Tropical storms and flight cancellations weren’t enough to stop seven Good Samaritan sisters from Kiribati from attending the second Asia Pacific Forum, held in Tagaytay, south of Manila in the Philippines from January 7-12.
The Kiribati delegation arrived only a day late after Cyclone Mona disrupted air travel off the island nation. They joined sisters from Australia, Japan and the Philippines for a weeklong exploration of leadership in intercultural environments.
Sister Helen Anderson was one of seven Australian sisters attending the conference. “It was a tremendous experience. It was encouraging, challenging and joyful,” Helen said.
Sister Eiko Mukae from Japan spoke in similarly glowing terms. “It was a wonderful thing that we were able to gather together and share our way of life,” Eiko said.
This year’s forum was held three years after the inaugural Asia Pacific Forum in 2016. The initiative provides a space for sisters from the four countries where the Sisters of the Good Samaritan operate to reflect on and share their experiences of leadership in an increasingly globalised world.
“Culture is so complex. There are so many dimensions to culture. It’s not just about ‘internationality.’ It’s about all of the factors that contribute to an individual’s culture,” Helen said.
“Leadership is really complex. It’s not just looking at structures. Rather the emphasis was on relationships. How do we relate together in a way that celebrates intercultural living?”
Sister Ameria Etuare from Kiribati found the above emphasis transformative. “My views on leadership have changed [after the forum],” Ameria said.
“To be a good and effective leader in my life I must first reach out to my sisters and neighbours and develop good relationships,” Ameria said.
The second Asia Pacific Forum was facilitated by Estela Padilla and Aleli Gutierrez of ‘Bukal ng Tipan.’ The venue was the retreat centre of the Missionary Benedictine Sisters of Tutzing at Tagaytay.
Held just after the Feast of the Epiphany, the forum was structured around an extended Lectio Divina of Matthew 2:1-12 – The Magi visit the Messiah. Days were broken up into a series of individual and group activities, with all participants encouraged to share frequently with the wider group.
For Sister Helen the Asia Pacific Forum was an expression of the Benedictine commitment to hospitality.
“In Benedictine spirituality great emphasis is placed on hospitality. Part of intercultural living is making sure there is a place for everyone at the table; that everyone feels at home,” Helen said.
“This is central to the Benedictine way of life. There is a sense that all are welcome. God is present in the differences, not just in a mono-cultural expression of life.”
The Asia Pacific Forum also adopted an expansive vision of leadership in which all members of the Congregation are called to serve as leaders.
“It was a new idea that we are all leaders in our different contexts. This view challenged me to take full responsibility in my community. The needs of my sisters are my priority,” Ameria said.
A reoccurring theme from participants who spoke to The Good Oil was the value in setting time aside for open and sincere sharing; for going beneath pleasantries and having conversations that ‘put out into the deep.’ Luke 5:4
“The group processes did call for an active engagement, honesty and willingness to take some risks in the sharing together. It wasn’t just, ‘this is how we do things in our culture,’” Helen said.
“Conversing openly and at a deeper level about our achievements and struggles [was one of the highlights]. It was satisfying and felt normal to learn from each other. We are all on the same journey with our ups and downs,” Ameria said.
“Through the forum – across countries, cultures and customs- we had a mutual understanding. We encouraged each other and deepened [our] bonds through sharing,” Eiko said.
The success of the second Asia Pacific Forum is perhaps best illustrated by the commitment of all its participants to remain connected with each other and to return home by ‘another route.’ Matthew 2:12