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Sisters from Philippines Give Update on Justice Issues in their Country

August 23, 2018, Adrian, Michigan – Adrian Dominican Sisters and Associates in the United States are known for their work for justice. Adrian Dominican Sisters in the Philippines in the Philippines also have been fighting for years against issues of injustice in their own nation. 

During a recent visit to the Adrian Motherhouse, three Sisters from the Philippines – Sisters Antonette Lumbang, OP, Bibiana (Bless) Colastio, OP, and Marissa Figueroa, OP – gave an update on their own work for justice.

Sister Antonette, Justice Promoter for the Remedies Chapter, began her presentation with a video that demonstrated the horrors of Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte’s “war on drugs.” This war results in the extra-judicial killing of drug dealers and users – many times by contract killers who take orders from the police. More than 4,000 people were killed in three months through this policy of extra-judicial killing.

“It’s still the same, two years and two months after [President] Duterte was elected,” Sister Antonette said. “Human rights continue to deteriorate … Gross violations of civil and political rights are happening alongside worsening deprivations of economic, social, and cultural rights.”

Human rights advocates also face the threat of violence. Sister Bless noted that three priests who advocated for human rights were gunned down in recent months. Sister Patricia Fox, NDS, a Sister of Our Lady of Sion from Australia, and a human rights activist stationed in the Philippines, was deported as an “undesirable alien” on September 4 when her missionary visa expired – after 30 years of serving the people in the Philippines, Sister Antonette said.

Sister Antonette also spoke of the exploitation of the ancestral land of the indigenous Aeta people by private investors and quarry companies.

“Before the Aeta are forced to leave their ancestral land for lack of water or livelihood, they are seeking compensation and help in regulating the quarrying and stopping the conversion that shrunk their territories,” Sister Antonette said. On January 30 this year, she said, the Aeta people put up barricades on their land to keep out the trucks that were coming in to work in the quarries; they have remained on their barricaded land ever since. 

Sister Antonette said the Sisters from the Remedies Chapter have been involved in such strategies as prayer and fasting, rallies and mass demonstrations, lobbying at Congress, and education campaigns. In addition, Sisters Bless and Marissa are among Sisters and seminarians who are preparing to be involved in human rights monitoring.

The Sisters from the Remedies Chapter are also working, through their formal ministries, to advocate for justice and to improve the situation for people who are suffering because of injustice.

Sister Marissa, Director of the Community Extension Office of the University of the Assumption in San Fernando, said her office provides “holistic treatment and rehabilitation” for drug users. “We are strongly convinced and strongly believe that drug addiction destroys the person’s life and future,” she said. “Full recovery is a challenge, but it is possible.”

Sister Marissa’s office is also involved in community-based prevention. “Last year we conducted a drug-awareness forum, in partnership with the Archdiocese of San Fernando, attended by almost 700 parish leaders,” she said. “The key to prevention [of drug addiction] is to build a harmonious, supportive family environment and promote responsive drug rehabilitation in the community and the school system.”

Sister Bless, head of the Commission for Family Life of the Diocese of San Jose Nueva Ecjia, said the Commission trains and facilitates the ongoing formation program of para-counselors, people in parishes who are not professionals but who have the temperament to offer counseling to parents and children. 

Once a month, Sister Bless is also involved in group counseling at the House of Prayer and Evangelization (HOPE). HOPE offers programs such as Bible sharing, skills training, and gardening to drug addicts. She also conducts a symposium on drug addiction and other social issues at the diocesan, vicariate, and parish levels. 

“We believe drug addiction is one of the reasons for extra-judicial killings,” she said. By working to prevent or heal drug addictions, she and other counselors and involved citizens can stop the violence of President Duterte’s war on drugs through extrajudicial killing. 

“What we do as a Mission Chapter is a drop in the bucket, with all the justice issues and with the president still enjoying popularity with the majority of people,” Sister Antonette said. “Justice moves slowly.”

But Sister Kathleen Nolan, OP, Director of the Congregation’s Office of Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation, praised the three Sisters and all members of the Remedies Mission Chapter for their commitment and their work for justice. “Thank you for updating us and for the work you do,” she said. “That’s very heartening, because I’m sure you’re saving lives. We are so proud of you and will continue to pray for you.”

Feature photo: Sister Antonette Lumbang, OP, Justice Promoter for Our Lady of Remedies Mission Chapter in the Philippines, shares a light moment with her U.S. Sisters before giving an update of justice issues in her country.


