Columban's Day in Rome 2014

The author
by Rose Basada

It is a blessing and privilege for me to have been able to participate at the opening of the 1400th anniversary of the death of St. Columban. There were four major events. It started on Friday the 10th of October with the ecumenical vespers at 5 pm at the Basilica of San Clemente. The church was full of pilgrims from different parts of Europe. It was a very moving celebration as people gathered regardless of culture and denomination so I was able to meet pilgrims from other churches, from catholic Christians to Anglicans and Methodists. The parish priest of Bobbio held the relics of St. Columban during the procession. It was said that the relics had been kept at the Bobbio Museum. After the ecumenical vespers, we walked towards the Basilica of Santa Maria sopra Minerv.  Later, together fellow pilgrims, we listened to “The Priests” in concert to raise money for the Hospital of St. Elizabeth of Hyderabad in Pakistan.

On the second day 11th October we gathered at the Basilica of St. John Lateran for the liturgical welcome of the relics of St. Columban and solemn Eucharistic Celebration presided by His Eminence, Cardinal Agostino Vallini, Cardinal Vicar of Rome. There were thousands of pilgrims in this event as well as priests and bishops. I was very blessed to have read one of the prayers of the faithful at this mass. It was very important to me to be able to contribute and pray for peace and interreligious dialogue, something I know is important in my work as a missionary and in the world today. I was amazed at how devoted the pilgrims to St. Columban were as many of them traveled from Germany, France, Ireland, Bobbio, Florence and each group carried a banner with the image of St. Columban on. I'm happy I got the chance to walk and make friends with other pilgrims.  I feel humbled and inspired by their patience and perseverance in joining the pilgrimage as I saw many of them walk for long hours to transfer from one church to another. This trip was very important for me as a Columban Lay Missionary as it helped me deepen my understanding about our patron Saint.

On the third day there was a solemn concelebrated mass of thanksgiving in honor of St. Columban.  The main celebrant was His Eminence, Cardinal Sean Brady, Archbishop of Armargh, Ireland, at the Basilica of Santa Maria sopra Minerva. It was the only homily I understood because the celebrant normally spoke Italian but at this mass there was also an English translation. His homily was very informative and encouraging. It continues to gives me inspiration to keep going in my missionary journey.  It gave everyone more information about who St. Columban was. Indeed, his memory lives on the life of the parishioners of Bobbio and many Parishes in Italy and other places around the world today.

We ended our pilgrimage by attending the angelus with Pope Francis in St Peters square. It felt like a very personal welcome as though we were surrounded by thousands of people, Pope Francis was so welcoming mentioning the Columban Pilgrimage. It was a blessing to see the Pope and be able to pray with him alongside with my fellow Columbans.


Kindness, surprises, shocks and more in China

by Mavic Mercene

The author in Beijing
A year ago, I set foot in China for the first time after more than 20 years and visited 7 wonderful Filipino teachers under AITECE, a  program of the Missionary Society of St. Columban. Traveling from one province to another of this gigantic country was a personal triumph because I realized I have not lost my sense of adventure by going into this vast land.… alone most of the time.  Here I experienced kindness from people I do not even know.  I learned how people do things, many of which are totally different from mine. These culture shocks made me realize that there are other ways, not only my way.   I was amazed at China’s fast paced industrialization with its high-technology which can be seen in classrooms and the different transport system.  I was mesmerized by this huge land with numerous natural and man-made charms.  I learned much of their history.  My trip to China has definitely widened my horizon and changed the way I see China and its people, definitely for the better.
Changing clothes in public places.  Approximately half an hour before the plane touched down in Changchun from Hangzhou, the couple (in their 50s) seated beside me changed clothes.  First, the woman who was seated next to me took off her pants leaving just her underwear. I was sorry I saw this part but when I realized what was happening, I was embarrassed and kept my head from turning to their direction.  Few minutes later, she stood, straightened her pants and seem to have completed her business.  Then I heard a sound similar to that of a zipper. Unconsciously, I turned to their direction and was shocked to see the man unzip and take off his pants.  The woman saw my reaction so she covered the man with her shawl.      

