Hurrah for Sister Patricia!

Hurrah for Sister Patricia!

“Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted” (Mt 5:5).

PARI: Ngayong Year of Priests and Consecrated Persons, kung makakita ka ng pari o relihiyoso, ano’ng gagawin mo? (Priest: Now that we are celebrating the Year of Priests and Consecrated Persons, what will you do if you meet a priest or religious person?)

Estudyante: Magmamano po ako, at magtatanong: ‘Father/Sister. Saan po kayong detention center o jail nanggaling o dadalhin?’ (Student: Father/Sister, I’ll pay my respects and ask: Which detention center or jail are you from or will be brought?)

As I write an Australian nun named Sr. Patricia Fox, the Superior of a religious congregation named Notre Dame de Sion (Our Lady of Sion), after 27 years of missionary work among the Philippines’ indigenous peoples and lumad in relative anonimity, is being held in detention by NBI and Bureau of Immigration agents. Curiously she is being charged for “undesirable alien” activities. Her lawyer characterizes her arrest as a mis-labeling of her missionary work with and for poor minorities as “political” or even as “partisan political activity”.

Governments usually find suspicious any priests’ or religious’ involvement in poor people’s struggle for justice, human dignity and human rights. Perhaps this is due, at least in part, to an intentional or unintentional ignorance by politicians of the teaching of Vatican II and of the 1971 Synod of Bishops that the work for justice is constitutive of the proclamation of the Gospel. If Sr. Patricia is being detained for her involvement in this type of activity, the government is hard put to explain it as making her “an undesirable alien”. Since when efforts by a Filipino or an alien priest or religious to help our poor and indigenous peoples achieve justice and a humanly dignified life an undesirable action? In fact, isn’t this the whole end of any and every political activity? Why would priests and religious, citizens or aliens, who prod government to do what is basically its job, be considered enemies of the state instead of its collaborators to whom it owes a huge debt of gratitude?

This brings us to the unsaid but implicitly acknowledged bottomline: suppression/persecution of persons and aggrupations perceived as opposing or critical of the current dispensation. Official statements from seats of power almost always deny any political persecution by government of elements of the opposition or of government’s critics. On the other hand, acts of government’s agents, such as in the case of Sr Patricia and the EU socialist party delegate whose entry was recently blocked at the airport, contradict such denials.

As Church we need to take seriously the words and actions issued from government and opposition sources with plenty of discernment. This is not only to determine truth or falsity but also to identify and seize opportunities to give witness to Jesus Christ while facing up to the challenges confronting the Church in our country at this time. We need to consolidate our spiritual resources and respond “with one heart and one mind”, that of the Risen Christ.

In the likes of Sr Patricia we see the image of this Risen Christ again, with the wounds in his hands and side, but in “real flesh blood”, eating with us in our poverty, challenging our Herods with the truth and proclaiming it with a love that does not refuse to suffer for “the least of the brethren”. Her witness could certainly heighten the animosity of pro-administration trolls and support groups. But it could also bring people of faith to a greater appreciation of their baptismal commitment to proclaim Christ Jesus, especially now that it has become fashionable to badmouth his Church and his Gospel by holders of the highest powers.

Unlike the disciples on the way to Emmaus, may we recognize his presence as he walks among us and with us.

Hurrah for Sr Patricia because she is pointing him out to us in the breaking of the bread that is his Body at the tables of our teeming rural and urban poor.