Meaningful encounters with solidarity visitor in British Columbia

March 9, 2015
by 
Stephanie Nguyen, Regional Youth Intern for British Columbia and Yukon

It was exciting to learn that British Columbia would have the honour of hosting Fr. Edwin Gariguez as this year’s Solidarity Visitor. Fr. Edwin is the Executive Secretary of Caritas Philippines-NASSA. He has been playing an important role in bringing about humanitarian aid in the Philippines to those who have been displaced by Typhoons Haiyan and Hagupit, and addressing issues of injustice in the Philippines that perpetuate poverty.

One of his most heroic acts was to stand up against a mining company that was threatening the land of a community. He and 24 others went on a hunger strike to halt the project. Although the group was willing to fast for an infinite amount of days, after 11 days they succeeded in convincing the government to revoke the company’s mining permit. This led Fr. Edwin to be awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize, which is one of the most prestigious awards within the field of environmental activism.

There were many highlights during Fr. Edwin’s two-week tour of British Columbia. In Vancouver, he engaged with students at St. Thomas Aquinas High School. This school participates in Development and Peace’s THINKfast program, and is the top fundraising school for this activity. During his visit, Fr. Edwin motivated the student leaders of THINKfast by sharing with them his experience of going on a hunger strike.

On Vancouver Island, Fr. Edwin was able to experience having a “home away from home,” as he was greeted with a large turnout from the Filipino community. During his stay in Victoria, he was pleased to see how Filipino priests are giving of their vocation by choosing to go abroad to help with the need for priests here in Canada. He also met with the First Nations Cowichan community and discussed the parallels between the Canadian and Filipino struggles of Indigenous peoples in protecting their sacred lands.

In the Okanagan Valley, Fr. Edwin was moved by the passion and commitment of the local members, and the gifts that they give to the organization. In Kelowna, local member Keith Germaine, even rewrote the lyrics of “House of the Rising Sun” especially for Fr. Edwin to reflect the mining situation in the Philippines ("There Is a Mine").

Personally, I was able to hear Fr. Edwin speak at St. Patrick’s Parish in Vancouver. He spoke about the extreme inequalities that exist between small-scale farmers and rich landowners in the Philippines. He explained how poor rural farmers are being exploited by rich landowners, who gain substantial profit off of those who actually work the land. And those farmers who do possess land, generally do not have the adequate resources and skills to farm their land and in turn, feed the community.

Fr. Edwin brought to our attention the call for us in Canada to aid those who are less fortunate. “When we become comfortable, we forget the needs of others,” he said, quoting a statement made by Pope Francis during his recent visit to Manila.

Fr. Edwin’s presentation left me awestruck and truly inspired me. He encouraged us with the words of St. Francis Assisi, who said: “Start by doing what is necessary; then what is possible; and suddenly you find yourself doing the impossible.” We can take the first step by supporting small-scale farmers in our own areas so that we do not take from those afar and who are in need. Taking the first step only requires being engaged in one’s own community, as well as being mindful of our purchases and researching where our food comes from. There is sow much love to give, and a part of that is recognizing the importance of small family farmers because small family farmers feed the world!