At one time, I used the public toilet in one of the malls in Beijing.  After relieving myself, I checked out my hair and face in the mirror.  From the mirror I saw a young lady in her early twenties with only her high heels, blouse and black panty on.   She was trying on a new pair of pants which she just bought. 

Crotchless or split pants
Crotch-less pants.  On my last day in Nanchang University, I decided to walk around Run Xi Lake and just enjoy the peace and quiet this body of water brings to any soul, restless and rested.   When I finally found my spot, I saw a boy, perhaps a little over two years old, proudly being walked by a man whom I suspected to be his father.  I thought at first that the boy’s pants was patched with brown cloth in the crotch area until father and son climbed the stairs leading them out of the lake.  I stared at the little boy’s pants and was surprised to see flesh instead.  Then the man carried the boy and together squatted allowing the boy to pee.  Crotch-less pants, sometimes called split pants or pants with no seat, are worn by children in China to allow them to answer the call of nature anytime, anywhere without having to put down the pants or unzip it.     

Humps.  Nanchang University (NU) has electric cars which provide transport within the campus.  When I first rode it, I thought I will have a heart attack. It was a beautiful Monday evening, the breeze was cool and fresh, I hopped in the car and when I was finally settled in my seat I decided to say my prayers.  As I was silently thanking my Lord for keeping me safe during my journey from Hong Kong to Nanchang University, I was suddenly jolted in my seat as if the car collided with another. I screamed so loud and asked “what was that?” “Just a hump”, my hosts Lilia Fe and Marnelli said. When I checked the driver and the other passengers out everything seemed normal and quiet.  Lilia Fe and Marnelli reminded me to hold on to something for safety whenever I’m taking the public transport.  During the three days I was in NU, I realized that when a driver sees a hump, he will not slow down. In fact he accelerates even more.  The Chinese do not allow any challenge to stop them from doing what they are suppose to accomplish. 

Apologies are not necessary. I took the D train from Changchun West Train Station to Beijing.  Changchun West station is huge, well designed and fully-equipped.   Twenty minutes before D26 train arrived from Harbin, all passengers were allowed entry to the bay area for boarding.  The bay area is located one floor below the waiting lounge and could be reached by taking the escalator. I panicked when just before getting on the escalator, a man who was a step behind me pushed hard his way towards the escalator forcing me and my luggage to spin 360 degrees and almost fell.  Fortunately, I got the situation under control and I did not fall flat on the floor.  As I was gathering myself, I was hoping that the man would be waiting for me ready to say something. However, when I looked around, the man was already at the escalator landing never to be seen or heard again.  Oh well. I was too excited for my long train ride that I will not allow anything to dampen my spirit. 

Cut in Line.   Several times I was cut in line while waiting for my turn to buy train tickets or waiting to board the bus or the plane.    Many times I got frustrated but managed to keep my cool and avoided confrontation.  An inch of space is too big for a mainlander to pass. When passengers for my flight to Xiamen was called for boarding, I was one of the first ones to stand in line.  But when the flight crew actually allowed boarding, one man cut in front of me.  I let it pass.  But this man allowed his companions, a group of ten or so men and women, to cut in line as well. That’s eleven passengers getting ahead of me. I was not in my country so I just shook my head in disbelief.  Anyway I thought, I will not be left behind by the plane. 

Kindness. In China, I experienced several acts of kindness too.  One such act I believe will stay with me for awhile happened on a Sunday afternoon.   After the grand tour of West Lake, Bernadette (Dithas) Nuque  and I decided to go to her school campus.  We took the bus from Hangzhou City to Xiasha district.  We were lucky to find seat for this almost one hour journey.  One stop after we boarded, the bus was already packed with students returning from their weekend break.    The bus driver was driving like crazy, swerving left and right every chance he got.  A young small thin perhaps sixteen year old girl standing in front of me was smiling at me and when I smiled back at her, she asked with her soft sweet voice “Hi! Are you from Zimbabwe?”  I politely said no. I wondered what made this girl ask that question.  The bus journey continued and every time I looked at this girl, she would be staring and smiling back at me. When we were near our station, Dithas and I stood allowing this girl to sit.  With the bus driver’s reckless driving, I had difficulty controlling my balance.  The girl must have seen my problem so she put both her hands with all her might on my back to serve as an so I will not fall and she sincerely said “Please be careful.”   I thought she was an angel in disguise.

