The Philippine Province of the Society of Jesus has built much of its reputation on the quality of its schools, especially the ones that have for so long been an integral part of the community in the largest cities of the country. However, though the Jesuits are largely known for those large institutions, that doesn’t mean their work is limited to the same. Throughout the province Jesuits share the life of indigenous people and migrants who are often forgotten by the fast pace modern society, working in areas and with peoples that bring few headlines, but incredible witness to the Gospel. One of these areas is the Bukidnon Mission District in Northern Mindanao, where we met with Pedro Walpole, one of the Jesuits who spearheaded many ministries to the people of the area. When we asked him about the lives of the people he serves, he shared their stories with passion.
The people belong to the land, knowing every crevasse and every movement. They are living with the land, respecting and nurturing a living with the land. They know who they are, the meaning of life is experienced daily; it is sometimes harsh not without pain, doubt or loss. From this common understanding and experience of life, there is a sense of community.
My story in this community started nearly 30 years ago when I was invited by the datu (local leader) to join his people; the community making a little shelter for their Jesuit priest. Much has changed since, with the changes accelerating in the past 10 years as the youth gained access to life in the city. Money and modern material comforts have become available, fundamentally changing the way that the community relates to each other, sees the world, and finds meaning. The modernization of the community hasn’t changed the presence of grace, and I am still surprised by opportunities and unknown vulnerabilities, experiences of unexpected joy in the bonds formed in the community, but it’s obvious that in my community the future isn’t as clear - and the vision isn’t as shared as it was 30 years ago.
My Jesuit vocation makes sense here. I experience the grace of listening, simplicity, consolation and yes love. It is not easy for me to say or share this as, as many people who meet me can see that I need to listen more and more. I need to listen more and discern not just about the work, but about the daily details that life brings me – an invitation to accompany. Simplicity is simply a gift and though I have the privilege of living lightly, project management tends to make it heavy. This place is my Galilee - where I try constantly to walk with Jesus and I fail. Even so, my community somehow celebrates that failure together and we go on.