HomeCommentaryBALIK-TANAW: Memory of Cassandra Martyrs

BALIK-TANAW: Memory of Cassandra Martyrs

The first thing that came to mind reflecting on the readings of today, the Good Shepherd Sunday, is the image of the four Good Shepherd Sisters and their companions who perished in 1983 on board the M/V Doña Cassandra when it sank in Surigao amid a typhoon. The survivors told stories that the sisters were seen helping people get into lifeboats, distributing life jackets, and assisting the children until the jackets ran out and it was too late for them to save themselves. One writer said, “These brave women died as they lived”.

To say a bit more about them in gratitude, let me cite an excerpt from the inscription on the Walls of Remembrance by the Bantayog ng Mga Bayani Foundation and I quote, “for contributing to the protest movement against the Marcos dictatorship and human rights abuses, as street parliamentarians, educators, health workers advocating justice through programs for the poor, rural missionaries among poor farmers, and active witnesses to the Church’s mission to serve the poor, the deprived, and the oppressed, and for putting their individual talents at the service of country and people, thus this salutation.”

Ms. Bern Jagunos, former Asia Coordinator of the United Church of Canada said, “Aside from the 4 Religious of the Good Shepherd, there were 3 other nuns and one priest ( all from Mindanao) and 3 lay workers who perished in the Cassandra shipwreck: Sr. Josefa Medrano of the Daughters of Mary of the Assumption, Sr. Amparo Gilbuena of the Missionary Sisters of Mary, Sr. Nanette Berentsen of the Columban Sisters from Ireland, Fr. Jan Westendorp of the Order of the Carmelite, Boy Ipong, Evelyn Hong and Sena Canabria. Sr. Medrano.

 One may ask, why did they do what they did? Quickly, I may say, perhaps it could be because they are Good Shepherd Sisters living up to what Jesus, the Good Shepherd, did. But perhaps,  it was because of their personal encounter with Jesus in their missionary lives as coordinators and members of the Rural missionaries of Southern Mindanao, leaders of the Community-based Health Program, organizers of the Youth Christian Workers, and coordinators of the Task Force Detainees standing up for those harassed by the military. Their experience of God, who is among the marginalized, oppressed, neglected, and abused, must have been the source of their courage and strength in their struggle for justice. Reflecting deeply, our heroes’ example is being re-lived today in the person of those who risk their lives to defend the same group of people.

 They are very much alive among those who care for the environment and Mother Earth. We all know the story of environmental destruction: the pollution of rivers and oceans through reclamation projects, the destruction of forests and ecosystems, the greenhouse effects created by the burning of fossil fuels, global warming, and the like. We now see the impact and effects of corporate plunder and the massive destruction of natural resources during the centuries of colonization. But what is being done by the government and world leaders? This is one of the urgent calls for SHEPHERDING in the present time.

Thank God we have brave environmental activists who raise our consciousness and mobilize people to save the earth, the seas, and creation. But like Jesus and other prophets, they were not accepted and instead were red-tagged, tortured, abducted, and even put to death. Such actions are obviously lacking in compassion and empathy, which can be in contrast with the sentiments of the Good Shepherd. As I end this reflection, and praying for our modern-day martyrs and environmental activists risking their lives for all of us, Psalm 23:1,4 rings in my heart, “when we are faced with hard battles, we don’t have to run away in fear because the Lord is my Shepherd and I will fear no evil.” 

Gospel reflection of  Sr. Abel Balingao, RGS for the Fourth Sunday of Easter

- Newsletter -

Acts 4:8-12, Ps 118:1, 8-9, 21-23, 26, 28, 29, 1 Jn 3:1-2, Jn 10:11-18

Balik-Tanaw is a group blog of the Promotion of Church People’s Response (PCPR). The Lectionary Gospel reflection is an invitation for meditation, contemplation, and action.

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