The following is an update on a ministry that benefits from the annual Diocesan Mission Collection, which will be taken up this year on July 20-21. Please give generously.
Each day, Father Donardo “Dandi” Bermejo asks God to “give me patients.”
That’s because most who come to the medical mission he founded for some of the poorest and most marginalized people in the Philippines wind up also returning to Christ.
“While they are being treated at the clinic, we always urge people to pray and to be active in the Church and go to Mass and to serve one another and to always be good to one another,” said Fr. Dandi, founding director of the St. Joseph the Worker Mission to the sugarcane planation workers.
The medical clinic is located near his hometown on the island of Negros Occidental in the Philippines.
Fr. Dandi, as people call him, spent 10 years ministering in the Jefferson City diocese and discerning and preparing for his current ministry in his home diocese.
He opened the medical clinic three years ago as part of his faith-based outreach.
With support from the Jefferson City diocese’s annual Mission Collection, the clinic serves people from about 30 communities throughout his home diocese and two neighboring dioceses.
From its base of operations and out on the road, the clinic’s staff treats about 1,000 people each month, free of charge.
About 60 percent of the clients are children of those who harvest sugarcane.
Services include free consultation from a doctor, free medicines and when needed, free dental care.
Many of the plantation workers take home about $3 a day — barely enough to feed their families, let alone pay for medical care.
“It’s really a big, big help, a big relief to them during sickness,” said Fr. Dandi. “It saves their lives. And more importantly, it gives them hope and joy, and they are so grateful to God for the wonderful things that are happening to them right now.”
Restoring hope and dignity
Fr. Dandi has noticed that since his mission began, people are not only healthier, they are becoming more community-oriented, less plagued by violence and more comfortable taking on roles of leadership.
Crime has decreased dramatically.
“Indeed this place is now safer, cleaner, more united, more peaceful, more spiritual, more caring and has more order than before,” said Fr. Dandi. “I guess those improvements contribute to why a little more than a year ago, we were recognized by the government as the best Barangay community in the whole province of Negros Occidental.”
More importantly, the people are returning to their rightful place before the Lord’s Altar.
After generations of being radically underpaid and shunned by much of Philippine society, most of the plantation workers in the area regarded as “the nation’s sugar bowl” had lost all hope in themselves, each other and God.
“When you lose our religion, it’s the worst thing that can happen to you,” said Fr. Dandi. “But when we reach out to these people who are on the margins by doing Corporal Works of Mercy for them, we restore their hope, we restore their dignity."
“They become happy again, they start to dream again of a better life.”
Charity and mercy
The St. Joseph the Worker Mission also sponsors a feeding program that gives nutritious food to children at the local Catholic school, St. Meinrad.
Many of those children would be severely undernourished otherwise, especially during the three months each year when there is no plantation work for their parents.
The mission also provides housing for the homeless and helps pay to educate about 100 young people in grade school through college or trade school, so they can escape the multigenerational cycle of poverty.
Of those who have recently graduated, 11 have jobs and 10 are in on-the-job training through a partnership with Shogun Ship Inc. of the Philippines.
Fr. Dandi also promotes sports as a healthy and fun outlet for youthful angst.
He hears people’s confessions, celebrates the Eucharist, baptizes the young and anoints the sick and old.
He also helps the people build chapels in their villages, where Mass can be celebrated, the sacraments given and the Blessed Sacrament reserved for adoration.
“I was able to build four chapels and repair and renovate one parish church,” he said. “I am planning to build three or more chapels in 2019 and 2020.”
Still much to do
Fr. Dandi noted that many of the sugarcane plantation workers are still living in desperate poverty, which deprives them of food, shelter, clothing, healthcare, education and other necessities.
“The minimum wage here now in the Philippines, which is not even a living wage, is $7 a day,” he noted. “But the sugarcane plantation workers receive much lower than that — like $3 or $4 a day, more or less.
“This makes them so poor and indeed slaves to poverty and the system all their lives,” he said.
He lauded the people of this diocese who are helping the St. Joseph the Worker Mission turn the tide through generous support of the Mission Collection.
“I am convinced that as people of faith — people who are supposed to build the Kingdom of God here in this world — we are called to help care for those people who are on the margins, especially those who for a long time have been suffering poverty and been forsaken by society,” he said.
That, he stated, is why people who reach out to help others, especially those people who are on the margins, are truly blessed.
“Because, in the words of Christ, we truly become the salt of the earth and light of the world.”