Ballymun: My Mission

by Lorelei Ocaya

My six years in the missions has been a very satisfying and heart-warming experience.  It was a difficult journey both personal and work yet I would say I have been blessed with a mission area that has given me a sense of heaven on earth.  At this moment, all my heart can say is GRATITUDE.

Ballymun when I first arrived in the summer of 2008 was on its peak of the government’s regeneration programme due to massive anti-social behaviour especially of the younger generation.  Drug dealing/using, binge drinking, vandalism, littering are just few of the problems that the Dublin City council is facing.  There was not a week that we don’t see a getaway car burnt in the park, near the shopping centre and worst, in front of our house.  Lads hanging around the flats, we did not know what they’re up to.  Ballymun is a haven of illegal activities.  Also, there is a huge number of suicides among young adult.  I was petrified.   

2008 was also the height of the investigation and reports about clerical abuses.  The religious and church were named and shamed.  More and more TV programs and even ads are very satirical about them.  As a result, trust with the clerics and in the church was breached. There was a huge decrease of mass goers even from the older generation.  They were disillusioned.  A great number of people became cynical and sarcastic about the whole business of the church.  Three generations were lost (35-45years old, young adults and teenagers).  This is very evident in Ballymun.  I felt it was very rough and very tough. I asked myself, ‘was I wrong to choose this place when I had the opportunity to say no, when there were options in the countryside parishes?’

But the heart of a missionary prevailed in me.  I took the challenge and told myself ‘bring it on’ as the Irish would say when they bring their football/hurling clubs and race to Croagh Park for the GAA matches. 

Indeed the challenge was on!  There were so much that I have to unlearn, learn and relearn.  Loads of times I felt so discouraged, disappointed, disillusioned.  People I worked with were tired to create avenues for parishioners to get involved and participate.  Every time there is a suggestion they chorused “been there, done that, nothing happen, never again!”  Dealing with the environment was tough enough, how much more with the people I worked with?  It took me courage to be patient. 

Whoever said that ‘patience is a virtue’ really is a virtuous person.  I learned the virtue of patience and learned to let go and let God and everything fall into place.  I became open to every opportunity I met along the way – especially in establishing relationships and friendships with people.  I saw a different perspective.  People also became open of my presence and accepting of who I am.  I felt there was a grand exchange and appreciation of each others’ giftedness, a joyful presence of one another.  The following episodes of my journey just flowed much easier and flew very quickly. 

But of course, this doesn’t mean a bed of roses.  Like every journey there is always bumpy jagged road that make the journey more interesting and challenging.  All I am confident about is that when the journey gets tough, it’s worth trusting that my God has been very faithful with me.  God is always there to guide and protect me, to support me in every way.

After six years, nothing much changed in Ballymun.  There are still occasional troubles.  Anti-social behaviour still very much present, some people are still cynical about the church.  However, I would say that with the concerted effort of the three parishes in Ballymun, support from the Archdiocese of Dublin and the Columbans in the region, we can create alternative and better ways for people especially the youth to engage in the church as a community of faith.  And that they will have personal relationship with Jesus and experience the healing, loving and compassionate God.    

Personally, I still ask myself why did I choose Ballymun, why I stayed, why did I do the things I did, what kept me going?  I guess this time, it is how I can be more of the mission given Ballymun as my mission area and to be much aware of my own purpose in life.  It was rough and tough yet having experienced the generosity, kindness and openness of the people and their willingness to do something for their community despite their circumstances, was for me enough to get my journey going. 

