Being God’s hands in the world: Filipino religious reflect on their vocations – The B.C. Catholic

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Cardinal Luis Tagle, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, once said Pope Francis told him that “the future of the Church is in Asia.”

Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate recently conducted a study on the future of the Church and revealed that the Philippine church is one of the liveliest and most dynamic in the world even though the ratio of priests to Catholics is 1 to 8,000. The number of vocations remains steady and the Philippines is still sending missionaries to the four corners of the world to share their love for God.

Some of them have chosen to come to Canada, and continue to spread that joy with the Filipino community in the Archdiocese of Vancouver.

“Growing up, our family regularly attended Mass every Sunday together,” said Fr. Amador Abundo, pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish in Delta. At home in the Philippines, it was expected of him to serve as an altar boy and he was doing so in Grade 3 when a seminarian encouraged him to pray about a possible calling to the priesthood. He entered the seminary in Grade 10.

After serving his home diocese for 18 years after his priestly ordination, he asked his bishop if he could visit his sisters in Vancouver. “I decided to apply to work here in the Archdiocese of Vancouver to gain more pastoral experience in a Canadian Church.”

Now serving in Delta, Abundo says that many young people in the Philippines are encouraged to consider a religious vocation because of families put so much importance on their Catholic faith.

Sister Elizabeth de Guzman said she was called to religious life in her early years, but pursued a call to be a teacher first. Eventually, she joined the Carmelite Missionary Sisters of St. Therese of the Child Jesus.

“God has sent me to a place where he wanted me to be to fulfill his will in this life, and it is here in Canada.” She now serves at St. Ann’s Parish in Abbotsford.

Sister Elizabeth said that Filipinos are faithful, wherever they are sent, to bring the Good News to the end of the world, and this is evident in the vibrant communities around the world where they are found sharing this news.

“The 500 Years of Christianity only shows that the faith is growing stronger and it continuously nourishes our life with His power and Grace in us all!”

Sister Elizabeth de Guzman (left), who became a Carmelite in the Philippines, believes God sent her to Canada. (Photo submitted)

Sister Chita Torres helps manage The Door is Open, a drop-in centre for the poor and homeless in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Before she joined the Order of Carmelites in 1995, she had been a college dean for seven years and taught business and education. The Carmelite simplicity was a twist from life as she knew it and its simplicity drew her in.

“When you are called, you just drop everything you love to do for the One who called you,” she said with a smile.

“Faith is the very reason why I became a nun. I want to serve and love him more by offering my life daily and by serving him through the ministry He entrusted to me together with my fellow workers.”

Sister Chita Torres welcomes guests in from the rain for a bowl of hot soup at The Door is Open. She joined the Carmelites in the Philippines in 1995 and began serving in Vancouver in 2014. (BCC file photo)

Having a priest or nun in the family is an honour for Filipino families, said Salesian Sister Corazon Beboso, FMA, who lives in Surrey. “They treasure their Catholic beliefs and pass them on to their children. This is why, when any child becomes a priest or nun, it is considered a huge blessing.”

She added because Filipinos value the faith of the family and not just of its individual members, the whole family suffers when children stray away from the faith.

“Filipinos are resilient in overcoming difficulties and automatically turn to prayer and devotions common in their regions. They are positive and find a streak of light in sorrow and pain,” she said. Some families do eventually win their children back into the faith.

Sister Corazon Beboso (second from left) with Salesian Sister Hae-Jin Lim and some young people. (Photo submitted)

Growing up in a faith-filled home and being educated in a Catholic school from elementary through college greatly influences a child’s desire to serve the Lord. For Sister Mary Olive Kingsbury, her initial call was heard during a retreat in her secondary school.

“The retreat director gave an inspiring homily on being a missionary that left an impression in my mind and heart. At that time I didn’t pay much attention, but the second time around the invitation to serve became louder and clearer,” she said.

She began looking forward to priests and nuns visiting their school and talking about vocations. This yearning led her to join the Congregation of the Religious of the Virgin Mary or RVM, a Filipino congregation founded in 1732 (see sidebar). The congregation has a presence at Our Lady of Fatima Parish in Coquitlam.

