The Holy Family Sisters in the Philippines
“I remember very vividly the occasion when I was attending a refresher course on Pastoral Theology at the East Asian Pastoral Institute with other Bishops, the EAPI Director came to announce that a Congregation of Sisters was interested to know if any of the Bishops would need Religious Sisters in their Diocese. I was the first to raise my hand” says Bishop Jesus Y. Varela, now Bishop Emeritus of the Diocese of Sorsogon.
The journey into the unknown began on November 4, in the year 1983, when Four Holy Family Sisters of Bordeaux – Srs. Christiane Meunier, Pushpam Gnanapragasam, Josephine Mendis and Emerentiana A’Kattar courageously entered the 7100 Islands – the Philippines – to plant in the Filipino soil the seed of our Charism “To Be and to Build Family.” They were warmly welcomed by Bishop Jesus Y. Varela, the Bishop of the Diocese of Sorsogon. Their choice of the Holy Family was confirmed when they learned that they are in the most depressed Province in the most depressed Region in the Country. The Option for the Poor became clear, vivid and alive in their hearts as they accepted the invitation to make its Home in the Diocese of Sorsogon.
The voice of God was heard and responded to by three Holy Family Sisters: Srs. Anne Marie O’Boyle, from England, Murine Fernando, from Pakistan, and Olivia Joseph, from Jafffna, Sri Lanka. October 24, 1984 was the auspicious day the Pioneers, after a short period of familiarization in Rome arrived in the Diocese of Sorsogon.
The Pioneers ventured on the exposure to the 16 towns and 25 Parishes in the Province of Sorsogon in view of finding the “Nazareth” that will be theirs to make their home. The various circumstances, the meager resources of the Diocese, and the Holy Spirit, led the Pioneers to a Barrio at the beautiful Beach, 24kms from the Town of Sorsogon and 4kms from the town of Gubat.
On May 2, 1985, the three Pioneers moved to Barangay Rizal, and occupied the room offered by Tata Zacaria. “Being Family and Building Family” began to take root in this modest place which was very much in the mind of Bishop Varela for the Holy Family, to be integrated into the lives of the Poor in his Diocese.
The Poor and the poverty situation of Rizal were mostly welcomed by the Holy Family. That was the good intention of Bishop Varela that the Poor of his Diocese become the “Priority” of anyone who wishes to serve the Lord.
We were offered by the Diocese a house which was an Elementary School before and the Holy Family accepted it with gratitude and the Pioneers moved to the little “Nazareth” on December 4, 1985 and continues to be our Home until Today! This little Holy Family Community survived the many trials and difficulties of mission life because of Prayer that kept them united to face the challenges with courage. The sisters went in search of the people, reached out to them to offer their Holy Family hospitality and welcome.
The Founder’s words “Go Forward” began to echo in the hearts f the Holy Family Sisters hence, the desire to reach out meaningfully according to the Signs of the Times. A decision was taken to establish a second community in the Diocese of Sorsogon and the choice of place was Bulan, another town where the majority of its residents are Poor.
There was a strong feeling that the Holy Family needs to have a House in Manila for the purpose of Formation and for the various purposes of our Sisters.. We were only a group of 7 then in 1995 (we are 11 now in 2010!). Providence was with us and we were established in the archdiocese of Manila on the 14th July 1995.
Our serious discernment during our Delegation Assembly in October 2008 on the need for a Basic Formation House, having three young women ready to move to the Novitiate Stage was realized. Our Novitiate House is established in the Diocese of Novaliches in Manila and was blessed on the 5th June 2009. We are blessed with 3 Novices, 2 Postulants and 1 Aspirant.
The “Option for the Poor” is at the heart of our Apostolic choices
The Holy Family Communities became aware of their own poverty – the language barrier, the culture gap, distant from the centre of the Dioceses and the Parishes, no other missionary Congregation to offer support or advice. In addition, they were alarmed by dire warnings about typhoons, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and tidal waves. But nothing stopped them from reaching out to the people. They could see that, living in proximity to the people was a real blessing to them.
The little huts, the children peeping through, the women at the washing wells, the men staring into the sky, the elderly stationed in the corner of the house, the malnourished children, the sick and the needy caught the attention of the Sisters in no time.
