Co-director for the ACU Centre for Interreligious Dialogue Dr. Edmund Chia tells of the high and lows, the challenge and inspiration of the ACU Philippines study trip held in September.
A group of sixteen ACU students arrived in Manila on Saturday 27 September 2014 to experience the contrasts and community of Filipino society. The group undertook the 10-day ‘pilgrimage,’ led by Dr. Gemma Cruz and Dr. Edmund Chia of the School of Theology, as part of their study of the THEL620 and THEL640 units focused on Catholic Education and Social Justice.
Dr Chia gives an account of the group’s journey in and around metropolitan Manila - and their experiences in the fishing village of Pangasinan, a regional province five hours away from the nation’s capital.
“This conscientious, joyful, and mature group was composed mostly of teachers and administrators from Catholic schools in NSW, Victoria, Queensland and WA who were completing their studies in MEd, MRE, MEdLeadership and MTHST,” Dr Chia said.
“We travelled through lots of high and low points and were witnesses to a whole range of interesting and frightening sights. We had lectures and conversations with a number of speakers, including school principals and teachers, Social Action directors and College Outreach coordinators, parish priests and seminary rectors, theologians and book authors, street children and student leaders.
“We saw the best of Catholic Education in elite schools such as St. Scholastica’s and Assumption College - but were also confronted by the challenges faced by parish and public schools in small towns. We were inspired by the works of the Salesians at Tuloy sa Don Bosco Street-children Village, but were left depressed after the journey to the slums in Tondo, where the residents live in a dump site and have to scavenge the garbage for recyclable goods and make food out of leftovers.”
“We visited the dazzling sites of the city-fortress Intramuros but also the Manila North Cemetery where 10,000 people (mainly widows and children) live amongst the dead, using tombstones as beds to sleep on or as kitchen counters and dining tables. We participated in Masses in a post-modern chapel located literally within one of the city’s most popular malls, and in a church in the richest gated community in the Philippines, as well as at the Basilica of the Black Nazarene and the Shrine of Our Lady or Manaoag where folk Catholicism thrives. We learned about the role Cardinal Jaime Sin played in the People Power revolution and also about the martyrdom of San Lorenzo Ruiz, the first Filipino saint.
“Obviously, this was a pilgrimage which evoked in us a lot of feelings and reactions. While it left us with more questions than answers, we were nevertheless inspired by the hope we saw in the many agents of change actively at work in Philippine society. We were particularly proud that the Catholic Church plays a significant role in this social transformation and will seek ways to share some of our learnings and experiences with our fellow Australians.”