WITH WHOM WE ARE TALKING TO?
sr. Filomena Alicandro
Born in Marina di Minturno, Italy, on 28/01/1937.
Since 1961 Sr. Filomena has been a Missionary Sister of the Immaculate and since 1966 she has been a missionary in Bangladesh. In 1953 the sisters who first arrived in the mission welcomed Sr. Filomena in Bangladesh. In 1971, together with the other MSI sisters, she experienced the war between Bangladesh and Pakistan in her mission. After the war, she dedicated her whole life to improve Bengali women’s conditions by setting embroidery centers that would give them an education and would enable them to reach an economic independence in their families.
• Dear Sr. Filomena, according to your experience, what are the essential elements of a missionary life style that get you involved into a mission?
In 1966, when I arrived, before the civil war that gave independence to Bangladesh in 1971, everything was different: people’s economic situation, poverty, political pressure, but it was also completely different for us missionaries, for our insertion. In fact, I did not learn the Bengali language in going to the school, but together with the girls and visiting families, listening and listening … and trying to memorize. The first insertion was positive thanks to them, to the girls, who helped me to learn the language. The food, the language and the climate… Many things were difficult at the beginning, but we accepted everything with joy, for the enthusiasm and the faith that had brought us there, in one of the poorest countries in the world, to proclaim and communicate the Lord to those who still do not know him fully!What are your suggestions for a young missionary who is now getting involved into the mission?My advice to young missionaries is to accept life as it is day by day, even if it may be completely different from what one is used to. It takes time, time to slowly understand people’s mentality. Always remembering that anything life asks us for in a mission is always at the service of the Kingdom. I have always worked for the sewing and embroidery center, since I was a child I used to embroider and it has always been my passion. It was this talent given by the Lord that allowed me to get involved into the life of the village, but above all to help improving the female condition, which in Bangladesh was and it is still is one of the most problematic issues at a family and social level. Now some girls still remember my contribution and thank me for that education that changed their life and condition.
• According to your experience what are the positive points for a missionary life?
If I look at us, the first missionaries here in Bangladesh, then again Eastern Pakistan, I clearly see that we were not really anything special. We did not have no specific education or competence. Yet with the help of God, we have been the simple and true presence of God, because what we do is it is for the Lord. I think it is essential to act and give freely, carry out the activities, meetings, and every day’s responsibilities only as a gift for Him, and not to be recognized or sought or thanked.
We consecrated missionaries are also a sign in bringing sacrifice, poverty and solitude, in living them as a deliberate choice in a country and in a place not ours, but given by God, where he sent us. Today, if the sacrifice was more oriented to share the misery and indigence with the people, where perhaps the general economic conditions also in Bangladesh in a certain sense have developed (even though not everywhere), the aim of bringing the inherent sacrifice in the choice of consecrated life is the same in living the solitude, the family, abandonment and trust in Providence. I have experienced how one can be a powerful sign of God even for those of other religions.
• If you had to summarize in one sentence what you have learned in these nearly 50 years of Bangladesh, what could you tell us about the mission?
My experience of closeness to people in Bangladesh could be summarized in this:
to be the presence of God at the right time in the life of every family and everyone. The constancy and simplicity, benevolent and sincere interest, made for the love of God, are the foundations.
Here, in Muladuli every day I went around the village, even without giving in advance the reasons, and in this way I gradually came into conduct with the life of the people, until I got to know more than three generations of Christians. The grace that the missionary lives is to be a sign of God’s presence of love in the ordinary moments of people’s lives. If we are truly present, people also keep us in mind and love us.
• Tell us about a concrete situation that seems to you most significant.
There are many memorable moments and the reasons for thanking the Lord and many personal experiences in the life of each family. However, I can say that on many occasions the Lord has allowed me to be in the ‘right place at the right time’, or to have a right intuition, inspired by the Holy Spirit.
Once, while I was going to the village, I met a very poor man. His condition showed that he had not eaten for a long time, was alone and not too healthy. I immediately worried about how I could find food for him to eat, how to go back to the community to get something or whom to call to help him. After a while, I understood that he wanted to receive the Communion. His heart desired something else in that condition of deprivation. I had just enough time to call the priest who met him, baptized and confessed him, then gave him the Communion and I came to know that he died in a short time. What to say? In encountering the mission, we must be ready to let the hearts encounter the others and whatever it may be we must be ready to do the will that God inspires us. Only then, will we be real instruments in His hands. I thank him sincerely for all I have been able to experience through His grace in this long life in the mission!
sr. Filomena Alicandro, Provincia Bangladesh