Forty days, forty years

It was forty days ago this week when terrible news arrived at our inboxes—arriving by personal messages, email, and text: Genifer “Gen” Buckly, Jesuit Volunteer assigned in Pangantucan Community High School in Bukidnon, had been killed by an unknown assailant in the house she shared with her partner Kathleen Gatdula. That news struck me directly at the heart in four ways: I had also joined the Jesuit Volunteers Philippines (JVP) 39 years ago, my wife was a JVP herself, Pangantucan is a familiar place of mission, and Kath, a lawyer, was my student from Ateneo Law School.

Gen, a native of Guipos, Zamboanga del Sur, graduated from Ateneo de Zamboanga University (ADZU) in 2015, with a Bachelor of Science degree in Education, major in Filipino. When she graduated, she taught in the ADZU Junior High School for four years. Wanting to do and give more, she applied and joined the JVP in June this year. Geniferllonga, my JVP batchmate wrote:

“I never met Genifer Buckly in person. But there is something about the Jesuit Volunteers that binds you as brothers and sisters in the service of humanity for God. When a Jesuit Volunteer is killed, it feels like having a knife stabbed into your heart, as you feel the pain that Gen might have experienced before she died. I cannot get this image out of my head, of a young, idealistic, innocent volunteer facing the sufferings of the world and sharing that burden, if only to ease the weight resting on the shoulders of men and women without counting the costs and without complaints. And then getting killed in the process and paying the supreme sacrifice in that aspiration to better our world . . . Having been a pioneering Jesuit Volunteer thirty nine years ago, I feel like a parent who has lost a child. I grieve.”

I was not close to Gen, although I had met her once. But we JVPs are one in this as we always have been in the forty years that this community of faith and practice has existed. JVPs from everywhere did their bit to try to ease the pain for everyone, to be able to say goodbye to Gen properly, to make sure Kath would recover and heal, that Gen’s and Kath’s family were consoled and supported, to get justice for both of them. 

The JVP is committed to bringing hope to marginalized populations. For 39 years, Jesuit volunteers have been working with schools, parishes and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to teach, train community leaders, assist cooperatives, implement livelihood projects, assist disabled people and victims of violence, engage in the training of young people, supporting environmental issues, defending the dignity of indigenous peoples, fighting for the rights of the oppressed.”

We are Jesuits, priests, nuns, church workers, school administrators, teachers, development workers, lawyers, doctors, psychotherapists, judges, corporation presidents, government officials, overseas Filipinos, business and social entrepreneurs, and we are all over the Philippines and the world. 

In spite of what happened to Gen, because of what happened to Gen, there will be more of us in the next 40 years. All for God’s greater glory.

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