We shall not cease from exploration/And the end of all our exploring/Will be to arrive where we started/And know the place for the first time.—T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets
Lines often quoted by those who are on their way to somewhere or on their way back. As experience has taught us, only upon arriving where we began do we realize that there is more to be explored and discovered. Life is a journey and we all are time travelers in this universe.
Pilgrim, traveler, explorer, voyager, sojourner, tourist—these words may be related in meaning but each one is used differently to describe the state and purpose of the person who goes places. It is about leaving one’s home to go to a place distant and new, and to be there for a period of time.
Sr. Mary John Mananzan, OSB, has been some or all of these all at once at one time or another. In the book’s title she prefers to use the word “pilgrim,” which suggests a spiritual purpose. After all she is Benedictine, a woman religious who had answered the call to take the less trodden path. As it turned out, life for her became a series of inner and outer journeys.
One of the most well-traveled religious figures hereabouts, Sister Mary John may be called a jetsetter—not a common thing to say of the stereotypical religious. Jetting all over the world became part of her life as a religious who was also a student and, later, a teacher, leader, speaker and advocate of many causes. The good thing about her being all of these was that Mananzan was not merely a passerby preoccupied with her assigned tasks. She had an eye and feel for her surroundings. So like the Benedictines of ancient times who dutifully put pen on paper at every instance, she wrote about her explorations in foreign lands.
Most of Mananzan’s written works are scholarly and academic. She has published several books which have feminist and theological bent, among them, “Woman, Religion and Spirituality” and “NunSense.” She did not set out to be a travel writer. Well, because of this book, “NunStop,” we can now call her one. Read about her trips to unlikely places—Croatia, Togo, Benin, Trinidad-Tobago, Ephesus—and popular destinations—Paris, Rome, London, New York, Vienna, Geneva, Moscow, etc.
One cannot miss the spiritual nuances that are straight out of a pilgrim’s journal. Other times she sounds like any wide-eyed tourist enjoying the sights, sounds and flavors. She not only writes about the destinations, she also writes about what it was like to get there—getting visas, stopovers, airport transfers, being stranded, meeting strange and interesting persons along the way. As they say, just as important as the destination is the journey itself.
Mananzan’s letters to her religious community and her published travel essays (in Lifestyle Travel of the Inquirer) provide the reader a vicarious experience of where she had been. She not only shares her working trips’ cultural, intellectual and spiritual add-ons, she also gives us a glimpse of her prayer life while she’s on the move. Her knowledge of history, culture, theology, the intellectual landscape and her links to people, have made her trips rewarding and pleasurable. How can she just keep it all to herself?
By writing about her travels, Mananzan is also writing history. The names of places, sceneries and people’s way of life in those faraway lands as she knew them may no longer be the same many generations from now. Perhaps erased by wars and cataclysmic events or taken over by inhabitants from another planet. But once upon a time, in the pages of Mananzan’s book, they were real. She had been there.
Religious women and men of ancient times turned away from the mundane—fuga mundi, it was called. But not anymore in this age when they must necessarily come face to face with real life—the good and bad, the beautiful and ugly. Sr. Mary John Mananzan, the pilgrim, shows us how to dive joyfully into the heart of the world.
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That is the “Foreword” I wrote for “NunStop.”
Mananzan now cochairs (with Fr. Quirico Pedregoza, OP) the Office of Women and Gender Concerns (OWGC), a mission partner of the Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines. This is one of her many posts and involvements (local and international) that keep her busy and on the road. (I serve, gratis et amore, in the board of OWGC.)
OWGC has been in operation for over 20 years and has done some trailblazing work in gender awareness, to name a few, research on sexual offenses within the Church, and livelihood programs among grassroots women. OWGC’s mission urges us “to reclaim the feminist principles and values” within religious congregations through formation programs and related activities, to foster equality of women and men religious, and to raise gender-awareness in the Church and society.
But because OWGC’s work should go beyond religious institutions, we do have outreach programs with women in the margins of society.
This year being the Year of the Consecrated Life, OWGC needs to do even more for the religious sector and those directly involved in the Church’s mission. Would that we could expand our operations. Might groups or individuals out there want to share their resources? (Send e-mail to [email protected]).
Yesterday I was in Tagaytay City to speak before the Philippine Association of Religious Treasurers (PART) which, as its name suggests, is composed of hundreds of religious who hold the purse strings of their orders, congregations and institutions. The theme of my talk was on my encounters as a journalist with the “Church of the Poor” or specifically, with poverty and hope. I heeded my editor in chief’s advice to not speak about abstract things, but about what I know and what I’ve seen. I told stories and showed images.
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