A New Gateway to the Heart
By Sr. Melina Polo, SSpS
For a long time I have wanted to write about my presence here in the Netherlands as a SSpS missionary. It’s on this feast of our Blessed Founder, Arnold Jansen, that I shoved away my reports and books on Social Work and took these quiet moments to write down my thoughts and reflections about my four day stay in this beautiful land of milk, cheese, windmills and, of course tulips!
In the Philippines our Congregation still runs institutions like schools and a big hospital, while in The Netherlands all have been taken over by the government. This institution run by the Sisters themselves make one’s getting into the mainstream of society easier, or so I had thought before, but now I discover that it was only a half truth. It could also be the other way around.
Margins of Society
Because we don’t have schools or hospitals here anymore, I have switched to a new strategy: making contacts with people. I went to search where our Dutch sisters and brothers were. Those who are aware of their social-moral-spiritual responsibilities have inserted themselves into the different sectors of society, especially where the need is so strong among refugees, drug addicts, prostitutes and among the homeless. Those are the very people who long for respect, for recognition, for acceptance, for understanding, for help. Here I felt. I was and am, indeed. Together with our good hearted people, I try to give what I have: my respect, my care, and concern for them.
To my surprise it turned out to be also my gateway to the heart and life of our Dutch people. It’s just like killing two birds with one stone. I may not be very much involved in our parish but I feel in my contacts with the refugees, drug addicts and with fellow workers, together with them, we are experiencing “being Church” in our own little way. In a secularized and multi-cultural society, I cannot directly and so easily proclaim the Good News of God’s love as I used to. I have to feel and see where our people are, and there...be with them... and there begin something with them.
That Very Moment
When I talk with drug addicts whoe lives appear to be hopeless and when they begin to share something about their life begin to share something about their life, their hopes and their fears, at that very moment they feel they are listened to and accepted as they are. Right there and then I feel my heart going out of them as a sparkle of God's love lights up; and, right there and then, I believe, is the Church happening.
Faith in Allah
Or when I’m a Somalian woman and her children, she who has fled her country with her children for fear of their lives, feeling lost in a strange country, strange culture and people, not knowing if her husband still lives listening to her and her story, feeling with her in her sorrow because she feels she has lost almost everything,; just being with her, helping her, encouraging her to keep on, to be strong and courageous; listening to her as she shares that what helps her endure all these trials is her faith in Allah, in God; right there and then, is the Church happening.
Or when I am with my fellow workers in the drug center and an opportunity creeps in to talk about faith, about love, about Jesus, about God...listening to them and accepting them as they are, where they are at this point off their life in relation to God and the Church: right there and then, I believe is the Church happening.
I would like to share excerpts from these unforgettable, spontaneous conversations and experiences:
LOES (a young Dutch mother)
“Melina, I was born to Catholic parents, but I’ve never been a practicing one, I can hardly remember the times o went to Church. But deep down in my heart I believe that there is a God that He is in my heart, and that gives me security. I’ve experiences Him as real at the time I was completely down. I don’t know what to do with my life, I was in the kitchen, crying bitterly. Suddenly I felt a warm, yet such a refreshing touch, on my shoulder, an experience that led me to think and feel that it was God comforting me strengthening me. He was there at that very moment, and still now He is with me in my heart.”
I took this chance to share with her about our Founder’s motto: May the Holy Triune God live in our hearts of all people. For the ninth time this prayer has become real to me. This experience has helped me to utter this prayer with a deeper awareness.
Tine (a Dutch woman and a fellow volunteer in refugee work)
She claims that now she and her family are outside the Church. In other words, “church- less”. She feels and believes that she’s simply lucky in her life. She also cheerful. For her, giving some of her times to the refugees is one way of being grateful. When we are together and our sharing lead in such a direction, I take the chance to leas her to the truth: that all the goodness and blessings that make us happy could only come from God who is good and caring. And she does not deny it, affirming the truth through her experiences.
Many Remain Faithful
Of course, I have encountered quite a number of Dutch families who have remained faithful to the Church, they try to live out their faith amidst the challenges (secularism, egoism, individualism) of these times. Together we animate each other so that we can help make the Church more real and meaningful for ourselves, and for those who have drifted, or who are drifting away. One of them is Bert, a young pastoral worker. Here is an except from a letter he wrote to me: “You helped me see what it is actually about in Christianity not the anger about our fellow Christians, not the polarization, not the indoor Christianity, but the concrete love for one’s fellowman/fellow woman, to fill this world with love and also the love for God and friendship with Him, a God to whom you can talk as friend, the main point is to witness about the Christian faith which passed on the healing power of Jesus, which love, that is the power of the message of the Church.
And our Youth?
Where are they? I also find time to reach out to them, I go and join them in weekends planned and organized for them, such as Mission and the Youth, and Taize, Catholic Youth Day. It’s a rewarding way because in these gatherings I get the chance to get to know them by listening to their stories, their struggles, their questions, and their hopes and dreams. I invite them to our small international community of SSpS Sister, a community whose door we have opened especially for them, so that we can accompany them in their search for life’s meaning, in their search for God.
I have also here many chances to meet and encounter Filipino migrant workers and Filipinas (and their families) married to a Dutch men (and also to Germans). Together we try to search for ways to express our faith the Filipino way: Christmas Mass or prayer service, prayer meeting and Bible sharing. Once a month, or once in two months, I go to Amsterdam to give support to a growing prayer community. And in Brunssum, where I live, together with some Filipinas and their families, we have also begun a prayer group.
I now have many good Dutch friends. I have fellow Sisters who have really help me find a “second home” here, and the hundredfold’ that the Lord has promised: caring friends who accept me as I am and who value what I can share with them.
All these experiences are gifts from our good God who has called me to leave my country to share my person and gifts with our Dutch people and with our countless brother-sister refugees from different parts of the world- Vietnam, Somalia, Iran, Iraq, Zaire, and Angola.
True, I may not be doing exactly the things that I used to do in the Philippines as a Religious Education teacher, as a catechist, and as a socio-pastoral worker in the manner that I was used to anymore, but one thing is certain, I am continually proclaiming, here and now, the liberating truth: that God is good, that He loves all peoples of all color and creed, and that He always desires to dwell in all hearts.
Looking Back, I Can Only Pray
Thank you Lord for all that had been
Thank you Lord for all that is now
Thank you Lord for all that is to come
For I know you have always been there,
In all my ups and down
That’s why I can always manage to rise up.
Thanks, too for my dear ones –
My family, fellow Sisters and friends,
Here and in the Philippines
Who continues to journey with me in prayer and love.