Stefan with Pedro in Mindanao

Today’s post is from British Jesuit Stefan Garcia – who witnessed the destruction of the Tropical Storm first hand. His mother is English and his father is Filipino.  Before joining the British Province Stefan grew up in Cebu in the Philippines.  He studied zoology before joining the Jesuits – and has just flown to Guyana for Regency.

Home visits. For me they’re about 3 parts joy to 2 parts frustration. After ten years of “living abroad”, a trip back to the Philippines was needed to remind me of where I come from, what made me the person I am, and using a more zoological tone, what kind of environment has shaped me into the Jesuit I am. Coming home for me meant supping from love in abundance, with my family. Sadly, my body reacted not so well; immediately my childhood omnipresent dust allergies fired up.The doctor says I’ll always have this reaction to my homeland. Allergens are most violent when most familiar because your body has an overreaction to the things it has had to deal with. It’s a good metaphor for my emotional life as well. Seeing family and friends after such a long time is genuinely wonderful, but being in this country angers me quite often: the corruption, the greed, the disregard for human life. I guess that’s everywhere, but I never feel it as strongly as when it so close to my heart.

The recent floods in Mindanao were for me especially heart breaking, not only because I was actually there and saw all the devastation, but because I love so many people in those places that were worst hit. And to know that much of this damage could have been easily prevented had the cities placed effective city planning to get people out of living in the most dangerous flood areas makes my blood boil. Being back home, in the Philippines, makes me angry. But it is the right kind of anger, the kind that should propel one to action, the kind that made me say “enough is enough” and so I dedicated my life to try and help others the best way I knew how, by being a Jesuit. Seeing it on the ground in the Philippines, the work of our good Jesuit brothers has been deeply consoling. In particular, my time with Pedro Walpole SJ has shown me what can (and cannot) be done. Pedro is a pioneer in the Philippine province; he works tirelessly to improve both the education of young tribal people (and in turn providing a model that could be adopted by the Philippine education system), and he has developed our knowledge of environmental sciences in the Philippine context. For example, his organisation Environmental Science for Social Change (ESSC) will soon be publishing a textbook on landslides. His marriage of both incisive science, involvement with the people most affected, and personal prayer and reflection has shown me a “way of proceeding” that should be emulated by all our sisters and brothers in our apostolates. His team of workers at the ESSC also made me deeply hopeful, to see a group  of young, intelligent, dedicated Filipinos actively working to make their country and the world a better place, especially for those most in need.

It is old timers like Pedro that feed us young ones with the expertise and experiences we need to grow into sincere apostles. For me, the work of the ESSC has given me both the technical knowledge I need and the desire to work skillfully and realistically in what can seem like the bleakest of endeavours. But God leads them through the mire of their difficulties, and like them, I hope to be lead by Him. Through such amazing people, God energises us to do better, not to settle for what clearly is not good enough. I pray that the Lord provides me with the strength and courage that I have experienced in others so abundantly in the Philippines.

All the best in Guyana Stefan.

The website of the Jesuits in Guyana is here – clicky clicky!