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Philippine government cannot define scope of missionary work

MANILA (UCAN): The Philippine government has “no right to define and delimit the scope of our missionary and apostolate works,” said Australian Sister Patricia Fox, from the Sister of Our Lady of Sion, whose missionary visa was revoked by the Philippine government last month (Sunday Examiner, May 6). 
The 71-year-old Sister Fox, who has lived and worked in the Philippines for 27 years as a missionary, hit back at allegations against her by the Bureau of Immigration in a 25-page affidavit.
The affidavit, filed on May 4, noted that authorities “made a sweeping and erroneous assumption of facts and law” when they ordered her arrest and the eventual revocation of her visa.
Jobert Pahilga, Sister Fox’s legal counsel, said the attempt to dilute the interpretation of her religious vocation violates the country’s laws that guarantee the “free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship.”
Sister Fox said the bureau should have consulted a religious person, such as a bishop or a priest, “to understand better as to what, as a whole, constitutes missionary and apostolic work.”
The bureau cited the sister’s attendance at protest rallies of farmers and workers demanding justice from the government as grounds for its actions saying these constituted a violation of the conditions of her visa.
The sister said the government should understand the religious congregation’s charism and understand she is not partisan.
“Our charism is not defined by activity alone, nor it is limited to a specific task. Wherever we are, we must become involved in the situation in which we live,” she said.
Bishop Deogracias Iniguez, convener of the Ecumenical Bishops’ Forum, said the Church “defines the word ‘missionary’ by defining Christ’s life.”
The retired bishop of Kalookan explained, “A missionary of the Church is a missionary for Christ. As missionaries, we are invited to immerse ourselves with the poor.” 
He added, “To be witnesses of the life of the poor is also an invitation to speak about the conditions that affect the lives of the people.”
Pahilga said that the Bureau of Immigration’s decision to revoke Sister Fox’s visa on April 23 without allowing her to refute the charges “is a grave violation of her rights to due process of law.”
Antonette Mangrobang, a bureau spokesperson, said the sister’s affidavit will be reviewed by the prosecutor even though her deportation case is still pending further deliberation.

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