Nun leaves Philippines telling church to fight injustice

Where the oppressed are, church people should be there, Sister Patricia Fox says
Nun leaves Philippines telling church to fight injustice

Sister Patricia Fox, 72, of the Sisters of Our Lady of Sion congregation, bids farewell to supporters before boarding her flight to Australia at Manila International Airport on Nov. 3. (Photo by Jire Carreon)


The Australian missionary nun forced to leave the Philippines after failing to get her missionary visa extended has challenged the country's church leaders to take a stand against injustice.

Sister Patricia Fox, 72, of the Sisters of Our Lady of Sion congregation said church leaders "should act, make noise" against human rights abuses in the Philippines.

"Words are not enough," she said. 

"Where the oppressed are, church people should be there," added the nun who drew the ire of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte for joining protest rallies.

"Pope Francis said you can't call yourself a Christian if there are massive human rights violations and you are just silent," said Sister Fox.

"All sectors, the church, everybody need to now come out together and say this is what we want for our society, this is what we want for our world," she said.

In a statement, church leaders in the Philippines said the nun's departure was a "blow to the missionary spirit of the church."

"The faith she proclaims is not detrimental to the life of Filipinos," said Father Jerome Secillano, executive director of the bishops' media affairs office.

"In fact, it is a source of hope and consolation to our suffering countrymen," added the priest.

Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo said the non-renewal of Sister Fox's missionary visa was part of the government's "bias against the church" and the "people perceived to be against the policies" of the Duterte administration.

"This is not the end of your story, be strong," said the prelate in his message to the nun. 

"We know that God works with us, that's why there will be more surprises. Just keep on and be courageous," added Bishop Pabillo.

The ecumenical group Promotion of Church Peoples' Response said Sister Fox would be missed by the many who have benefited from her ministry.

"Even church people will feel her absence, or at least her distance, as we continue to work in poor communities," read the group's statement.

The group noted that Sister Fox, who has spent 27 years working in poor communities in the Philippines, "has inspired us to dare to live out the missionary imperative of immersing ourselves in the struggles of the poor and of journeying with them."

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Upon her arrival in Melbourne on Nov. 4, Sister Fox said, "human rights abuses are just increasing" in the Philippines.

She described the administration of Duterte as "a reign of tyranny," adding that "there has been a culture of impunity for a long time, and it is getting worse."

Before he departure on Nov. 3, the nun urged the Philippine president to "listen to the poor, not just the military."

"Listen to the urban poor, farmers, workers, indigenous people. Listen to them, and act on their behalf, not just the wealthy," Sister Fox told a gathering of supporters in Quezon City.

Duterte's spokesman Salvador Panelo said Sister Fox's "good deeds" in the country "cannot exempt her from the punishment imposed by law as a consequence of her wrongdoing."

"Dura lex sed lex. The law may be harsh but it is the law and obedience thereto excuses no one from compliance therewith," said Panelo in a statement.

The Australian nun was accused by the president of joining partisan political activities.

Sister Fox apparently angered Duterte when she joined a "fact-finding mission" to investigate alleged human rights abuses in the southern Philippines.

In April, she was arrested on charges of violating her missionary visa's terms against joining political activities.

Last month, Philippine Immigration officials refused to extend her temporary visitor's visa and ordered her to leave the country by Nov. 3.

"There will come a time I will return," said Sister Fox, adding that she will always be a religious missionary while Duterte will only have three more years or less in office.

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