Selamat Kepada Suster Gerardette Philips, RSCJ, MA, yang telah berhasil menyelesaikan studi doktoralnya dan meraih gelar Doktor dari Sekolah Tinggi Filfasat Driyarkara, pada hari Sabtu 28 April 2012, jam 10-12 WIB
Gerardette Philips rscj and Shanti Fernandes rscj
In conversation with a friend
In Jakarta, with Ibu Sylvia
I, Gerardette Philips, was born in Bhusawal, a small railway junction in the west of India on the 20 February 1966 to Cassandra and Ralph Philips. Why these names when I am Indian? India is a land of all kinds of people with many colours, features, religions, tribes and languages. My own roots come from different parts of the world and found their home in India! I am the fourth child of five children; I have an elder brother in India with his wife and three children; my two elder sisters live with their families in Canada. My younger brother died when he was seven. When I was 16 my father died and my mother is in Bhusawal in our family home which is home for all.
As a family, we grew close to God and to each other. The Sacred Heart, Mary, the Holy Spirit and many saints found a place in our home, not just on the walls but also in our hearts. We prayed the rosary together, went to church together, visited shrines and churches in other parts of India and renewed the consecration to the Sacred Heart every year. My mother had simple ways of teaching us how to love, and my father taught us how to trust. Both remain strong foundation stones in my life.
I grew up with three calls which became instrumental in shaping my life. Since I was small, I just knew that every religion was rich and had their ways of expressing a relationship with God. When I was three years of age, I saw this very clearly – a man known to our family was dressed in white, with a cap on his head stood, bowed, prostrated on a prayer mat with his eyes closed and in deep prayer. The meaning of prayer in the life of a Muslim caught the whole of my being. This picture is etched in my memory and the feelings that went with it at the time have found deeper meaning for me over the years. The work of interfaith relations began naturally in childhood as some of my close friends were Hindus and Muslims. I remember some of the games we played and also remember sharing with each other the God we each believed in. My second call is to the people with a mental handicap. I knew at the age of four that they have a special place in our world. Being with them takes me to no other place but the heart – the core of our existence and meaning of life. They teach me to live and to love. The third call also came to me when I was a child. On the day of my first communion when all of us were taught to say “Jesus come into my heart” I remained quiet, when asked by the nun in charge why I was not saying it. My reply was “Jesus is already there, I don’t have to ask Him to come into my heart.” I knew at the age of eight that God was dwelling in me and that my life was God’s. I was aware that my heart was inhabited by God. A number of experiences with my parents, brothers, sisters and grandmother (who lived with us) confirmed this for me. I wanted to become a religious because I wanted to wear a habit like the nun I liked. However, when I saw an RSCJ for the first time in Sophia College, Mumbai, she was in the midst of many students, dressed like them but looked different. Every lecture that was given by an RSCJ had a different touch…. and wherever an RSCJ was present there was a difference! I wanted my life to be like this…. to look like everyone else but make a difference!
I entered the Society after graduation from Sophia and after working for about five years in the Consulate of Oman. Before leaving the Consulate, I was given a prayer mat, a copy of the Al Quran and a tasbih (the prayer beads that is used by a Muslim to recite the names of God). I was sure that I would have to leave this behind when I entered, but to my surprise I was encouraged to bring with me all that I had, including the Al Quran and the prayer mat. All my gifts were welcomed in the Society. In this sharing, though, I would like to focus on how the call to engage in relations with Muslims has developed.
In 1988 when I became a candidate our only Islamic Scholar, in India, Sr. Arati Kathleen Snow, who loved Muslims, went home to God. In the noviceship, we were encouraged to choose our Sadhana (our way to God). My choice was to learn more about Islam. My Mistress of Novices helped much in this study. In 1991, I became a member of the Islamic Studies Association which is part of the Church of India. My years as a Young Professed gave me many opportunities to meet Muslims, to learn some Arabic, Urdu (language used by Indian Muslims) and also to be in a Muslim University, while I was studying for a degree in Special Education.
