On January 3, eight Year 12 students from Thomas Carr College, Tarneit, along with Dr Andrew Watson, Principal, Mrs Geralyn McCarthy, Director of Student Services and Fr Jude Pirotta MSSP, Canonical Administrator departed Australia to participate in the College’s first mission immersion trip to the Philippines.
Our Mission Immersion Experience linked us in with the Missionary Society of St Paul (MSSP) the religious congregation that our Parish Priest and Canonical Administrator, Fr Jude Pirotta, belongs to. Our time away provided the opportunity for our students to experience the Paulist charism of missionary service and challenged us to live out of the call of its founder, Servant of God Joseph De Piro, to challenge injustice and division, and to encounter Christ in all who are poor, marginalised and disadvantaged.
While in the Philippines, we were graciously welcomed and hosted by the brothers and priests from the MSSP International House of Formation (the Paulist Seminary) from the parish of St Catherine of Alexandria in Dinalupihan, Bataan and by Sr Kate O’Neill RNDM, the Director of the Kuya Center for Street Children in Manila. We were engaged in a range of service projects, pastoral visits, faith formation and educational activities. We worked in orphanages, visited the poor and sick in their homes, and facilitated a range of workshops for the local children. It was a demanding and strenuous schedule as we were determined to make the most of this opportunity. As a team, we set aside time before, during and after the journey, reflecting intentionally upon all that we had encountered through debriefing, discernment and particularly through prayer, ensuring that we had time to embrace and process all that we had encountered.
It was particularly inspiring to witness the selfless and noble ways in which many religious communities minister to the marginalised and impoverished people in the Philippines. This is indeed a church which ‘steps outside of herself’ and provides our young people with a new vista through which to see the work of the universal church.
For many of us, this was also a deeply confronting time. Witnessing the stark divide between the world’s rich and poor and the enormity of abject poverty and alienation for the first time can be overwhelming. As Christian sojourners, we lived and entered into relationship with people who suffer beyond what we can imagine, and this renders us vulnerable. Paradoxically, herein lay our real transformation: the realisation that we ourselves are wounded, and that it is precisely this woundedness that binds us all together as the members of the Body of Christ. By entering into solidarity with others, we can no longer look with indifference at the divisions that distort the oneness of Christ’s Body. Our lives will never be the same again.
While in Manila, our group had the great fortune to again meet Cardinal Tagle, the Archbishop of Manila. Cardinal Tagle had visited Thomas Carr College in 2014 whilst in Australia. The Cardinal spent just on 90 minutes with us engaging in a wide-ranging conversation about our visit and some of his work as Archbishop of Manila and as President of Caritas International. It was indeed a great privilege to meet a man of such humility who welcomed us generously into his home.
The true challenge of course is what happens now that we have returned. If our passion and desire fade away into ‘feelings of vague compassion or shallow distress’, the value of our experience is lost. This mission immersion trip should be only the beginning of the relationship, not the culmination. Thank you to the MSSP for this opportunity ‘to take the path of ‘craziness’ of our God, who teaches us to encounter him in the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the sick, the friend in trouble, the prisoner, the refugee and the migrant, and our neighbours who feel abandoned… to take the path of our God, who encourages us to be politicians, thinkers, social activists.’ Pope Francis, World Youth Day Vigil with Young People, July 30 2016
Next weekend (17/18 Feb), after all Masses, Year 12 students who attended this Mission Immersion, will be addressing us on their experience. It will be an opportunity to share in this life changing experience.