Our Missionary Experience in the Philippines: A Journey Beyond Comfort

Ever since I started to delve into the MSSP charism, I yearned for an experience of living with the bare essentials. In January 2024, I found myself in two MSSP houses in the Philippines: one in Manila and the other in Bataan.

My initial reaction was one of panic. Seeing the stark reality of how people live was initially beyond my understanding, incomprehensible. The poverty one sees on social media or in the news is a far cry from being thrust right into it. There, you can smell, see, touch, and hear the anguish of the poor. It was a completely different world, a new reality that I had half-thought did not truly exist.

However, along with this realization, I also began to notice the simplicity and joyful way these people live their lives. Witnessing a homeless three-year-old girl sitting alone under a bridge, leaping with joy when we handed her a small box of food was heartwarming. Observing families living on 13th Street not just with smiles but with genuine joy on their faces made me question who is truly living in poverty—these people or myself?

These individuals showed me that there is perfection in imperfection, joy in anguish and that life, regardless of its hardships, can be lived fully. Their joyful faces are not a result of living comfortably but of living with a deep sense of being.

Not to romanticize the entire experience, there were moments where I felt anger and frustration—anger at parents who accept their fate in life without even trying to educate their children for a better tomorrow. Yet, there are children who make it to university despite their surroundings, not even having a suitable corner in their homes to study. These children are actively involved in their community, animating Eucharist, assisting in catechesis, and performing in a professional orchestra. These students understand that they have to ensure a better tomorrow despite their challenging environment.

This is where the MSSP fathers come in. They don’t provide daily essentials to everyone or assure that everyone will easily receive them. Instead, they offer scholarships, provide musical instruments and free music lessons, a space where individuals have access to laptops and the internet, and most importantly, spiritual and emotional support.

I must say that I left a piece of my heart there, amidst the clutter and disorganization, in a world that truly pushed me out of my comfort zone. As Cardinal Mario Grech said in a homily at the MSSP chapel in Manila, “The missionary is someone who sets out to convert someone but then allows themselves to be converted, or even better, for mutual conversion.”

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