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February 2, 2021, Detroit – The week of January 18, 2021, was a turning point not only for the United States as its new President and Vice President, Joseph Biden and Kamala Harris, were inaugurated. It was also a turning point for Sister Racquel Rones, OP, who became a new U.S. citizen the next day, January 21, at the Detroit District Office of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Sister Racquel took her oath of citizenship with about 25 other people who came from a variety of countries. Because of COVID-19 protocols, she said, the new citizens were encouraged to leave after they received the certificate and could not participate in the tradition of shaking the judge’s hand. Still, she said, she celebrated with her local community from Adrian who had accompanied her to Detroit: Sisters Jo Gaugier, OP, Tarianne DeYonker, OP, and Attracta Kelly, OP.
“I am so happy,” said Sister Racquel, a native of the Philippines and a member of the Adrian Dominican Sisters’ Our Lady of Remedies Mission Chapter, based in Pampanga, the Philippines. She was inspired by the welcoming words of the judge who presided over her Naturalization ceremony. “He told us, ‘Don’t forget January 21, 2021 – you’re celebrating your second birthday,” she recalled. “He encouraged us, when we’re able to travel, to discover the United States, our new country, with many mountains and beaches.”
Sister Racquel entered the Dominican Congregation of Our Lady of Remedies in 2000 and made her final profession of vows in April 2009. When the Remedies Congregation merged with the Adrian Dominican Sisters in 2011, she said, she was encouraged to consider applying for U.S. citizenship because of her youth and the possibility that one day she might minister in the United States.
Her ministries have included managing the Dominican Religious Store in San Fernando, Pampanga; serving as teacher, librarian, and bookkeeper at Dominican School of Apalit in Apalit, Pampanga; and serving as school treasurer at Holy Rosary College Foundation in Tala, Caloocan, and at Immaculate Conception Academy in Guagua, Pampanga. In addition, she served as pastoral minister at St. Eystein Menighet Parish in BodØ, Norway.
Sister Racquel is no stranger to the United States. Shortly after the two congregations merged, she spent a year with her sister in California.
Before coming to Adrian in January 2020, Sister Racquel received a letter from Sister Attracta, Director of the Adrian Dominican Sisters’ Office of Immigration Assistance, listing the documents she would need to prepare to apply for U.S. citizenship. Her application was filed the second week of March.
“The hardest part [of becoming a citizen] was preparing for the interview and the exam,” Sister Racquel said. “Living with the community, watching the news, and being immersed in the culture really helped me, but what was really the hardest part was studying for the civics questions.”
She found support from her local community; from Sister Patricia Siemen, OP, Prioress, and members of the General Council; and from the Sisters at the Motherhouse, who encouraged her and prayed for her. In addition, Sister Corinne Sanders, OP, helped her to study for the exam and Sister Carleen Maly, OP, Director of the Adrian Rea Literacy Center, helped her improve her pronunciation of English.
In the end, Sister Racquel said, she was surprised by the easiness of the questions. “I didn’t find it hard,” she said. “If you’re open and ready, just challenge yourself. I was expecting the worst [of the exam], but my experience was not bad…. Prayers really work. Trust God.”
The new citizen also received informal education about the U.S. culture from her life with her local community in Adrian and from watching the news. She was particularly struck by the continuing efforts of African Americans – with the help of other Americans – to achieve racial equality through the Black Lives Matter movement. “It’s really enriching my history,” she said. “I’m so touched by their experience and how resilient they are, to be still fighting for their rights in this country.”
Sister Racquel also felt the shock of the Sisters in her community over the insurrection that took place at the Capitol on January 6 – and the excitement at watching the Inauguration. “We watched all day,” she said.
Once she receives her U.S. passport and visits her sister in California, Sister Racquel anticipates resuming ministry in the Philippines or Norway. But, she said, part of her will remain in her new country.
“I’m ready to embrace the future as an Adrian Dominican Sister,” Sister Racquel said. “I am so happy to know our Sisters, to share stories and life with them. … I will look back when I’m in my ministry, wherever that is. Now I have confidence.”
Feature photo: Sister Racquel Rones, OP, proudly displays her citizenship certificate and the U.S. flag on the day she became a naturalized U.S. citizen.
