Friday, September 9, 2016

To See The Face of God

By Sr. Romina Sapinoso

“I really would like to travel the world and see as much of it as I can.” After a long pause, my friend Tere finally mustered the courage to say her thoughts out loud. Walking back to campus where we both worked from a coffee shop in front of the university was always a good time to talk about all sorts of things. We were in our early 20s and the subject of dreams and deepest desires came up. Tere’s hesitation came from her assumption that it seemed very selfish to desire such a thing when we were surrounded with such poverty and strife in the Philippines. At that time, we dreamt of so many things but were definitely influenced by our faith and the idealistic notion of putting our gifts and talents in the service of the suffering world. It seemed like she almost didn’t dare say this for fear of appearing foolishly extravagant and focused on herself. I understood what she meant. Our conversation got deeper into this particular topic as we kept walking on that beautiful early evening so many years ago.

Almost 15 years later, now living in the United States, I had the opportunity to live Tere’s dream by traveling through a few countries myself. Because of the generosity of good Catholic friends, I was able to accompany my affiliate director, Sr. Janet Gildea and our Columban priest friend, Fr. Bill Morton on a three-week “Asian Adventure” as we dubbed it. We headed to several destinations which included Hong Kong, Wuhan and Shanghai in Mainland China, a few cities in South Korea, and the Philippines. In each place, we were witnesses to the beauty and culture of these parts of the world. They were evident not just in the breath-taking natural scenery but more importantly, through the stories and faces of the people we encountered. Here are some of them.

Fr. Chen on his front porch
The image of Father Chen sitting on his front porch next to the church building where he is the pastor is forever etched in my mind. As a young seminarian in Wuhan, China, Chen was forced out of his formation when the seminaries were closed and any form of religion was forbidden by the cultural revolution in 1949. Young Chen was heartbroken to leave the seminary and took on a job as a truck driver but never got married. In the 1980s when the Chinese government finally allowed churches and religion to be restored, the Bishop remembered Chen and approached him with the question about pursuing his vocation. Chen was overwhelmed with joy at the offer and jumped at it. He was ordained at the ripe young age of 64. Now 23 years into the priesthood, Fr. Chen still very humbly acknowledges the wonderful gift of his vocation and does not feel worthy of it. He says he tries to celebrate as many masses as he can, no less than two a day, because he wants to “make up” the years he missed.

Sr. Daisy welcomes Filipino migrant workers in Hong Kong

In the midst of downtown Hong Kong, stands a modest looking building called the Catholic Center. Mass is held on the third floor in a very small, cramped chapel which can probably house at most 100-150 people. This place is a sanctuary for many Filipino migrant workers, mostly women, working as domestic helpers in many Hong Kong households. Many of them have had to leave their families behind, including their own children, in pursuit of a decent living wage which was difficult to come by in their home country. On the eighth floor of the same building, Sister Daisy, a Religious of the Good Shepherd, welcomes the many groups of Filipino women who have the day off and would like to spend it in the relaxed company of fellow Filipinos eating, dancing and doing the old favorite past time of karaoke singing. The joviality of the place can almost mask the homesickness and longing that I know these mothers, daughters, aunts, and grandmothers feel for their own families back home. Sr. Daisy who initially appeared business-like and straightforward, was quick to leave us, to attend to any need that the women brought to her attention. She and the migrant domestic workers in Hong Kong added much to our awareness of the plight of many around the globe who are forced to leave their families to work in other countries.

The girls in the PREDA foundation shelter head back
to their living quarters after playing outside
PREDA Foundation (People’s Recovery Empowerment and Development Assistance- in Olongapo City, Philippines was born out of the need that Fr. Shay Cullen, another Columban missionary priest, saw as an effect of the United States Subic Naval Base presence in the city. Many high-risk children were being targeted for drugs as well as trafficked in brothels owned mostly by foreigners who set up shop in a country that was not highly capable of protecting its children’s rights. Fr. Shay’s ministry has branched out to many other services such as advocacy, education, fair trade products and jobs. However, PREDA still actively provides direct service through the established shelters that it runs. The organization, with its social workers and counselors, serves boys and girls who have been abandoned by parents, are victims of drug abuse and brothels, or are high-risk out of school youth. Visiting the girls’ home in a small town just outside of Subic brought the reality of these children’s lives very close to home. Each of the girls we talked and visited with had their own story to tell. Some of them were very open about their families’ abuse or abandonment or their experiences with human and drug trafficking. Others were more quiet but still hung around enjoying our company and stories. I couldn’t help but admire the resilience and strength of those young people. They were laughing and playing, just like other children. It was difficult to imagine what terrible experiences they carried beneath their smiles but I was very glad that PREDA is there to help them get another chance at life.
Visiting the Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill in South Korea

In South Korea, the Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill have taken on the task of providing a safe home for international women, as a response to the global problem of human trafficking. These women suffered abuse and domestic violence from their Korean husbands. I remember a bright, 27-year old young woman from the Philippines who came to the shelter almost two years ago after being rescued. With no family, education, or mastery of the language in Korea, I imagined it would have been quite a task for her to navigate the legal, education, and labor system without help. Almost ready to leave the shelter, she now speaks Korean fluently, fulfills employment eligibility requirements, and is ready to stand on her own feet. This is possible because of her persistence as well as the assistance provided her by the sisters. She has in turn helped the newer members of the shelter get acquainted with the systems and language that she has successfully navigated herself.

As Tere and I continued to talk about dreams and deepest desires during that one evening walk, I remember telling her something that I was discovering for myself around that time. I was coming to understand that our deepest desire is really God. Underneath all the superficial things we think we want in life, the desire is really for that which is bigger than our dreams and hearts could imagine. I reasoned with Tere and asked her why she wanted to see the world. Why did this mean so much to her? She initially came up with several surface reasons that as she struggled to articulate, led to the conclusion that being able to see the beauty of the world means having a glimpse of its Creator. Her deepest desire, as all our deepest desires are, was indeed, simply to see God.

My travels this summer have given me just that gift: to see the face of God in Fr. Chen in Wuhan, Sr. Daisy and the migrant workers in Hong Kong, Fr. Shay and the children in the Philippines, and the international women in Korea. Traveling is a privilege not afforded to many and I was very blessed to have had these experiences and to meet God in so many of God’s wonderful creations. As one song that I love to pray with goes:

“To see the face of God
Is my heart’s desire.
To gaze upon the Lord
Is my one desire."

1 comment:

  1. S. Dorothy EnglertOctober 5, 2016 at 7:02 AM

    What a profound reflection!!!
    I am so happy to be able to call you my Sister.


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