LINCOLN (SNR) – Sister Irene Baquiran from the Mary Queen of Heaven Missionaries met with Bishop James Conley in Lincoln Oct. 26 while visiting a friend in Omaha, and spoke about her order’s work.
Sister Irene told a powerful and shocking story of one middle-school aged Filipino girl who, after being invited to a ‘sleepover,’ instead became a victim of human trafficking. She escaped, but unfortunately several of her classmates who attended were never seen again. It is just one tragic story of a global crisis.
Sister Irene is one of the founding members of a religious community of women, the Mary Queen of Heaven Missionaries, founded in 1996 by their Mother Foundress Sister Corazon Salazar, and officially established in 2000 by Cardinal Vidal in the Archdiocese of Cebu, Philippines. They work to rescue women and children victims of prostitution and human trafficking of all ages, and care for them at the center they have established, called the “Home of Love.”
“We take to heart the call of Pope Francis to go into the peripheries, both geographic and existential, and to serve the poor and set the oppressed free,” she said, “especially these women and children victims of prostitution.”
The sisters’ rehabilitation programs include sheltering, food and nutrition, child care, medical and maternity assistance, psychological treatment and counseling, educational assistance, livelihood and skills training, spiritual formation, and a reintegration program. The programs enable women and children survivors of trafficking and prostitution to return to productive mainstream living, alleviate them from poverty, and empower them with education and careers.
When the sisters are in habit, they are easily distinguished by pink habits. In an interview with Catholic News Agency, Sister Irene said a pink habit was selected because it is the “color of the joy, the love and compassion of God the Shepherd that we share with victims of prostitution. We are trying to share the love of Christ.”
Sometimes, however, the Sisters don plain clothes to go out in pairs and try to reach women at risk who are afraid to reach out for help, or unaware that help exists.
The Philippines ranks fourth in the world for the most number of trafficked people, especially targeting vulnerable women and children from rural areas, who are lured into prostitution because of the dire lack of education and basic human needs. They are given the false promise of a better life only to be taken advantage of, abused and mistreated.
Since poverty is the major backdrop that makes trafficking and prostitution possible, the community provides basic necessities like school supplies and school uniforms to the rural poor. They currently provide scholarships and educational assistance to 800 elementary students and 4,000 high school students, and invite people to consider sponsoring a student, as it costs $25 a month to educate each child.
The Missionaries now have a house in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, and have rescued and rehabilitated hundreds of women and children, but Sister Irene described their pressing need for expanding the housing opportunities and educational resources they can offer.
“At present, the Home of Love is full as they can only accommodate 50 women at a given time, preventing us from rescuing more women and girls who greatly need our help,” she explained. “Therefore, we have already started to rebuild our home [after damage from Typhoon Haiyan] to be able to accommodate 100 women and children.”
To find more information or help support the Mary Queen of Heaven Missionaries in their mission of fighting prostitution and poverty, visit: www.mqhm.org.