Seeing the world through the eyes of the poor

by Sr Patricia (Pat) Fox

I have to admit, I did not come from an “activist” family, but I did come from a family that was always caring and compassionate to everyone.

I grew up in a soldier settlement area that offered low-cost housing; most of the people there were factory workers. All the families mixed together, regardless of religion or politics. So, my more activist stance on issues of social justice was a learning experience based on this open and caring foundation.

My decision to go the Philippines was easy

My journey in social justice as a Sister of Sion started when we began a community in a low socio-economic area in Melbourne. Making friends with single mothers in public housing and seeing their struggles to survive while enduring indignities endemic to the prevailing system led to setting up various services, but none brought about the long-term change needed. My experience with young people and their constant struggles with the justice system eventually led me to study law. Thinking this may help, it didn’t take long to realize that many laws are written by the rich to protect property, not to ensure justice.

Moving to the Philippines deepened my understanding of neo-liberalism and its disregard for people and environment in the quest for super-profits for the few. Resulting in massive inequality, it needs military force to sustain it when challenged.

The move came about when, in 1986, the Congregation called us “to see the world through the eyes of the poor”. I had met a Filipina sister when I was in Israel, and she had inspired me with her desire to be with her people who were on the streets protesting the brutal Marcos regime. This spoke to me of the meaning of “liberation theology” and led me to join a Philippine solidarity group in Australia. My decision to go the Philippines was, then, easy when the Congregation called for volunteers.

I got to know the farmers, fisherfolk and indigenous people as friends

We chose to go to a rural area where the majority of people lived in poverty. As I got to know the farmers, fisherfolk and indigenous people as friends – staying with them, listening to them – it drew me to the social teachings of the Church and an understanding of Pope Francis’s calls to go to the peripheries.

I joined them in the streets where they could unite their voices against the injustices they were experiencing and proclaim the way to a new society in which the dignity of all would be respected. I did paralegal work, helping them with legal cases and dialogues with officials, collecting documents and information they could use. I saw them attacked, killed, jailed harassed for their struggle for rights, and joined human rights groups defending them, supporting their families and calling for justice and freedom for all.

An understanding of Pope Francis’s calls to go to the peripheries

I was fortunate to become the National coordinator of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines, which allowed me to make rural friends nationally and also come to know workers and urban poor and their issues. This I was able to continue when I shifted to the Agricultural Workers Union. More and more, as I saw the effects of mining, plantations and polluting industries, I came to understand what Pope Francis pointed out: that concern for the poor and concern for the environment are intrinsically linked. My experiences also taught me that working for justice often has personal consequences, but these are nothing compared to the richness and privilege of sharing the life and struggles of those poor who untiringly work for change.

As I look back, I see an ongoing journey, and realize how the three-pronged commitment of the Congregation – to the Church, the Jewish people, and to a world of justice, peace and love – is not a commitment to a work but a call to a growing faith in the God of history revealing the Kingdom here now but not yet. A call to see the world through the eyes of the poor in the light of our biblical heritage, and to work for systemic change, building, together, a society where all can share the fullness of life. A journey that never ends.