The number of malnourished children increased day by day. The Holy Family community responded to the situation immediately by starting a Feeding Program to provide a Mid-day meal that is of nutritious value. The Feeding Program that was started in 1986 is being continued until now having 65 children and some lactating mothers. It is a clear indication that the life situation of the people had not changed much or had gone worse with the Super Typhoons and other natural calamities that leave the people hopeless and frustrated!
The poverty situation of the families was clearly seen in the lives of the children in the areas. Almost 80% of the children were not only malnourished but found to be having Tuberculosis. The Holy Family Houses are kept open even during the night for emergency sick calls. The Sisters make themselves available for the healing ministry which is part of the Holy Family mission. The felt need to respond to the needs of the sick children and adults and elders prompted the Sisters to open a Health Clinic to attend not only to the children but to all those who are in need of help. Thus the Feeding Program and health program became a combined Project of the Holy Family until now.
The Holy Family Communities are busy mingling with the people to know them and their families. Sisters’ regular visits to the families provide them with the opportunity to know their situation – their poverty and their spiritual situation. The economic condition of the people prompted them to open a Kindergarten for children who had no means of attending pre-school program in the towns, and a Typing and Stenography Program for Out of School Youth.
The Livelihood Program of Pig-raising and Shell-craft for Women, Tricycle project to the unemployed men and the purchase of equipments to the Farmers for Rice Farming and Fishing Nets to the Fishermen around the area were considered as blessing and hope to uplift of the lives of our ‘favourite Poor.’
The Missionary zeal of the Holy Family Sisters allowed them to reach out to the spiritual needs of the people by undertaking Catechesis in the Elementary and High Schools, bringing Communion to the Sick and the Elderly in their homes, visiting the Families, introducing and organizing Bible Sharing and Prayer groups.
Hospitality has been part of the Communities’ mission where All are made to feel welcome. As communities of Disciples, constantly we are on the move, seeking for new ways of being present to the Poor and reaching out to them in varied ways and according to their needs. There is continuity in searching to be and to do something meaningful. Our life and mission is based on two Gospel principles namely :
“I tell you : whenever you did this for one of the least important of these Brothers and sisters of Mine, you did it for me” “You have been faithful in little things” ….
This exactly is the mission life here in the Philippines – quietly penetrating the lives of the People to sow the seed of Being and Building Family, nurturing it with our presence and life witness, walking side by side in all simplicity of the Holy Family of Nazareth, moving away from Institutions and institutionalized apostolates, rendering humble service in the spirit of God Alone.
FROM THE BIRTH OF OUR DELEGATION
October 27, 1997 was indeed a milestone when our Foundation here in the Philippines was erected as a Delegation with a New Delegation Leadership Team. A new house for the Delegation – in place of the dilapidated Elementary School – was constructed.
With this kind of development, we reflected on our would-be Priorities. PROMOTION OF VOCATIONS emerged as one of them. In eagerness, opportunities were sought more than ever before, to introduce the Holy Family even outside the Diocese of Sorsogon. Prior to this, our Sisters had introduced the Family to young people; they came one by one and also left one after the other – as it is difficult to be alone for the Filipinas to live among Sisters all foreigners. Yet, the Sisters did not give up, they still go on courageously. Especially during the Summer vacation, when the schools were not in Session, our Sisters gathered the young girls – though not in very big numbers, have a “come and See” Program called “Nazareth Experience.” This has become one of the annual features of the activities of our Delegation. The one that was recently held in April this year is the 7th of its kind.
“The Seed that fell on good ground began to bear fruit”
The Dream of Our Founder in Building the “New Society” has been realized and is in existence in the Filipino Soil in the Three Vocations namely :
? The Apostolic Sisters
? The Lay Associates
? The Priest Associates
From the beginning itself our Sisters kept in touch with the Lay – both men and women. From Prayer Groups they had evolved – with long time preparation, into Committed Lay Associates from all three places where our Sisters are. At present there are 68 Committed and 43 Lay Associates in Formation. Most of them are very simple people, happy to come together to be rooted in our Charism and Spirituality, for regular formation meetings, family events and celebrations. They have now grown into leaders, taking up the responsibility for their own group of Associates, while the Sisters are happy to guide them in their mission.
