Heart of Mary Villa
Heart of Mary Villa: Almost Fifty and counting...
For years, the Sisters of the Good Shepherd in Quezon City, Philippines had been faced by the predicament of distressed women who got pregnant out of wedlock. They listened, counseled, and consoled them. But the Sisters could not offer them accommodation yet they knew the women needed a place where they could temporarily stay to experience healing.
The answer to the need started to come up when the Sisters noticed an unoccupied property across their Convent. It was set far back on the grounds amid shrubs and wide-spreading shade trees. The name of the former owners, a Canadian family was still on the gate: CHARTER. And it came to pass; the Charter House was opened in March 1953.
In a year’s time the home became too small for the women and their babies. The need for expansion was clearly seen by then Archbishop of Manila, His Eminence Rufino J. Santos. He offered Villa San Juan de Dios in Malabon, Rizal and the place was leased to the Good Shepherd Sisters for ninety nine years. He likewise donated One Hundred Fifty Thousand Pesos for the construction of the first building that was started in December 1956 and blessed on May 2, 1957. The whole place was dedicated to our Blessed Mother and was named Heart of Mary Villa.
An outreach program was launched to serve the urban poor communities near Heart of Mary Villa, thus Damayan Community Center was established on September 27, 1972.
Accompanying unmarried pregnant women in distress
The names of four thousand nine hundred eighty nine (4,989) women appear on record from May 1957 to June 30, 2006. Other than theirs were those of one hundred twenty (120) who were served from March 1953 to April 1957 in Charter House.
After their stay that runs at an average of four months at the Maternity Home, the women express their concrete experience of God’s compassionate love, care, and healing. They have recognized and appreciated their value, dignity, rights, and capabilities. And most importantly they are reconciled with self, others, and God.
An important process that the mothers undergo while in residence is counseling and/or therapy. This facilitates healing of hurts, sometimes sustained from childhood. The process also ensures that the birthmother has pursued mentally and emotionally, the options of keeping and of giving up her child. More often than not, the family likewise undergoes the process.
Sixty three percent (63%) of the women decided to keep their babies. Of this percentage, seventy seven percent (77%) stayed on in Heart of Mary Villa until after recovery from child birth while twenty three percent (23%) left before delivery. Thirty seven percent (37%) voluntarily committed their babies for adoption. Fifty three percent (53%) of the babies were adopted locally and forty seven percent (47%) were placed for inter-country adoption.
One hundred percent (100%) of the women served from July 2005 to June 2006 who decided to place their babies for adoption, made such decision due to poverty. They wanted to spare their children from sufferings that they experienced. They believed their children deserve a life free from impoverishment for their normal growth and development.
No matter how clear her motivation is, the mother experiences tremendous and deep pain in placing her baby for adoption. As one mother put it when she told her story of 1978 “I held my son tight, observing every feature of his little face, smelling his sweet baby scent and with a blessing I put him in the arms of the Sister in charge of the nursery. That was the hardest, most difficult and sacrificing thing I ever did in my life.”
Preparing babies for permanent homes
Babies voluntarily committed by their mothers for adoption are admitted to HMV Nursery. Admission is preceded by a ritual, usually done before the Blessed Sacrament, whereby the mother entrusts to God the welfare and future of her child. This is signified by the handover of the child to the Nursery Directress.
Thereafter, the biological mother is given an opportunity to be present to her experience of not having her child and the emotional toll of being deprived of the joys of motherhood. She is guided to think, reflect and pray over the consequences of relinquishing her parental rights and responsibilities. She is accompanied in her grieving. When the mother is certain that her decision is for the best interests of her child, only then will the social worker accompany her to a lawyer to sign the Deed of Voluntary Commitment.
The length of stay in the Nursery varies with the speed of the process for placement of the child with the prospective adoptive parents. Local placement takes a shorter period. This can be done even prior to the six-month period provided by law. However, the adoptive parents are made aware that such is a “risk placement” which means that the child can be taken back by the biological mother prior to the lapse of the grace period. (None has happened as yet).
Maximum care is given to the children in the Nursery for their physical, mental, emotional and social development. Measures to prevent sickness are given priority. The latest facility built is a lanai where the children get the morning sunshine, fresh air, and stimulation from nature. The place is big enough for them to play, roll, crawl, or walk,
Each time a child goes home, the Sisters and the staff get mixed feelings. There is a tinge of sadness for the separation but an overriding joy for at last the child will have a family who can ensure her/his wellbeing and development in an atmosphere of love, understanding, and happiness.
Facilitating Search and Reunion
Close to two hundred adoptees, birth parents, and/or adoptive parents have made known their intent to know information about the other. This information-seeking is a prelude to a reunion for many of them. This process is a recent trend, a move that is indicative of a healthy development in adoption. In the past, many adoptees kept mum about their quest to know their roots. They entertained apprehensions on how their adoptive parents would react. They were afraid their search might be misconstrued as lack of gratitude. A stronger deterrent for some was the uncertainty on how their birth mothers would accept them. The primal wound from perceived abandonment and rejection is yet to be healed.
Communication, usually through email, is coursed through Heart of Mary Villa for a time until the parties feel they can carry on the exchange directly. Here are some excerpts which are reflective of the sentiments of the adoptees and birth parents we talk to or correspond with. (Parts that can lead to the identity of the writers are excluded).
From a birth father (who initiated the communication): “After much thought, I decided to look for my son. Could you help me? I need to tell him he was not unwanted, but loved enough by his mother. That she gave him up because she wanted him to have a better future. I need to tell him that he was not unwanted but it was I who did not have enough faith and trust in God. I need to ask for his forgiveness.”
