Sr Ashwena Apao’s Vocation Story

Sr Ashwena Apao and Columban Fr Vincent Busch in the Philippines. Photo: Sr Ashwena Apao Sr Ashwena Apao and Columban Fr Vincent Busch in the Philippines. Photo: Sr Ashwena Apao 

My name is Ashwena Apao. As a young woman, I wanted to answer the call of Pope John Paul II to the Filipino youth: “Be the salt of the earth, be the light of the world. Bridge the gap of hate and division, do not be afraid to bring Jesus to others … especially to the poor.”

I felt that the work of the Columban Sisters answered the call of the Pope to serve the poor. When I joined the Missionary Sisters of St Columban in 1996, I was very happy to be assigned to work with other Columban Sisters who work with the Subanen People, indigenous people living in the forested hills of Mindanao in the Philippines. I remember one day I visited a Subanen family in a distant barrio. When I arrived at their home, I asked my companions, “When are they going to eat? It is already one o’clock in the afternoon.” They answered: “Sister, they will cook when they have food and rice to cook.” I was shocked to learn that this family, like many other Subanen families, did not eat every day and were so poor that they were not able to send their children to school.

Like other tribal peoples in the Philippines, the Subanen people have lived for centuries in harmony with their habitat. I hope to learn more about their habitat and help my fellow Filipinos appreciate the ecological wisdom that Subanens have to offer our country.

I love to be accompanying and living with the Subanens. Despite the difficulties in their lives, they have so much to celebrate about their life, faith and culture.

Columban Sr Ashwena Apao lives and works in the Philippines.

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