Velez: Following saints and shepherds

THIS day November 3, Australian missionary Sr. Patricia Fox is leaving the country.

After six months of her legal battle, the immigration department finally ruled to deny the extension of her temporary visa. Thus, she has to leave the country without a visa.

Her departure follows that of other missionaries who were denied extension of their visa – Methodist missionaries Adam Shaw, Tawanda Chandiwana and Miracle Osman. They share a common commitment of integrating with farmer and Lumad communities although Sr. Pat’s work is more with the peasants in Luzon in the past 20 years as a member of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines.

They also share a common persecution for working with farmers and Lumad. They all joined a fact-finding mission, in different farmer communities in Mindanao, last February. Authorities said missionaries should not be joining fact finding missions, their duty is spiritual not political. Especially ones led by human rights activists and farmers’ groups whom the government easily brand as ‘red’, leftist.

Their punishment is to be sent home.

I share a common opinion with health activist Gene Nisperos who said that for a country which is so deep into Christianity, why is this happening.

When we are taught about the value of the Good Samaritan, neighbors who help the poor who are injured, yet the Good Samaritans in our midst like these foreign missionaries are being persecuted.

We are being told that the Church should not be involved in politics. But one forgets the story of the recently ordained St. Oscar Romero, the martyred archbishop of El Salvador.

When his ministry becomes one of questioning the militarist regime of El Salvador, where coffee farmers, activists and even priests are being murdered, Romero is felled by a bullet.

This All Saints’ Day makes these issues more relevant, as St. Romero’s martyrdom is relevant to our times, where our faith is being questioned in a time of misogyny, militarism and hate. Is our faith being reduced to mere prayers where our eyes are closed to the truth? Is it not our faith about conversation, finding meaning by reaching out to our brothers and sisters in need?

We see another missionary leaving, being persecuted for following the inspiration of Romero, or even the late Fr. Pops Tentorio for walking with the poor. I don’t know if something is terribly wrong when this happens. They say shepherds lay down their lives for the sheep. But these wolves are a hungrier, desperate and cunning pack.

But I believe shepherds and saints do inspire more courage in these times. Sr. Pat may leave the Philippines but she said this place and the struggling people holds a special place in her heart.

There is faith in words, and there is faith in action. Sr. Pat will inspire more from us to put faith in action, and perhaps be like shepherds that beat the wolves.


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