(This is my second article in the coffee table book of the SVD Central Province on the 100th year of the Divine Word Missionaries/SVD in the Philippines. Until now, nasa printing press pa rin po yata, hehe.)
Ito ang Janssenville
Have you heard of Janssenville?
Janssenville is only one of the many subdivisions built by Fr. Leo Schmitt, SVD. From being Prefect of Seminarians in the archdiocesan seminary of Binmaley, Pangasinan and Christ the King Mission Seminary, Fr. Leo was appointed by Fr. Schűtte, SVD Superior General, to lead the movement called Action Leaven and serve as its Executive Director. This Action Leaven was born out of the 1960’s turbulent First Quarter Storm where there were so much violations of human rights and social strife resulting from poverty, unemployment and homelessness. This scenario paved way for the birth of
Action Leaven whose aim was the safeguard the rights of the oppressed.
Si Padre Leo
The pioneer group of Leaveners was composed of 70 priests, nuns, seminarians, community organizers, engineers and agriculturist among others. It was adopted by CBCP as an experiment for the Archdiocese of Manila. They established 10 pilot parishes. However, in the process, they were confronted with some Leaveners who had the tendency to incorporate leftists’ principles into the movement’s Christian orientation and to some extent, it brought confusion among the members.
The year after, Fr. Leo’s contract with the Action Leaven ended and Rufino Cardinal Santos appointed Bishop Protacio Gungon as his successor.
However, Fr. Leo did not stop from what he started. Shortly after leaving the Action Leaven, some 800 families sought his help after being forced to leave from Pleasant Hills, Mandaluyong. So, he was thrown into the herculean task of looking for a relocation site for the squatter community. Together with 2 SVD confreres, 2 sisters and 5 laymen, Fr. Leo created a foundation possessing a legal personality that would address the problem of informal settlers. On September 28, 1971, the SAMAHANG BAGONG BUHAY FOUNDATION INCORPORATION (SBBFI) was formally registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission as a non-stock and non-profit corporation.
Si Aga ay nagdonate kay Fr. Leo ng “significant amount” para sa statue ng aming Founder na si St. Arnold Janssen
Motivated by the Bible passage from Matthew 25:40 which states that “what you have done to the least of my brethren, you have done unto me”, the primary objective of the SBBFI is “to help build socially, economically and culturally self-sustaining Christian communalities with the development of the whole person as the ultimate goal”. The foundation provides low-cost housing for the poor but the services it renders cover a wide range of areas including, but not limited to, medical help, pastoral services, production center and establishment of kindergarten schools.
Si Father Leo kinukulit si Fr. Bong na kumakain ng lugaw (?)
From the time of the foundation’s birth, many housing projects were already built: San Antonio Village in Antipolo; San Jose Freinademetz Subdivision in Cogeo, Antipolo; Janssenville Subdivision in Cainta, Rizal; San Agustin Village in Antipolo; San Lorenzo Ruiz in Bulacan and Antipolo; St. Francis Square, Payong, which is also in Antipolo.
It was in 1987 when Gerardo Ozaeta, through Jaime Cardinal Sin, asked the help of SBBFI regarding the squatter problem of one thousand families illegally occupying the 36 hectares of land known as Upper and Lower Manggahan, owned by the Melitona Estates. After continuous organizational work and communication, the homeowners association was formed. When the relocation site was secured the year after, the people made their transfer from Upper Manggahan to the Munting Paraiso, now known as Janssenville, after St. Arnold Janssen.
Originally, Janssenville was part of the St. Anthony of Padua Parish. When the canonization of the then Blessed Arnold became certain, Fr. Leo approached the bishop about the plan of making Janssenville the seat of a new parish to be named after the SVD founder. But, there were strong reservations on the part of the parish priest of St. Anthony. Providentially, through the inspection trip of the Vicar General, Msgr. Roberto de Guzman, the Chancellor of the Diocese, Msgr. Peter Canonero, Msgr. Mariano Balbago and two other priests, it was agreed that a new parish should be erected “to thank St. Arnold for the services of his congregations to the Church, in particular to the Diocese of Antipolo and to promote his virtues.” This vision was accepted by the presbyteral council, the priests and the Bishop. On 30th of November, 2003 the St. Arnold Janssen Parish was canonically erected. Holy Mass was presided by Bishop Gabriel Reyes, DD and concelebrated by Msgr. Roberto de Guzman and Msgr. Peter Canonero together with the SVD PHC Provincial Superior Fr. Joel Maribao, SVD. It was the first and only permanent religious parish in the Diocese of Antipolo. On January 15 the following year, Fr. Leo Schmitt was installed as the first parish priest.
Ako, si Fr. Leo, Si Fr. Bong, si Fr. Martin
These “little something done for the less fortunate”, as what Fr. Leo calls it, was not achieved overnight. Some stubborn families did not want to be relocated actually. On 1991, one family even claimed that it was Fr. Leo who ordered the demolition of their shanty, and this appeared in People’s Tonight, a local paper. “Walang awang pari,” was the opening salvo of the newspaper report. Fr. Leo relates “Having worked for 20 years from Smokey Mountain to Jalajala, it pains me very much to be subjected to a malicious smear campaign.” However, those who believed in the purity of his cause, also mobilized themselves to defend the SVD priest who was linked to a controversial demolition case.
Mula sa isang maliit na simbahan, ito na ang simbahan ng Janssenville ngayon — the St. Arnold Janssen Shrine Parish
Today, the St. Arnold Janssen Shrine Parish is now on its way to completion. From a small chapel, the big Shrine stands in the very entrance of Janssenville Subdivision as a testament of the growth of the community who participated and believed in each other in planning and development procedures. Fr. Leo asserts that, “You cannot go wrong if you work on the premise of a Christian value and the development of the total person.” Indeed, Janssenville and the other communities founded by Fr. Leo and the Samahang Bagong Buhay Foundation remains a strong source of hope and inspiration in their community building and the upliftment of every person’s dignity.