Fr. Timothy Pfeiffer speaks with FSSPX.News about his work in the Philippines following the Rosa Mystica Medical Mission
How many years have you been stationed in the Philippines, Father?
I’ve been stationed here since 2011, so as of this coming May, eight years.
How many years have you participated in the Rosa Mystica Medical Mission?
Well, I have participated on and off. The medical mission has been going on for 13 years now and I have been participating whenever it is in Mindanao. I participated once in Manila around the year 2012 and after that I missed most of them until they started coming here to Mindanao in 2015-2017, so about five missions.
That’s wonderful! What are your most effective tools to touch the souls of the Filipino people?
There are two groups of people. We have a traditional Catholic network in the Philippines. The traditional Catholic network is the normal, ordinary method that we always use, and that is the Mass. The Mass draws people. So those people who are of the Catholic sentimentality, the Catholic understanding who do not follow and do not go with the flow, they are drawn to the Mass. They go to the Mass and they love the Mass. The Mass also works for the uneducated people in the remote areas because when they see the Mass, they love it automatically. It’s interesting that in a country like this there are so many places that are very poor. Of course, throughout Asia, there is simply a religious instinct that is very strong. Europeans and Americans tend to think more with their brain, but here they have a really instinctive knowledge that religion is important whether they are Buddhist, Muslim, Catholic or anything. It’s just that natural instinct of man that’s very strong and so Catholics have this instinct which is perfected in their Catholic religion. But even if they really aren’t well-educated and don’t really know much, when they see the traditional Mass in the hills and the mountains they are attracted to it; they love it; they think it’s solemn, important.
But of course in the Society of Saint Pius X, we have very severe opposition from the Novus Ordo clergy and the Filipino Catholic is very obedient. So they’ll have an initial instinct to go to the Mass, then there will be a “social stigma” which causes of course a bit of a problem. But all of those who have not be re-educated in a liturgical course of some kind or in a special liturgical seminar in the Novus Ordo, almost without exception, they are attracted to the old Mass. If they have been influenced by special liturgical training then of course they say, “Latin! Well, nobody understands Latin!” Other than that, they really are attracted to the Mass so that’s the first approach to the Society and is what draws people.
Now, we say, outside of tradition, the most effective means has been the miraculous medal, the scapular—the sacramentals. However, merely giving someone a scapular or a miraculous medal leaves you with no contact so when we have the Militia Immaculatae (“MI”) we have a sign-up sheet, a list, and a consecration to Our Lady, so the miraculous medal becomes a sign of consecration and so this has been our most effective apostolate outside of Catholic tradition. So we can say that it has truly been a type of missionary work. For example, we did Mary’s Mission Tour from late March 2016 to the end of 2017 where we walked 2,150 kilometers. We consecrated about 60 cities to Our Lady and 180 groups. We went right through the Philippines and it affected the people remarkably and it affected the clergy more. It even became an issue that was spoken of at the Episcopal Conference, and so we really touched the people and the clergy themselves said, “Wow, what is this?” They don’t know how to deal with it because it’s tradition and they don’t think it’s Catholic. On the other hand, the people know that this is Catholic, this is really Catholic and so they’re moved. What is effective about it is not the fact that people are just attracted to a sacramental, but it is the power of the sacramental that concretizes, that makes the Catholic Faith concrete. These two go together. If you give someone a catechism lesson for three hours, they’re going to walk away, you’re going to walk away. They’re going to forget it in two days. If you give them a catechism lesson of 15 minutes or five minutes and you give them a miraculous medal it will stick with them for a long time because of the sacramental. Five minutes with a sacramental, lasts longer than three hours with no sacramental. And so you get a power there and then when they are attached to Our Lady, not attached to a stigmatized society by their attachment to Our Lady. Now you have a means to go back and to encourage that attachment to Our Lady and create a Catholic family. And so this has been most effective outside of tradition.
