They are the Mary Queen of Heaven Missionaries, and who looking at them could imagine that they have taken upon themselves — as have so many great missionary sisters before them — such difficult work, serving populations invisible to so many?
In a red-light district in Cebu, central Philippines, the taxi stopped when its passenger called out, “There, that girl,” pointing to one of the women standing in the line along the road in Camagayan community. His choice of sex partner, however, is a nun.
“No, she’s not one of us,” the pimp answered the man in the taxi. The chosen woman is a member of Mary Queen of Heaven Missionaries (MQHM), who was with a few other nuns and volunteers talking to women sex workers in the street while they waited for customers.
These “rescue operations,” teams of two to six nuns and volunteer lay people, are part of the apostolate to reach out to prostituted women and girls in Philippine cities and towns and to establish contact with them by distributing rosaries, scapulars and missionaries’ phone numbers so those who want help can contact them.
The group’s foundress, Corazon Salazar, started the apostolate in Cebu in 1996 as a laywoman. In 2000, now retired Cardinal Ricardo Vidal, then archbishop of Cebu, formally established the Institute of Mary Queen of Heaven Missionaries as a Catholic Association of the faithful. Three years later, he canonically erected it as a Public Association of the Faithful with Salazar, a professed sister by then, as founding superior. Its work has since expanded to other cities and towns, including this city of Marikina, northeast of Manila. MQHM nuns are also based in California.
They go into bars and brothels “not to judge these women who work there, but to reach out to them and offer them a way out of prostitution should they want to get out. . .”At each sex den, the assigned team member first asks the bar manager or owner for permission to visit with women workers. She tells bar officials her group of missionaries will give out free rosaries and scapulars to the women, along with leaflets on how to pray the rosary. . .At brothels, they aim to arrive before 3 p.m. since women go on display to customers around that time and cannot be disturbed.
The sisters offer temporary shelter, rehabilitation and livelihood training to women seeking a way out of sex work, and a range of services for mothers and their children.
Bless their lay volunteers who go into these places with them, who pray with the sisters, pray with the women, pray again when they return from the work — prayers of cleansing, of mercy, of hope.
Such important and necessary work, and they seem to undertake it so joyfully!
Reading headlines is making me feel pretty down, lately. I keep thinking of the women who have been kidnapped by ISIS and Boko Haram and women and girls all over the world who find themselves forced to work in the sex trade, and I feel so helpless. Once submerged in that darkness — even if they entered it “willingly” — it is so difficult for these people to ever find the light again. These sisters help them to find it. Perhaps donating to them will make me feel a little less helpless, today.
If you wish to help, the Denver Archdiocese lists them among their missionary co-operative:
[Those] who wish to make additional donations to any of these groups, should send a check made payable to the “Archdiocese of Denver” and indicate in the memo line the group’s name. Collected funds will be sent to the group from the Archdiocese. Send donations to:
The Office of Social Ministry
Archdiocese of Denver
1300 S. Steele Street
Denver CO 80210