Manila’s Sister Mary John Mananzan: 83 and still working for social justice

November 12, 2020

Sister Mary John Mananzan has dedicated her life to working for social justice.

Decades ago, Sister Mary John Mananzan’s social justice work faced long odds of success.

The Philippines was under martial law, and people in powerful positions preferred she and her Benedictine sisters stayed inside and away from the streets.

But Sister Mary John has spent decades helping women and workers make meaningful progress in her home country, and the Benedictine nun and activist’s inspiring 60-year career holds countless lessons for Catholics and all people working against the climate emergency, a similarly big problem that some people in power would prefer activists leave alone.

Sister Mary John, who recently celebrated her 83rd birthday, shared those lessons and her story on the Global Catholic Movement podcast.

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Sister Mary John talked about why she spends time in creation every day, and how contemplation and her regular prayer life give her the fuel she needs to keep working for social justice.

“It’s when you are running a motor, at some time you need gasoline. if you never get gasoline, you cannot drive, you cannot run, so that is the gasoline that feeds your energy to do something,” she said.

“Your spiritual, your contemplation, your spiritual nourishment is the one that feeds you, gives you the strength, and even the courage to dare things you wouldn’t dare if you had no conviction that God is with you.”

That comprises her spiritual life, the ora et labora, prayer and work. “These two are very much connected,” she said. “It is from the contemplation that you get the inspiration and the strength and the urge to do something about life and about helping people who are in need.”

Sister Mary John, who has been featured by news media outlets around the world, including by CNN Philippines, also shared stories from her time studying in Germany, when she learned from famed Jesuit priest and Catholic philosopher Karl Rahner, and from her “baptism by fire,” when she stood in solidarity with workers during a time of martial law in the Philippines.

Among the other topics explored in the wide-ranging interview:

Why she’s fearless

“Nobody can do anything with me . . . because if you are connected with God then I mean, what can they do to you anyway?”

Her daily prayer

“Help me to live this day with mindfulness, compassion and joy. That is my prayer every day.”

Miracles

How she and others helped build a hospital in one of the poorest provinces of the Philippines.

Her career in education

What she learned from co-founding GABRIELA, a federation with 50,000 members and 200 women organizations, and from working on ecological preservation and working at St. Scholastica’s College in Manila.

You’re encouraged to learn more about Sister Mary John’s work by uniting with Catholics worldwide and signing the petition at StandWithPopeFrancis.org. You also can read more about her work on CIDSE’s website here.

Watch the podcast interview below on our YouTube channel.