By Sister Maria May Cano, OP
Executive Secretary, Caritas Kalookan
May 26, 2020, Caloocan City, the Philippines – The formal experience of the Diocese of Kalookan – one of 10 Suffragan Dioceses in Metro Manila – began on March 14, 2020, when Bishop Pablo Virgilio David called a meeting of the women and men religious and diocesan priests. He announced our need to follow the advice of the Department of Health: to practice social distancing to avoid the spreading of the coronavirus. All Masses and other gatherings were canceled. Bishop David further asked the priests to respond to the various needs of the people, especially for confession.
The Diocese of Kalookan – made up of 29 parishes, two quasi-parishes, and 13 mission stations – is the poorest diocese in Metro Manila. About 90% of the people are the “poorest of the poor.” This is where we can find the peripheries, as Pope Francis mentioned during his 2015 visit to our country.
Many people lost their jobs because of the pandemic and do not have money to provide the basic needs of their family. We cater to people of all walks of life: people with special needs, senior citizens, the sick, and families of those who were victims of extra-judicial killings in the war against drugs.
By the grace of God, two days after our meeting, we started receiving donations in cash and kind. The staff of Caritas Kalookan, Inc., was in charge of accepting those donations, as well as purchasing and disbursing goods needed by the people in the diocese. We received more than 1,500 cavans of rice and purchased 800 cavans of rice. In the Philippines, a cavan is a unit of dry measurement, equal to about 44 kilograms (97 pounds).We also received canned goods from individuals, religious organizations, and private companies like San Miguel Corp. We in the Diocese of Kalookan collected around 7 million pesos, in addition to the donations in kind.
The business sectors in Greater Manila donated around 1.7 billion pesos worth of gift certificates to Caritas Manila. Bishop David distributed the Kalookan Diocese’s share of gift certificates – about 230 million pesos worth – to the priests and chaplains of mission stations, who gave them to families in need in our diocese. The gift certificates enable the families to purchase their basic needs. Sister Abegail Santos, OP, my community member and companion, focuses on collating the gift certificate and reporting on their distribution to Caritas Manila.
While I am busy accepting the donations in kind, ordering goods, and sending deliveries to various parishes, I also purchase milk for the children and distribute gift certificates for their medicines.
The East West Seeds Philippines Corporation approved our request to provide us with vegetable seeds and seedlings, since we are experiencing crisis. It is good to plant vegetables while we are in lockdown. We teach our people to produce their own vegetables in their own backyard. This is an application of the message of Pope Francis in Laudato Si’ and is one way that we care for and nurture our Mother Earth.
The company also connected us to the farmers, purchasing fresh vegetables at a reasonable price. This benefited both the farmers and the people who received the seedlings and learned to plant organic vegetables.
In Mining, Angeles City, Sisters Arsenia Puno, OP, Victoria Changcoco, OP, Liberty Mendoza, OP, Meliza Arquillano, OP, and Leizel Tedria, OP, have also been involved in ministry to people suffering because of the pandemic. They received donations of more than 300,000 pesos and distributed goods to 500 indigenous Aeta families. In addition, they cooked food for people on the front lines and distributed food packs to 500 families for four weeks – a total of 2,000 packs – through Caritas Manila.
Sister Ines Manuel, OP, also cooked for the people on the frontlines and distributed food packs to people with disabilities and other neighbors in Manibaug, Porac.
Sisters Jolyn Dungo, OP, Yolanda Manapsal, OP, Marifi Lugtu, OP, Antonette Lumbang, OP, Rosita Yaya, OP, and Filomena Manuel, OP, distributed food packs in San Fernando.
I thank God, for all the experiences we had despite of many trials we encountered. God is good, sending generous benefactors in the midst of this COVID-19 crisis. We are blessed to have a bishop who is so compassionate, caring, and supportive, and who is always worried about the situation of our poor brothers and sisters.
I salute, too, all the people on the front lines: the doctors, nurses, media people, military personnel who are assigned in different checkpoints, salespeople, bakers, parish volunteers, the Curia staff, and all those reach out to our brothers and sisters. We also thank those who spend more time in prayer that we might overcome this crisis.
We have been in this situation for about two months and have kept on praying that we will survive and gradually return to our new normal. I know that God is with us as we unite all our prayers and sacrifices. I entrust everything in God’s hands. I pray, too, that we will have the medicines and vaccines to combat COVID-19. God is merciful. I pray that He will heal our Land, and the whole World. God bless us all!
Feature photo: Father Celoi Andamon, OMI, Director of Caritas Kalookan, and Sister Maria May Cano, OP, with a car-full of donations of squash. The priests and religious pick up the squash and distribute them to the people in their parishes.