At the request of Bishop Lino Conzaga of Palo on the island of Leyte in the Philippines, Scarboro Missions began serving this new mission territory in 1955. At that time, the diocese covered the whole of the island of Leyte and consisted of more than one million Catholics who were served by only 80 priests.
In July 1983, after 28 years of assisting to build up the local church and with the ordination of more Filipino clergy, Scarboro’s mission to Leyte ended. Their work then moved to the Diocese of Malaybalay on the southern island of Mindanao, as well as to the island of Cebu. They accompanied the people during the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos who instituted almost 10 years of martial law. During that time, parishes served by Scarboro missioners experienced killings and persecution. Fr. Charlie Gervais, who spent more than 25 years in the Philippines, said, “I will never forget the joy of celebrating with the people when they finally expelled the dictator in a nonviolent demonstration in the streets of Manila. I was there when millions of Filipinos stopped military tanks with their bodies, rosaries, prayers and flowers.”
Scarboro priests not only put their efforts into sacramental work, but they also worked with the people to build schools and a hospital, and established credit unions and other projects to help the people improve their lives. By their simple lifestyle and priority to the poor, the missionaries witnessed to Gospel values. Basic Christian communities also became an important aspect of faith life through which the people gathered together to apply the Gospel to their struggles for liberation and were able to participate in the renewal of the church.
Missioners also stood in solidarity with local communities in their nonviolent picket to save the forests of Bukidnon on the island of Mindanao. The people succeeded in stopping logging companies from clear-cutting the trees in their watershed in the mountains.
While in the Philippines, Scarboro lay missioner Gary Saulnier studied herbal medicine with rural mananambal (practitioners of traditional medicine) and compiled a book on Visayan herbal medicine in 1981 that is still widely used by the community-based health program of the Visayan-speaking regions of the Philippines.