Dump Site Missionary
When Heinz Kulüke began teaching Philosophy at a university in the Philippines twenty years ago, he heard from a student about people living at garbage dumps. His curiosity aroused, he decided to take a look for himself. He was shattered by what he discovered on the outskirts of Cebu City: hundreds of families had constructed makeshift homes in the foul smelling trash; the children’s lives were threatened constantly by the dangers of the dump. ‘I discovered shocking poverty,’ he says, ‘and I had to act.’
Each day after class, Father Kulüke drove to the dump. Like the dump dwellers he began collecting recyclables. Slowly, he won the people’s confidence. The German priest, who is now fifty-six, managed to persuade parents to send their children to school. He himself picked them up each day – to help them escape their abject circumstances.
These initial, modest efforts have grown into a flourishing organization that runs kindergartens, resettlement projects and rehabilitation centers for street children and prostitutes. Yet Father Kulüke has never stopped using every spare minute to be among the people himself. He continues to celebrate Mass at the garbage dump, visit the street children and comb the town’s red light district at night. Sometimes he succeeds in rescuing underage girls from the pimps’ clutches. ‘I think of every encounter with these abused children,’ he says, ‘as an encounter with God.’
Father Heinz Kulücke is a Divine Word Missionary. A year ago, his brother priests elected him head of the Order. As the Superior General of six thousand Divine Word Missionaries, he is trying to apply his experience in the garbage dump in his new leadership role. ‘I don’t think obedience is the most important quality in a missionary,’ he says, ‘but rather the extent to which he is prepared to accept responsibility for people.’