February 19, 2016, San Jose Nueva Ecjia, Philippines – The challenges to family life that Sister Bibiana “Bless” Colasito, OP, encounters in her ministry as counselor and her work on the diocesan Commission on Family Life are familiar to many Americans: poverty, drug addiction, absent parents, domestic abuse, and same-sex attraction. But Sister Bless ministers half a world away from people in the United States.
Sister Bless, a certified counselor, has been ministering since January 2015 on the Commission on Family Life in the Diocese of San Jose Nueva Ecjia – a five-mile journey from many of the other Sisters in Our Lady of Remedies Mission Chapter, who are based primarily in the region of Pampanga, the Philippines.
“With so many problems affecting family life today, it’s really a big challenge for the Commission to help families cope with their struggles,” Sister Bless explained. She pointed to poverty as a major factor in many of these problems.
One of the major consequences of this poverty, Sister Bless explained, is that one of the parents finds work in another country to support the family. The children of these Overseas Filipino Workers show their stress by their behavior at school. “They do crazy things – such as fighting or stealing – just to catch the attention” that they don’t have from their absent parents, she explained. In many cases, parents try to make up for the lack of physical closeness by buying materials and technology, which only distract the children, particularly in the classroom setting. Children who are separated from their parents are also often angry, often showing the anger through fighting or other unruly behavior, she added.
Sister Bless noted other problems that many Filipino families face: the rampant presence of drugs in the Philippines, leading to addiction and, in some cases, the need to steal to pay for the drugs; isolated cases of incest and sexual abuse; the influence of the media, which can undermine family values; and lack of faith formation, sometimes leading families to skip Mass on Sundays and instead go to the mall.
Sister Bless noted good points and positive practices in family life in her diocese, but added that the morality of family life is being degraded because of some media influences. “We all believe that family life is basic,” she said. “We believe that problems in the society are found in family life. That’s why we’re going into the formation of families.”
One of Sister Bless approaches in this matter is to offer individual, marriage, and family counseling. She gave the example of a married couple who are facing problems in their marriage. To help preserve the marriage and the family, she provides counseling to the husband and wife, helping them to face their own personal issues so that they can better function as a couple. “It’s easier to separate because it does not touch the personal issues,” she said. “But if you love your vocation and you want to grow as a person, that means you will have the courage to go into personal processing.”
In addition to her counseling, Sister Bless and the Commission on Family Life are offering a one-year formation program for families within the 22 parishes of the diocese. The program was launched in November, the beginning of the diocese’s Year of the Family.
The formation program has been designed to focus each month on a different issue that families face. Focuses could be, for example, on families of an Overseas Filipino Worker, families of farmers, and families of prisoners. Sister Bless offers these programs through the work of a core group of five couples – and through parish coordinators who offer the monthly program in their own parish. In addition to this program, Sister Bless continues to offer her services as a counselor to those who need the extra psychological support.
Sister Bless acknowledged the tremendous challenge of trying to form families in the Catholic faith in the face of so much cultural influence that runs counter to the Gospel. “But I still feel that this is the least we can do for the mission of Jesus,” she said. “This might be a big work, but this is still nothing compared with the call to do mission for the Church today.”