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By Sister Antonette Lumbang, OP
November 29, 2018, Negombo, Sri Lanka – The Justice Promoters of the Dominican Family from Asia and the Pacific gathered November 3-7 at Negombo, Sri Lanka, to discuss their efforts about bringing about justice and peace in the region. The countries of Taiwan, Japan, India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, East Timor, Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia, China, and the Philippines were represented.
Each congregation/province reported on their justice and peace initiatives, both the triumphs and the challenges in their respective countries for the past two years. The reports by the justice promoters provided the group with a comprehensive picture of the situation in the region.
Common justice and peace issues that surfaced from the country reports were poverty, government corruption, religious extremism, and environmental degradation. The group spent time reflecting on the challenges and opportunities for Dominican family collaboration.
The conference was an eye-opener, with rich input. Sister Christine Fernando and Ruki Fernando, Human Rights defenders from the host country, shared the situation of justice and peace in Sri Lanka. Sister Cecilia Espenilla, OP, from Dominican Sisters International, talked about human trafficking and touched on the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals. Father Mike Deeb, OP, the Order's permanent delegate to the United Nations, shared on Dominican work at the United Nations and expounded on the role of the Dominican Justice and Peace Promoters.
When the delegation broke into small groups, meeting by country, the promoters – invigorated by what they had seen and heard from each other and from the speakers – were eager to brainstorm toward common goals.
The Philippines Justice Promoters identified four areas where collaboration is promising: the annual Dominican Month for Peace; being in solidarity with the families of the War on Drugs casualties; the Human Trafficking Awareness Campaign; and the ongoing formation of Dominicans committed to justice and peace.
The Our Lady of Remedies Mission Chapter in particular has committed to facilitate and oversee the assistance program for selected families of extra-judicial killing victims in the Diocese of Kalookan. Selected families will be mainly from the San Lorenzo in Dagat-Dagat, Navotas, a parish administered by Dominican Friars. The modules for psycho-social and spiritual healing that will be used in the assistance program were developed by the University of St. Tomas, Simbahayan, Community Development Office.
The extra-judicial killing of more than 4,000 people suspected of drug dealing or drug use is the result of the war of drugs initiated by Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, elected in 2016.
By the end of the conference, delegates had completed drafts of strategic plans for each country and for the region, with the hope that these will be followed through to strengthen justice and peace promotion in Asia and the Pacific. It was indeed a fruitful conference.
Coming together and sharing with one another the work we do among marginalized people in our own countries, we justice promoters found renewed hope and encouragement to continue our efforts. To quote from the conference statement, we say, “Thus we continue the journey, step by step, confident in the knowledge that even in small actions, we can contribute to the in-breaking Reign of God.”
March 8, 2018, Quezon City, Cubao, the Philippines – Sister Antonette Lumbang, OP, was among a group of Adrian Dominican Sisters in the Our Lady of Remedies Mission Chapter to participate in the Second Annual Walk for Life February 24 to commemorate the peaceful people’s uprising.
The purpose of the walk was to “champion the value of life, which is threatened with prevailing issues in the country,” Sister Antonette explained. These issues include extrajudicial killings, part of the war on drugs launched by President Rodrigo Duterte shortly after his election in 2016. This campaign has resulted in an estimated 12,000 deaths of suspected drug dealers, drug users, and others, according to the 2018 World Report of Human Rights Watch. Other life issues include the proposed re-institution of the death penalty and the destruction of the environment, Sister Antonette said.
The Sisters left Pampanga, where many are stationed, at 2:45 a.m. on February 24 to participate in the 4:00 a.m. walk and a program of testimonies by several pro-life advocates from Catholic lay organizations. Sister Antonette was especially struck by the witness against the death penalty of a Filipina actress (Ms. Cherry Pie Picache) whose mother had been brutally murdered. The actress instead advocated for restorative justice and forgiveness. “Through prayer we can achieve this difficult Christian response,” Sister Antonette said. “The process demands radical love from us, love which we can give even to those who harmed or hurt us, following Jesus’ own radical love for us despite our sins.”
The event culminated in the celebration of the Eucharist with Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle as presider. During his homily, Cardinal Tagle warned the faithful to be vigilant, “not to be influenced by the prevailing culture of seeing everything, including human life, as a ‘commodity or thing’ which can be disposed of when no longer needed,” Sister Antonette said. “Cardinal Tagle’s call was for us to bring back the mentality of valuing every life as a gift from God, which therefore should be treasured.”
In the afternoon of the same day, Sisters participated in another Mass, community march and lighting of candles, organized by the Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines (AMRSP) in the chapel of Stella Maris College in Quezon City. This entire event is a commemoration of the February 25,1986, EDSA Revolution and the role of the AMRSP in advocating for peace and justice since its founding in the 1970s during the martial law. “The AMRSP was not cowed during the Marcos dictatorship,” wrote Father Cielito R. Almazan, OFM, and Sister Regina Kuizon, RGS, co-chairpersons of AMRSP, in a letter to members. “It will not be cowed now. Despite the challenges we face in our country today, it will remain in the front lines in fighting injustice. … It will continue to lead and be in solidarity with the people, for the people.”
Feature photo: Participants in the Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines (AMRSP) Mass get a better view on a large screen.