Mental health challenges are immensely challenging to address. Unlike physical wounds that can be seen by the naked eye and treated with systematic methods, mental health is invisible and must be approached on a case-by-case basis. This resulted in individuals dealing with such unseen difficulties becoming stigmatized, discriminated against, and discarded by society.
A religious group in the Philippines has dedicated themselves to this unique advocacy: taking care of psychiatric abandoned people and giving them a home where they are considered family.
For more than three decades, the Brothers of Mercy of Saint John of God in the province of Bulacan have been running the Hospicio de San Juan De Dios, a mental institution for the poor with mental disorders.
According to its current prior, Br. Raymond Marquez, he sees their mission as crucial in the present times when “mental health is at its lowest point.”
“This is when you realize the important role of the Church with regards to mental health,” he said. “We must not only focus on the spiritual aspect. We must be addressing human needs as a whole, and this includes the physical and psychological aspects.”
The brothers’ mission
The Brothers Hospitallers of Saint John of God, a worldwide congregation focused on medical and charitable efforts, was brought to the Philippines by American Br. Francis Joseph from Italy. The Bulacan chapter, Brothers of Mercy of Saint John of God, was founded on July 1, 1989.
After acquiring a piece of land from a donor, they built the Priory Hospice of Saint John of God, which looks after psychiatric abandoned men.
After some time, they acquired more land in Bulacan, which now houses psychiatric abandoned women.
At present, they are taking care of 76 men and 24 women.
Recognizing how sensitive mental health is, Br. Raymond explains how they go to great lengths to educate the faithful on the right way to look after the psychiatric abandoned.
“We conduct symposiums or seminars on mental health at least twice a year,” he said. “This is part of the prevention to make the youth and Church organizations aware with regards to mental health.
These projects mainly discuss psychological first aid and psychological crisis intervention.
They also expanded their mission to the deaf, where they conduct sign language courses for volunteers and seminarians, handled by one of their brothers, Bernardo Engay.
Furthermore, they also have projects dedicated to supporting inmates in the local jail, where they collaborate with a congregation of nuns in Bulacan.
Aside from gathering donations for their everyday needs, the brothers are facing a new massive obstacle.
When the donor of the land where their hospice for psychiatric abandoned men stands passed away, they found out that the children who inherited it proceeded to sell it. This essentially removed the brothers’ rights to the place.
Thankfully, they managed to acquire the land next to their hospice for psychiatric abandoned women, building a whole compound for their mission.
But there is still hard work to be done. They only finished the first phase of the construction for their new hospice building, which only involved setting up the foundations.
“We spent around P8 million on the construction... The second phase will need more than P10 million, and we are still amassing funds for it,” revealed Br. Raymond.
To reach their financial goals, they are conducting mission appeals to different parishes within their diocese.
A call for Catholic action
For Br. Raymond, their mission towards the psychiatric abandoned will only bear fruit if the Church, specifically the young people, will do their part in taking care of their own mental health.
“I call on the youth to give importance to their mental health. They are exposed to digital tools like phones and computers, and most of them don’t even get enough sleep,” he said. “They forget to give their brains a much-needed rest. This is one of the major causes of mental health issues.”
“The increase in the number of young people with suicidal thoughts is alarming,” he also said. “That’s why I see the work initiated by Saint John of God as extremely crucial these days.”
He also invited young men to answer the call of becoming a religious brother, which is not that prominent in the Philippines.
“I hope many will respond to the call, and those who have responded may remain strong until the end,” he said.
To those who want to send monetary support to the Brothers of Mercy of Saint John of God, you may do so through the following accounts:
Philippine National Bank (PNB) Bulacan-Bocaue Branch: 200310043959
GCash Bernardo Engay, 09169252804
Philippine National Bank (PNB) Bulacan-Bocaue Branch
200310055783 (Peso Account)
200360030253 (US Dollar Account)
Community of the Brothers of Mercy of St. John of God, Inc./Brothers of Mercy
PNBMPHMM (Swift Code)
09169252804 (GCash Account)
Radio Veritas Asia (RVA), a media platform of the Catholic Church, aims to share Christ. RVA started in 1969 as a continental Catholic radio station to serve Asian countries in their respective local language, thus earning the tag “the Voice of Asian Christianity.” Responding to the emerging context, RVA embraced media platforms to connect with the global Asian audience via its 21 language websites and various social media platforms.