Updated: July 10, 2017 07:41 AM GMT
Philippine Sister Gina Oracion, right, visits a family in a slum in the outskirts of Manila. (Photo by Mark Saludes)
Sister Mary Anselm Pedrosa leaves her room after her morning prayers to check her flowering plants outside the convent beside a 400-year-old church in the mining town of Santa Cruz in the northern Philippine province of Zambales.
The nun is worried that dust particles from the nearby nickel stockpile of a mining company will destroy her roses, which she describe "as red as the sunset" of Santa Cruz. She also cares for her orchids, which can only be found in the heart of the mountains of Zambales.
"The value of every creation is in the hands of human beings. People must choose to protect all creation, not just their race," says the nun whose eyes twinkle as she reminisces how she decided to enter the convent several summers ago.
The sister, who says she is in her mid-40s, smiles like a school girl when she remembers how she and her boyfriend planned to get married when she was just 19. She was happy, she says, but she felt that her life then was not complete.
"I loved him but all those years, I felt I still have things to do and I can't do it if I will marry him," Sister Pedrosa says. "Then I was curious how nuns live their lives," she adds.
She told her boyfriend that she would join the Benedictine Sisters of the Eucharistic King and had to leave her hometown in Mindanao. "He was supportive," the nun says. "He told me that he will wait, but if I still wanted to be a nun he would will let me go," Sister Pedrosa recalls.
Religious formation changed her life. Sister Pedrosa says she saw her purpose in the "nameless faces of the oppressed," saying that loving Christ "is like going to war."
"You must endure the pain of losing and embrace the sacrifice that it requires," says Sister Pedrosa. "In love we find out who we want to be, but in war we find out who we are," she says.
"We are at war, at war with ourselves and the desire to achieve, acquire, and accrue everything," she says.
In the town of Santa Cruz, Sister Pedrosa fights her battle.
In 2007, mining started on 12,000 hectares of land in town, which is considered to be the province's rice granary. Four major transnational mining corporations are involved in the operations, transporting at least 300 truckloads of soil that are exported to China.
"[The mining companies] will do everything without considering the welfare of the people and all of creation to fulfill their desire to have money," Sister Pedrosa says.
Loving Christ is "like going to war," says Benedictine Sister Mary Anselm Pedrosa. "In love we find out who we want to be, but in war we find out who we are." (Photo by Rob Reyes)
Love in the midst of poverty
Like Sister Pedrosa, 30-year-old Gina Oracion was "tempted by God" into entering the convent of the Congregation of the Missionary Benedictine Sisters of Tutzing before she could finish her doctorate in linguistics.
She laughs while recalling how she turned down proposals from several "good-looking boys" in school. She remembers one particular guy whom she had a "mutual understanding."
He was "so caring and not difficult to love," she says. "I think it is God's plan not to let us fall as lovers," she adds. The guy later became a priest.
Sister Oracion, meanwhile, found "true love" in an urban poor community in a fishing village near Manila. "My heart beats for the poor people who are denied a decent life, education, and shelter," she says.
She recalls how she ate, laughed, and cried with poor families, and how the poor taught her the difference of "a house and a home."
For a month, the Benedictine sister lived with five families inside a 4-by-3-meter shanty in the middle of decomposing garbage.
"It was terrifying," she says. "The situation was very depressing. They have to scavenge or beg for food to eat while people in the government live a lavish lifestyle," says Sister Oracion.
The urban poor families come from different parts of Manila whose homes were demolished to give way to commercial buildings and condominiums.
Accepting the challenge
Sisters Pedrosa and Oracion say they have long accepted the challenge of "women self-sufficiency."
"We don't need men in our beds or in our kitchens," says Sister Pedrosa with a smile. "But we will serve mankind to achieve its humanity," she says.
Both admit that to change the system that oppresses the poor — especially women — "is a long journey."
Sister Pedrosa went back to her hometown in Mindanao after entering the convent.
Outside the old brick church where she grew up as a child the nun met her childhood friend. The friend was carrying a baby and was with her husband, Sister Pedrosa's former boyfriend.
"It was one of my happiest moments," the nun says. "I never felt jealous." She says she was relieved knowing that her former boyfriend found someone who can take care of him.
The nun says she has to face other "harsh realities" in life, like fighting mining companies. "Our role as women in the church is to be guides" and be examples of how "to value all creations."
"We are brides of Christ," she says. "The people and the environment that are victims of greed are our children."
Both nuns say that on March 8, International Women's Day, they have the "most colorful love stories" because their stories are about "love of the people and of God."
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