Rev. Msgr. Geronimo F. Reyes, venerable members and participants of the Archdiocesan Tribunal on the Cause of Fr. George J. Willmann, S.J., my dear brother-priests, religious and seminarians,distinguished members of the Knights of Columbus Fraternal Association of the Philippines, Inc., brothers and sisters in the Lord,
I am grateful for this occasion that we could gather together to celebrate God’s love and faithfulness to humanity shining through the heroic life and holiness of some of our brethren who have left a great impact in our life and mission and have shown a formidable path for us to follow as Christ’s disciples.
Sometime in 1989 Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (who in 2005 became Pope Benedict XVI), who was then a member of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, was asked by the press in an interview: Why are there too many saints that are canonized today?
This was his answer: “I have never said that there are too many saints in the Church. It would be an absurdity, since in the Church there can never be too many saints. St. Paul told us unequivocally that we are all called to holiness. ‘This is the will of God, your sanctification’ (1 Thess 4:3). Because of this, the number of saints is, thanks to God, incomparably greater than the group of individuals given prominence through canonization…. Every canonization is already, inevitably, a choice in favor of a certain standard of selection: there are—as I said—many more saints than those who can be canonized. The opening of a process of canonization already indicates a choice among a very large number.”
We need the saints. From the earliest beginnings of Christianity, the Church, which has always believed that the apostles and martyrs together with the Blessed Virgin Mary and the holy Angels were quite closely joined to us in Christ, has shown particular veneration and has devoutly implored the aid of the intercession of the saints. At various times, God chooses from among them many who, having followed more closely the example of Christ, give outstanding testimony to the Kingdom of heaven by shedding their blood or by a heroically living virtuous lives.
In the Preface I for holy men and women in the Roman Missal, we pray thus: “You are glorified in Your saints, for their glory is the crowning of Your gifts. In their lives on earth You give us an example. In our communion with them, You give us their friendship. In their prayer for the Church you give us strength and protection.”
Today, as in numerous moments in history, we need all the more the intercession and the example of the saints. In the Preface II for holy men and women, we pray even more pointedly: “You renew the Church in every age by raising up men and women outstanding in holiness, living witnesses of Your unchanging love. They inspire us by their heroic lives, and help us by their constant prayers to be the living sign of your saving power.” Emerging as we are from a global pandemic and from various social maladies that our country is seriously facing today, the Church groans for a host of intercessors and models to emulate.
The Servant of God, Father George Joseph Willmann, a professed priest of the Society of Jesus, is just one among many. But he has been singled out by a lot of us, especially from the almost half a million members of the Knights of Columbus in the Philippines as a man who lived the Gospel in a heroic way. Many who saw and worked with him, are still alive today. And they have told stories about his exemplary life of virtue and holiness. He has spent most of his priestly life here in Intramuros. And he has worked very closely by, in that building just across the Arzobispado. But his closeness especially to you members of the KC is not geographic, it is about Christian witness as he spearheaded the nationwide apostolate of the Knights of Columbus from 1948 until his demise in September 1977.
Many of you have stories about how Fr. Willmann helped the poor and lived a life of exemplary poverty and simplicity; how he accompanied the youth as one in pursuit of a mission; and how you have seen him in his quest for social justice. Inspired as he was with the pastoral directions of the Philippines hierarchy on social justice, notably with the Joint Statement of the Philippines Hierarchy at the Close of the Holy Year (1950-1951), he organized the Columbian Farmers Aid Association (1955), established the Knights of Columbus Fraternal Association of the Philippines (1958), initiated the setting up of cooperatives in many parishes throughout the country (1962), and even founded the “Araw ng Magsasaka” (May 15, 1977), among others.
I wish to bring to mind the thoughts of my predecessor, Jaime Cardinal Sin, of happy memory, that he expressed in his homily at the funeral of Fr. Willmann at the Manila Cathedral on September 21, 1977: “In his priestly ministry, he brought back into the fold countless lost sheep, and many of them are now pillars of the lay apostolate, burning with zeal, imbued with apostolic restlessness, and fired with a thirst for Christ…But it should be an even greater comfort to us to realize that the soul of Father Willmann has at last gone home to where it belongs, in the bosom of God our Father in the Kingdom of Heaven. I know of no man more deserving that he to be there. He worked very hard to get there, and it is a reward that he has richly earned … Let us glory in the realization that we have a strong advocate up there, an intercessor whose one desire, I am sure, is to get us up there with him when our own time comes.”
In the Gospel today, people were incredulous of the life-giving presence of the son of Man. When the Lord told them that the girl was not dead but only asleep, the flute players and the crowd who were making a commotion ridiculed him. May the Church, the mother of saints, guide us into her saints who may heal us with our infirmities of both body and soul.
In your prayer for the Cause of Fr. Willmann, which was originally given imprimatur by Msgr. Jose Abriol who was then the Vicar General then of the Archdiocese of Manila, you express this sentiment: “He was the prayerful, strong, dauntless model that all of our Filipino men in their new era; a man leading other men in the care and formation of the youth; the relief of the victims of war and violence; the alleviation of the suffering of the poor; the preservation of the sanctity of life, marriage and the family. Make him the lamp on the lampstand giving light to all in the house. Make him the city set on the mountain, which cannot be hidden, so that all of us may learn from his courage, his integrity, and his indomitable spirit in the struggle to lead men to God, and to bring God to men.” Amen.
We hope and pray that through his Cause, we can offer another exemplary and dauntless model of Christian discipleship in our modern times. May through his intercession, true conversion and renewal of our Philippine Church and society be realized. Amen. (Photo by Rian Francis Salamat/RCAM-AOC | Photogallery)