QUEZON CITY, Philippines – The alumni, friends, mission partners and persons committed to Fondacio gathered at Radio Veritas Asia here in November 2016 to celebrate ten years of IFFAsia’s mission. Titled Building Leaders, Transforming Asia, the alumni shared stories of bringing joy and hope in the Lord’s vineyard, and listened to each other’s best practices and challenges.
Addressing those present, Bishop Joel Baylon, Chairman of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC) Youth Desk, and Chairman of IFFAsia, thanked each one for “going out to make a difference.” He reminded them about the challenges in Asia, and what it means to read the signs of the times “to understand its significance for our lives and communities.”
He repeated Pope Francis’ message at the recent World Youth Day: for the young people “to teach us how to live in diversity, in dialogue, to experience multiculturalism not as a threat but an opportunity. Have the courage to teach us that it is easier to build bridges than walls!”
The Institute of Formation Fondacio Asia (IFFAsia) was established by Fondacio, an international lay movement with pontifical status, to be at the service of the formation and mission needs of the local Churches of Asia. Fondacio promotes evangelisation, leadership formation, and human development activities for the poor and marginalised. They are present in 20 countries in four continents. Below is a cross-section of some of the graduates.
Tugso, 27, comes from the mountain steppes of Mongolia. In 2014, she started an empowerment programme for women living in extreme poverty in a rural area. By making and marketing products made by hand and felt sewing, they were able to augment their financial income and build a community of families.
Martin, 30, married to Victoria, and a young father, manages a goat-breeding livelihood project called “Green Pasture” near Mandalay, Myanmar. They also serve as the only teachers and catechists in their village. Seeing the extreme poverty and the lack of any proper school during his internship, he decided to set up the project for the education of the village children, and at the same time providing extra income for the families.
James, 28, from Laos, facilitates a Life Skills program, which teaches a set of skills – English, computer, work ethics, self-management, professional development, livelihood, among others. It helps the young people be employed and stand on their feet, and reduces the risk of migration and trafficking.His wife Amala, also serves locally with an NGO.
Jhimus, 24, from the Philippines, is actively involved in youth ministry in his home diocese of Legazpi and facilitates personal formation and catechesis, as a way of doing faith formation among the youth.
Tugso, Martin, James, and Jhimus are all alumni of IFFAsia. IFFAsia started as a little seed in Manila in 2006, and has sprouted to reach out to other countries, counting 180 young adults coming from Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines, Mongolia, China, Korea, Japan, and Pakistan.
In an interview with Alice Tan, IFFAsia Director, she said that formation is not just about acquiring knowledge and skills needed to become an effective missionary disciple.
“It is also about growing in friendship with Jesus Christ and the on-going conversion. It is this friendship, central to Fondacio’s spirituality, which brings about transformation and humanisation of persons, relations and society,” Tan said.
This can be seen in Martin’s case. What continues to push Martin to grow the livelihood and education programme is the passionate care that he has for his people, the poor villagers and particularly the children that benefit from the project. For him, all children no matter how economically limited their families are, deserve to have good education. Just as Jesus was compassionate towards the marginalised during his time, Martin feels the same for those around him.
The graduates of IFFAsia work in different mission fields in their respective countries and churches. It includes youth and children ministry, campus ministry, catechism, education and evangelisation. In the area of social development, the graduates work with urban or rural poor, migrants and refugees, people with disabilities, and marginalised women. Others are into community building, working with dioceses and parishes. A few graduates have gone on to pursue the religious or priestly vocation. Still, others have decided to stay on with the Institute as interns, building themselves up as formators for its succeeding generation of students.
Doing mission is not without challenges and difficulties. For Tugso and the women, they had to deal with the substandard quality of the initial batch of products, the expensive raw materials and marketing their products. She also had to handle the self-centredness of the women and their difficulty to understand the goal of the programme. James had to struggle with his local situation and limited resources while setting up the programme. Among others, the level of education, budgets, cleanliness, were points of concern and learning.
IFFAsia is well aware of these realities because they serve as learning points during the formation programme at the institute. The graduates’ initiative is tested. Certainly, it encourages them to be more courageous and creative in dealing with situations. On their own, or with Fondacio’s help, these young missionaries have also built partnerships to help sustain the programmes.
It is easier for Tugso to work with the Consolata Missionaries in Mongolia, because it was they who introduced her to the Catholic faith. She also develops partnerships with local state offices, NGOs who have conducted training and seminars, and individuals who have partly funded the programme. Jhimus has the full support of his bishop, who in fact has encouraged him to implement his youth catechesis programme in all the parishes in the diocese. He is also supported by his parish priest and the diocesan pastoral council and coordinates with the youth leaders in the area.
IFFAsia continues to be present in the young missionaries’ lives through its network of small Fondacio groups and the regional Fondacio Asia office. They know that these young adults need pastoral care to grow as disciples in ministry, and not all may be as blessed as Tugso or Jhimus in their respective local church. They need ministry support, including planning and review, feedback, mentoring and ongoing formation, especially when they are on their own.
Martin and James have the support of Fondacio to help them manage the programmes, and fund-raising. When needed, pastoral companions provide guidance and support the alumni to ensure the growth of the mission. Young volunteers mostly from Europe spend a few months to a year to assist and share their skills be it in language, computer, or administration. Through this exchange, they too are conscientised to mission realities, and mutual solidarity is fostered.
IFFAsia is revising its programmes to offer two tracks of specialisation, beginning July 2017, to equip the laity to respond better to mission needs. The social leadership track focuses on Community Development and Livelihood; and the phenomenon of Migration, Refugees and Human Trafficking. The pastoral leadership track centres on Youth Ministry and Family life, and the Joy of the Gospel. More so, the alumni are encouraged to conduct the Life Skills training and Basic Leadership programmes locally in each country, to reach out to wider groups of young people on the peripheries.
“Through all these, we want to call the young and laity to a living friendship and discipleship with Jesus, to impress upon them that Christian mission is part of their lives whatever career they may go into and that we are here, as Fondacio, to support them in whatever simple ways we can,” said Tan. – Rosabelle Ramirez
See www.fondacio-asia.org for more programme details.