HOMILY ON THE OCCASION OF THE 50TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE PRIESTLY ORDINATION OF REV. FR. GERRY BOUCKAERT, CICM
May we never remain on the sidelines
of this march of living hope!
– Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, # 278
Brothers and sisters in Christ, today, on the happy occasion of the golden anniversary of Fr. Gerry Bouckaert’s ordination to the priesthood, we thank God our loving Father, the gift of vocation to the priesthood to Fr. Gerry and to his immediate family here represented by his very close relatives who have come all the way from Belgium. We thank God for the blessing He has given to Fr. Gerry to serve the people of God in the priestly ministry. We join the Bouckaert Family in their prayer of gratitude for the gift of holy priesthood in the person of their son, brother and friend. May the blessings of God multiply in you abundantly forever!
The Bouckaert Family offered their son and brother, Gerry, three times. First, when Gerry professed his religious vows on September 8, 1963, he became a member of a new family, the CICM Family. Second, on August 4, 1968, he was offered to the Universal Church when he was ordained to the Holy Priesthood to serve anyone anywhere as a priest. And the third occasion was on Feburary 1, 1970, when Gerry was sent to a new country, a new culture, a new people, a new family, and that is, the Philippines. That was his departure date to his beloved mission country.
We, therefore, are very thankful to you, the Bouckaert Family for being so generous in offering your son and brother to us, all for the greater Glory of God!
In today’s world reality, we need priests who sanctify as they serve, who proclaim the Word of God with gentle persuasion, who serve generously without waiting anything in return, who would say at the end of the day: I am just a humble servant of God, unconditionally collaborating in His mission in reaching out to all, especially those most vulnerable to social, economic, political, religious and cultural exclusion.
I have to be honest with you all. I will quote a short paragraph from the Apostolic Exhortation of Pope Francis, entitled the Joy of the Gospel, number 278, in the chapter on The mysterious working of the Risen Christ and his Spirit. I quoted this last during on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the ordination to the priesthood of Frs. Gilbert Sales and Neil Sta. Ana. It is good recycling appropriate and inspiring verses, especially from our present Pope. I quote:
Let us believe the Gospel when it tells us that the Kingdom of God is already present in this world and is growing, here and there, and in different ways: like the small seed which grows into a great tree, like the measure of leaven that makes the dough rise and like the good seed that grows amid the weeds and can always pleasantly surprise us. The Kingdom is here, it returns, it struggles to flourish anew. Christ’s resurrection is already secretly woven into the fabric of this history, for Jesus did not rise in vain. May we never remain on the sidelines of this march of living hope!
Awesome and inspiring words from our very humble, human, principled and very down to earth Pope Francis! Christ’s resurrection is already secretly woven into the fabric of this history, for Jesus did not rise in vain. May we never remain on the sidelines of this march of living hope!
All the missionary life of Gerry was a total commitment to the mission entrusted to him. He never put himself on the sideline, as an observer or a bystander. No, he engaged himself with the people, his humble and joyful way. As is being hinted in the first reading of today, Gerry, as it were, was sent to the “nations” without knowing what awaited him. And so, he put his total trust in God. The Gospel reading of today, further captures the life of faith of our brother Gerry. Gerry never said that he was the Good Shepherd. He is fully aware that the Good Shepherd is Jesus Christ himself, and that he (Gerry) is only a co-shepherd, without any pretensions of taking the place of the Good Shepherd.
God provides. Believe me, this is true! God will always provide for his humble servants and not only that, He will see to it that any work, based on love and service, truth and hope, will always increase. Yes, believe me: the fruits of good works will always increase.
And we get into the heart-warming and inspiring imagery of the evangelizer-priest as a Good Shepherd. The ever repentant and humble good shepherd not only knows his sheep, but also more importantly gives his life for his flock. He is one who marches faithfully by the side of his flock and is not afraid of the dangers and threats that come his way. He brings his sheep to fresh waters and greener pastures no matter the odds, the opposition, the disappointments, the betrayal of trust that is deposited, even one’s defects and limitations. He marches on in the main stream and most often, against the current, but never on the sidelines, and always with living hope.
