A Vocation Developed through the Columban Community
It started when I posed a simple question over the dinner table at the Columban house here on the North side of Chicago, Illinois. “Rafa, what was your very first contact with the Columban Fathers?” Rafael Ramirez is a Columban seminarian from Chile who, at that time, was completing a ten month English language study program at De Paul University. Following the English language course, Rafa returned to Santiago, Chile, where he continues his theological studies in preparation for ordination as a Columban missionary priest.
At the time of our conversation, Rafa was staying with us at the Columban house for two weeks while on pastoral experience working with homeless persons at a food kitchen and shelter. His response was a fascinating story of amazing coincidences which could fill a chapter of a book. With his permission, I will share with you the story of his vocation in his words:
“Six years ago, having graduated from university with a degree in computer science, I was working for World Vision, a non-governmental organization which aids children in need, and was based in my home city of Temuco in the south of Chile. Some companions and I were on a short holiday in Puerto Saavedra on the coast, a two hour drive. One of my friends in our group, Angelica Soldado, had previously spent time with the Franciscan Sisters on the nearby island of Wapi where the Sisters worked with the indigenous Mapuche people.
“While there, she met two Columban lay missionaries from Fiji, Lusi Lutua and Monika Lewatikana, who were also working with the Mapuche on the island. Angelica and I were strolling down the main street in Puerto Saavedra on our way to buy bread and some groceries for lunch when a bus came along headed for Wapi Island.
“Angelica spotted the young Fijian women whom she had met earlier riding in the bus, and they spotted her. They started waving frantically at each other. At the next corner, the bus stopped, and the two Fijian women got off the bus and ran toward us. There were big abrazos and besos, hugs and kisses in Chilean style, and greetings like they were long lost sisters.
“I couldn’t get over the scene — those two tall young Fijian women so friendly, so warm, animated and enthusiastic getting off their bus to greet my friend. They even started singing together some opening bars from a Fijian song they had taught Angelica earlier! All of this was occurring on the main street in the middle of Puerto Saavedra.
“I was totally amazed and taken aback. The next moment the bus driver blew the horn, and the two women ran and boarded the bus to continue back to the mission on the island. It was over in a few minutes, but what an encounter! I just couldn’t believe it. Afterwards, Angelica told me more about Lusi and Monika, how she had met them, something about their personalities, and how they happened to be living, working and obviously enjoying life as Columban lay missionaries so far from home.
“That was the very first time I heard the name Columban. It stuck in my mind. When I got back to Temuco, I went on line and Googled it to find out more about these people.”
The rest, as they say, is history. Rafael spent several months finding out more about the Columbans, who first went to Chile in 1952. I was mesmerized by his account of how many coincidences occurred which led him to join the Columban formation program for priesthood in 2005. I’m no expert, but it seemed pretty obvious to me that the Holy Spirit was very much involved.
Fiji, Chile, Chicago, Illinois – There are lots of miles between these geographic locations, but they all seemed to come together that evening at our dinner table. For six years, I was the coordinator of the Columban Lay Missionary Program in Fiji. During that time, Lusi and Monica joined the program, completed training and were missioned to Chile. I saw Lusi and Monica off at Nadi Airport in Fiji when they left for Chile and was privileged to visit them in their mission in Wapi.
Little did they dream that by just being themselves, being Fijian and taking the time to get off the bus and greet a friend, the most natural thing in the world for them to do, they would be instrumental in a young man joining the Columbans. Columban priests, Sisters, lay missionaries, seminaries, affiliates and companions come from around the globe and from all socioeconomic backgrounds with the shared goal of promoting Columban mission and, sometimes, assisting others in finding their vocations.
Fr. Charles Duster lives and works in Chicago. Rafael Ramirez completed his course at DePaul University, Chicago, Illinois, and returned to Chile in late January 2010.
This article first appeared in the August / September issue of Columban Mission.