Working for justice helps heal hurts, says Sr. Fox
She has been insulted and called “foul-mouthed” by President Rodrigo Duterte.
Yet after the President unleashed a second tirade against God, Sr. Patricia Fox, the Australian nun who faced possible deportation, has nothing but compassion for Duterte.
“I’m very sorry for what happened to him. I understand his pain,” said Fox, superior of the Catholic Sisters of Our Lady of Sion in the country, citing Duterte spokesman Harry Roque’s claim that Duterte's experience of molestation fuels his anger.
“The Church is made up of human beings and some of them do very bad things,” Fox acknowledged in a phone interview.
“I understand the Church has acknowledged the record of the priest. It was a grave sin and the Church has apologized,” the nun said of Duterte’s experience as a young teen studying in Ateneo de Davao.
Duterte bared the abuse in 2015, at the start of his campaign for the presidency. The school has admitted that the late Fr. Paul Falvey, S.J., had been the subject of many complaints.
Duterte also said the religious order paid P25 million to victims of the priest, but did not say if he was among those who received restitution.
Fox, who has worked almost 28 years with poor farmers who often face abuse, said she understands Duterte’s pain.
It especially hurts when abusers are those entrusted with caring for young people’s souls, she added.
“That’s not the God we believe,” she stressed. “Ours is the God of compassion and love.”
In an earlier interview, Fox said: “I understand injustice. I know people who have disappeared. I know people who have died. I know their families. I know people who have been thrown off their lands.”
Fox said she taps into her grief “to change things for others in the same situation.”
“I don’t lose hope mainly because people I’m working with don’t lose hope,” she stressed.
YOUR GOD, NOT MINE
Duterte first called God stupid on June 19. He alluded to the biblical story of Adam and Eve’s banishment from Paradise, after partaking of the forbidden fruit of the tree of knowledge, and jeered at God for allowing a serpent into his perfect world.
On June 25, Duterte, who was born and raised as a Catholic, again mocked critics.
“I did not say my god is stupid,” he said. “Your god is not my god because your god is stupid. Mine has a lot of common sense.”
He also said the original rant was part of his criticism towards Fox.
The official transcript showed no reference to the missionary on June 19. But a day earlier, Fox had won a legal victory that staves off deportation until the Bureau of Immigration completes hearing a case for cancellation of her missionary’s visa.
Fox said she seldom follows Duterte’s rantings because most of her time is spent with poor farmers.
On Sunday, a day before Duterte’s second rant, she visited 300 farmer families in Lupang Ramos, Dasmarinas, Cavite. She heard Mass and joined a solidarity lunch to celebrate their successful return to the land they claim as agrarian reform beneficiaries.
“That’s what inspires me, being with farmers,” Fox told ABS-CBN News. “Standing with them is how we, as missionaries, spread the good news of Jesus Christ in being one with the poor and the oppressed.”
Nadja de Vera, media officer of Solidarity with the Poor and a frequent companion of Fox, said she admires the Australian's "commitment and courage in showing compassion and love."
"She keeps on saying that she learns so much for them. That shows great humility," the peasant advocate told ABS-CBN News.
De Vera said she is not a religious person. "Seeing Sr. Pat's selflessness gives me a standard for religious work. She inspires me so much."
Fox, who speaks Filipino, once told de Vera: "Hindi ako magiging tapat sa Diyos kung hindi rin sa mga learnings ko sa pakikipamuhay sa mahihirap, at that's what gives me life."
(I wouldn't be faithful to God if not for the lessons I got from living with the poor, and that is what gives me life.)
WORKING FOR JUSTICE
The “urban girl from Melbourne, Australia” arrived in the Philippines almost 28 years ago. She initially served in Real, Quezon as a cathechist in an era where missionaries walked for days and slept with any family that opened their home.
Her first brush with real injustice came in her second assignment, to Aurora and Infanta, also in Quezon. The former lawyer was tasked to a justice and peace action group for indigenous tribes.
“They had very, very small homes and they made a living by roaming the mountains to collect rattan,” she recalled. “But they were very exploited so we helped to read and count so they could protect their interests.”
Fox later served as coordinator of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP) in Central Luzon, where she helped protesting farmers of Hacienda Luisita, the vast plantation owned by the family of former president Corazon Aquino, whose son Benigno Simeon Aquino III preceded Duterte as chief executive.
Fox became national coordinator of the RMP in 2000.
Bureau of Immigration agents arrested Fox in her Quezon City home on April 16. She said the attempt at immediate deportation was stalled because her passport was with a travel agency, and by the swift arrival of friends and lawyers in the agency’s Intramuros office.
Duterte said he had ordered the investigation of Fox for “disorderly conduct” but had not ordered her arrest.
Fox said the head of the immigration intelligence office had shown her a report from the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA) that showed her at a Davao City rally following a fact-finding mission into abuses linked to martial law in Mindanao. The nun said she and other members of the mission were simply reporting their experience.