I guess Fr. Gerry was inspired by one person, one diocesan priest, who marched on with living hope, who left behind everything to follow the Good Shepherd, and with conviction, went to a far way corner of this planet, with living hope and love for the marginalized. I believe you were inspired by our blessed Founder THEOPHILE VERBIST, who carried in his heart this text of Saint Mark, which is the foundation of the CICM as a religious missionary congregation of priests and brothers: “Go into the entire world and preach the gospel to all creation.” He is our Founder. He remains our model of a Good Shepherd.
From Belgium, Théophile Verbist and companions went on that historic trip to China in 1865 to bring the Good News to the Chinese people and to care, as
Good shepherds, for the abandoned children during those uncertain and dangerous times. The Boxer Rebellion in China that took place towards the latter part of the 19th century claimed hundreds of lives of CICM missionaries, as well as the Communist Revolution in the 1940s in China to which we also lost many of our CICM missionaries.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, I am sharing this unique episode in our CICM history with you this morning in order to give you an idea of what it actually entails to be a CICM missionary priest or brother, of what it means to be where one is most needed, and of that to which Fr. Gerry generously said “YES, LORD!” fifty years (50) years ago. This is not a joke! As a young missionary, passionate in reaching out to the people he met along the way, he learned from them. His first mission assignment was Natonin. And in our circles as CICMs, we say always: if you can make it Natonin, then you can make it anywhere! All those long hikes up and down the mountains, bringing the sacraments to the far-flung villages, eating what the people had to offer, sleeping simple beds or benches, marked the missionary-priestly life of Gerry. You ask him during the reception, and I am pretty sure, he will say YES, that is true!
I am pretty sure that what has sustained Gerry these past years as a missionary priest (sent to the nations) was his personal prayer, reflection and meditation of the Word of God as spiritual nourishment, his service to all those he was sent to shepherd, and of course, whenever he presides and offers the Holy Eucharist, together with the community of believers. He sanctified concrete persons, he blessed one or another whose heart was downtrodden, he made present the love of God in the sacrifice of his Son in the altar of the Eucharist, so that all may be one and holy in God’s presence.
To be a CICM missionary is to leave one’s country of origin, of one’s familiar and secure space, to be sent to foreign cultures and societies whose values are different from what the Gospel bears. Oftentimes, to these frontier situations the missionaries risk their lives. But that is what it means to respond to the Lord’s challenge to “Go into the entire world and preach the gospel to all creation”; that is what it means be a CICM missionary. We have Filipino CICM confreres who gave up their lives for the Gospel here and abroad, and thereby, to us, are considered “martyrs” of the Congregation. We solemnly remember our Baguio-born confrere, Fr. Conrado de la Cruz, CICM, a Filipino CICM missionary in Guatemala, who 38 years ago (one May 1), was kidnapped in the Plaza Central of Guatemala City, present in the Labor Day celebrations, by police or military authorities, whisked away to an unknown place, and never to be heard from again till this very day.
Théophile Verbist, while in China, once wrote to his companions back in Belgium about the future of the CICM, in the following faith-filled fashion: “We are full of courage and of hope that our mission will bear fruit and that it will expand a lot in little time in Mongolia.” That was the living hope of Théophile Verbist.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, what do all these stories and insights go to do with our lives now, to all of us here present in this celebration. We are all missionaries. We are all called and sent to proclaim the Gospel to one another through the Christ-like quality of our lives: transformational, compassionate, caring, and inspiring. The Church as mission preaches the Gospel to everyone all over the world, while ever mindful in prayer and in action of the presence of Jesus Christ in the work of mission.
We are today’s missionaries of the Church. We stand firm in our faith in the face of challenges and difficulties, following the example of Jesus Christ, the first missionary of the Father. By doing so, we truly become signs of solidarity with those whose lives and spirits are crushed under the weight of human suffering. But as followers of the Risen Christ, we joyfully exude hope that the cross ultimately gives a glimpse of the Resurrection.
