal village of the Manobos in 1971, a year after obtaining his licence in theology from the University of Montreal.

Despite its abundant vegetation, rich soil and numerous minerals, the region remains the Philippines most troubled region. Not withstanding tens of millions of dollars in foreign aid, Mindanao contains the highest concentration of people in poverty in the country. More than 33.7 per cent of the population, or an estimated 1.4 million families, in the region experience involuntary hunger because of lack of food.

The situation was not much different 34 years ago when the Quebec-based missionary, with the aide of a local guide, forded a river teeming with leeches and emerged from a trek through hundreds of kilometres of dense forest growth to find himself surrounded by a group of surprised villagers. It didn’t take long for the villagers to warm up to Samson, who went to great lengths to learn not only the culture, but also to be a part of the local community beginning with speaking the mother tongue. 

To date, Samson has helped build tribal schools, local co-operatives, four health clinics and developed industrial and agricultural programs assisting more than 200 farmers. He has also empowered the native women by helping them set up cottage industries.

“I am only here to bring a little bit of love and hope when needed and where needed,” he said.

When people ask how he manages his various projects effectively, Samson points to his network of support groups. There’s the team of grandmothers in Trois-Rivières, Que., who knit woolen sweaters for children; volunteers from the United States who regularly send him basic necessities such as medicine and school supplies; and a Catholic duo in Japan, who together with their friends, send financial support for 100 high-school students and maintain the 13 tribal schools. 

Unlike other charity organizations that invest in huge building projects, Samson said he prefers to concentrate on “long-term sustainability.”

“I try to work with our people, adapting to their capabilities and situations. Rather than large-scale projects, my approach involves small programs that are interconnected to one another.”

(Arellano is a freelance writer in Toronto.)

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