I would say that I have been blessed being assigned in Ballymun.  I am very much grateful for the call to participate God’s mission in Ballymun through the Society of St. Columban.  The region of Ireland is very supportive and appreciative of the presence and efforts of Lay Missionaries and that itself is an assurance for the Lay Missions in Ireland to continue. I am thankful to God for the gift of mission and the people who made my journey worth taking.  A greatest gift indeed! 

My Missionary Journey in Taiwan

By Sherryl Lou Capili, Columban Lay Missionary - Taiwan
June 1, 2014 Reflection During the Homily

Good morning everyone. Today's gospel from Matthew is one of the readings in the Bible that gives me comfort for these past 3 years that I've been here in Taiwan as a lay missionary. I remember before I joined the Columbans, I was also like each and every one of you who needed to find a decent work in order to provide for my family and to help my mother send my younger brothers to school. A few years ago before I knew about the Columban Lay Missionaries, I was enjoying my work in my dream company because I get to travel to many places in the Philippines and meet many people from all walks of life, that actually gave me the inspiration to go outside the country and experience living in another culture. I was very adventurous at that time and ready to give up my dream job.

At that time, I never had any idea about being a missionary. I thought missionaries are only the priests and the nuns. After almost 3 years of living here in Taiwan, I believe God has led me to be in another country not just for adventure but because of a deeper and richer purpose in which only God knows. When I said “yes” to His call, I was ready to leave my family, friends, and other possible career opportunities without knowing what awaits me here in Taiwan.

When Jesus, in today’s reading said to the 11 disciples, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, …teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you,” I feel that Jesus was also talking to me and that he used the same words to invite me to share in his missionary life. My problem is, how will I be able to do that? Like the disciples, I also had many doubts about myself and what talents or skills I can contribute. I wondered if I’ll be able to learn Chinese and if I’ll be fit for my assignment in the migrants ministry. When I encounter uneasy and difficult situations, I feel that my missionary spirit is also being challenged.

For example, my experience for 2 years of living and journeying with the ladies at our HMISC female shelter for victims of trafficking showed me many realities that are both happy and sad. These realities could also be true to most of us who left our homes and are away from our loved ones. It is true that we can be vulnerable in many ways like when we feel stressed and lonely and we tend to make decisions and do things which can be harmful to ourselves, to others, and the people we love dearly. 

At the shelter, I had the opportunity to live with Vietnamese, Thais, Indonesians, and fellow Filipinos and heard their stories of joys and struggles. I remember that no matter how many times a new lady would arrive at the shelter because they’ve been sexually or physically abused in their workplace, I couldn’t help but be affected and get angry towards those who took advantage of them, but of course I would have to try my best to compose myself so I can be present to the ladies needs and make them feel safe. One weakness that I realized I have is wanting to solve a problem right away. I would ask myself, what shall I do, what can I do for them? Sometimes I don’t have the answer at all, which makes me feel very frustrated. 

It is also sad to witness how many of us would fall into affairs outside of marriage while living away from our spouses and children. It is even sadder to hear ourselves say, “Only in Taiwan,” lang naman ito”….and later on we don’t realize how it is slowly pulling us away from our families. When I get to have meals together with the ladies at the shelter, they are very free to share with me about their relationships. It was hard for me to hear how their relationships with their husbands suffer because of this unhealthy coping with their loneliness of being away from home. Because we are social beings, of course we all need somebody to be with us, care for us, and share with us in our happy and low moments, but I believe there are healthy ways of doing it, without having to hurt ourselves or the people around us. 

Last year, it was also a big challenge for my missionary journey to hear news from home that my brother was hospitalized and was admitted to the ICU. I needed to go home to be with him and my family…and I had to make a decision whether to continue serving here in Taiwan or not. Events such as this would put my faith into test but at the same time remind me that I have a God who sent me to be here, and I don’t have to worry because He would take good care of my family and loved ones back home. Sometimes in our anxious moments, we tend to act on our own, forgetting that we have a God who is greater than our problems.   

