A Kind of Utopia
By Sr. Ana Maria, RA
First I’d like to bring you to Denmark, it is a small country, one of the smallest in the world but one of the loveliest. It only has a land area of 18,000 square miles and one can easily travel through it but it has 6 million inhabitants, 6,000 of whom are Filipinos!
It is a very peaceful country peopled by gentle, kind people naturally welcoming. It has a social system that has reached an almost perfect level of human possibility, what we dream of in the Philippines, they have achieved here. Education is free; medical assistance is free; special care is given to the handicapped; a house is provided for everyone; every child receives a state stipend until the age of 18 and then this may apply to their own housing. Jobs are provided for the jobless although for the time being, Denmark shares unemployment problem with the rest of Europe. The transportation system runs to the second, the communication is perfect, electricity and water heating systems are of the highest degree – something vital in winter – and the roads all over the country are a pleasure.
What’s the hitch?
Am I speaking of Utopia ... of an unbelievably perfect society? Or am I trying to write a tourist brochure? What’s the hitch? Danes complain of the high taxes they have to pay ... but they do get their benefits in time and justify. I’d like to continue singing its praises for there is more. Denmark’s climate knows no extremes as in others countries. There is certainly a winter and summer, a spring and an autumn, but the winter is not too severe and the heat is pleasantly warm in summer. Some say one may even get the same temperature on the 23rd of December as one gets on the 23rd of June. Furthermore the land contours are modulated just stretches of undulating hills, no high points, no low points, no long rivers. This fact in itself lends to an understanding of Danish temperament ... gentle and good.
A Proof of their Goodness: Saving the Jews
They saved all the Jews living in Denmark from being sent off to Hitler’s concentration camps. As one nation they moved to help the Jews and saved all except those who refused to be brought to free Sweden, this is a known fact in the history of the Second World War.
High Suicide Rate
In the midst of this utopia, one reads in the papers, a high suicide rate including elderly people, and many problems coming from “narkomaend”. Denmark has the highest percentage in all of Europe of single parents with a child. Depression, loneliness are common causes of psychiatric illnesses and a good number do need psychiatric care. The homes for the elderly are filled with lonely people waiting for a family visit that never happens or happens very rarely.
What is missing? I dare not offer any answer. I simply offer a reflection. Our little convent lies at the shadow of a 12 century church. Roman Catholic in origin now belonging to the states Church which I Lutheran. Most of the churches have the same story. The church looks lonely to me who was used to bustling traffic bear all our churches at home and at the Philippines. The bells are rung regularly her with melodious tolling sound. But shat struck me was that nothing happens ...no people going to Church, nothing at all just the bells tolling. One day I went to church and the service was about to begin. There was exactly one person besides me a curios onlooker and the lady priest. Inwardly I wept and asked God to show Himself and yet I do not know if this is the correct prayer to make. I did no even know what to pray for. I just feel at times a sense of everything right and yet not right somewhere; I cannot put my finger on it. Perhaps this is the anguish of those who take their lives, of those who are lonely on their homes ... something is missing in this almost perfect system and we do not know what it is.
We Walk With Our People
And what am I doing here? I am living our religious life in an international community together with another Filipino sister, Sr. Pilar Wijangco. Who has been here almost 15 years. With us are two French sisters, an Austrian sister and recently we had a Belgian sister. We live our Assumption vocation ad contemplatives in mission working as parish assistant or as teachers. Sr. Pilar and I do ministry work among our Filipinos. She prepares the children for first communion while I work with the adults, in different prayer groups, Bible study, charismatic groups. In a word we walk with our people in a foreign land, living our faith that is so deeply entwined with our culture, passing in the faith to the next generation, helping ourselves to reflect on the influence of cross cultures we are living through. If you can call this missionary, then this is our mission work as we sing and pray with our people, laugh and cry ... yes cry especially at Christmas time when we sing our carols and miss home, we miss home, that imperfect society that is ours, yet a society where people can radiate JOY that can come only from faith. Our Filipino community is lucky to have a chaplain in the person of Fr. Patrick Shiels, CSSR who have been in the Philippines for 20 years and speaks Visayan perfectly. He is Irish but a Filipino heart.
Our prayer groups now number to 29 ... kind of basic ecclesial communities where numbers gather together to pray the rosary, to share the word of God and be encouraged in the faith. Now and the some Danes ask to enter the church because of a witness of faith. Our Sunday Mass is alive with a choir that takes time out after their busy schedule to come together and prepare the liturgy and sing appropriate songs. Our prayer groups have gone beyond Copenhagen to extend themselves to Sweden, Malmo and Helsingbord with other Filipino communities, it is the Filipino Catholic community here who have assumed their mission as missionaries through the living faith in JOY and in COURAGE amidst a society that is so different from what we know back home.