With Christ, I Can Travel Lanao Del Norte Revisited
By Sr Rosalinda C. Gonzales MMM
Sister Rosalinda, a medical doctor, is the only Filipino member of the Medical Missionaries of Mary (MMMs), www.medical-missionaries.com, founded in Ireland more than 70 years ago by Mother Mary Martin and now with about 400 members from 19 countries. The Mercy Sisters, www.mercyinternational.ie, were also founded in Ireland by Catherine McAuley in 1831. They came to Lanao del Norte from Buffalo, New York, USA in 1957 and the Sisters are celebrating their Golden Jubilee this September. A group of Mercy Sisters came to Tacloban from Ireland in 1954.
Many years ago during the early seventies when I was younger, the call to be a religious sister was becoming more persistent while I was a government rural doctor among the poor in Lamao, Bataan.
It was then that I met and became acquainted with the Sisters of Mercy from Buffalo, New York, USA, who were based in Makati Medical Center. I remember the warm welcome from Sr Rosemary Petrie RSM, Sr Janet Bielmann RSM, Sr Carmen Hayrosa RSM and Sr Margaret Ann O’Donnell RSM. I transferred to Manila for post-graduate training in Obstetrics and Gynecology.
The author (first from right) with (from left) Jessica, Lilian Torres and Serini fellow volunteers of Casa Visitacion
Door to my vocation
My close association with the Sisters of Mercy helped keep alive and nurture the seed of a religious vocation that was planted in my heart.
I had the occasion and privilege to visit the Mercy missions in Lanao del Norte. Visiting Linamon, Kolambugan, Tubod, Baroy and Kamague, Iligan City, in the then Prelature, now Diocese, of Iligan was a blessed opportunity to learn and see what religious life was all about.
Fr Enemecio with Lilian distributing donated
clothing or other items for the poor people in
San Jose Occidental
By then the Sisters’ dream of building a hospital was already in the process of being fulfilled. While the dream was still on paper and in everyone’s hearts and prayers, Sr Rose Palacio RSM, MD, was already doing the much needed mobile medical service to the poor.
A call set aside
Family circumstances and other factors delayed my responding to my religious call. At the end of my postgraduate training, a colleague asked me to join her as a government contract worker in Nigeria, West Africa.
After I finished my work contract of two years, Bishop Lucas Olu Chukwuka Nwaezeapu of the Diocese of Warri invited me to work at St Francis Catholic Hospital, Okpara-Inland, established by the diocese in 1963,www.rsccaritas.org/wwdhcrcl2.htm.
Feeling this to be an experience of working already in the Lord’s vineyard, I became a lay missionary. Later on, when I opened St Joseph’s Clinic in the grounds of Warri Cathedral, Sr Carmen Hayrosa RSM arrived in Nigeria. She stayed at the convent of the Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of the Apostles in Effurun while teaching at the nearby Diocesan Minor Seminary.
Sister Carmen assisted at the clinic in her free time. When it was already earning and self-sufficient, she suggested that we go to the USA for mission appeals to equip the maternity clinic. The Mercy Sisters of Buffalo, New York, donated some medical equipment from Mercy Hospital there. A Protestant minister whom we befriended in Nigeria facilitated our visits to some evangelical churches in Chicago and Ohio which gave monetary contributions and extended their warm hospitality. The Charismatic community of Ann Arbor, Michigan, helped to get us a second-hand microscope. KLM (Koninklijke Luchtvaart Maatschappij) airlines allowed us to carry any excess luggage for free from the USA to Nigeria. Nigeria Airways did the same for our journey from Lagos to Benin City.
It is said that nothing in life is accidental. It was in Nigeria that God’s Providence brought me in touch with the Medical Missionaries of Mary.
I finished my work contract and traveled to Ireland for religious formation when I joined the MMMs in 1983. Sister Carmen eventually returned to the Philippines and we kept in contact by letter through the years. I kept in touch with the Mercy Sisters at Makati Medical Center and in Quezon City during my home leave from Tanzania, East Africa, where I was stationed after religious profession in 1986.
Working in his vineyard
After many years as a missionary in Africa, I felt that it was time to move elsewhere. I am presently on mission in Honduras, Central America, where I am involved in the practice of preventive and complementary medicine. It is a component of the MMM Project ‘Casa Visitacion’ of integrated basic health care. Our program includes care and support of persons living with HIV/AIDS, victims of domestic violence and sick persons at home. We also develop the abilities and skills of our health promoters. For me, it was a radical and welcome change from busy hospital duties and I am gradually but constantly adapting.
While on home leave from Honduras, I contacted my Mercy friends. Sister Carmen asked, ‘Why not visit us in Iligan and make your spiritual retreat here? You will renew old friendships and meet new friends’.
When I arrived in Kamague, Iligan City, I was delighted and greatly thrilled to see the realization of a beautiful dream. The Mercy Community Hospital had already celebrated its Jubilee and was on its 30th year. It continues to realize its vision of ‘a hospital of prime quality preventive, curative and rehabilitative health care services accessible to the community of Iligan, Lanao del Norte, Lanao del Sur and neighboring areas, at an affordable cost’. Sr Rose Palacio RSM, MD, gladly gave me a guided tour and I shared her pride and joy.
My spiritual retreat went well and made me ready to return to Honduras with renewed enthusiasm, vigor and zeal in my missionary vocation. Thanks to Sr Fe Pimentel RSM who graciously guided my retreat. The quiet and prayerful atmosphere with its beautiful gardens and woods provided the appropriate environment for listening to and appreciating God in nature. Sr Elsa Caberte RSM supplied the healthy, sumptuous meals for physical nourishment to sustain and assure a ‘holistic retreat’.
I had the pleasure and privilege of joining the clergy and religious of the Diocese of Iligan for a recollection conducted by Bishop Elenito R. Galido, their bishop since September last year. This article was inspired by its theme: ‘Unity in Collaboration and Partnership in Ministry’. I received many pleasant surprises and bonuses for which I am grateful to God and the Sisters.
Indeed, my ‘vacation with the Lord’ - and with the Mercy Sisters - was a restful and memorable experience. Thank God for the gift of friends.
‘With Christ, I can travel.’
You may write the author at: Sor Rosalinda C. Gonzales MMM, Misioneras Medicas De Maria, Parroquia Nuestra Señora De Suyapa, Apartado Postal 10594, Choloma, Cortes CP 21112, HONDURAS or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org