“Faces of Mission” is a bi-weekly blog series produced by the United States Catholic Mission Association highlighting our membership and all their work in and for mission. This week we feature Sr. Irene Baquiran, MQHM, a missionary sister from the Mary Queen of Heaven Missionaries.
Called to Help the Lost and Forgotten
Sister Irene Baquirin, MQHM, of the Mary Queen of Heaven Missionaries is a member of a community of Sisters in Cebu, Philippines that have dedicated their lives to rescuing women and young girls from prostitution. Four to five times each week, the Sisters go out to the night clubs and bars, dressed in civilian clothing. Speaking with the girls undercover, the Sisters tell them about the educational and housing resources that the Sisters can offer them. Sister Irene explains that these girls are usually minors, some sold into prostitution by their own families in order to raise money. They do not know any other world.
Sr. Irene’s calling comes from a deep sense of the urgent need for a Christ-centered response to the grave problem of human trafficking in the Philippines. When asked why she felt called to be a missionary, Sr. Irene’s answer is simple: “We are inspired to do it because no one takes care of them.” She adds, “This is not normal, and it touched my heart. They are only little girls. They’re only kids.” They are innocent, and they have become part of this hidden world in which they are forced to trade their childhood in an attempt to escape extreme poverty.
Mary Queen of Heaven Missionaries
Mary Queen of Heaven Missionaries were founded in 1996 and dedicate themselves to imitating Mary’s virtues of poverty, chastity, and obedience. The organization was formally established by His Eminence, Ricardo Cardinal Vidal, Archbishop of Cebu, in 2000.
They have established a center in Cebu for the women and young girls that they rescue. It is called the Home of Love, and here they care for the women and girls in a way that allows them to realize their own dignity and worth. They currently have around 50 women and children under their care. One of the most important resources that they offer is education. They send the girls to school, and even home school those who are embarrassed to go to a normal school. They also teach the girls basic life skills such as cooking, baking, and sewing. These skills enable the girls to leave the center one day and be able to make a life for themselves without prostitution, giving them hope for a better future.
A Saving Grace
There is one particular story that is close to Sister Irene’s heart. The very first woman they helped turn her life around was Melissa. Only 18 years old, she decided to accept the Sisters’ invitation and to leave her work on the streets. “The saddest part of Melissa’s story was that she was sold by her own mother. The family lived in extreme poverty, and one way for Melissa’s mother to feed her children was to have one less mouth to feed.” After some time, Melissa ran away, but continued to live on the streets. She joined some other girls that said they knew a way they could make money. Another community involved in work similar to the outreach ministry of MQHM attempted to help Melissa, but they were unable to offer her the resources she needed, and she ended up back on the streets. Finally, she found the MQHM Sisters in 2005, and told them she wanted to go with them.
Two days after Melissa was rescued, her body became bloated. Sister Irene rushed her to the hospital and discovered that Melissa was in critical condition. She needed an immediate operation, but they had no way to pay for it. As they tried to find sources to pay, the hospital and the doctors volunteered to perform the operation for free. The operation was done successfully, and Melissa fully recovered. She was eventually able to leave the center and make a completely different life for herself. Now Melissa stands as a living witness to the instrumental work that is done by the Mary Queen of Heaven Missionaries.
His Will Be Done
Sister Irene and her community are truly acting in a way that follows Christ’s Will. They allow the Lord to work through them as they reach out to the outcasts of society and those most vulnerable. However, Sister Irene acknowledges that it is not always easy: “This is tough work. So sometimes we’re afraid…” But, she quickly adds that she finds strength in knowing that it is not her work, but God’s. Nothing they are doing is for themselves, but rather it is all for God.
Sister Irene states that they have to work with God. “He gives us 50 percent, and we have to give the other 50 percent”. But together, we can make “100 percent for peace, and glory, and honor.” It is through Christ’s Love that they have been able to help so many girls. They hope that others may hear their stories and be moved to share their gifts and talents to also help these beautiful women and girls.
Most of the future plans for the Sisters involve expansion: expanding housing opportunities to benefit more women and children, and expanding the educational resources they can offer. Sister Irene explained that their center was located in the area that was hit by a super typhoon and an earthquake last year. The building has been damaged so badly that they have had to shut it down to rebuild. They are currently trying to raise money to rebuild so that the girls still have a safe home. In the meantime, the Sisters are spread out among communities around the region. They are hoping to have the building completed by the summer.
Although they are rebuilding their current center, the community is constantly growing, and the real goal is to expand the center. Sister Irene said that they hope to find a used building in which they can hold 500 women and children. Mary Queen of Heaven Missionaries have become witnesses of Christ’s love in Cebu, a love which continues to expand and grow.