From the moment I disembarked my flight at Ninoy Aquino International Airport I was inundated with stimuli that my senses struggled to process. The sights, smells and sounds of the city of Metro Manila and the Province of Pangasinan provided a remarkable example of the dichotomy of the life lived by Filipino people. But within this paradox I found a common thread; a life lived through an eye of faith.
While our tour provided us with a foundational knowledge of the historical background of the region that has led to many of the cultural points of interest, it was the faith-filled actions of the people themselves that left an indelible mark on my conscience.
On arrival at the Quiapo Church I looked forward to touching the foot of the Black Nazarene, only to find that the crowds were so immense that entry into the Church was impossible and a mere glimpse of this dark statue of Jesus Christ was all I could obtain.
The following day we went to Tuloy sa Don Bosco Street-children Village and met the committed staff and proud students of this centre that pursues the charism of St. John Bosco. Father Rocky Evangelista has poured his deep faith into this village by trusting God and he explained that the success of the school had come from “mans’ best efforts and God’s grace”. His inspiring words, many of which I wrote down to bring home with me, effected the participants on the study trip and I can only begin to comprehend what an effect they would have on the abandoned and neglected children who call Tuloy sa Don Bosco home.
While our visit to St Scholastica’s College stood in contrast to the prior experiences we had on the trip, the charism of the Benedictine Sisters that has led the school to being a ‘Socially Orientated School’ provided sameness. Along with the extensive list of ongoing social outreach programs, the school has a religious extension program that integrates religion with social action. The students we met were all enthusiastic about this aspect of their schooling and could articulate the importance of their roles in social outreach.
The evidence of faith was everywhere around us as we continued our travels. Images such as the crucifix and the Sacred Heart were displayed alongside secular imagery such as anime. From the Governor’s office in Pangasinan to the jeepneys in Manila, and everywhere in between we saw this stark visual reminder of Catholic faith. We were most surprised to see prayers and religious imagery present in the classrooms at Estanza Elementary School. Being a public school and basing our expectations on Australian standards it was surprising for us to see that even in this context the Catholic faith guided their population.
Along with many of my experiences on this trip, the Filipino Catholics demonstrated through these prayers, a desire to live out their faith fully. The compartmentalising that we see in the lives of Australians was not evidenced in the lives of the Filipinos we encountered. The integration of faith throughout their lives was remarkable and something I emulate. I was being challenged to be a person who does not pick up and put down my faith as it is convenient.
This experience has significantly broadened my own understanding of what it is to be Catholic and I left the Philippines with an overriding desire to live my faith more fully while wondering how I could share this understanding in a way that would influence not only my students but the greater Parish community.
Sandra Freeman, Master of Religious Education Teacher, St Joseph's Catholic Primary School, Childers, Queensland