Transfigured lives of Jesuit Volunteers

The gospel for the second Sunday of Lent recalls once again the story of the transfiguration of Jesus Christ. We hear again how Jesus, with Peter, James, and John, ascends Mt. Tabor. There, the Lord is transfigured, his face shining like the sun, and clothes tuning as white as light. While this is being manifested, there appear before the disciples Moses and Elijah, talking with the Lord. Upon seeing this glorious spectacle Peter says to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” He is still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadows them, and a voice from the cloud saying, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”

When the disciples hear this, they fall on their faces overcome with terror. But Jesus comes and touches them, saying, ‘Rise, and have no fear.’ When they lift up their eyes, they see no one but Jesus all alone. It is a special grace for Peter, James and John to see Jesus transfigured. It is experiencing a preview of the glory of the risen Christ and a foretaste of the glory in Paradise.

That is the story of many young women and men who, for the last forty years, have joined Jesuit Volunteers Philippines (JVP). We used to say that JVP ruined our lives, but that was not really accurate, even if partially correct in that JVP messed up many of our well-laid plans. What becoming a Jesuit Volunteer has instead done is to transfigure our lives, change them forever in ways we could never imagine or hope for.

Last year, for the first time in its four decades of existence, a Jesuit Volunteer Genifer Buckley, a graduate of Ateneo de Zamboanga University, was killed during the mission year. That was the ultimate transfiguration: from an ordinary, if happy and ebullient, human being, Gen became a saint for us in the JVP community.

Many of us were also transfigured by the death of Gen. But most of all, it was her partner Kath, assigned with her in Pangantucan Community High School in Bukidnon, who was most transformed by what happened to the young woman who called her “Mommy,” whom she called “Genny Gen.” In the October 2019 issue of Windhover, the Philippine Jesuit Magazine, Kath tells her story.

“Before JVP, I was slowly losing passion for everything including my life. It was getting harder and harder to wake up each morning even though I had a good and stable job and had a good relationship with my officemates, friends and family. I felt something was missing, so I decided to pursue my dreams of becoming a JVP volunteer.

Ever since I graduated from college, I wanted to join JVP. I heard about it from my Theology Professor right before graduation. She told us how JVP will push us, new graduates, to go out of our comfort zone and serve a community where we can actually live the experience of being men and women for others. During college, I was inspired by the lives of Mahatma Gandhi—for his service to others—and Henry David Thoreau—for his courage to live his life fully. However, for certain reasons, I decided to pursue law school first and tried to get legal work experience.

And after two years working for the government, however, I still find myself thinking about JVP and what it would be like to serve a new community, get to know people, and live simply while deepening my relationship with God.”

With the reluctant but full support of her parents, Kath joined JVP in May 2019. Unfortunately, she and Gen were attacked in their house. Gen was killed while Kath was seriously wounded. Kath recalls how she found out about the fate of her partner:

“It was hard to accept Gen’s passing. They only told me about it, two days after the incident. I was probably one of the last persons who found out about it. They did not want to tell me before my operation or right after as they were unsure of how the news would affect my physical recovery. And when they did, it was something I could not fully explain. It was the worst kind of feeling.”

Kath wrote in October how hard it was to accept Gen’s passing: “Each day still proves to be a struggle to continue on with life and not dwell on the incident. Sometimes, I would still find myself thinking, ‘ooh I would share this news to Gen,’ only realizing that I can no longer tell her of it.

”Kath learned a lot from Gen but the one thing she says is the most precious is to not give up on life: “Despite all the challenges she faced, she continues to have enthusiasm for life that is fueled by her strong faith to God. What happened to us was very tragic and painful, but by continuing on and strengthening my Faith I feel that I will honor Gen’s life and memory.”

Kath, whom I proudly claim as my student in Ateneo Law School, remained a Jesuit Volunteer, working this time as a lawyer for the Simbahang Lingkod Bayan. She will finish her volunteer year in the coming months.I, too, was a Jesuit Volunteer 39 years ago (Batch 2) and have seen my life mercifully ruined and happily transfigured.

For those who want the same experience of transfiguration and join the 41st Batch of Jesuit Volunteers, the Application Pack for Program Year 2020-2021 is available through this link: http://bit.ly/JVPBatch41VSPApplicationPack. The deadline for applications is on March 15, 2020.


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