Wednesday 27 February 2013
IN January a group of eight parishioners from St James the Apostle Parish Hoppers Crossing North, together with Fr Jude Pirotta mssp, our parish priest and Fr Mario Zammit mssp, went to the Philippines on a two-week mission immersion experience.
Our aim was to build a connection with the religious congregation that is also responsible for the pastoral care of our parish, gain a tangible experience of current global issues, and to provide parishioners the possibility of living out our Christian calling of service to the poor and marginalised.
We were warmly welcomed by the Paulist Missionaries who hosted us and we instantly felt a strong connection with the community. We could easily see the missionaries evangelising to all around them, living out of their founder’s motto: ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’
During our stay in the Philippines we also had the opportunity to meet with the Missionary Sisters of Charity of Mother Teresa, Augustinian Sisters, Franciscan Missionary Sisters and members of the Focolare, an ecclesial movement.
Our programme included the celebration of the Eucharist with squatters in Manila, praying with young adults, teaching at local state schools, organising activities for parish youth and visiting families. We even had the opportunity to join in the planting of a rice field.
We were deeply moved when we came in touch with poverty: orphans and children with severe disabilities living in orphanages, elderly abandoned by their families, and families under financial stress due to low incomes and other personal burdens. We could not help but put ourselves in their shoes, but at the same time with the knowledge that we lived a comparatively luxurious life.
One very moving experience was when we were invited to share time with young orphans craving for attention. The moment we walked into their room their hands went up, begging us to lift them and play with them. As we departed we felt saddened knowing that while we returned to the safety of our own homes, we were leaving these children behind!
During one of our moments of prayer and debriefing Fr Mario shared with us a beautiful reflection on the gospel of the feeding of the five thousand. He reminded us that even if like the five loaves of bread our contribution seems minimal; when we share our gifts God can perform miracles.
In the Paulist parish of Dinalupihan Bataan, Fr Joe Cremona mssp taught us that the people are the best resource. He believes that giving handouts will not help the people grow. His aim is to empower them by giving them the necessary education so they can have a better life.
We observed that even though some people are struggling financially, their faith, unity and love are very strong; the drive and motivation of the Filipino people is definitely inspiring. No matter what their circumstances they always wear a smile, and have an overwhelming sense of hope, strength of heart and determination to overcome whatever is put in front of them.
In one of the class rooms we visited we were greeted with the expression: “The God in me greets the God in you!” This truly expresses the meaning of our mission experience as we were able to meet God in the struggles of the people we came across. We are sure that lessons we have learnt during this experience will remain with us all our life and we believe we have become better persons out of what we have learnt on this mission immersion experience.
Sarah Cook and Sheryn Mallillin are Parishioners of St James the Apostle Parish.