In Kibangay Community, in the Philippines,
What was the significance of the Jubilee Year of Mercy for us ?
“… Sometimes we cannot find answers to questions about existential pain and suffering. Most of the time, the best we can do is to “cry with the suffering” and make the person feel our consoling presence by listening, and by embracing.”
(Pope Francis in the Philippines)
Ronald Rolheiser, O.M.I., in his book : “The Holy Longing : The Search for a Christian Spirituality”, described beautifully mercy and compassion by contrasting the story of Susanna from the Book of Daniel with the story of the woman caught in adultery from the Gospel of John. In both stories, the women are condemned to die, one innocent and another guilty. In both, the women were saved.
God’s redemptive love is the foundation of all acts and forms of justice, peace, caring for creation and solidarity. Our way of being in the world today, our way of relating with others, our way of nurturing life, and our way of loving our times point to the invitation to live mercy and compassion.
God’s mercy and compassion on us
Each day at Lauds we pray the Benedictus, we proclaim our faith and hope in God’s saving tender mercy and compassion that leads to peace. In Kibangay, we are very grateful as a community for the wonderful gift of creation. Whenever we pray outside for our oraison, we experience deeply and intimately through creation the words we utter at prayer. Yes, our connectedness with the whole of creation – the movement of the clouds, the embrace of the wind, the rising of the sun, the singing of the birds, etc. make us flow with the breath of life and become fully alive in God’s tender mercy and compassion. We marvel at God’s fidelity, day and night happen each day, the sun rises and the moon appears – signs of God’s lasting covenant even if we are unfaithful, and even if we destroy the gift of creation. Let us allow God to communicate : “God loved us first” to help us to live the grace of being created in His likeness.
Our compassion for one another
“Where there are religious, there is joy.” Another great gift of God to us in Kibangay is the community. We are gifts to one another. We celebrate God’s presence in our midst by being life-giving, joyful, and loving community.
I truly appreciate each of my sisters. I live with holy women who inspire me by their kindness, industry, and generosity. Each one is ready to sacrifice for the other, like, whenever a hungry neighbor or a visitor surprisingly arrives knowing that they come from distant places, my sisters are always ready to share the meal meant for them. I am converted by their “Maximilian Kolbe’s spirituality” of offering themselves for the good of the other. Indeed, mercy and compassion is concretely translated into joyful sacrifice and life-giving actions not only for humans but with our other relations with fellow-creatures.
“A sense of deep communion with the rest of nature cannot be real if our hearts lack tenderness, compassion and concern for our fellow human beings.”
(par. 91 – Laudato Si)
God hears the cry of the poor
Before 1995, one of the major concerns of the people in Kibangay was the education of the children. It was a reality that obtaining a secondary education was quite impossible for the young because high schools existed only in the towns or cities. Thus, after graduating from the public elementary schools, a number of pupils did not pursue high school education. Among the primary reasons include the distance of the secondary schools from Kibangay and the financial constraints to send the children to school. Besides, the majority of the residents were poor. In effect, some elementary graduates ended up marrying at an early age. Others looked for work in the urban areas as helpers or sales girls. There were also those who just stayed home helping their parents in the farm.
The people were able to articulate their desire and requested for the possibility of a secondary school through Father James Mc Guire, who was the parish priest. He listened to the people’s cry and acted upon it with the help of the leaders in the parish and the barangay (village). Finally, in June 1995, Xavier de Kibangay High School was opened and began its operation.
The Assumption Sisters came to Kibangay last May 1998 with the same mission of making Jesus Christ known, loved, and served.
Xavier de Kibangay High School (XKHS) is a Catholic Diocesan School dedicated to Christian Education of the poor and indigenous youth of the Province of Bukidnon. It is the only High School in Kibangay, Lantapan serving the neighboring sitios and barangays (villages). It serves as the feeder school of seven Public Elementary Schools. The school’s motto is : “Good News to the Poor.”
The ongoing story of Xavier de Kibangay High School has always been a testimony that God hears the cry of the poor. The day to day encounters make us grasp a taste of listening to what God’s heart loves.
One practice we have in the school is to do Home Visitation of all the students’ families every year. We do this by grouping the students according to the area where they live and then we schedule the visits once a month for four/five consecutive months. All the sisters and teachers go to their assigned families, with a prepared questionnaire, while the students who will not be visited on that day will do some community service in their respective places.
One question that we asked the families this year was : “How has XKHS (the school) been good news to your family ?” The common answers were :
- The school is good news because without its presence, secondary education might not be possible for their children ;
- The scholarships for the students because they would not be able to send them to school due to their financial needs ;
- The Catholic education - the students are formed, cared for, and disciplined.
There is so much more to say about the richness of our visitation experiences. We leave the homes of our students with grateful hearts even if we sometimes feel hunger in our stomachs. Majority of them prepare root crops, bananas or corn, and other vegetables from their gardens, but it is rare that we experience the sharing of a full meal for the day. But what we receive best from the encounters is the joyful spirit of the poor who put their trust in the God of providence.
Each day in this mission is a journey with a merciful and compassionate God revealing Himself as Good News to the Poor.
Allow me to end this article by inviting you, dear readers, to contemplate God’s personal love for each one of us. Let us pause and muse on St. Marie Eugenie’s words : “Every detail of our life is an object of a Divine thought, and that thought is one of love.”
Sr. Irene Cecile I. Torres, r.a.
Kibangay Community, Philippines