By Sr Cresencia G. Lagunsad CB

Sister Cris, from Kidapawan, Mindanao, has been a member of the general board of the Sisters of Charity of St Charles Borromeo, , since 1999 and on 5 August 2005 was elected to a six-year term as Vice General Superior.

(L-R) Srs Melanie, Cresencia, Rosarie and Lisbeth - members of the General Board - one Filipino and three Indonesians

January, in the middle of wintertime, I found myself shivering in the Norwegian cold. Worse still, I had just come from a sunny December in East Africa. Some people questioned my common sense about this schedule of extremes! I know what they meant but my heart had its own reasons.

My heart brought me to Norway during this unpleasant time of the year. On 6 and 8 January we were celebrating the 25th anniversary of the religious profession of Sr Agnes Ofelia Simbillo. Being another European-based member of the Sisters of St Charles Borromeo – I’m in the Netherlands – I was privileged to be present at Sister Agnes’ two Silver Jubilee celebrations.

Sister Agnes is from San Luis, Pampanga. Se studied and worked in Manila, where she also met and later joined the CB Sisters in November 1977. After her first profession she was assigned to Bukidnon for several years. Prior to her assignment in Norway, she was a missionary in Indonesia. Now, she’s in her eleventh year in the Catholic Diocese of Oslo.

The celebration on 6 January in Oslo was organized by the Filipino community there. Sister Agnes serves as a pastoral worker in the Filipino Chaplaincy of the Diocese of Oslo. The political and economic stability of Norwegian society is no assurance of a blissful life, especially for those coming from foreign lands. The integration process in a new culture and a totally different climate demands much from one’s physical-mental-psychological-spiritual capacity for healthy survival. In the midst of material abundance and convenience, there are consequences affecting the quality of human interaction.

Being a Filipino herself is a big help in Sister Agnes’ pastoral ministry. Not only does she reach out to the Filipinos all over Norway , but also to others from different countries and faiths. She has to deal with issues related to differences in culture and religion in marriage, domestic violence, juvenile delinquency and even the acclimatization of newcomers. Bishop Emeritus of Oslo Gerhard Schwenzer SS.CC invited the Congregation, through Sister Agnes, to minister to the Filipino community in Oslo and gave his full support, truly a blessing.

At the celebration on 6 January, which began with Mass in St Olav’s Cathedral, I met several missionaries assigned to other parts of Norway . From the Philippines were two Catholic priests and a Dominican Sister. There were also Sisters and a priest from Vietnam.. Definitely, it wasn’t an exclusively Catholic gathering but a fellowship of believers graced by Norwegians of other Christian communities and people from other cultures. Generally though, it was a typical Filipino celebration in terms of food, music and spontaneity!

Two days later the parish of Moss celebrated with Sister Agnes, their way of thanking her and her community for being part of its life and for serving its people, too. Together with three Indonesian CBs, Sisters Pauline, Stefani and Adriani, Sister Agnes also helps in running their parish. The four of them, besides their regular jobs, take turns in some parish ministries. Bishop Schwenzer’s successor, Bishop Bernt Ivar Eidsvig CRSA, a Norwegian – Bishop Schwenzer is German – was the main celebrant at Mass, with Father Piotr Pisarek OMI, the Polish parish priest, concelebrating.

The parish is predominantly Vietnamese-Norwegian, very apparent as families filled the church and the reception hall. They also did most of the preparations, provided most of the choir members and their children delighted everyone with their music and dance later. The presentation of Filipinos from a nearby parish added to the fun. One Norwegian guest commented that she felt she was inSoutheast Asia, surrounded by brown people with ‘chinky’ eyes. And the Asian food prepared by the Vietnamese and Filipino communities was a rare treat! In short, the comfort of familiarity and friendship brought warmth to our hearts on a chilly day.

Sister Agnes’ heart couldn’t contain the affection and joy she experienced on her big day. For her, celebrating her silver jubilee far from home didn’t make any difference at all. She was embraced with so much love by the people she has chosen to be with and serve. In one sense these people have never been her own, aren’t her own and never will be her own. She knew this when she accepted the mission. These people whom she is privileged to serve are God’s own people.

In her thanksgiving sharing, Sister Agnes said that her twenty-five years as a religious could be encapsulated in three words: LOVE, GRACE and FORGIVENESS. In whatever ways, big and small, her experiences of love, grace and forgiveness were now forever etched in her heart. No wonder she’d always have the inner strength and faith to embrace God’s people in her heart even in the far away and cold land of Norway .

And God has marvelous ways in taking care of every one in their choices of serving God’s People anywhere and in varying circumstances. Sister Agnes’ time and place now is in a multicultural Church in Norway. It’s not a bed of roses though, but God is with her, faithful and forever journeying with her. Only a heart that loves knows that!

Congratulations and thank you, Sister Agnes. May your kind increase!