Conscious of living the Charism wherever they are and whatever they do. In the Year 2005, the National committee of the Lay Associates was formed, worked out on its by-laws to suit the local situation – as it was time and the members proved themselves capable of being responsible for their own Formation and that of their fellow Lay Associates. May 2007 was a memorable one when all the Lay Associates from all three places came together in Rizal, Gubat for the “Fist National Assembly” of the Lay Associates. It was Family Union for reflection, sharing and Celebration!
Another Development is the Commitment of our Priest Associates. During this period 1997 – 2010, the number of Committed Priest Associates is 05. 03 of them are very active and committed while the other 02 dropped out for health and other reasons.
Since 2003, the leadership team of all three Groups come together as Inter Vocational Group once in 3 months for Reflection on our Holy Family Way of Life, to get ourselves better informed of all what is happening around us – the current social and political issues and also how to get involved as members of the same Family to move forward as one Body. Our awareness creating Program to promote Eco-conscious living is still at its infant stage. One Vocational Group takes the lead to facilitate when we gather for Inter Vocational Meetings. Such occasions are not only times of hard work and sacrifice but in the Filipino style they are also of joyful celebrations.
After the General Chapter of 2002, we re-doubled our efforts regarding Pastoral Care of Youth and Vocations. We intensified our efforts to visit, to invite the young people for the earlier mentioned experience with the Holy Family. Human and Christian Formation were given importance to in these programs. Those who continued to show interest in the Holy Family way of life for the first time in the recent past entered as Aspirants, then as Pre-Novices and finally in the year 2009, on Trinity Sunday, the first batch of three, entered the Novitiate in another Diocese in Metro Manila. To find a house suitable for the purpose with a title clean, was no joke. On the eve of Trinity Sunday the house was officially blessed by Bishop Antonio Tobias of the Diocese of Novaliches.
God has blessed us with Vocations from among the Filipinos that give meaning to our Charism of “BEING FAMILY and BUILDING FAMILY.” We are hopeful that God will send us Vocations in His time to the Group of Holy Family Contemplatives and Consecrated Seculars to make us One Family. Our sense of belonging and our bonding as a Family is so cherished and nurtured by our coming together to celebrate life, to share our joys and sorrows, to pray together, to find ways and means of enriching our lives with our life and faith experiences. We enter into the process of deepening our life in the Charism and Spirituality of the Holy Family of Bordeaux. The Holy Family of Nazareth – the gentle image of the Blessed Trinity is our Model and Guide in living our Spirituality of “GOD ALONE” and to live as Sisters and Brothers belonging to One and the same Family!
Last but not the least to go down into our History is the “Launching of our Jubilee” in anticipati8on of our 25 Silver Years on 24th October 2008. It was held in the Parish of St. Anthony of Padua, in the Vicariate of Gubat. It was presided over by our Bishop Emeritus – Very Rev. Bishop Jesus Y. Varela – the Bishop who invited us to his Diocese. The event was not only a preparation but also one of introducing the Holy Family to the people from all walks of life. Using the Mass Media, our Family was introduced, in addition to the entertainment in Songs and Dances, fellowship Meal where friends, and acquaintances participated. It was only the beginning. The whole PBN Family prepared themselves by Reflection provided monthly and other activities to promote the devotion to the Holy Family.
October 24th 2009 saw the great day of Days, the actual Celebration of Remembering the 25 Years ! It was held in Rizal, the place of our Foundation and the Thanksgiving Eucharistic Celebration was presided over by Bishop Arturo M. Bastes, the Bishop of Sorsogon. Many of our diocesan Clergy, Religious, friends, the People of Rizal and of course all our Lay and Priest Associates graced the occasion. The day became very colourful with the presence of our General Councillor Sr. Kumudinie Dassanayake, our Pioneers Sisters Anne Marie O’Boyle, Anne Catherine Perera and our long time Missionary Sr. Eithne Hughes (at present the General Secretary). This Historical Event gave us greater impetus to “Go Forward” with greater courage and more dynamic zeal.
Our hopes are high. The Blessing that Our Family received in February 3, 1822, the Orientations coming from the General Chapters, the concern and guidance of our General leadership Team and the support of all our Sisters and other members from the different parts of the Holy Family world urge us to move forward.
As of now, our first and foremost concern is the Basic Formation, the Formation and life of our Sisters and the challenge is to respond and to open our eyes, ears and our hearts to the realities around us and to respond with courage and greater fidelity according to the invitations of the WORD OF GOD and the HUMAN WORD.