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In light of Nakonha:ka Regional’s commitment to the ministries and work in the Philippines, I would like to share with you a short reflection I was asked to write by the World Council of Churches (WCC) on my human rights pilgrimage to the Philippines last August 2019.

The WCC in partnership with the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP) embarked on a Pilgrim Team Visit to the Philippines from 09 to 13 August 2019, to listen, learn, and bear witness to the country’s escalating human rights crisis.  The participating 14 church leaders hailed from Canada, India, Indonesia, Singapore, South Korea, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, United Kingdom, and the United States,

In the words of Franciscan Fr. Richard Rohr (Center for Contemplation and Action),  “Life is not about us, but we are a part of life. This, for me, is the underlying tenet of a pilgrimage – a journey that thrusts us into discovery and a life engagement to live out Micah’s call:  to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God; in short, a praxis of how to create a compassionate community.

The pilgrimage I made last August 2019 to the Lumad refugee camp, from the Kamansi region, in Cagayan de Oro, Northern Mindanao, who were pushed off their ancestral lands by people in search of precious metals and minerals.  It was indeed a journey of discovery and a call to action.  What struck me the most during this pilgrimage is how the Filipino Church boldly decided to side with the refugees against the threat of red-tagging, vilification, losing parishioners, and even death, in order to live out God’s call to hear and support peoples crying out for justice.

The Lumad refugee camp was located in an empty lot with no facilities, alongside the building of a United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) congregation. On the lot, there are two beautiful trees, half a house, and no bathrooms. This empty compound became a community of hospitality and compassion through the brave and faithful actions of the church members.  As we gathered in a circle, the Datu (the community leader) shared their story of losing their ancestral land as a result of military occupation, martial law, and the governmental economic development plan focusing on eco-tourism, mining, and construction of a geothermal plant on their ancestral domain. As I surveyed the circle, I noticed a couple sitting on the wall of the house, and when I looked beyond them, it was evident that their living space was a ledge. This camp had no personal space for privacy or intimacy. Yet in the circle were young women with babies.

I found myself beside one such young mother with her baby, who was born in the refugee camp. She was sitting quietly, eyes sparkling, demonstrating tenacity and vibrancy of life. I turned to admire the baby. She handed me her child to hold, her most precious gift. I was struck by the trust and the hope in that incredible gesture of passing her child to a stranger, a white hair middle-class United Church of Canada pastor. Sustaining confidence and trust in this setting is a challenge. For me, this young woman is a symbol of hope, resilience, and wisdom. She certainly was about life!!

Her tenacity and vibrancy for life awaken my duty to take concrete actions. Bishop San Francisco, our host and accompanied us on this journey, decided to act on her faith to chose life, encouraging us to take their story home and move from a passive to an active faith.

On my return home, it was my responsibility to call on the Canadian Government to support the review of the human right situation in the Philippines (Resolution No. 41/2 of the UN Human Rights Council), to call our Government to accountability and belief in human dignity.  The request to the Canadian government is to end sales of military arms, vehicles, and helicopters to the Filipino Government and our task is to call on all our Federal politicians to denounce criminalization, red-tagging, and vilification of human rights defenders, and the killings of advocates, church people, farmers, and Indigenous Peoples, etc., in the Philippines.

This pilgrimage continues to enliven in me the need to be a part of life even if this life is a world away. “Life is not about us, but we are a part of life,” reminds me that I am called to choose life and act on Micah’s praxis of creating a compassionate community of justice and hospitality.