“What is a 65-year-old foreign missionary doing talking about the missionary priest’s vocation to Fijian 19- and 20-year-olds,” I ask myself. “Is it not time to do something less challenging? Would there not be more results to show from pastoral work or teaching?”
“Am I still able for phoning schools, remembering names, and traveling long journeys to different parts of Fiji and Tonga in all sorts of weather?”
Well, actually there are not many others queuing up to be Vocation Director here. And the Columban Society in recent General Assemblies has given a priority to this apostolate. Moreover, I am convinced that it is worthwhile to pass on the legacy of Columban missionary experience to young missionaries from other cultures. Their gifts and different approach to mission will reveal God’s love in Jesus Christ for humankind in a new way.
Bridging the Age and Culture Gap
I try to overcome the age and culture gap by having a young Columban seminarian address the youths with me. Pat Visanti, a fourth year Columban student, shared how, during his spiritual year in Manila, the Philippines, he was shocked to see young children searching through a trash heap and eating the rotting food found there. One day he was confronted by the outstretched hand of a grime-covered eight-year-old child, in tattered clothes, at a railway station. Pat felt he had no option but give the boy his fare and walk home. This story touched the heart of at least one listening student. He told me later that it brought him to a Columban Come and See day at our formation house.
These Come and See days, held about three times yearly in different locations around Fiji and Tonga, bring small groups of young men together to learn more about the life of a missionary priest. Here, too, it is the local Pacifican Columban students who share their vocation stories and explain the stages and processes involved in the formation journey. The youths also view a Columban DVD, read and share their thoughts about Columban Mission articles, and speak personally with me or with our formator.
The few who decide that they want to discern seriously whether God is calling them to be missionary priests then follow a one year accompaniment program. They meet monthly with a Columban to share about different human and spiritual themes provided to them for prayer and reflection. We are fortunate this year to have Columban students, Carlo from Korea and Kurt from the Philippines, to facilitate this reflection in the West and North of Fiji while I accompany the group living in Suva.
At the end of this accompaniment year the two or three who apply to join the Columbans undergo medical and psychological assessment and appear before the Admissions Board. The successful candidates then join our Fiji formation program, beginning their studies at Pacific Regional Seminary in Suva.
The Vocation to be Christian
Personally, I look at vocation promotion not just as attracting young people to be Columban missionaries. It is a way to help the young to think about the marvelous gift of life and how best we can live out this gift. What is most important is the Christian vocation to be a disciple of Christ. So I also encourage young Columban Companions to help youth groups to reflect and share on their gifts and talents and to recognize how our Christian faith brings meaning and purpose to life.
Last year, here in Fiji, we celebrated with joy the priestly ordination of Taaremon Matuaea. The happy occasion was celebrated with prayer, feasting and island dancing as a young man from the tiny island community of Rabi reached the end of one journey and then began another. I am reminded of God’s words to Samuel about choosing a king for Israel, “God does not see as man sees; man looks at appearances but Yahweh looks at the heart.” (1 Sam. 16:7)
So, what am I doing here? I feel privileged to be able to meet and speak with young people who are searching for what God wants of them in their lives. It is a joy to witness the unfolding of God’s grace in the lives of others, especially in the lives of the young. Perhaps it even keeps this 65 year old Columban missionary young at heart.