Christchurch diocesan priest Fr John Adams and 13 parishioners from St Joseph’s parish in Papanui have returned feeling tired but grateful after a 16-day mission visit to the Philippines earlier this year where they worked with the poor in Manila and villagers just outside of Tacloban affected by the devastating Typhoon Haiyan.
It wasn’t the first time Fr Adams had been on an overseas mission venture. Three previous mission trips were with “Hearts Aflame” young people to Manila and to New Caledonia.
Many hours of fundraising went into this latest mission project. There were sales of pies after Mass, plus dinner and movie nights. And $5000 was raised from sales of a calendar using photos of the Filipino village people, taken on the previous mission there.
A major task of this mission was the installation of a water purification unit adjacent to the “Santo Nino Community Center” in Santa Cruz, which was also built with the assistance of money donated by St Joseph’s parish after Fr Adams and six parishioners visited on the first anniversary of Typhoon Haiyan which devastated the Tacloban area in 2013. In the small village of Santa Cruz (250 families) approximately 250 lives were lost. All who sheltered in the local school died. The mission in 2014 found the locals emotionally fragile and the village devastated. Heavy rain made the local people nervous. Fr Adams dedicated daily Masses in the village for those who had died. People were encouraged to write the names of family members they had lost to be included in the Mass prayers. One little girl just kept writing and writing. She had lost most of her family. One little boy, who was swept away and was found alive in a village 4kms away told Fr Adams “Father I just swam and swam”.
Before the 2017 mission to the Philippines, Missionary of Mary Sister Rachael Myriam advised the group going to prepare mentally and physically. She noted that many of the young people who would be encountered have suffered a great deal. And also to imagine the hottest weather one has experienced and then double that. Wear cotton clothes, with long sleeves and dress conservatively, she added. (Sr Rachael Myriam, formerly of the Beatitudes Community and now based in Manila, is a Kiwi, born in Whangarei and a friend of Fr Adams.)
St Bede’s College student Daniel Kofoed, one of those who went on the 2017 mission, considers he has a privileged life in New Zealand and he joined the mission with his mother Anne to “give something back”.
After the 2017 mission Fr Adams said the group was excited to be back home, “but also a little sorry to have left behind the rich rewards of working in service of the beautiful Filipino people”.
Reflecting back he continued: “On March 10, the group created ‘a bit of a spectacle’ at Christchurch Airport with 30 cases, as they prepared to leave. Each member of the mission had packed 46kgs into two cases (the maximum allowed) which were full of medical supplies, parts of a water purification system, teaching aids, sports equipment and uniforms, hairdressing kits and 18 lap tops (donated by Cathedral Grammar School) all generously given by people in the parish and beyond”.
Fr Adams said the first adventure of the mission occurred in the departure lounge at the airport. “[There was] an unexpected invitation to the Koru lounge, where we encountered several uncorked bottles of chilled champagne, and a limitless supply of lovely food. It was Friday and it was Lent, the first dilemma of our mission trip.”
The group travelled to Manila via China and arrived in the Philippines capital city where it was 30 plus degrees and with heavy humidity.
“We had some marvellous and humbling days in Manila,” Fr Adams said.
“We experienced the tremendous work of the Missionary of Mary sisters and their efforts to change the lives of young men in conflict with the law, and young women who had been living on the streets. We had a chance to mix with these young people and share with them something of our New Zealand culture. We also visited the poorest of the poor in their tiny homes in the slums of Manila. In the prisons we prayed with young prisoners, and celebrated Mass with them. Once again we were able to share a small taste of our New Zealand culture.”
The group from Christchurch then travelled south to Tacloban, where they would spend time in the little seaside village of Santa Cruz.
“It was here in my view that the St Joseph’s team were at their best,” Fr Adams said.
“One day as I wandered round the village, we had the water purifier shed and plant being installed, we were running a marvellously successful hairdressing school, our doctors were seeing some of 150 patients they were to consult with, and our school teachers were visiting the schools and arranging a big sports tournament.”
“Each evening we celebrated Mass in the little chapel, always full, particularly [of] young people. I think we should be proud of the impact our little team had on the people of Santa Cruz, who welcomed us with such joy.”
Fr Adams said the poverty and simplicity encountered “called us to a new depth of understanding, and it was there we found our God waiting for us”.
“We were welcomed with such joy. There is something transformative about receiving from those who have nothing to give but themselves.”
He added that “being on mission with the poor is also liberating. It allows us to cast off the bonds of the desire to possess, and to emerge from the tomb of self-interest. In offering the inevitable physical discomfort of a mission experience as a sacrifice to the Lord, we are taken out into the light. The gift of self — this is the movement from death to light. This is also the Easter journey of Christ”.