Father continues answering the question about how the priests touch the souls of the faithful:
There are two things that are so very different—the world outside of tradition and inside tradition. If we look outside of tradition: in my priesthood I’ve been trying to do something outside of tradition for 28 years and the Militia Immaculatae has been, by far, the most effective. It could be particularly because this is a Catholic country. It’s not going to be the same in France, but nevertheless, it’s been super effective. But even inside of tradition, once again, it’s been very effective, because if you give people an apostolate that they can do, it’s a lot better than giving them an apostolate that they can’t do. For example, when you tell them to go explain the crisis in the Church there’s only a handful of people that can do that but if you tell them to go distribute the miraculous medal, almost everyone can do that! To explain the crisis and answer the objections, you have to be reading books all the time, answering questions, and living your whole life in an argument and then you can do it. But people who aren’t always reading and arguing…but if you give people a miraculous medal and teach them what it means, they can do this. And there’s a power that’s not about tradition vs. Novus Ordo etc. It’s a power that’s immediately the Catholic Faith itself.
And I’ve always learned that as a priest, that even a priest in the Society, under Fr. Laurence you’ve got to start your argument with something simple. I always tell the people and the children that they have to be like the Red Baron. The Red Baron was “up here,” and he would attack the guy “down here.” The Red Baron always said you must have altitude before you attack. Now Archbishop Lefebvre always had “altitude.” You start with the principles, then you come down to the conclusions. The conservative Catholics would never do that; they just start with the argument of obedience—they never really got to the topic. But it’s interesting to see that if you take the method of the miraculous medal or the scapular, you do same thing, you go up to the mysteries of the Faith and you come down to the practice. This argument, nobody has an answer—it wins every time. Up, down, up, down. So even at a simple level what is powerful about the sacramental is that it’s a simple apostolate that anybody with a simple Catholic education can do. And that any theologian with a lot of brains can explain. The great theologian and the simple catechist are on the same page. This is a sign also of the Catholic spirit: something profound, yet something simple simultaneously. And so that’s important because then the priest can work with the people. He can do his priestly duty at a very deep level with the same thing that people do at their level. It’s like the Mass, you know. The Mass you can explain to cardinals and you can explain to six year-olds and they’re all on the same page. Simple for some, deep for others but the same for all and the sacramentals repeat this Catholic Faith. So, the only real issue is that for an apostle or for a missionary, it is important to understand that.
Sometimes a priest can get lost in abstractions and not really understand how to get it into real life, real people. The abstractions are important but if you can’t connect it to real life, which is the priestly job, it’s not worth it. So that’s been a big thing. It’s work in both camps inside of tradition by giving people a missionary tool they themselves can see. I know for the priests of the SSPX, and we all think in those terms. How many times have we argued among ourselves – how do we give our people the apostolic spirit? One of the problems is when we are not able to give the apostolic spirit because you can’t give an apostolic tool. You can’t tell people to go do something without telling them how to do it. If you don’t give them very specific instructions, it doesn’t move forward. Only the smart ones do it. But if you give them something very pragmatic that is also connected to the main idea then everybody can do it. So when you see something like this, you see all of the catechism working. The working is being done by the priest and the catechism but it’s the same thing. It’s really the same message that everybody is getting and so it creates an impact and it’s a very Catholic one! So that’s been the most effective thing and it has been, for me, a discovery.
Every priest knows that the Rosary is important; the scapular is important and the miraculous medal is important and many lay movements that have existed in the Catholic Church have done this before. For example, before Vatican II, the Blue army was magnificent, up until Vatican II, and what did it do? Scapular pledge. It’s the same thing that the MI does with the miraculous medal. We’re doing that now on this Mission because we have so many people who are not able to follow something more complex. We are trying to stay closer to our mission so that we can follow up more. So now we are just instituting the pledge with the scapular. We are getting them to sign the books so that now we can give our MI’s work to do. So that’s the main power. It’s been there in the Catholic Church forever. St. Dominic did it with the Rosary. We in the Society sometimes have to rediscover what everybody knew before. It was something that everybody did all the time, just standard procedure.
The second part of the interview with Fr. Pfeiffer will be published in the coming days on FSSPX.News