Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Pinoy nun, new head of International Union of Superiors General

QUEZON CITY (UCAN) — Sister Estrella Castalone will soon take the reins as head of the English section of the International Union of Superiors General (UISG) in Rome next week. In an interview with UCA News on the eve of her departure, she said she was optimistic about the future of women Religious in the country, despite dwindling vocations. [hmmmm...]

UCA NEWS: How do you feel about the state of women Religious as you leave the Philippines?
SISTER ESTRELLA CASTALONE: I am optimistic about the future. Our Sisters are interested and open to find out more about their role as contemplative prophets. [another, hmmmm...]

What is a “contemplative prophet”?
This means deep contemplation that launches us outside ourselves to share more fully in the mission of Christ. Our prophetic actions are fruits of our efforts to have a deeper union with God through contemplation. In turn, our social involvement also deepens our spirituality. [but more often, I see more sisters in social involvement rather than in spiritual involvement, don't you think?]  Sisters cannot just exhort others. We must be present to and walk with those we are exhorting. That is contemplative prophecy in action.

What are the prospects of success with this?
There has been progress with the nuns because of the Sister Formation Institute and AMRSP [Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines] programs. But we have not reached our goals and there is still need for growth in the area of our journey with everyone in every situation that needs us.  I’d say it is still a long road to journey to exercise our prophetic role as religious. People come to us for help, but we need to open up more.  Today, if you mobilize the Sisters for an event that is religious or spiritual in nature you will get an avalanche of responses quickly. But if you mobilize the Religious for action for the farmers who have been denied land reform for such along time, there are Sisters who would go, but very few. Many would tell you they cannot leave their schools. [You see the difference?  This part here is revealing.  Unlike what we see in television, most Filipino nuns opt to respond to the call of their vocation, giving it first priority, rather than be in the streets most of the time.  I am not saying the social action is bad, but if the religious has more time for social action than with religious affairs, then we have a problem with that.]
At our conventions we come up with proposals and action plans. The foremost concern is the religious formation of our Sisters. This is the primary role of our association. There is also a program to raise the awareness of our role in accompanying the people of God toward the transformation of Church in Society. [How about the good old sisters teaching us catechism?  Oh wait.  Yeah I forgot.  How they can teach us catechism when they too DO NOT KNOW IT!  You always get the sense that our sisters would want to become the next Nelson Mandela, don't you think?  As one sister-friend recalled how she responded to her fellow sisters who are so anti-American: "No matter how loud you shout in the streets...Not even if you take of your veil, America will remain a superpower.  So deal with it.  Take care of the souls of people.  That's what we are here for."  Makes sense, no?]

How many women Religious are there in the Philippines?
The number I sent to Rome in 2009 was 18,000 female Religious. [!]

How are vocations now?
They are dwindling. [Why is it dwindling?] We start our census with novices. In 2008 we had 690 novices and in 2009 we had 530. The trend is the same with all orders – new, old and traditional. [Oh really?  In the United States, traditional orders are growing, like the Dominican Sisters of Mary in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  The younger generation is attracted to congregations that are faithful to the Magisterium and have more prayer and community time, so says the 2009 Survey for the National Religious Vocation Conference.] In my own order, the Salesians, when I was a novice we were 13. Later when my niece entered they were six. Now we have only one. I would not know how to explain the drop, but it is a worldwide trend. [NO! Check your figures!] They say we are old wine in new wine skins. Older sisters are taking on new work rather than new nuns taking over older works. [More like old wine trying to be new!] Decline in vocations is the result of many factors that interact in our increasingly ‘globalized society.’ Lifestyles are changing and perhaps we will need to change our way of living consecrated life, living out our vows and living together in community. [Maybe some orders have been too secularized they forgot why they became a congregation in the first place.  Same with its members, they forgot why they became priests or religious in the first place!]

How much education do nuns have today?
They are children of this world, better trained in “informatics” than older nuns. They are well trained in the use of computers and technical aspects, but, for me the education needed is more than that.
Schools and education today no longer attend much to transference of cultural heritage, but focus more on technology. When the older women came out of school they were educated in the higher things.

How was the journey for you personally?
I entered the Salesian Order at 29 after I worked as a science research assistant in Chemistry at the University of the Philippines. I was an activist during the “The First Quarter Storm” of university protests against Ferdinand Marcos. [Now we know why.] I realized human intervention alone was futile. I entered the convent. Since I had been involved in catechetical work with youth, the charism of the Salesian sisters who ministered in schools among youth suited me. They sent me to Italy to specialize in youth pastoral ministry and theology and serve in the office for youth ministry there for 13 years.  After returning to the Philippines in 2003 I started as executive secretary of AMRSP. When I was just working in my Salesian order, I was happy with the little mission given to me. I taught in a school, then with the youth center, and then with the larger Salesian family. I thought that was enough for me. I will now have to admit though my understanding of my prophetic role widened when I came here to work at AMRSP. [That's where she became a prophet?]


I hate to be sarcastic or anything... BUT...

First things first.

Militant nuns just isn't my kind of thing.

More Catholics are losing their identity because those we expect to nurture us in the Faith are busy doing something else, forgetting their primary job objective.

You do not use a spoon to push a nail.  You use a hammer. Get it?


  1. Don't watch too much television if you don't want to see nuns in social action, that's what I have learned. Media would focus on 'running priest', 'activist nuns', but they form the minority (I believe). Here in Lipa, Nuns are holy. They are happy persons. There are so many contemplatives here in Lipa, which I am truly proud of. Catechist nuns are on public high schools to teach, nuns welcome you so warmly in their monasteries, priests are friendly and the Bishop is loving. Meanwhile, sisters in active orders are really actives. Very friendly and responsible.

    If i'm not mistaken, the FIs lacks space, napakadami nilang vocations. Dito nga sa Lipa eh matutuwa ka. Nagkalat ang mga madre in habit.

    We are called to become prophets, proclaimers of God's message as explained by Father Cantalamessa. God have unique calls in us, and I don't doubt how God called them nor question Him why he called a certain person in that way.

  2. Thanks Golden Monstrance for taking the time to visit my blog and commenting. You just turned 18 and you are blogging about your faith! Now that is good news!

    So, in response...

    I don't get the impression of activist nuns from watching TV. I work with them, here in Manila and in Mindanao. Not that I hate those who work in social action. Its just that my experience with these activist nuns are that bad. This order of nuns was founded by a missionary priest to work on catechism for those who cannot even afford to have basic education. Catholics who are in the far flung barrios, for example. In their founder's words "Make them love the Faith, for their salvation." But now, according to the sisters, their founder's vision is not anymore attuned with the times. So they are into environmental protection, women's rights in the Church (bordering on women priests), etc. So when was loving the Faith and salvation of souls not attuned with the times?

    My bishop spends more time working with the Black and White movement and other anti-Gloria forces rather than hear the issues of his laboring priests. You know, a "reminder" from the Papal Nuncio put him back inside the Chancery.

    By virtue of our baptism, we share in Christ's mission of being priests, prophets and kings. BUT in the state of life that we have been called upon. We cannot have gray lines.

    You are so blessed to be in Lipa! What wonderful Church. Having the Carmelite Monastery and the Blessed Mother visit you...what can you ask for. And your archbishop is wonderful! I certainly hope he becomes the next archbishop of Manila.

    Keep on blogging and I hope that the seed of calling that God has planted in you, grow and blossom in the monastic community that you are being drawn to.

    We need more holy men and women of the cloth...for the salvation of souls!