The Columban Sisters in the Philippines, May 24, 1939
The Philippines is a warm, tropical country of numerous islands and many different languages. Today, the Columban Sisters live and work in two of the larger islands: Luzon and Mindanao. They are involved in a variety of different works: dialogue with tribal people, education of children and young people with physical and mental disabilities, pastoral visitation of the poor and sick, support programs for those marginalized by society. The Philippines is almost 100% Catholic and there is a high level of commitment on the part of many lay people to the full living of the Gospel. Because of this strong faith commitment and the availability of well-trained theologians, the Philippines is now a centre for the training of priests and religious from many Asian countries, including China. Columban Sisters are involved in this work. From the time that the first Columban Sisters landed in the Philippines, young women have shown an interest in joining the Congregation. There is a Novitiate in Manila for those preparing to become Columban Sisters.
In 1939, the Columban Sisters received an invitation to work in the Philippines and on May 18, of that same year a group of Sisters set sail from Shanghai in China for Manila, the capital of the Philippines. It was a whole new venture for the Columban Sisters. Prior to this, the entire focus of the young missionary congregation had been on China where the name of Christ was hardly known. In the Philippines, on the other hand, was a very Catholic country but because of the shortage of priests and sisters, the people had little opportunity for religious education.
The Sisters began their work in a small town in the Northern Philippines named Malasqui. It was from this humble beginning that the work of the Columban Sisters would soon reach out to other parts of this vast and beautiful country. Very soon, it became clear that there was a great need for a general education based on Christian values that would be available especially to those most in need. The sisters responded by opening school and colleges in various parts of the Philippines.
Before very long, the uncertainty and violence the Sisters had known in China reached the Philippines also. The Japanese invaded the country, and the Sisters had to flee into the hills with the people. For four years the Sisters shared the life of the people and were protected by them. At the end of the Japanese occupation, the Sisters returned once more to their educational work, rebuilding and expanding on the foundations that had been laid.
Over time, the number of Filipino sisters and priests increased, and they began to take on the work of education. This allowed the Columban Sisters to become involved in work with groups of people who are often on the margins of society and forgotten.
Today, the Columban Sisters in the Philippines are involved in education of physically and mentally challenged children and work with women and children who have been abused. There are also involvements in the programs of Theology , Spirituality and Religious Formation programs for Asian sisters and priests preparing for ministry in their own countries.
In the Southern Philippines, the sisters live and work with an indigenous people called the Subannens whose very existence is threatened by illegal logging and mining, forces that are destroying their ancestral lands. Despite the high level of risk in combatting these forces, the Subannens themselves and the Sisters forces continue to be determined to continue the protests.
The overall focus of the Columban Sisters work in the Philippines is, as in other countries where we work, to walk with the people as they make the journey toward a more human, just and peaceful existence. There is a particular emphasis in the Philippines on ecology and on dialogue with other cultures and faiths.
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