I firmly believe that the priesthood is a daily occasion and an opportunity to bless people and bring them closer to the Risen Christ, making their lives more meaningful because they are led to see it’s very purpose which is love till it hurts, to give oneself generously without turning back, to lift and uplift the other so that his or her god-given dignity is respected and held sacred always, and live life with joy feeling the nearness of the smiling Risen Christ and the warm embrace emanating from the Immaculate Heart of our caring Mother Mary.
Allow me to end with the words with which I started this, my reflection and prayer, from Pope Francis: The Kingdom is here, it returns, it struggles to flourish anew. Christ’s resurrection is already secretly woven into the fabric of this history, for Jesus did not rise in vain. May we never remain on the sidelines of this march of living hope! Be always at the side of Jesus Christ, the Way, the Truth and the Life.
Father Gerry, congratulations! Please invite us to your 60th Anniversary! And why not, invite us also to your 75th Anniversary.
May God be glorified always through His priests and missionaries! Amen.
First Reading: Acts 11:1-18
The Apostles and the brothers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles too had accepted the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem the circumcised believers confronted him, saying, ‘You entered the house of uncircumcised people and ate with them.”
Peter began and explained it to them step by step, saying, “I was at prayer in the city of Joppa when in a trance I had a vision, something resembling a large sheet coming down, lowered from the sky by its four corners, and it came to me.
Looking intently into it, I observed and saw the four-legged animals of the earth, the wild beasts, the reptiles, and the birds of the sky.
I also heard a voice say to me, ‘Get up, Peter. Slaughter and eat.’ But I said, ‘Certainly not, sir, because nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’
But a second time a voice from heaven answered, ‘What God has made clean, you are not to call profane.’
This happened three times, and then everything was drawn up again into the sky. Just then three men appeared at the house where we were, who had been sent to me from Caesarea.
The Spirit told me to accompany them without discriminating. These six brothers also went with me, and we entered the man’s house.
He related to us how he had seen the angel standing in his house, saying, ‘Send someone to Joppa and summon Simon, who is called Peter, who will speak words to you by which you and all your household will be saved.’
As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them as it had upon us at the beginning, and I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, ‘John baptized with water but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If then God gave them the same gift he gave to us when we came to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to be able to hinder God?”
When they heard this, they stopped objecting and glorified God, saying, “God has then granted life-giving repentance to the Gentiles too.”
RESPONSORIAL PSALM: Ang Espiritu ng Panginoon
SECOND READING: 2nd Letter of Paul to the Corinthians 9: 11-15
You will be rich enough in every way for every kind of generosity that makes people thank God for what we have done. For the help provided by this contribution not only satisfies the needs of God’s holy people, but also overflows into the widespread thanksgiving to God; because when we have proved your quality by this help, they will give glory to God for the obedience which you show in professing the gospel of Christ, as well as for the generosity of your fellowship towards them and towards all. At the same time, their prayer for you will express the affection they feel for you because of the unbounded grace God has given you. Thanks be to God for his gift that is beyond all telling!
GOSPEL READING: John 10:11-18
1 Jesus said: I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 He who is ha hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”
 Date/Place of Birth: 26 January 1943 / Roeselare, West Flanders, Belgium
First Vows: September 8, 1963. Ordained Priest: 4 August 1968
First Arrival in the Philippines: February 1, 1970
1970-1974 Assistant Priest, Natonin, Mt. Province
1974-1975 Assistant Priest, Baguio Cathedral, Baguio City
1975-1979 Missionary in Belgium
1979-1980 Assistant Priest, Bambang, Nueva Vizcaya
1981-1989 Parish Priest, Bambang, Nueva Vizcaya
1989-1994 Parish Priest, Bayombong, Nueva Vizcaya
1991-2012 CHIRO National Chaplain
1994-2002 Chaplain, St. Mary’s University, Bayombong, NV
2001-2005 Professor/Rector, SMU/District House, Bayombong, NV
2005-2007 OIC Chaplain, SMU, Bayombong, NV
2007-2008 Director, Theo-Phil Dept., SMU, Bayombong, NV
2008-2013 SMU Outreach Program – Ambaguio, NV
2013- Parish Priest, Ambaguio, NV