When Jesus said, “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age,” I am reminded of the support I get from many people. I am grateful for the guidance and encouragement from fellow Columbans, the people I work with and friends whose presence make me realize that I am not alone in this journey. I am also thankful for the friendship that I have gained from the many volunteers in the different ministries and communities of our diocese, and with the moms and dads of HAPI through the seminars we had together. Your presence, life stories, and examples serve as a wonderful inspiration for me.

My heart is filled with joy as I look back to these past 3 years of living, learning, loving, and witnessing on how God is present and is at work in every moment of my life. It is also such a joy to see Jesus’ presence in every person I meet. My prayer for all of us who are gathered here today is that, in times of doubting, may we also immediately be reminded of God’s loving promise…that He is always with us. Amen.

To play or to work?

by Reins Mosqueda 

            One time, when I  stayed in the central house and was about to leave for work the second day, I said goodbye to some fellow members and said that I will go ahead because I still have to go to work.  I work at the Holy Family for Special Education (HFHC), a center for mentally-challenged students.  One fellow member said to me that I will not go to the center to work but I will go there to play.  I was so struck by what he said,  “to play and not to work.”  This phrase keeps ringing to my ears while traveling going to the center. To play and not to work? Hmm…how about that?

            Our students love to play!  They play many games and one of those I named after the title of an old song “Name Game”.  Some students during class break would start cracking jokes or teasing each other and you can hear them laughing so loud and free.  Most of the time during break, one or two students would start to tease their schoolmates by citing the names of the people around.  They are like teachers who would start checking the attendance of students inside the classroom.  Once they hear one’s name, they will laugh so hard.  Everybody is so happy and enjoying it.  At first, I didn’t understand why they are so happy just for that simple thing.  I tried to analyze what’s so funny about that – calling one’s name.  Nevertheless, I love seeing them enjoying themselves.  Listening how they tease each other made me notice more of their simple joys in life.  What’s with the name?  If there is one word that would catch your attention even if it is spoken by someone from afar – it is your name.  Sometimes you cannot help yourself but turn your back if your name was called and just realized that it is somebody else’s.

            When the students started to include me in their playtime, I can say that they are enjoying calling my name.  Just imagine that many students keep on calling your name many times aloud.  Mo Rui Na Lao Shi!  That is my Chinese name.  Yes, so loud that even the people inside the center’s office could hear.  One time, our directress was so curious about the students’ game.  She asked me if it is alright that the students are bullying me.  I explained to her that they are not bullying me.  We are playing and we are having fun.
            I just realized that it is true – I go to the center not to work but to play.  The students are teaching me to be more simple and humble…a beautiful understanding why I have deep joy here in my heart as a missionary.

            “…And as we grow with age, may we never lose that child-like simplicity and humility which draws us ever deeper into your loving presence.” 

Serving God with a different language: Language of Love

By  Joan Yap 

The organization of “New Immigrants Children” consists of children of Filipino women married to Taiwanese. These kids only speak Mandarin. Their mothers encourage them to make Mandarin their mother tongue because the mothers also wish to develop their Mandarin. I observed that many moms attend the Filipino/English mass because they have difficulty understanding the Chinese mass. They bring with them their family especially their kids.
For the Filipino mothers, being away from home, church has become their refuge. A mother’s faith becomes a gift to the community. What inspires me most is that, since there are only a few Catholic in Taiwan, they are very generous in allowing their children to help and participate in any church activities. It was through their generosity and spirit of volunteerism that the parish was inspired to organize Altar Servers for the New Immigrants Children this year. It was really not that easy to start with because of the language but we believe in the grace of God that we are able to understand each other and everything went well.  Language did not become a barrier as long as we know that what we do is for the glory of God’s name.
My experience with the Altars Servers gives me the opportunity to look back at my own childhood years. I remember, every Sunday, my parents together with my siblings would attend mass and pray. At that time, church for me was the most peaceful place, though I didn’t have much understanding what they were doing but all I knew I was there to pray. It was through attending mass that my vocation started. I remember, I dreamed to be a nun because I saw them very active in the church ministries. I appreciated the people who volunteered themselves to be in church ministries and their commitment to serve.
Young as I was, my parents usually brought me to their church work. I was exposed, involved and it became an inspiration for me. It was through this experience that my desire to serve sprouted. The inspiration in giving their life in the service of the Church brings me where I am now as a Columban Lay Missionary. The children taught me, that language is not everything there is to understand in this mission but it is always how you relay the language of love, which is God’s love. The children may have difficulty in understanding the English Mass but this does not hinder them to be of service. Just like their mother, I am proud to see them giving themselves and serving the church. It is our prayer that they become a hope in the church. That someday, as they grow old, they have something to hold on to, an experience with God, that helps them mold their vocation in life.


