“Standing up to others for the social message of the Gospels” Carl Schmitz (+1988, Philippines)
Fr. Carl Schmitz, a Passionist priest from Chicago, was working in Japan when he felt called to work to the missions among the tribal Filipinos living in the mountains. The B’laans were abused people who had been displaced from the lowlands to the mountains where it was hard to find suitable land for their small gardens. Murder and burning of properties were rampant. Violence was constant.
Fr. Schmitz threw himself into this work with more vigor than ever. It was clear that Carl had never been happier nor more content. He considered everyone of the 80,000 B’laans his people. They were living in the mountains separated into hundreds of small communities, covering an area of thousands of square kilometers. He set out to visit every one of these scattered communities. In a short time, he was known and trusted by all because of his kindliness and his sincere concern for each one. Along with his spiritual message, he brought food when they were starving, medicines to combat the prevalence of sickness and disease; he built schools so that they could improve their economic and social condition. In his own personal life, he lived as the poorest, even using borrowed clothing. His Superiors had to order him to rest and to take care of his health. A new Christian culture was being born among the B’laans.
Father Schmitz lived the life of the B’laans in his center in the mountains. He taught them the faith. He felt the injustices they experienced in being driven from their homelands. He defended their rights to their lands and way of life. It is no wonder that there were those who wanted to see him silenced, removed, murdered.
Two serious issues faced the missionary. Paramilitary forces in the area often turned out to be bandits who used young Bila’ans as their agents in illegal logging and rustling water buffalo. When Fr.Carl discovered that going on, he would head up the mountains, find his people, persuade them to go to the coast with him and seek amnesty. The New Peoples Army (Communist) was another problem. Young Bila’ans often saw the NPA as a way to gain back their stolen lands. Fr. Carl tried to persuade his young men to leave the rebels and seek amnesty.
His activities did not make him popular with the paramilitary. In Easter Week, 1988 Fr. Carl had brought six young B’laans to his out-mission at Bolul. He planned to take them from there to the authorities the next day. The paramilitary were probably uneasy, fearing some action could be taken against them. Determined to stop Fr. Carl, they got a young B’laan, Johnny Monday, half drunk. Handing him a Garand rifle they told him to kill Fr. Carl. Johnny was a former teacher in a Catholic school ran by Marist brothers, who worked together with the Passionist missionaries.
On the night of April 7, 1988, Johnny came to the hut where Fr. Schmitz lived. Fr. Schmitz, who was about to sleep, went outside to talk to Johnny, who was shouting at him. Earlier that day, Fr. Schmitz bought Johnny’s wife some medicine. Fr. Schmitz tried to calm Johnny down, but he wouldn’t. Johnny sprayed the priest with bullets and ran towards to house of the captain of the village. Fr. Schmitz’s mission was a missionary career crowned with martyrdom for justice. He loved the Bila’an people and would not allow them to be corrupted by the paramilitary, who were often bent on illegal logging and the rape of the virgin forests.
A Filipino priest who is campaigning for the canonization of Fr. Schmitz as a martyr said that Fr. Schmitz “was shot for not compromising on the social teachings that come from his faith and are based on the social justice principles of the Gospels.” Father Schmitz died not as a martyr for the Catholic faith, but as a man “standing up to others for the social message of the Gospels.”