Sisters Report on Experience at Border of Mexico and Arizona

January 26, 2018, Adrian, Michigan – Six Adrian Dominican Sisters were among hundreds of justice and human rights activists who learned about the injustice, violence, and militarization at the U.S. border with Mexico – and who expressed their solidarity and support with those afflicted by the injustice. 

The Sisters had taken personal time for reflection on this eye-opening experience before sharing their experience on January 22. 

For the second year, Adrian Dominican Sisters traveled to Nogales, Arizona, to participate in the Schools of the Americas (SOA) Watch Encuentro (Encounter) at the Border, November 10-12, 2017. Participating in the event were Sisters Judith Benkert, OP, Patricia Erickson, OP, Anne Guinan, OP, Michelle Salalila, OP, Helen Sohn, OP, and Marilyn Winter, OP.

The Sisters’ participation in the Encuentro and their recent presentation on the experience were coordinated by Sister Kathleen Nolan, OP, Director of the Congregation’s Office of Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation.

Sister Marilyn Winter, OP, pauses at the turnstile at the Mexican border.

The recent experience at the border “was much more of a witness to our solidarity with people who are coming across the border,” while the annual event at Fort Benning was “much more of a demonstration,” Sister Marilyn explained. For 26 years SOA Watch hosted annual vigils and protests at Fort Benning, Georgia, to protest the School of Americas there that taught Latin American military leaders skills such as counter-insurgency, military intelligence, and psychological warfare. In 2016, the organization begin hosting the Encuentros at the Mexican-U.S. border to call attention to the militarization of the area.

The Sisters began their Encuentros experience at the Eloy Detention Center, where immigrants accused of being in the United States illegally are held indefinitely, surrounded by the desert and four layers of razor-wire fencing. Sister Judith described the sense of solidarity as the group listened to music and poetry readings and, light-sticks in hand, walked in the desert evening to the detention center. In response to their chants of “You are not alone,” the detainees turned their lights off and on, Sister Judith recalled.

The rest of the Encuentro took place at the 18-foot, metal wall between Nogales, Arizona, and Sonora, Mexico. “I thought I would find the wall much more depressing than I found it because of the space between the bars,” Sister Anne said. The space allows people to reach out and touch one another through the wall.

During the Saturday morning rally – with stages for music and speakers on both sides of the wall – the Adrian Dominican group split up. Three Sisters crossed to the Mexican side to experience the friendliness of the people, as well as artwork depicting the experience of crossing into the United States. They returned to the Hotel Americana in Arizona on time to join the others in attending workshops about the conditions and justice issues in the border area. 

In one workshop, “Stop U.S. Arms to Mexico,” Sister Helen learned of the correlation between the increasing sale by the U.S. of ammunition, explosives, gun parts, and military firearms to Mexico, according to a study by the American Friends Service Committee. “The U.S. is not the only country selling arms to the Mexican government, but the U.S. has the biggest role in Mexico’s militarization,” she said.

Another workshop focused on “The Migrant Trail,” a program that helps people to share the experience of migrants who flee into the Sonora Desert in Arizona to find a new life in the United States. Many of the bodies of migrants who died in the desert are never identified, Sister Patricia said. “Participants say there is no way to replicate the experience of the migrants walking through the Sonora Desert, but [the Migrant Trail] does give some idea of what the migrants endured – and reason to advocate for change across the border,” she explained.

Sister Judith Benkert, OP, at the wall on the Mexican side, is surrounded by art work.

The experience culminated on Sunday morning with a rally on both sides of the wall – a time for integration, reflection, and prayer, Sister Marilyn said. After an hour dedicated to poetry and music, participants chanted a long list of names of people who had died while crossing the desert into the United States, or who had been killed by military forces trained by the SOA. The closing session also included scenes with puppetistas – huge puppets on tall poles – including the hopeful scene of two puppetistas shaking hands over the wall.

Referring to the Adrian Dominican Congregation’s Mission, Vision, and General Chapter statements, Sister Patricia explained her reason for participating in Encuentro. “As Dominicans of Adrian, we state that we are outraged by the injustices of our day,” she said. “We pledge our lives to work with people who are relegated to the margins. We state we will advocate for systemic change. This is why I participated in the SOA Watch this year. When I do not educate myself on the issues of the day, when I do not demand systemic change, then I am complicit.”

Below, view a recording of the entire presentation made by the Sisters on January 22, 2018.

 


 

 

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