Korean Lay Missionaries Noh Hyein (Anna) and Kim Sun Hee (Sunny) are back from their home holiday after their initial three years in the Philippines.  During their first term, Anna worked with St Peter's Parish (Novaliches, Quezon City) and Sunny worked with the Immaculate Conception Parish (Barretto, Olongapo City). Both are taking English refresher course.

Sunny (L) and Anna (R) with a fellow Columban LM during the CLM International Conference in Korea.

Ana Belma Flores returned to Manila also after a four months home holiday in her native Peru. Shortly after her arrival, she signed  a three-year contract as a long term Lay Missionary. Ana worked in Mindanao during her first six years in the Philippines.  She is currently taking English refresher course in Quezon City.

Columban Family in Peru says goodbye to Ana (back, 2nd from R)  as she returns to the
Philippines for another three years 

Arlenne Villahermosa is the new CLM coordinator. Arlenne served in Korea for four years (2002-2006), Philippines as CLM Coordinator for two years (2006-2008), Myanmar for four years (2008-2012) then came back to the Philippines in 2012 for health reasons.  We are happy that she has fully recuperated  and we  wish her well as she, for the second time, takes on the role of CLM-Philippines Coordinator.  Arlenne is  also  involved in facilitating the  Awakening the Dreamer workshop, inspiring and educating participants for responsible living and caring for the earth. 

February 2014, Arlenne visits her former Parish in Myanmar. 

Aurora Luceño continues to work with the CLM Vocations Ministry in Mindanao. She is  preparing to defend her thesis in order to complete her Masteral studies at the EAPI (East Asian Pastoral Institute). She represented CLM-Philippines in the recent CLM International Conference held in Seoul, South Korea.

Aurora Luceño (R) with fellow lay missionaries

John Din, whose last assignment was coordinator of CLM  - Philippines (2011-2014), finally took a sabbatical leave to pursue a Masteral Programme in Science and Religion in the United Kingdom. John was assigned in Brazil for six years and Peru for another eleven years  before he was re-assigned to coordinate the CLM-Philippines from June 2011 until May 2014.

August 2014, John visits typhoon-devastated areas in Tacloban 

Nani Mounga  continues to work with  Malate Parish and involved in its different programs such as BEC, with the youth, street children, clinic etc.  She is also taking lessons in photography under the guidance of Mr. Mel Bacani and the whole Malate Production team to hone her skills  in shooting pictures.  Her midterm evaluation is coming up soon.
Nani Mounga (L) with the youth of Malate Parish during a tree-planting activity

Michael Javier, Lorna Cañete, and Gilda Comayas (PH22) are finishing off with their one semester of formal studies in philosophy, social issues, gender issues, and inter-religious dialogue at the Institute of Formation and Religious Studies.  They will start with Clinical Pastoral Education on September 29, 2014 at the National Kidney and Transplant Institute with Sr. Marie Therese Yusay, SPC as their supervisor.

PH22 (Michael, Lorna and Gilda) with Fr. Sim Sunpayco 

RP19, composed of Reina (Reins) Mosqueda, Sherryl Lou (She) Capili and Joan (Jo) Yap completed their first term in Taiwan and returned to Manila in June 2014.  They have expressed their desire  to renew their commitment for another three years.

