The summer of my junior year of college, I lived and served at a shelter for at-risk young girls in the Philippines who had been removed from their homes due to abuse and other cases of harm. Soon, I learned that in many of their communities, human trafficking was on the rise. The more I learned about the realities of human trafficking, I became angry. I became angry at the actions of people who trafficked other people, the system of injustice, the realities of poverty, and the economic issues that continued to give rise to the atrocity.
I recall one of our closing prayer sessions in community, where I prayed for the conversion of the hearts of the people who traffic people—wherever they were. And with faith, I remember praying that just maybe, one person would be spared that night. But I say to you, love your enemies.
That night, God had ignited a fire in me to commit to serving as an advocate for justice, and to work towards anti-trafficking efforts.
Flash forward almost a decade later, and I was serving as a lay missioner leading weekly sessions with the minors in the Baguio City Jail. One day, I remember one of the youth I had built rapport with all of a sudden said to me, “You know I’m here for trafficking.” Without skipping a beat my naive self said something along the lines in Tagalog, “That is what’s so wrong with this system. It’s always the victims who are in jail!” And then, the 14-year-old stopped me mid-sentence and responded, “No, Ate (older sister), I was the trafficker.” At that moment, my heart sank. I thought to myself, “How could this be?” But I say to you, love your enemies.
And in that moment, I learned mercy and saw things differently. This Lenten season, I find myself challenged by the call to live with mercy, forgiveness, compassion, and love, just as Jesus did. It is not easy for me to love my enemies or to even try to make sense of injustice in the world, but I do believe in redemption. And I do trust and pray that by God’s grace, my heart will continue to soften towards love, and be drawn to conversion, even when I do not understand.
- Recall a moment where you experienced a conversion of heart. What did that feel like and how has that changed you since?
- When have you been challenged to forgive or respond with mercy? Who are you still struggling to forgive?
- What social injustice are you frustrated by? How can you draw God into your Lenten journey in addressing this frustration?
Crystal Catalan serves as the director of diversity, equity, and inclusion at Presentation High School in San Jose, CA. She holds degrees from the University of San Diego and Eastern University, and previously served as a missioner with Cabrini Mission Corps in New York, the Philippines, Swaziland, and Radnor, PA at Cabrini University. She recently graduated with a masters in pastoral ministries with an emphasis in restorative justice and chaplaincy at Santa Clara University.