Sr. Francis: Because Christ is in the margins

The Roman Catholic Church in the Philippines celebrated The Year of the Consecrated Life and The Year of the Poor in 2015. Among those Kodao interviewed for an article was Sr. Mary Francis Añover who died from cancer last April 15, Sunday of the Divine Mercy.

Born Nelinda Burgos Añover in Tacloban City, Leyte on May 3, 1953, she became a Religious Sisters of Mercy (RSM) for four decades. She served as a two-time national coordinator of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP) from 2010 to 2016.

Sr. Francis is remembered by the religious community, the peasant sector, the indigenous peoples and fellow human rights defenders as a “tireless worker in being one with the poor, deprived and oppressed.”

Here is Kodao’s interview with Sr. Francis in March 30, 2015:

  1. What is your background before becoming a religious?

My father was a former Philippine Scout, assigned to Okinawa, Japan after World War 2. But when he came home and got engaged with our mother, he was not allowed anymore to go back to military work, not even as a policeman. He returned to farming, which is how he raised us. My siblings and I helped in the farm. Its produce helped in sending us to school.

2. Why did you choose your congregation?

Due to the proximity of RSM’s Formation House to us. It was only in Tacloban City.

3. What is your congregation about?

[It is] about formal education (schools) and health care (hospitals). These are in keeping with the foundress’ charism, “The poor needs help today, not next week” as well as its international thrust, which is for justice, peace and for environmental concerns.

4. Why did you choose to work in the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP) instead on concentrating on your congregation?

I got permission from my superior and she affixed her signature in a contract for me to work at RMP. [I wanted] ”to journey with the poor for fullness of life and the integrity of God’s creation” as enshrined in RMP’s Vision and Mission. It is also a thrust of the congregation, the RSM being a member of the AMRSP (Association of Major Religious Superiors of the Philippines). The RMP as a mission arm of the AMRSP.

5. What are the strongest social issues that your interventions are trying to address?

The issue of genuine agrarian reform. The RMP focuses on the rural poor, particularly the farmers and the indigenous people. LAND for them is LIFE and a person or human being can not experience “fullness of life” if a farmer has no land to till/cultivate to support his family. Another is to support for the struggle of the Lumad/indigenous people for self determination and their ancestral domain (LAND) being grabbed from them by big mining companies/agri-business corporations, and they are being killed when they oppose. So are the issue of human rights violations and others.

6. What are the Theological bases and Social Teachings of the Church that serve as foundations of the respective works you do?

The human dignity as enshrined in the creation story and “Liberation Theology” that formed me as a religious. I am strongly convinced about their relevance to the Philippine context, including the Church social teachings from Rerum Novarum up to the latest encyclical of Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium. Personally, I feel vindicated and spiritually energized by the pronouncements more so with the visit of my namesake Pope Francis as he “lifted” the ban of the “labelled” liberation theologians such as Gustavo Gutierrez and the canonization of Bishop Oscar Romero.

7. How does it make you feel when you do Christ’s work in the margins?

I feel contented and happy to have contributed, at least in my own little way, to the building of God’s kingdom where the gospel values of justice, equality, peace and the fullness of life are realized–maybe not in full yet in my lifetime but in the next generation.

I consecrated my life to God when I pronounced my vows as a religious. To be Christ’s hands, heart and feet in the mission with the rural poor (i.e. in the margins), meaning my witnessing challenges me to be the “salt of the earth.” The people I work with should be able to see tangible changes that may happen to them personally or as a group. That the words I utter, including gestures/non-verbal actions, influence them to change for the common good. In other words, I have to be transparent and authentic, walking the talk. Otherwise, I will be just like what is described in the gospel as an “empty gong” or I will be “ stepped upon and thrown into the sea” for being fake or useless. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)