September 2014,  CLM House - Quezon City, Reins, and She 

When I got sick

by Arlenne B. Villahermosa
Columban Lay Missionary
Philippine Region

Short Rewind

I joined the orientation program of the Columban Lay Mission (CLM) in 2001.  My first mission assignment brought me to Korea for three (3) years.  I returned to Korea for another three (3)-year agreement but after about ten (10) months, I was asked to go back to the Philippines to coordinate the lay mission program in the region for the remaining two (2) years of my contract.  At the time when I was finishing my term in the Philippines, negotiations and processes for Myanmar mission had started.  I put my name forward for the first team that would be sent to Myanmar and fortunately so, I was chosen to be one of the three who were sent on mission to Myanmar in 2008.

Jubilee Celebration in Myanmar
I was then assigned to Myanmar for a period of six (6) years beginning from 1 Oct 2008 to 30 Sept 2014.  I had my mid-term assessment in October 2011 in Thailand together with my teammate.  Our review had to be conducted in Thailand as it was not advisable to do it inside Myanmar.  A member of the CLT came for our personal review and the mid-review of the first Myanmar mission.  The Myanmar Mission did not belong to any region and thus, we were directly under the CLM Central Leadership Team.

After 3 years and four  (4) months on mission in Myanmar, I came back to the Philippines in Feb 2012 for medical reasons with the intention of going back to Myanmar as soon as I finished the medical examinations and corresponding procedures, if needed.  Little did I know that I will be staying in the Philippines for the next five (5) years.  I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and had undergone 3 major operations in a span of one (1) year because of some complications.  I stayed in the hospital for one month during my first 2 surgeries. Because I had to undergo 6 chemotherapy sessions plus the reversal of my colostomy bag, I needed to stay in the Philippines for at least 1 year.  After my chemotherapy sessions and the reversal of my colostomy bag in April 2013, I was advised by my doctors not to go back to Myanmar yet. I will have to continue with my medical check-ups and follow-ups until it can be ascertained that I would be fit again to go to Myanmar.  I was allowed to do work that would not involve so much stress on my part.  As of this writing, I still continue to see my oncologist but not as frequent as before.  Starting the month of April, I only have to see my doctor every 6 months.

When things were done to me

When I was still in a quandary whether I would be allowed to continue as a lay missionary or not if I stayed unfit to do work after 4 months, the Philippine Region took the initiative in asking the General Council that I would be assigned to the region while recovering and had given me the support I will always be grateful for.  It spared me the decision of leaving the CLM as mentioned in the policy.

When I was in Myanmar I was open to the surprises that came to my group in the way we did mission there. I was surprised and later understood (though I may not 100% agree with some of them) the actions the Catholic Church did or did not do in relation to some social, moral and civil issues and in dealing with the government. I remained open in terms of learning new ways the people were doing things, to the simplicity of life (which I enjoyed) – being able to do things with what was available, to do what was required by the government even when I did not fully agree.  However, I was surprised with myself but happy with it, when I remained open to whatever would happen when I was diagnosed with cancer.  More so, when there were complications after the first operation that led to another major operation, in a span of only a little more than a week, which resulted to the attachment of a colostomy bag that I had to carry for a year. I found myself open to leave CLM if asked to do so or to continue with CLM if allowed and to do whatever was available for me or to continue life with where I am at and to die.  I did not have any remorse feelings or feelings of anger, regret or shame.  I took it as part of life.  I can say that I was not negligent in terms of taking care of myself specially my health.  Each day I’d been trying to live my life as if it’s my last.  Now more than ever, I’m aware that the little things I do each day, I do them with joy and gratitude. 

