A pilgrimage of the heart, being welcomed and blessed in Bendum

Maria Villalonga Goñalons

One month has passed since I left Bendum, a place that left an indelible mark in my heart and soul. I spent almost two months in this sitio in Mindanao, and I can confidently say that it was an experience that changed my life. I made memories and friends that I will cherish forever, and I felt emotions I never experienced before.

After finishing my master’s, I started a gap year of traveling and volunteering around Asia and Latin America. I wanted to know better and understand the world before starting to work, considering the socio-ecological polycrisis that we all face.

I was fortunate enough to meet Pedro Walpole at the Eco Summer Camp 2023 in Switzerland, and when I listened to his talk, I knew I still had a lot to learn from him. God’s providence brought me to Bendum some months later, where I spent precious time with Pedro and the community. I cannot describe in words how deeply grateful I am for this.

If I had to describe the experience in key words, these would certainly be: nature, Creator, beauty, simplicity, joy, vulnerability, values, meaning, roots, culture, mission, service, diversity, welcome, community. Oh well, and rain…. and rice… and kamote… and lots of mosquitoes.

Overall, living in Bendum was a lesson in simplicity and integrity. From cold water morning showers to engaging in various projects in mother tongue-based multilingual education (MTB-MLE) and exploring nature-based solutions like bamboo construction, each day was filled with purpose and joy. But beyond the tangible tasks, it was the intangible moments such as the laughter of children and the wisdom of the Pulangiyēn community, that really moved my heart.

This time is a gift. It is a chance to find peace and to live with simplicity without being always in a rush – to do contemplación en la acción (from Ignacio de Loyola, Ejercicios Espirituales), to feel at home far away from home, to listen to the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor, to listen outside and inside, to extend my heart.

I learned to distinguish between a “want” and a “need”, to live joyfully in simplicity, to learn from every gesture and spoken word, to recognise strength in vulnerability, to find God in the struggles and in the never-ending joy of the children.

Daily life in Bendum instilled in me that the protection of Creation needs to be understood in a broader and integral sense, in a more holistic approach. Protecting our common home does not only ask for structural changes in our lifestyles, making them more sustainable within regional and planetary boundaries, but also requires the protection all forms of life and identity that sustain it.

That means taking care of everyone’s life and livelihoods, respecting their culture, protecting their language (minoritarian as it may be), changing our ways to communicate, and relating with others in a non-consumerist manner.

In Bendum, I learned to take the prayer “Patient trust” (from Pierre Teilhard de Chardin SJ) seriously, to really abandon myself and trust the slow work of God, because we don’t have the power to change things overnight. I realised that it is not what we possess, but who we are – our human quality – and the relationships we have that matter. I internalised the concept of “less is more” and “simple is better.”

Maria introduces herself to curious APC students, writing her name on the blackboard.

Amidst the lush landscapes and the laughter of children, I discovered the true essence of life – the beauty of simplicity, the richness of relationships, and the joy of living in harmony with nature. The community’s strong sense of welcome and caring, as well as their deep connection to their culture and roots, inspired me to re-evaluate my own values and priorities.

In a world plagued by materialism and superficiality, Bendum stands as a sanctuary of authenticity, where true wealth lies not in possessions but in human connections and the richness of community.

I am deeply thankful for all I learnt from Pedro. He is a unique person who you can learn from every gesture and spoken word. His life-mission, coherence, example, selfless service, constant availability, make him one of the persons I most admire in life.

I feel very privileged for having spent almost two months in Bendum, surrounded by amazing people and contributing to a meaningful work. It is really a blessing that I will always count twice.

In conclusion, my journey in Bendum was not just a volunteer experience; it was a profound pilgrimage of the heart that reaffirmed my faith in humanity and the beauty of God’s creation. It was a chance to learn, to grow, to connect with people and nature in a way I never did before.

As I continue to navigate through life’s challenges and uncertainties, I will carry the lessons and memories from Bendum with me, guiding me towards a faith-based life of purpose, simplicity, and engagement.

Maria Villalonga Goñalons was welcomed as a volunteer at APC in Bendum from 13 January to 2 March 2024. Maria is from Spain and describes herself as an economist committed with an integral ecology. She has a baccalaureate in economic and social sciences (2017), degrees in economics and in business administration from the Universitat Pompeu Fabra (2021), a global BBA from the ESSEC Business School (2022), and a master’s in environmental and energy economics from the AgroParis Tech, IFP School and INSTN (2023). She can be reached through her email mariavillalongagonalons@gmail.com.

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