The Superior General of the Society of the Divine Word (SVD) chose to spend his Christmas this year among the poorest of the poor in Cebu. Fr. Heinz Kulüke, SVD, the 11th Superior General of the congregation, pointed out the joy of being a Divine Word Missionary. In an interview, he said, “the poor are most important to the Divine Word Missionaries.”
Despite his very busy schedule of traveling around the world to check out the different missionary endeavors of the SVD, Fr. Heinz opted to come for the holidays. He arrived in Cebu just before Christmas and since then, the University of San Carlos downtown campus has been flooded with people who eagerly wanted to see him. He wasted no time visiting families who scavenged, street children, women in red-light districts, impoverished fisher folks and even cemetery dwellers.
In Umapad, one of the dumpsites he visited, he was warmly welcomed together with the Blue Sisters, and other Divine Word Missionaries. This old dumpsite closed down four years ago, but the people here worked on an even bigger dumping area just few kilometers away where around 700 tons of garbage is dumped everyday.
Fr. Heinz is no stranger for the Umapad people. When he was still the Provincial Superior of the Philippine Southern Province and was based in Cebu, he frequently visited the site to celebrate Mass every Saturday, hand out biscuits and listen to people’s stories. He does medical check-up too, for free.
Sitting down with Fr. Heinz for an interview was an amazing experience. He could talk about a litany of unforgettable experiences ranging from feel-good to bizarre. In one occasion with the street kids, he shared, “I brought them to Cebu Hospital for a dental treatment. The first kid was already at the dental chair, and he was screaming and all the others jumped out of the window.”
In 1999, Father Heinz founded the Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation – Integrated Development Center (JPIC-IDC) to help the poor and marginalized in Cebu, particularly scavengers, street children and young girls in red-light districts in particular. Today, more than 40 people are working for JPIC in these different sectors. In fact, 50 families from this dumpsite were already given new descent homes in Compostela, Cebu where they also involved themselves in livelihood programs like hog-fattening, native chicken meat production, goat raising, creation of fashion accessories and others.
After the New Year, Fr. Heinz will go back to Rome. Certainly, he is coming back.