Following the denial of her application for a visa extension in the Philippines in November, Sister Patricia Fox NDS has returned to Australia to raise awareness about her missionary work.
According to media sources, the 71-year-old Sr Patricia was the subject of criticism from Filipino president Rodrigo Duterte, who asked she be investigated for “illegal political activities.”
After using all avenues to prevent her deportation, Sr Patricia left the Philippines after almost 30 years of service in that country.
Sr Patricia spoke at the 9th International Conference on Human Rights Education (ICHRE), held at Western Sydney University’s Parramatta campus in late November.
The conference, entitled “Unleashing the Full Potential of Civil Society”, coincided with the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the 25th anniversary of the education-oriented Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action.
The participants were eager to hear about Sr Patricia’s grassroots experience as a missionary in the Philippines, especially her work with the rural missionaries, the indigenous people of the Philippines, known as Lumads, and her fact-finding visits to the southern island of Mindanao.
Sr Patricia shared stories from her time on mission, in order to heighten awareness of bringing dignity to all people. Through a combined group of religious in the Philippines called the Rural Missionaries, Sr Patricia worked among some of the most vulnerable indigenous peoples in the country. As she speaks, her firm belief in the principles of Catholic social teaching are woven throughout.
I was curious to know about the origins of Sr Patricia’s choice to study law. She said that before her missionary work in the Philippines, she also trained as a human rights lawyer.
While she was working in the inner-western suburbs of Melbourne with street kids, she would often have to accompany the kids or bail them out when they got caught in the police and juvenile justice systems. By studying law, she says, it was going to help address their needs before they ended up in the justice system.
She spoke about what she observed on numerous fact-finding visits to the Filipino island of Mindanao in the south. She spoke about the human rights abuses that she witnessed and observed, including one instance where a school for indigenous young people was burnt down, preventing their access to education.
“We heard a lot of stories about the intimidation of village leaders and teachers, killings, people in jail for trumped-up charges, torture,” Sr Patricia said.
She also spoke about Australian mining companies whose projects she said were displacing tribal people. Militias were corruptly taking over their lands providing access to the big mining companies. “They should start looking at Australian companies, particularly mining companies.”
After her appearance at the human rights conference, Sr Patricia addressed the congregation at St Aiden’s Parish, Rooty Hill.
Looking back, I appreciate Sr Patricia’s skill and warmth as a story teller. She is a humble person, aiming to give voice to those at the centre of these human rights abuses. She left the parishioners with the message that she is firmly convinced that we are all missionaries wherever we may be. For Sr Patricia, love of God and love of neighbour go hand in hand.
Wfter a busy week in Sydney, Sr Patricia is heading off to Canberra. She will share her experience at the Australian National University, and then attend a private briefing before the Human Rights Sub-Committee, chaired by Federal Liberal MP Kevin Andrews at Parliament House.