May 2013, Outing in Baguio City
I’m amazed at how I cope with my present health predicament. When I was told by Fr. Pat O’Donoghue, the Regional Director of the Philippine region at that time, that my ministry at that moment was to heal myself, I was put to proper grounding.  I then understood that to be healed was to put my whole self at the mercy of God’s love as He worked in me through the people he sent my way.   To allow myself to stay completely in the process of healing was a way of acknowledging my own limitations and the force greater than me.  Being in that state was also my way of thanking the Columbans for all the care and attention given to me.  I need to be well to be at the service of mission.   It’s God’s grace being able to see that and to do it.  I am able to surrender, i.e. I recognize the limitations, fears and pains I have and being able to go beyond them.  I can only do what I can with what I have; deal with the consequences of my actions. There are many things beyond my control. But I also believe that God sees the bigger scheme of life.  My image of God in Myanmar was one that was vague, mysterious & incomprehensible but ever-present and faithful. Now, I continue to see God as constant and faithful, ever-present in the details and intricacies in the web of life. He is the source of life, in life and is waiting with open arms at the end of the road. 

I am happy that I have joy and gratitude in my heart for all that has been and for all that is.  I find myself thanking God for the love He has for me manifested in and through the people he sent my way (Columban Fathers, LMs, Columban Sisters, family, friends, relatives, Banmaw Diocese, staff, doctors, nurses, aides and others) and the experiences I’ve had.  I’m more conscious and aware of the bounties and blessings in life, more mindful of the decisions I make. Everything that I have does not really belong to me.  There is nothing that I have which does not come with grace.  In my sickness, I was left with not being able to do anything and yet many things had been happening to me, with and  in me. Perhaps, my one-month stay in the hospital and my accommodation at the LM (lay missionary) house had given me enough time and space to watch things happen before me and to me and to reflect on them.  I have become more appreciative in the uniqueness of each person, seeing how each does things differently or similarly, each with her/his own grace and gift.  And how everything and  everyone else is interconnected in this whole wide world!

I’ve found peace with where I am at.  I have become more forgetful in many ways.  I just can’t remember many details now or events of the past.  But I’ve learned to accept that as part of where I am at now and I’m at peace with that too.  I try to help myself in this area by writing things to help me remember.  My energy level is at a different stage now and I have to live with that.  I try to do some exercises, like walking, stretching, slowly doing some aerobics or tai chi, to keep my whole being in tune again.  I’ve noticed changes in my body and in my system.  I thank God I can still give thanks for it and be joyful with it.  Each waking day is a gift for me.  And each morning I pray, “Thank you for the rest last night.  Thank you for the gift of another day.  Thank you for the gift of life.  In everything, grant me the grace to stay with you, to be present always in your presence, to know you more intimately and to love and serve you more dearly each day as I live.”

When I started doing some things again                           

 I’m most grateful to the Columban Society for all the encouragement, inspiration and support given to me and to the lay missionaries.  Being in the Philippine region at this time has given me a better opportunity in understanding where the Columban Society is at present, as opposed to being in Myanmar where access to the outside world and the Columbans was very limited then.  The involvement I have with the Awakening the Dreamer workshop has opened new avenues for me in responding to the call for responsible living and having a caring relationship with the earth – one that is close to my heart.  Given the opportunity to work at the Regional Director’s office, together with all the participations at the area meetings and regional assemblies, has given me a good sense of the region at present times.  Working as manager during the IRMU was a good venue for me to meet and relate with the delegates of other RMUs which has deepened my connection and inter-relation with other members of the Society.  Staying at the LM house and becoming a LMLT member starting July 2013 have provided me good space and time in getting connected and  reconnected again with CLM, the lay missionaries, returned LMs, priests, sisters and  students. 

I continue to believe and be encouraged in the works of the Society and what the members stand for  – the Columban way of being on and doing mission.  I find value and meaning in my present state of being called to mission.  My health condition has prevented me from going back to Myanmar but has instead led me to the call into the leadership role. I am in a different space now than where I was before when I first assumed the role in 2006-08.  I will respond and carry out the responsibilities before me to the best I can with where I am at this time.

I continue to be amazed by the unfolding of events.  Surely, there is a time and place for all that is happening to me, to the Society, to CLM and to all but what I am thankful for is that I’m not alone.  No one is alone. I am called to be on mission with the Society in the mission of Christ.  This, I respond to with the love of Christ I receive in my life.  There is still so much to be done, the role that I will assume come June 2014 is my contribution to the church at this time.  

November 2013, Mindanao, 1st Columban Pilgrimage