The Good Samaritan Sisters’ foundation in Bacolod City, the Philippines is proof that from little things, big things can grow.
What began 25 years ago as a small, courageous initiative by two Japanese Good Samaritan Sisters has grown into a vibrant cross-cultural community of Filipina, Japanese and Australian sisters who, though still small in number, are making a significant difference in the lives of many people.
Earlier this month, a small group of sisters from Japan and Australia travelled to the Philippines to join their sisters and the broader Bacolod community for celebrations to mark the 25th anniversary of the foundation.
Among them were four sisters who had lived in Bacolod at various times over the past 25 years, including one of the founding community members, Japanese Sister Haruko Morikawa.
For Haruko, the changes and growth in Good Samaritan life and ministry were unmistakeable.
“The beginning of the life in Bacolod was very simple, small and rather fragile. But our story of 25 years [is] simple but strong and full of joy. Many challenges [have led] to great learning on the way,” she said.
In 1990, Haruko and Sister Keiko Goto (who died in 2009) responded to the call of the Japanese Church to be agents of peace and reconciliation in Asia. Their wish was to engage in a process of reconciliation with the Filipino people for the atrocities committed by Japan during World War II. Living very simply among the people, the two sisters established a Good Samaritan community in Bacolod on Negros Island, one of the poorest areas in the Philippines.
Reflecting on the recent anniversary celebrations, Haruko is heartened by what has been achieved over 25 years. She was struck by the “many people” who gathered for the Mass of Thanksgiving and lunch on May 9, which included some 400 friends connected with the sisters and their ministries.
Filipina Sister Grace Marcelo, one of six sisters currently ministering in Bacolod (and one of three Filipina Good Samaritan Sisters) also remarked on the number of people who attended the celebration.
“It shows that we’ve touched many lives over this past 25 years and that they’ve appreciated our presence here in Bacolod,” she said.
The celebrations, Grace said, have “inspired” her to continue the work and ministries in Bacolod.
In 2015, these ministries are many and varied. The Good Samaritan Kinder School, which began in 2004, is a well-established facility for children, many of whom live in squatter settlements on the outskirts of Bacolod. A health clinic and nutrition program also form part of Kinder school life.
The sisters are engaged in pastoral outreach to squatter settlements, a local orphanage and nearby prisons. They teach in the Diocesan Seminary and the Catholic Family Life Centre. They also co-ordinate an educational scholarship program for young people from poor areas, helping them to achieve a secondary and tertiary education.
In July last year, the sisters opened an outreach centre. It’s a place of hospitality and builds on the sisters’ existing ministries. Working in partnership with the local community, the sisters run living skills and personal development programs.
“I just find what [the sisters are] doing really inspiring,” said Sister Eugennie Levinson of Brisbane.
“I think it’s wonderful work and it must bring a lot of hope to people who probably sometimes feel ‘who cares about them?’ But here we’ve got sisters who are really caring and showing that in wonderful, generous ways.”
Eugennie has returned to Bacolod twice since she lived there from 2003 until 2007, but visiting for the celebrations highlighted for her the extent of change and growth.
When Eugennie arrived in 2003, the community was focussed on planning for and building the Kinder school. Now, more than ten years on, the Kinder school is “going very, very well”, she said. “They’ve got young Kinder graduates already in college. That’s just amazing!”
“I’m just very, very grateful for the opportunity to have gone back and to be part of that and to know that in some small way I suppose, I was part of some of the beginnings there, particularly with the kinder,” said Eugennie.
During the Mass of Thanksgiving on May 9, Congregational Leader Clare Condon paid tribute to her predecessors Sisters Helen Lombard and Sonia Wagner “for their vision and support in establishing this community and ministry”.
She thanked those gathered for their support over many years, including the local Bishop, Vicente Navarra, parishioners and priests, teachers at the Kinder school, supporters, and friends.
“I wish to thank all the sisters who live and minister here now, and in the past 25 years… I wish particularly to acknowledge the many benefactors who have supported us; benefactors from Japan and later from Australia. Without their ongoing moral support and financial backing we might not have survived,” she said.
“May the next 25 years be as fruitful as the past 25 years. For this we are always ever grateful for the love and grace of God who leads us forward.”