A Visit of the Deacon Founder to a FAST Growing Family
Ms. Lisa Arnaldo
“A family that prays together stays together.” This is indeed an assurance to every family who prays the Holy Rosary together. The focus is not an act of being together but an act of communion to God by nourishing our relationship to Him.
Several years ago, a “family” has laid down a foundation in the Philippines. It was being commissioned by the “father” from the Portland, Oregon, USA. It started with the charity works for the poor, the sick and the abandoned elderly in the heart of the slum areas and shanties. Many had come to help the family in the noble tasks to share love and bring people to God. The family has grown and continued to reach out to those in dire need of love. The family was called the “Family Association of St. Therese of the Child Jesus.”
A Claretian Missionary, Fr. Eduardo Apungan, CMF, was in the forefront of community organizing and leading a ministry to the slum areas when Ms. Lisa Arnaldo was the Program Coordinator met Fr. Antonio Abuan MS, a La Sallette Missionary who introduced Ms.MarivicTupas of the Our Lady of Sorrows Parish in Portland Oregon, USA about the desire of Deacon An Vu to help in the urban poor communities through the ministry to the poor elderly. All these acquaintances and circumstances gave birth to the foundation of the Family of St. Therese. The family was born out of the desire to help the poor elderly in the slum areas.. It was a gift of vocation to the church in the Philippines.
Moments of the Visit
The previous visits of Deacon An Vu, the Founder, has been always part of the consolidation efforts and charity works. Usually, a Mission Team composed of family groups or individuals joined the missionary charity works. This time, despite of the fragile health, the founder visited the Teresa Family alone with great enthusiasms and joy in his heart. He dreamt a lot for the future growth of the family, a new Missionary Congregation of Missionaries under the charismatic and missionary spirit of St. Therese.
Prayer and Reflection
There are remarkable moments in this visit. First, it is the moment of prayer and reflection. Two batches attended the recollection and retreat on the life, spirituality and mission of St. Therese which was facilitated by Fr. Eduardo Apungan, CMF, Sr. PilarUnggay, SCMM and Deacon An Vu. The first batch has more than 50 single ladies in attendance while the second batch was attended by almost a hundred members, associates and volunteers altogether. Both gatherings culminated with the celebration of the Holy Eucharist.
Charity and Mission
The second moment is the moment of charity and mission. Deacon An Vu together with the committed volunteers visited the homecare beneficiaries, those who are sick, bedridden and abandoned in the relocation sites of around 12,000 families from different slum areas of Metro Manila. Another visit was in Payatas Dumpsite. The visit to the dying reminds of the more than 30 homecare beneficiaries who returned home to the Creator and remained the tender loving embrace of Jesus. Those being visited uttered their words gratitude and showed their acts of gratitude by their smile of being loved. One claimed that because of the visit, he felt the loving embrace of God through the little act of charity. A simple act of feeding is an act of God’s presence in the midst of the world full of consumerisms and technological innovations that contribute to mediocrity and apathy or the absence of love.
Love and Inspiration
Charity and mission sometimes need the system and structures where it can be found a better place. Deacon An Vu visited the TERESA Charity Center in the adjacent relocation site. It was the gathering of the TERESA volunteers. It was the third moment called love and inspiration. It was so inspiring to look for the increasing number of volunteers. The pastoral works ranged from community organizing to on-going formation, from rice distributions to religious-liturgical activities and from charity works to providing a place for those in urgent need of dropping by for sharing and counselling. The center serves as the place for the relief and rehabilitation operations, refuge for the hungry victims of flash floods brought about by the recent typhoons asking for food to eat and clean water to drink. It helps not the only the elderly but also the whole communities and adjacent communities in partnership with the church, local government agencies and the NGO’s.
With much inspiration, it was a blessing that Fr. Ephraim King Gaza, CM, a Vincentian Parish Priest of the Ina ngLupangPangako Parish (Our Lady of the Promised Land), a dumpsite community called Payatas, welcomed the St. Therese Family for the big gathering of elderly beneficiaries. They came in different colors of their shirts from different slum areas of Metro Manila, different relocation sites in Montalban and they converged in the dumpsite parish. It was a gathering of more than 350 members of the “family.”It was a moment of faith celebration.
In the spirit of thanksgiving, the humble and a known bishop of the poor, Bishop Antonio Tobias, DD,presided in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. Religious congregations such as the Vincention Missionaries, Claretian Missionaries, La Sallette Missionaries, Daughters of Charity, Our Lady of God, Mother of Mercy, Sisters of the Providence and other religious groups joined the moment of celebration. In the homily, Bishop Tobias has welcomed St. Therese Family in his diocese and appreciated its efforts for the poor which that diocese is dreaming for.The Eucharist was culminated by the offering and dedication of the young people of the image of Our Lay of LupangPangako to the altar. The young people of the parish sold plastics collected from the dumped garbage as their contribution to the plastic-free society.
Grace and Gratitude
In between of the very tiring pastoral visit of the deacon-founder to the people in the communities and members in the houses was the visit to the different people and congregations, parishes and dioceses instrumental to the life of the “family.” It was a moment of grace and gratitude. He arranged a meeting the newly-recruited volunteer, Sr. Pilar Unggay, SCMM, from of the Sisters Charity of Our Lady of Mercy, in the historic shrine of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel in Quezon City. The place is a reminder of St. Therese of the Child Jesus encounter with Jesus in a religious life of the Carmelite Family. The meeting was in view of searching for the formation programs for the members.
He also met the Parish Priest of the Maria, Ina ng Kapayaapaan Parish(Mary, Mother of Peace Parish) in Montalban, Rizal – a place known for the relocations sites of urban poor, or slum dwellers in the urban center of Metro Manila who were mostly victims of calamities, forced demolitions of shelters in view of the urban development and the homeless poor families. Fr. Demetrio Suriben ,Jr, welcomed not only Deacon An Vu but the whole family of St. Therese with great enthusiasm. He expressed his gratitude for the outstanding charitable works and pastoral concerns of the “family” to the poor and deliveryof services especially in times of calamities in the relocations sites. The homeless elderly people found a family in St. Therese Family and a home in the Teresa Houses.
His visit with the Diocese of Novaliches was a fruitful one for the Bishop offers the Diocese for the pastoral works of the family and looking forward for more partnership activities.
Before he left for Vietnam, Deacon An Vu scheduled an appointment to the Provincial Superior of the Claretian missionaries of the Philippine who became instrumental in the foundation of the family through project partnership and pastoral collaboration for the last six years of laying the foundation, consolidating the activities and recruiting more members for the family.
Hope and Vision
Deacon An Vu left the Philippines with full of hope. He visited another relocation site near the beach for the future house for the elderly. The sending off activities in the spirit of celebration of life was conducted in the National Wildlife and Parks. It was attended by more than 120 volunteers to the family who renewed their commitment to be part of such mission. He left for Vietnam on October 18, 2012.
He left with the greater vision of the growth of the Family of St. Therese in the Philippines. In God’s time and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, through the prayers of St. Therese of the Child Jesus and the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the FAMILY will live!