Pilar Tilos, deceased Filipino Columban lay missionary, and Malala Yousafzai, critically ill

Pilar Tilos (right) with Emma Pabera and Gloria Canama

This morning I celebrated the Mass in honor of La Virgen del Pilar, the Virgin of the Pillar, a major feast in Spanish-speaking countries and in two areas in the Philippines where Chavacano, the only Spanish-based creole language in Asia, is spoken.

However, Chavacano isn't spoken in Hinobaan, in the very south of Negros Occidental, where PIlar was from. Hiligaynon, a visayan language, is spoken there. She was born on 12 October and, like many a Filipino, 'brought her own name with her', as we say in Ireland. Her parents named her 'Pilar' because of the feast of Our Lady. Pilar was a public school teacher there but in 1990 headed for Pakistan with Gloria Canama from Tangub City, Misamis Occidental, and Emma Pabera, a public school prinicapl from Candoni, also in Negros Occidental. These were 'RP1' [Republic of the Philippines 1], the first team of Columban lay missionaries from the Philippines. [More recent groups carry the letters 'PH', which the government now uses rather than 'RP'.]

Pilar wrote in Misyon in November-December 1993 about her difficulties in learning Punjabi, Breaking the Language Barrier. There she shared the frustration of many a language student: There were times that I would have liked to throw the book at the teacher. But these urban poor people gave me hope and determination to continue learning the language.

Malala Yousafzai [born 1998]

By the very fact of giving up a professional job in the Philippines to live and work among poor women in Pakistan, Muslim and Catholics, where women in general don't have the status they have here was a powerful witness to her faith in Jesus Christ. Pilar's commitment, and that of her companions, was a total contrast to the values of the Taliban who shot 14-year-old Malala Yousufzai in northwest Pakistan on 9 October because she advocated education for girls and criticized the group. Long before this she had been recognized nationally and internationally for her advocacy work.

Pilar died suddenly on 4 January 1996. Due to difficulties in getting visas, none of her family were able to attend her funeral in Pakistan, though they were represented by Fr Desmond Quinn, an Irish Columban who had worked in Negros for many years and who knew her family well. Pilar was mourned greatly by Muslims and Christians, men and women.

Shrine of Our Lady of the Pillar, Fort Pilar, Zamboanga City

Both Christians and Muslims venerate La Virgen del Pilar in Zamboanga City. I'm sure that Our Blessed Mother under that title was protecting Pilar Tilos all her life, especially when she was in Pakistan. And I'm sure that she's interceding for young Malala who is still in critical condition.

Please pray for the full recovery of Malala and for the soul of Pilar.


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