At the Good Samaritan Outreach Centre we strive to be inclusive, recognising the needs of the poor and vulnerable, and reaching out with compassion and love, writes Sister Anne Dixon.
The founder of the Sisters of the Good Samaritan, Archbishop John Bede Polding, had a dog named Templar that accompanied him on his journeys around the colony of New South Wales.
At the Good Samaritan Outreach Centre in Bacolod in the Philippines we have a dog named SJ that accompanies us on our journeys.
One day I said to my friend, “Isn´t SJ a beautiful dog?” My friend responded, “askal!” I could tell by the tone of her voice that askal was not a compliment. When I asked what askal meant in English I was told, “Mongrel! She’s just like our local street dogs.” The Webster’s Dictionary definition of a mongrel is “an animal, especially a dog, resulting from an uncontrolled or accidental crossing of breeds or varieties.” Yes, that´s our SJ!
SJ is short for Social Justice because she came into our lives on International Social Justice Day on February 20, 2020. She had either been dumped outside our gate or she found her way to us on her own. She was a tiny, ragged puppy about two months old, riddled with ticks and full of worms.
Being a Good Samaritan Outreach Centre we took her in, cleaned her up, nursed her, took her to the vet and, miraculously, SJ survived. Today she is a strong, 16 kilogram, fully grown askal.
The conversation about askal got me wondering. If SJ is indeed askal, why do people stop me in the street to ask what breed she is? Is it because she looks different to the other dogs? Why don´t people recognise her as a local mongrel? I have even been asked if I brought her over from Australia! People look twice at SJ as she trots happily along the road. She is our smiley, affectionate, healthy and faithful companion.
The answer to these questions is love, which changes everything. SJ is not recognised as a local, neglected and unloved street dog because she is surrounded by love. The love she experiences radiates from her eyes, her skin, her posture and her behaviour.
The Philippines National Football Team called themselves Azkals, taken from askals because they received no support from the Government. They saw themselves as being like stray dogs, roaming around hoping someone would reach out to them and support them. Eventually, a couple of UK players came over and started to support the Azkals, and slowly some recognition was given to the players, and they began to feel included on the international stage.
The expression, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”, also comes to mind. This phrase is attributed to a woman named Margaret Wolfe Hungerford. In 1878, she wrote a novel called Molly Bawn.
In the case of SJ, the beauty of this mongrel dog is seen through my eyes, and all who know and love her. People have different opinions as to what is beautiful. I saw a huge banner with the words “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” hanging over a filthy, dirty canal in downtown Bacolod. Along the canal are hundreds of makeshift dwellings, built on top of each other, housing thousands of destitute families.
It seems a bit of an anomaly to talk about beauty when thousands of squatters live behind the banner. However, if you step behind the banner and get to know the people, and become involved in their lives, very soon you see and experience the beauty in each one of them and you do not see or smell the stench of the surroundings.
Somehow, all these thoughts can be connected to the concept of Inclusivity. Referring back to Webster’s Dictionary, the word inclusive means “including everything” with “everything” being the operative word. It includes humans AND animals.
Regarding our animals, the challenge for me is seeing mongrel, neglected dogs in our streets with no one to care for them or love them. People are scared of rabies, so they steer away. These dogs actually need to be put down out of their misery. My heart weeps.
Regarding our humans, my heart weeps as well. I live in a hierarchical world where inclusivity and hierarchy somehow don´t marry. My friends living behind the “beauty” banner feel downtrodden and excluded, whether it be from civil or Church affairs.
It brings to mind ‘status’, which my trusty Webster’s Dictionary defines as “the position or rank of an individual in relation to others”. One of our friends from the squatter areas, attending a formation session on the Good Samaritan, made the comment, “The Samaritan traveller didn´t worry about status. The man was hurt, he needed help.” Like us finding SJ, the Samaritan traveller didn´t worry about the ‘breed’ of the human in trouble!
Here at the Outreach Centre we strive always to be inclusive, and this means we do not consider the status of a person. Pope Francis envisions an inclusive Church: “inclusion … reaches out to everyone without regard for social conditions, language, race, culture, or religion. It is manifested in the love of each person ‘as God loves them’.”
We proudly call ourselves the Good Samaritan Outreach Centre and Pope Francis’ words in Fratelli Tutti are very pertinent: “The decision to include or exclude those lying wounded along the roadside can serve as a criterion for judging every economic, political, social and religious project. Each day we have to decide whether to be Good Samaritans or indifferent bystanders.” Every time someone walks through our open gate it is an invitation to us to open our hearts in love to them, to offer to them the listening heart and the helping hand.
Our endeavours to open our hearts in love to everyone who opens our gate, or the four-legged variety who are dumped outside, reminds me of a quote from Nelson Mandela. In his autobiography, Long Road to Freedom, he wrote: “No one is born hating another person because of the colour of their skin, or their background, or their religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
As we try always to be completely inclusive of all, we have these inspiring people to draw strength from.