If you meet Sister Gliceria Cruz, MQHM, the first word that probably comes into your head is "JOY." Standing about 4 foot 10 inches, with a smile that lights up a room, Sister's pink habit and white veil make her hard to miss. Her sweet appearance contradicts the darker side of the work she and the Mary Queen of Heaven Missionaries are called to do in the Philippines.
Each night, the sisters don clothes that help them fade into the background of their local "red light" district. They go there to fight human trafficking, specifically in the sex trade. Most of the girls the sisters attempt to save from this miserable life are between the ages of eight and fifteen.
The girls are lured to the city with promises of education, jobs, or an arranged marriage into a good family. Fed drugs to keep them compliant, what they find is imprisonment, exploitation, and addiction.
The sisters travel in pairs. One of them will go into the bar to offer friendship and consoling conversation to a young woman while the other acts as a lookout. First, they assure the woman worker that she can safely leave the life into which she has been forced. Often, the young woman has small children to worry about; the sisters welcome them as well. It may take weeks or months to build a relationship of trust between a sister and a woman. Many times, the sisters must pay a "bar tax" of 800 pesos (about $15) to remove the working prostitute from the bar.
The ministry has a two-tiered approach to their ministry: rescue and education.
Once the girl is convinced to accompany the sister, their destination is the Home of Love. There, they are given "shelter, rehabilitation, and childcare for those with children, while providing hope, love and dignity towards a well deserving life of happiness," according to Sister.
After psychological counseling, scholarships are given to those who want to finish their formal education. There are classes in sewing, baking, cooking/catering, and candle making for those who have resolved to seek a different, but employable, lifestyle.
The sisters keep in touch with their clients after they leave the Home of Love and encourage them to stay connected with each other as a means of support. A self-study done three years ago showed that 93 percent of their graduates were still pursuing productive lives.
Sister Gliceria brings God's joy to some of the most forgotten girls of the Philippines. She and her sisters are changing the world, one life at a time.
- Maureen Crowley Heil is Director of Programs and Development for the Pontifical Mission Societies, Boston.
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