The community in Cebu – Philippines

’A sower went out to sow.’ (Mt 13:3). In July 2010 we came to Cebu, to begin a formation community and to collaborate in a mission among the urban poor of the city. The journey continues to be an exciting and challenging one. We have a lot to learn !

Salamat sa Diyos (Thanks be to God) we met people along the way who took the time to show us projects and places where we could ‘place our tent’ and live close to the people. It is a good reminder to us to always welcome the stranger and take time to offer hospitality
 
The reality 
 
We have visited different congregations, parishes and places here in the city of Cebu. Through our meetings with people at different projects, and as we get to know the city, we can see some of the lights and shadows of Philippine society. 
 
The Philippines is rich in natural resources but the Filipino people are poor. Up to 66 million of the 90 million population are poor (TFUC = Task Force on Urban Conscientization). There is no need for any survey, poverty is just too obvious. 
The island of Cebu has a population of 5 million, with nearly 2 million living in the city of Cebu. 
 
It will give a picture to say that 70% of Filipinos live below the poverty line, on less that 85 pesos a day. The minimum wage here in Cebu is 285 pesos a day and of course there is very high unemploy-ment. We could continue and write a book on facts related to the socio-economic situation. 
But the pages we read every day are in the lives of the people we meet and see all around. It is common to see people live ‘their lives’ on the street: eat, wash, cook ... all of life happens there. ‘I have seen the misery of my people’. We see the struggle ‘for life’ of many people and we question why the majority of the people continue to live in poverty; we see children begging in the street, hungry, often in rags, young children working collecting cans, paper etc., and countless remain homeless. We also see and experience the people’s determination and ability to survive through suffering and need, and their spirit of resilience and trust in God. 
 
Come follow me….
 
In our searching for mission here we are aware that we were called by the Congregation to collaborate as we work among the poor and marginalized and to develop the work of vocation promotion. Imagine, there are over 80 congregations in Cebu City! Enasi is the vocation promoter and formator and through our meetings with the Vocation Directors Group we have become familiar with the vocation reality. Some women are interested in our charism…it is a process and so will take time. 
We are here at a time of transition with regard to religious life in this society. However the choice of religious life is still very much an option for young women as many attend Church and recollection days and the ‘faith’ and practice of religion is strong. As the Spirit calls we respond and offer a fertile ground to plant the seed of vocation and put down roots in our LSA spirituality and charism. 
From the beginning we knew that in order to be present to people here in their culture and society and also to be involved in the vocation work we need to speak Cebuano (Visayan). After dis¬cernment the community sent Ena to the language school in Davao, Mindanao, for a 3-month course. Liliana and Bernie continued to study at home with our teacher Maam Sayong .
 
Bloom where you are planted
 
Through the intercession of Antoinette and Etienne we prayed to be led where we can ‘do simple acts of service’ among the poor. We were aware of our poverty and limitations but we also are in touch with the grace of our sending ….
One of the places where we have the possibility of collaborating on mission is St Arnold Janssen Parish. The Sons of Divine Providence (SVD) are in charge of the parish. It also has a B.E.C (Basic Ecclesial Community) structure, with 21 kapillas (chapels) and so 21 alagads (servant leaders) and each sitio has a group responsible for Worship, Education, Service, Treasury, Youth. The BEC is a model of Church where the poor are not only evangelized but can become evangelisers themselves. 
 
 
Some aspects of the reality in the parish :
  • Over 52% unemployment: those with employment are in low income work e.g. tricikad, (bicycles with an attachment for 2/3 people), vendors etc. 
  • Making necklaces (with shells) was a good livelihood but in recent years the legislation re gathering shells and coral has effected this means of income; also, the worldwide recession means less demand for export. 
  • Unemployment leads to ’hunger’ for people, especially children. 
  • Children do not attend school because they are hungry and the cost of uniforms etc. makes it impossible for many families. 
  • A 2010 survey in Cebu found that nearly 5000 children, aged 5 or under were ‘malnourished’. (Sun Star Cebu Paper, 28th March 2011)
  • Youth are at high risk from various sources, drugs, gambling, ’child protection’ issues etc. 
  • Low level of literacy 
  • Youth gang war resulting to death and injury 
  • There is a Parish Child Protection Policy in place and 
  • Children’s Rights Advocates in the parish
The medical clinic is run on Friday morning. It is a free service.
 
Two of the biggest ’gaps’ seen in the parish services/ministries are children and youth work. As we write we are beginning to meet the people: alagads, families and children. We want to hear what people say about the needs of the area, to look at what is already happening and to get familiar with the different activities in the parish. We will be part of an educational programme, with a feeding programme for up to 300 children. The journey continues; we do not know where it will take us; we sow one plant at a time!! Please continue to pray for us here, that we will have the courage, love and humour necessary to be women of compassion 
 
Sisters Liliana, Bernie and Enasi 
29/09/2011
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