Only 48 hours into a mission to the Philippines to help the sick, disabled and poor, a group of young Maronites say they have already undergone a life-changing experience.
The 14 youngsters from Sydney, who are travelling with Bishop Antoine-Charbel Tarabay to the city of Naga, are on a 2-week trip volunteering in a home for children with intellectual and physical disabilities and a school for the poor.
Tony Lahoud, one of the young missionaries, said that while seeing infants and young children bearing a multitude of physical and mental suffering, in one of the poorest parts of the world, was very confronting, the joy they exhibited amid the suffering has been life-changing.
It is such a stark reminder of the need to be grateful for the simple things in life, he told The Catholic Weekly.
“Seeing smiles on the face of children stemming from such simplicity was one of the most beautiful things I have witnessed,” he said. “A smile, a hi-five or a hug can change a person’s day,” added Martha Kazzi.
The inspiring group is serving alongside the Missionaries of the Poor in the Divine Mercy Apostolate Centre, a home for those with intellectual and physical disabilities, including children with multiple disabilities, and at the Nazareth School for children living in poverty.
Doctors, occupational therapists and other medical professionals are also among the group and will conduct a “medical mission” in rural areas, providing essential medical care to those in remote locations. The Maronite mission to the Philippines now occurs annually.
The first, in 2013, saw a group of nine parishioners from St Charbel’s in Punchbowl travel to Naga to undertake construction and medical work, as well as provide food packs, each sufficient to feed families for two months.
In the years since, the missionaries have established a dental clinic that treats 800 patients per year, purchased essential medical equipment and a high-powered generator to provide year-round electricity to the centre.
In addition, they have built six homes, provided laptops, iPads, photocopying, binding and laminating machines to the Nazareth School.
This year, they will again participate in medical and building projects, provide more than 1000 food packs, and importantly, spend a fortnight encountering their brothers and sisters living on the margins of society.
Long term the group’s goal is to buy blocks of land so families currently living on a dump site can relocate and build a community in a more hygienic area.