AFAS was inaugurated by Villanova College at Coorparoo (Brisbane) in 1993, and has in recent times conducted this Pilgrimage biennially. It is no surprise, therefore, that the 2015 pilgrimage essentially revisited places where AFAS fundraising in Australia has been applied to Augustinian social justice ministries in the southern Philippines.
The Pilgrimage included visits to the homes of local students in the southern Philippines who had been assisted in having a secondary education through AFAS academic scholarships. One Villanova student wrote, “For me the most challenging thing was seeing the scholars’ homes and seeing the reality of how important the education AFAS provides is for the families.” Another remarked, “You won’t see Christ in a holy icon but in the faces of the poor and of the children whose smiles lit up our exchange.” A third said, “The difference between a handout and a hand up.” A fourth remarked, “This experience has most definitely given me an insight into the worth of education, allowing me to fully appreciate my own education…..finally it has allowed to fully grasp the notion of being a voice for the people who have little.”
Fr Brian Gore, an Australian-born Columban Missionary priest, was one of nine social justice workers imprisoned in the Philippines during 1983 and sentenced to death on trumped-up charges that were later dropped. Year 12 students at Villanova study the Brian Gore case in their Study of Religion course. He celebrated Mass for the Villanova visitors.
The Villanova students were later asked to write their personal insights of their experiences in the Philippines. Here are some of their answers.
I gained a massive and valuable insight into the everyday lives of people living in poverty. To experience first-hand their lives, their struggles and their happiness made the exchange very rewarding for me. I think gaining such a wider insight of the world and people in need is valuable in shaping me and what I value.
Obviously I knew that everyone would treat us nice and hospitably, but I can’t even put into words how amazed I was and how at home they made me feel. Going to sleep some nights I found myself thinking things like “I may be thousands of kilometres away from home, but I don’t feel like I am at all.” Another insight I gained was just how appreciative and grateful they were that we were there, even at the times we didn’t contribute much.
This experience has most definitely given me an insight into the worth of education, allowing me to fully appreciate my own education…..finally it has allowed me to fully grasp the notion of being a voice for the people who have little.