Response from the child: “ xxxx do remember this, you are forgiven. I’m not angry with you. But that does not mean I don’t have questions, because I do. I’m wondering if you have any contact with my biological mother.”
From the birth mother: “I am so happy to have found you after all these years. I always pray that someday, somehow I would be able to see you again. I can say God really works in mysterious ways. God has a way of making the impossible things possible.”
“I know you are wondering why I gave you up for adoption. It was not an easy decision. It was a result of continuous praying, counseling, and a lot of tears. It was the most heartbreaking experience. At that time, it was the best thing for me to do. Rest assured that I always put your best interest first. I love you so much that I have to give you up.”
“Please forgive me if I have caused you pain, forgive me if you felt abandoned, forgive me if you resent my decision to give you up. If there’s any consolation I want to say I LOVE YOU and there will always be somebody here praying for you in a special way.”
From the child to the birth parents: “When I found out that you were looking for me I was a little frightened. I had never thought that you had been thinking of me the whole time and that made me feel really special. x x x x I take it slowly trying to get used to the thought that I got parents on the other side of the earth.”
The following is extracted from the sharing of an adoptive father after a reunion between their adoptive child and her biological parents. “When our child came home from Manila, she told me and my wife in a sort of confession that she might have offended us in searching and finding her birth parents, for which she apologized. We told her it was the very right thing she did and we praised her for that effort. She then showed us pictures of their meeting at Heart of Mary Villa.”
Journeying with the urban poor
The main service of Damayan Community Center is the education program for an average of three hundred fifty children and youth. In addition to their academic training they also attend sessions for them to grow emotionally, psychologically and spiritually. Gratitude is expressed through service to others as in the case of a former member who is now a professor in a state university. He organized a summer program for the youth where he and his co-faculty members gave a twenty-day workshop on Drawing and Lettering. Not only were the thirty participants delighted with the exhibit of their work, but the parents, the DCC staff and the Sisters, as well!
While the children are helped through the formal and non-formal education program, the parents also undergo their own formation program to enable them to become self-reliant and grow as a Christian community. Aside from their training they are provided financial assistance for socio-economic projects. One of the sustainable projects is an eatery that has been in existence for more than fifteen years and is the main source of income of the family.
Photo: Lay staff, after they signed their commitment to the direction statements of the Province and of the Congregation.
One other form of assistance that has an impact on the life of two hundred eighty nine families is the provision of decent housing in a relocation area. Where before they lived in the slums with apprehensions of eviction, they now own the house and lot, which they paid in installment,
Damayan Community Center continues to effectively serve the people thru the generosity of the sponsors, the dedication and commitment of the Sisters and staff, and the efforts and partnership with the leaders among the parents, youth and children.
Developing our lay mission partners
Regular formation sessions facilitate the understanding and owning of the vision and mission by our lay staff. They have articulated and manifested their commitment as lay mission partners in being life bearers with and for the poor towards integral transformation. What they have expressed is not simply borne out of an activity but is an integration of their actual experience of journeying with the poor. To them the Good Shepherd charism is their life.
One such lay volunteer is Dr. Asuncion Villa. She started her once-a-week volunteer work in 1965 that was interrupted for three years when she worked in Viet Nam and Yemen Arab Republic. In 1968 she resumed her weekly schedule. On August 1, 1980 she accepted the invitation of Sr. Carmelita Cruz, the local superior then, to stay full time in Heart of Mary Villa. From then on, she has been part of the RGS community, carrying on the mission for thirty nine years.
Deepening unity with our Contemplative Sisters
We have always relied on the prayerful support of our Contemplative Sisters. We make known to them our concerns especially when we find the “going gets tough.”
Not only in prayer requests do we get in touch with them, we likewise find ways of bonding as when the whole community went to Tagaytay on the feast of St. Lawrence, the martyr. We had a sharing on the interpretation of Article 1, a joyous get together at breakfast and lunch, and an exchange of stories and jokes. Mutuality and communion have become more understandable and real.
Life bearing with one another
Our daily life at Heart of Mary Villa is a proclamation of the goodness and gratuitous love of God. With no regular source of income we dare respond to and/or anticipate needs. Mother Foundress’ words ring true: “Often when a Good Shepherd ministry seems utterly without resources, God has helped them to respond to needs, they have found what was necessary.”
One of the great blessings was the renovation of the maternity home, nursery, convent, and chapel, through the generosity of a benefactor, who chose not to be named in print, The work started on November 21, 2005 on the feast of the Presentation of Our Blessed Mother and was finished on March 19, 2006, feast of St. Joseph.
We find joy in living and working with one another. The spirit of team work is strong and we are convinced we need one another in order to carry out the mission of Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd. There is an atmosphere of trust, openness and nonjudgmental attitude towards each member of the community.
Photo: from left to right – front row – Sisters Emma Marzan, Lea Comia; Second row - Sisters Anallyn Esguerra, Irene Lat, Lorenza Sangalang ,Natividad Banaag, Susan Montano, Isabel Ramos
Together with our Sisters all over the world, apostolic and contemplative, we continue to “dream of a world transformed in Jesus Christ: where there is fullness of life for all beings, where no one is marginalized, oppressed, or exploited, where everyone enjoys the all-embracing security of God’s care” as we “proclaim the gospel of reconciliation and live our charism of Merciful Love”.
Sr. Lorenza Sangalang, RGS