“The road to peace, like the road we took to reach Buneg, is long, sometimes coiled, narrow, dark and stormy, but a road we travel each day to bring a spark of hope for our nation, for our fellow countrymen, for the present and succeeding generations.”
By LYN V. RAMO
At 73, Sister Alice Sobreviñas, OSB, seems frail but she beams with life and energy. In fact, her hands are full, not only with her responsibilities as one of the more senior nuns of the Sta. Scholastica Convent in Baguio City, but also with her activities to uplift majority of Filipinos.
She was the nun in the presidium of leaders of delegations who trooped to the site of the Joint Peace Consultation between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GPH, formerly GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) in Barangay Buneg, Lacub, Abra on April 27. This was part of the Cordillera Day commemoration and was jointly spearheaded by the Cordillera People’s Alliance and the Katribu Partylist.
Sr. Alice’s task was to deliver the introductory speech in the “revered joint peace consultation,” which she considers a surprise saying she was not worthy, yet she felt honored doing so. ??Her introductory speech caught the attention of the 5,000-strong Cordillera Day participants who witnessed the peace consultation with indigenous peoples’ organizations in the Cordillera.
“In concrete, peace begins when the hungry are fed and when the thirst for justice is quenched,” Sr. Alice said. She added that genuine peace is only possible in a society where justice is nurtured by the dignity felt by every human being – free from poverty, cynicism, violations and other evils borne out by greed and the insatiable crave for power.
Sr. Alice considers her participation in the joint GPH-NDFP consultations as a deeper and more meaningful way of celebrating Easter, which, for her is a movement toward overcoming death.
Conversion, obedience, poverty
Sis. Alice Sobreviñas, OSB (Photo by Lyn V. Ramo / bulatlat.com)
Living up to her community’s advocacy for human rights, justice and peace and the plight of the urban poor, she also brings to life her congregation’s vows of conversion, obedience and poverty.
With the vow of conversion, in Latin conversatio murom, she said, one strives to become better each day. This embraces an array of virtues, including the implicit vow of chastity. This also explains the nuns’ continuous quest for ways to improve not only themselves but also the community.
The vow of obedience does not only mean obeying superiors, but also constant dialogue and deliberations that come with an obedience that is not blind.
“There is always dialogue that settles differences, especially in mission assignments. There is always an opportunity to talk it out with the superior,” she confides.
She says decisions on great matters are done through consensus and consultation and there is respect in the wisdom of elders.
The vow of poverty is in the observance of moderation in everything. “Community life is central to our lives as religious. One cannot go on his or her own. There is always prayer, community and mission, which give flesh to our vows,” says Sr. Alice, who has given her life in the service of the masses.
Journeying with the poor
Sr. Alice likened her almost unending journey to the Cordillera interior to the peace process.
“The road to peace, like the road we took to reach Buneg, is long, sometimes coiled, narrow, dark and stormy, but a road we travel each day to bring a spark of hope for our nation, for our fellow countrymen, for the present and succeeding generations,” she said.
Sr. Alice grew up in a small town open to all kinds of people and that is Pakil, Laguna. Her late father was a health worker. She grew up witnessing how he served the sick, especially the poor.
She was active in the Legion of Mary, doing catechism work and adult education.
She entered the convent at 26 and later taught in St. Scholastica College in Manila.
In her 30’s, she asked to be relieved from teaching to do development work among Manila’s urban poor. Her exposure to the pangs of hunger in Manila slums fanned her passion to work with those who have less in life.??She experienced the harsh realities of the Marcos martial-law era, surviving water cannons spraying dyed water to identify the protesters, in rallies and big multi-sectoral mobilizations.
She remembers one big anti-dictatorship rally, where police picked up all Benedictine sisters except her.
“We were told we were good at running,” she said, as she recalled hiding among the stocky urban poor delegation and the pillars along Sta. Cruz, Manila. But how could one run with thousands more ahead and still more closely following. She recalled going home to the convent barefoot, her habit turning blue from white due to the dyed water, only to find out that all her companions were detained for one night in a Quezon City facility. “Only my veil was intact,” she said with fondness.
The congregation understood the call of the times. It allowed nuns to go out to respond to the needs of the communities. It is with the congregation that she learned the value for life, the value for human life that must be preserved. She said she also learns not to be dominant over the rest of God’s creation.
The congregation was not alien to the social movement at that time. Most of all, she appreciated the giftedness that the nuns shared in solidarity with the poor. “All these things you do because God is at the center of your life and this teaches you love for God, human beings and the world,” she stressed.
After a short but meaningful peasant advocacy work in Southern Leyte, she returned to the education sector in Southern Tagalog, shortly before she transferred to Baguio City. She moved to the Cordillera almost seven years ago, from her stint as assistant principal of the St. Scholastica College West Grove in Silang, Cavite. She was in her sixties then and it was about time she attended to her then deteriorating health. “I came for health reasons, and since I was already over 60, it was time to join the other sisters here,” she said.