Contemplata aliis Tradere

A meagre contribution to the mission and work of the Order of Preachers: my reflections, thoughts, ideas and the occasional rant on matters mainly theological, philosophical and ecclesiastical, drawn primarily from my reading and experience of life and the world. Striving to be always Catholic, firmly Christian and essentially Dominican, flavoured with dashes of Von Balthasar.

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Location: Oxford, United Kingdom

A son of the English Province of the Order of Friars Preachers (Dominicans); born in Malaysia but have lived in the USA, Singapore, the UK & the Philippines for varying durations. A pilgrim and way-farer, a searcher for Truth on the journey of Life... "Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine, There’s always laughter and good red wine. At least I’ve always found it so. Benedicamus Domino!" - Hilaire Belloc

Friday, April 08, 2005

Home?


Farewells are truly so difficult and such sweet sorrow. Today, the world watched as the Church buried their universal Pastor, John Paul II. It was a beautiful Mass, full of symbolism and moving in many ways, especially Cardinal Ratzinger's tribute. I felt both CNN and the BBC had good coverage and interestingly, the BBC left the Latin prayers untranslated. Quite the opposite of their over-commentating this past week. And what a fitting farewell it was for the Holy Father who as Cardinal Ratzinger says is now lookinng upon us and blessing us "from a window in his Father's house..."

I have had a farewell of my own as I left the Philippines yesterday, truly bringing to a close, my one-year mission in Dagat-dagatan as a Dominican Volunteer. My last days in the parish were difficult indeed. The problem with the Philippines and Filipinos is that they are so hospitable and lovable that when the time comes to go, one does so with a rent heart and many tears. The fact that Filipinos are rather emotional themselves and seem to delight in watching one reduced to tears only exacerbates the situation!

I spent my last days in Dagat-dagatan with some of my students from the Parochial School who have become like my own brothers. Many of the children in the parish have fathers who are foreign workers. As such they only see their fathers every two years for two weeks at a time. One student of mine has not ever seen his father who is an illegal worker in Japan and that is the only way he can support his family of seven. It has been my privilege to be a 'kuya' (Filipino for 'older brother') and even surrogate father to some of them. I miss them acutely... It was especially important to me that in those last days, I was finally able to visit them at home and sit down to a simple meal with their mothers. It gave me a chance to see where they came from and their backgrounds. The poorer students live in very small houses with maybe nine or more people per home. In one room, which is smaller than my bathroom here in Kuala Lumpur, three people share a bed and the floor and I can see the sunlight shining through holes in the rusted and hot tin roof.

As such, one of the last things I did in Manila was to establish a scholarship fund named in honour of San Juan de Macias, a Peruvian Dominican saint who helped the poor of his city. I hope that this fund would provide for some of the students who show potential but cannot afford to study or in many cases, are prevented from attending class because they have no money for fares to school or clean clothes or food. The fund is intended to aid such cases and I will do what I can to raise more for this cause. We have identified the first San Juan Macias Scholar and I was able to visit him at home and give him and his mother the good news. He is in the photo above.

On my last night in Manila, we walked around the Luneta park in central Manila where John Paul II said Mass in 1995. The park is flanked by neo-classical government buildings and boasts of fountains and monumental statues. But my eye was drawn rather to the many homeless families who slept here. It was a heart-breaking sight to contemplate and it is a fitting final impression of the Philippines. For them, the poor, I came to Manila one year ago and it is with them in my heart that I leave.

A year ago I came to Manila, and I counted the days until I could leave. But months later, I began to count the days with growing sadness and finally that day of departure has come. It was hard to pack my bags with teary eyes and I wept as we drove through the parish, past the squatter homes as we went to the airport and again as the plane took off and I looked down on the country I had called home for a year. For indeed, I am now with my family in Malaysia, but I don't quite feel at home. Surrounded by the comforts and trappings of wealth, I feel home is now miles away in a place where the floods are putrid and black, the air smells of burning and decomposing rubbish, the stray dogs are barking and the children wander around bare-footed and smiling. Home is with the people who have welcomed me and made me their own, the Dominican community I was delighted to be part of and the school where I taught in daily and spent afternoons at play with the children. Home is where I have poured my love and energies into these past 12 months.

They say, "home is where the heart is" and surely I have left a part of my heart in Dagat-dagatan. I feel I have come away a different person, with a different perspective
and I hope a better person. But, life has to go on for me and there is never really a good time to leave and so it is with hope and faith and trust in God that I take my next steps. I return to England at the end of the month and will undergo interviews to join the English Dominicans and serve the Church and nation I call my first adopted home; to serve the people who first claimed another part of my heart.

I entrust my future to Our Lady of the Holy Rosary, to St Dominic and I ask you, my friends, to please pray for me.

3 Comments:

Blogger Daviddd said...

Strange as it may sound, this entry was like a balm for the tired and hardened urbanite whose immediate concerns seem always to be centred on his comforts and his welfare.

It was the simple richness (!) of your account of your final days in a land you love, and the revelation of some fundamental aspects of humanity which made me remember what it really means to be alive.

I suppose that sounds hyperbolic, but it is true that it is at many a farewell where one becomes acutely aware of that relationship one has with a fellow. Daily routine often mutes that awareness.

Having had the privilege of following your adventures through your monthly letters, I can understand, if only just a little, what you are feeling.

As you said, life goes on, but of course memories continue to enrich and to forever affect our lives from that point onwards.

1:03 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I came across your blog as I searched online for information about Dagat-dagatan. I am actually about to start on a project in Dagat-dagatan, one that might not even require me to go there, but to write about the place for potential sponsors/donors.

To this end, I would appreciate any information you can give me. I will of course still do my research, but I'd also value the input of one who saw things from the heart.

On another note, I am quite touched that you speak of my country so fondly... maybe "touched" isn't the right word... :). I am based in Quezon City and have never set foot in Navotas. (Did you ever visit Quezon City while you were here?)

I find your "thoughts and ideas, musings, reflections and rants" interesting. Will come back and read from time to time.

God bless you!

11:07 am  
Blogger Br Lawrence, O.P. said...

Dear Anon from QC,

Yes, I went to Sto Domingo quite often and also other parts of QC during my year in Manila.

I would be happy to help you to fund raise or whatever for Dagat-dagatan. Just email me: paulus_magnus@hotmail.com

However, I also want to encourage you to visit the place. Contact the parish of San Lorenzo Ruiz. They will be delighted to show you around.

God bless.

5:14 pm  

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