The month of Ramadhan holds a place of special importance for me. Ever since I began fasting in the 1991 I have received many surprises. One such surprise was when I received a letter from the General Council in 1999 to ask me to go to Indonesia. I came to our community in Indonesia on 9 June 2000. On 14 June 2000, I made my way to a special school near our community. This is run by a wonderful Muslim lady who has become a dear friend of the Society, Ibu Slyvia. I then studied Indonesian in the University of Indonesia. As a requirement, for the course we were supposed to write a paper; mine was “The Meeting Point of Muslims and Christians in Indonesia.” Little did I know at that time that this paper and the people I met during this time would shape my life and open doors to enter into relationships with Muslims in Indonesia as well as in other parts of the world.
My first invitation by a Muslim University – Paramadina was to give a lecture on “Jesus: A Mystic”. This was followed by an invitation to join the Faculty of Psychology and Faculty of Philosophy and Religion. This was the first time the University had a non-Muslim on their staff. In 2003, Paramadina, in cooperation with the Islamic College for Advanced Studies, began a MA program for Islamic Philosophy in Jakarta. Again I was the only non-Muslim in the class. However, my professors said I was a “Muslim of the heart”. Being a Muslim of the heart became a requirement for admission the following semester! The MA program educated me in the meaning of the “true Islam” and this religion which is so close to us is rich both in its content and its expression. I also began to know the presence and reality of Islam in different parts of the world. The day after I completed my final exams I was asked to teach Western Mysticism to the MA students of the Islamic College!
The surprises continue… I was invited to be part of a Muslim Sufi Retreat and now I am on the staff to prepare ‘Christian-Muslim Retreats’. I am often invited to this center to share my spiritual experiences and to give a sermon during the month of Ramadhan. This year three mosques in Jakarta have invited me to share my experiences during this Holy Month. The latest is a ‘Leaders Outreach Initiative Program’: A group of Muslim leaders from Bangladesh will be coming to Indonesia to learn and experience the openness of Muslims and Christians in Indonesia. We hope this program will invite others to enjoy the meaning of harmony that exists among believers of different religions.
Are the invitations only from Muslims? God knows how to do these things. In July 2005 I was appointed as a Consultor to the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue (the Commission of the Church’s Relations with Muslims) This appointment has made people of the parishes who were somewhat skeptical of Muslims invite me to share about Muslims, and the relations we are expected to have as Catholics.
My life is among people of different cultures, different faiths, the little people, the leaders of churches and mosques who can be agents of change, with educators, students, children, women and men who struggle to make relationships meaningful and all kinds of faces which we can only find in the Open Heart of our God. In this space, authentic relationships, open to the truth are created.
The meaning of my journey in these three calls centers in what was so dear to Madeleine Sophie – the interior life. This can be best explained through a story of a Islamic woman mystic Rabia:
“It took Ibrahim Ibn Adham (Abraham son of Adam) fourteen years to reach the Kaaba in pilgrimage, because he said long prayers at every shrine along the way, but when he got there, there was no Kaaba to be seen. “What is this?” he asked himself, “Have I gone blind?” “No”, a Voice said, “you can’t see the Kaaba because it has gone out to meet a woman.” Burning with jealousy, Ibrahim ran toward the outskirts of Mecca till he ran into Rabia, who was just arriving. He turned around, and saw the Kaaba back in its usual place. Then he turned to Rabia. “What’s this craziness you’ve brought into the world, woman?” he demanded. “It’s not I who am the author of craziness,” she replied, “but you. You were crazy enough to take fourteen years to get to the Kaaba with your ritual prayer, while I, with my inner prayer, am here already.”
My life in our ‘little yet big’ Society, lived concretely in community gives me the space for that ‘inner prayer’ that takes me to places and to people that I have not planned, that takes me to the center of LOVE and that gives me the energy to love. If Madeleine Sophie lived again she would live it in obedience with the Holy Spirit. If I live again I will be an RSCJ, only because one life time is not enough to give people the love they so long for.
Area of Indonesia