Just as I admitted last week that I love sidewalks, I now have to admit that when I arrived in the Philippines I had no idea what a religious order was. I didn’t know the difference between secular and regular priests, and I didn’t know what the difference was between a Franciscan, a Dominican or a Jesuit. I knew absolutely nothing of their history or their members. But worst of all, I not only didn’t know, but I didn’t want to know either. Like so many other Spaniards of my generation and although my parents are Catholic, we were brought up to distrust the Catholic Church as an institution, so I was predisposed to believe everything I was told. negative on its members.
But I like books, and I especially like very old books, so I started to investigate the history of printing and the Spanish period of this archipelago. Therefore, inevitably, I was compelled to start reading about the brothers and familiarizing myself with their activities. And then my prejudices gradually fell, and I began to take an interest in certain brothers in a way that I had not done before: like people of flesh and blood, with their virtues and their weaknesses. , who left absolutely everything in their country of origin. origin — their families, their friends, their beloved convent life — for a faith and for other people they did not know at all.
One of these brothers who caught my attention was a Dominican, Fr. Buenaventura Campa, OP, and this because he accepted to carry out his duties as a missionary in a region, the Cordillera and the southern valley of Cagayan , which had proved not only a historic challenge for the Dominicans, but also a real risk. . Several missionaries had been killed over decades by the natives they intended to convert, and many more had died naturally due to the hardships of life in the mountains.
First edition of Campa’s report on the Ilongots in El Correo Sino-Annamita (1891) PERSONAL ARCHIVES
Buenaventura Campa’s biography might seem somewhat exceptional today, but he followed the normal path of anyone who felt a missionary vocation in 19th century Spain. He was born in a small village in the mountains of southern Cantabria in 1852. He joined the convent of Santo Domingo de Ocaña in 1867 and was sent to the Philippines in 1877 – never to return to his homeland. Campa completed his studies at the University of Santo Tomás and although he showed some aptitude as a man of letters, he devoted himself to a nomadic and almost anonymous life as a priest in the province, especially in San Carlos de Pangasinán, Cauayan (Isabela) and Bagabag (Nueva Vizcaya).
He was transferred in 1879 to Diadi, a town in Nueva Vizcaya near the Lagawe and Ifugao mountains where several missionaries had been killed during the century. There, the goal was to attract mountaineers to settle so that they would convert more easily. The following year, a letter discussing his life there by Campa was published in a Dominican newspaper named El Correo Sino-Annamita (CSA) where he announced that his mission was flourishing and asked permission to go to Manila accompanied by some local chiefs in order to strengthen peaceful relations. In 1881, he published another letter in the same newspaper where he described a personal vision of the phases that each mission must pass through to succeed: “The missionary must provide food [to the new settlers] during the first year, he must provide them with tools to work, he must teach them how to plow the earth because they do not know how to do it, he must help them to build small houses, he must seek after their vegetable gardens, to that they feel attached to the new place and gradually forget the mountains they have abandoned.”
This letter is quite interesting because it allows the reader to imagine the sufferings, the trials and the dangers that the missionaries had voluntarily decided to face: every need — robust health, unwavering willpower, and a superhuman spirit,” he writes. These statements testify to a deep sense of responsibility for the work he was doing: a real conviction of the need for a missionary presence among the mountain people despite all the struggles and all the sacrifices.
Father Campa remained in Diadi until 1883, when he moved to Manila to work as administrator and librarian of the convent of Santo Domingo. However, he was again sent to the missions in 1886, this time to Echagüe (Isabela), where he remained for eight years. It was at this time that he published his travel stories in the lands of the Ilongots and the Mayoyaos in the aforementioned newspaper, two of the most beautiful pieces ever written for this newspaper. I decided to edit and publish these travel writings in Spain five years ago because of their exceptional quality. They offer a privileged window on provincial life in the Cordilleras at the end of the 19th century. For the curious, only his trip to the land of the Ilongots was partially translated in the UST Journal of Graduate Research (Vol. 17 (2), March 1966) under the title “An exploratory trip among the Ilongots and the Negritos in 1891”. “
He was made a representative of the order in Manila in 1894, and after the revolution, instead of returning to Spain, he decided to stay in the Philippines until his death in 1916. Padre Campa today has a small street in Sampaloc , not far from the campus of the University of Santo Tomas, which bears his name. This is just a reminder that for every Father Damaso, there were hundreds of Campas Fathers.