Sister Kingsbury attributes the 500 years of faith of the Philippines as a call to evangelize. “As a consecrated person, I am commissioned to share in the work of evangelization. Gifted with faith, I must share this faith to others as the Lord wants me to do.”

Sister Mary Olive Kingsbury distributes ashes to kindergarten students on Ash Wednesday at Our Lady of Fatima School. (Photo submitted)

Many parishes in the Archdiocese of Vancouver have at least one Filipino group volunteering to do various tasks, and this is how they share their love of the Catholic faith with others. Learn more about some local associations and events at rcav.org/filipino-ministry.

It is possible this century could see an Asian pope, perhaps from the Philippines, as it saw its first pope from the Americas. Cardinal Tagle and other Filipino priests continue to spread the Good News, and Dominicans recently elected the first Asian leader in their 800-year history, Filipino Father Gerard Timoner, as the 87th successor of St. Dominic.

As priests and nuns from the Philippines continue to land in various countries for mission work, Filipino Catholics continue as baptised faithful in their mission of sharing their gifts with the world.

The Congregation of the Religious of the Virgin Mary

The Philippines is known to produce a good number of vocations to the priesthood and the consecrated life, and while many priestly orders and congregations of sisters from Europe and other parts of the world have established themselves in the country since the introduction of Christianity to the islands, the Philippines has also established its own homegrown congregations. One of these is the Congregation of the Religious of the Virgin Mary or RVM.

The congregation was founded by a native woman from Manila, Venerable Ignacia del Espiritu Santo. Ignacia was the eldest and sole surviving child of María Jerónima, a Filipina, and Jusepe Iuco, a Christian Chinese migrant from Amoy, China. She was baptised on March 4, 1663.

Ignacia was expected to marry at 21 years old. She sought religious counsel from a Jesuit priest, who gave her the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola. After a period of solitude and prayer, Ignacia decided to “remain in the service of the Divine Majesty” and “live by the sweat of her brow.” She left her parents’ home with bare necessities, including a needle and a pair of scissors.

During the time she wanted to pursue her vocation, there was a Spanish prohibition that native Filipinos could not become religious nuns or priests. Mother Jerónima de la Asunción was the first Spanish religious sister who came to the Philippines to establish a convent, which Ignacia wanted to join, but because of the restrictions and racial attitudes against native Filipinos, she could not recruit them as postulants. Ignacia decided to devote her life to public prayer and lived alone in a vacant house behind the headquarters of Jesuits in Manila. She attracted other lay women to her way of life, and they became known as the Beatas de la Virgen María (Religious of the Virgin Mary) and received their sacraments from the Jesuit priests.

In 1726, Ignacia submitted the history of her congregation to the Archdiocesan Chancery Office of Manila for ecclesiastical approbation, which was formally granted in 1732.

Ignacia resigned as mother superior of the order and lived as an ordinary member until her death on September 10, 1748.

On January 12, 1948, two hundred years after Mother Ignacia’s death, Pope Pius XII issued the Decree of Definitive Papal Approbation of the Constitutions to RVM.

Mother Ignacia was named “Venerable” in 2008. There is a major city route called Mother Ignacia Street named for her in Quezon City, Philippines, where her congregation was established.

The congregation aims at personal sanctification and perfection mainly through Catholic education in schools and parishes, running retreats for lay women, and caring for the sick in hospitals in the Philippines and other parts of the world. The sisters’ first mission in Canada 27 years ago was with the Catholic Charities of Edmonton. The congregation has a presence at Our Lady of Fatima Parish in Coquitlam. 

Rosette Correa is a member of the archdiocese’s Filipino Ministry and a teacher at Immaculate Conception school.

To mark the 500th anniversary of Christianity in the Philippines, The B.C. Catholic is partnering with the Archdiocese of Vancouver’s Filipino Ministry to tell stories and personal reflections on Filipino Catholic life and service throughout the year.

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