By Fr. Flavie Villanueva, SVD
“Every endeavor and mission starts with the impossible. But since God took the initiative, all things now become possible.”
Of all the four Gospels, only Luke depicts the beautiful mystery of the Blessed Mother’s Annunciation.
It is a story of faith amid uncertainty.
It is also the story of St. Arnold Janssen Kalinga Foundation’s mission.
It is our missionary story as well.
Every endeavor, vocatio, or “mission” begins with a calling.
This is true whether a person is a professional, a student, a business person, and yes, even a homeless person.
We are all called to a specific and special mission.
Allow me to highlight 4 stages of every vocation’s calling:
- The Mystery of the Call;
- The Uncertainty;
- The Perplexity and Assurance;
- The Mission
The Mystery of the Call
“In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin … And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.’ (Luke 1:26)
After seeing the plight of the homeless people living around me, an idea of how to help them entered my mind.
Since the thought became more persistent—and as it has also been my practice, as taught by my spiritual father Franz-Joseph Eilers, SVD—I brought it to prayer.
It seemed to be the most obvious response. Slowly, the idea became an inspiration!
Recalling my early conversations with the Lord, I was led to reflect on Matthew 25’s message of liberation: “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink…” (Matthew 25:35).
Though enlightening, I struggled with even more questions and anxieties.
But isn’t this the same feeling when we first brought our toddlers to their first day of school?
Didn’t our first job interview, meeting our first boss, or making that first job presentation make us feel unsettled, if not worried?
Or how about making a life-changing decision, starting your first serious relationship, standing up against a bully or a crowd, or when we faced the altar to exchange our I do’s or to say “Yes, Lord, I do wish to follow You”?
Reminisce about how you felt during those significant events.
Like the Blessed Virgin Mother, despite uncertainty, let us remain steadfast in faith for something beautiful is being conceived!
Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34)
As my “conversations with God” about His mission of caring for His beloved homeless persisted, so did my doubts, confusion, and pestering questions.
Questions arose, “How do I run such an endeavor?”; “Where can I carry out this mission?”; “What are the homeless’ urgent and real needs?”
At that time, I believed that the thinking that “the homeless need food and thus, we should just feed them” is mediocrity; I still do today.
The last scene from the iconic movie, Les Misérables flashed in mind.
Enlivened by both the transformation of the film’s protagonist Jean Valjean and the last lines he exclaimed, “To love another person is to see the face of God!”, I knew instantly that to simply feed the homeless wouldn’t be enough.
Just as they are fed, the homeless also need more opportunities to be clean!
The inspiration of providing food and hygiene was conceived.
What ifs continued to brew in my mind: “What if the homeless refuse to come to such a center?
Why should it be me and not someone else who should begin this mission?
What if it fails?”
These queries led me to a more personal experience and response: my personal image of God.
I was reminded of the reality of being uniquely cared for and loved by God, without any judgment and condemnation.
I saw the need to mirror the image of the Prodigal Father (Luke 15:11-32).
The call was to depict the Prodigal Father, who with overflowing compassion and unconditional mercy, embraced both erring sons.
To offer dignified care was to become the guiding principle of how each homeless person would be welcomed and treated at the center.
With Mama Mary, though unsettled and unsure of many things, we hold onto hope.
Something beautiful is taking place!
The Perplexity and Assurance
“Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?’ And the angel said to her in reply, ‘The holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.’” (Luke 1:34-35)
God’s calling may sound absurd and even frightening at times.
But the only way it will remain clear is if we remain attentive to His promptings.
Convinced that a center had to be identified, I sought the necessary permissions from my community and even superiors. Apart from the reality that the entire project could be rejected, I also wrestled with queries such us: “How do I run such a mission?
What would the operations look like?
How many days will it be open for service?
What would the name of the mission or center be?
What will its vision be?
The most critical one, however, was: “Where will the funds and support for this mission come from?”
So much hesitation filled me during those days.
My only refuge were the even more persistent “conversations with my God” and a few loyal confreres.
Just as the questions poured in, so did springs of ideas and inspiration.
The cycle of brainstorming with homeless people and friends; much reflection and conceptualization; prayers, interviews; and enriching moments of silence led me to create a concept note entitled “KALiNgA: Kain-Aral-Ligo- Ng Ayos, a caring center that envisions to re-create and empower the lives of our dear homeless people”!
I initially suggested three phases to guide the mission:
- Phase I – Food and Hygiene to re-create one’s self-image;
- Phase II – Alternative Learning System and Skills Training to reclaim one’s self-respect; and,
- Phase III – Employment and Livelihood to restore one’s self-worth.
These 3 phases of dignified, systematic, and holistic care hope to help our dear homeless overcome their fear and sense of inferiority in order to regain their human dignity.
Beginning the construction of the Arnold Janssen Kalinga Center was no less than a laborious task!
Like and with Mama Mary, though uncertainties still abound, keep on loving, something truly beautiful is taking place!
“Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.” (Luke 1:38)
Like our Lady, I responded to the mission. The Arnold Janssen Kalinga Foundation Inc. would soon be born.
Humble Responses and Accomplishments
The scope of the work seems to expand year on year.
In July 16, 2020, we opened the Arnold Janssen Bahay Kalinga (BK), a former hospital that was to become a place where the homeless could begin their transition from the risky existence on the streets to a productive, meaningful life.
In BK, former street dwellers get re-introduced to following a daily schedule of work, prayer, reflection, formation, skills training, learning, and recreation.
Amid the global COVID-19 crisis, we continued to provide dignified care to our dear homeless through 7 designated safe shelters in Manila:
- De La Salle University;
- College of St. Benilde;
- Malate gym;
- Paco gym shelter 1;
- Paco gym shelter 2;
- Espiritu Santo School Annex 2; and
- AJ Kalinga Center
In these locations, street dwellers were able to find refuge during the lockdowns.
Like and with Mama Mary, let our eyes stay fixed on Jesus, doing whatever He tells you and I to do.
Someone’s life is wonderfully being recreated, it’s taking place while you’re reading this.
Thank you ssoooo much for being a partner in the mission of recreating and empowering the lives of our dear homeless people!