It is not easy these days to find community, especially a faith community, in a world where people are constantly on the move, and faith is considered a private matter. We are forced to find companions on our journey in unexpected places and in unexpected ways, often for a finite period of time.
One unlikely place is in an office building, but it is where the Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach finds its mission and forms a community in the middle of a concrete, steel and glass jungle.
At our most recent celebration of appreciation for the interns and volunteers who have worked in the office since October 2009, we were joined by members of the Columban General Council from Hong Kong, Fathers Trevor Trotter and Eamon Sheridan. We celebrated the Eucharist and the reading of the day was from the Acts of the Apostles.
“The word of God continued to spread and grow. Barnabas and Saul, their task fulfilled, returned from Jerusalem. While they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ Then, completing their fasting and prayer, they laid hands on them and sent them off.” Acts 12:24, 13:2-3
I was struck at the modern day parallel between the reading and our celebration that day. Not only were we giving thanks for what we had shared, but also we were preparing to send some of the interns back to their universities and other commitments. As we celebrated our time together, and all the ways we had shared and grown as a community, I remembered specific moments.
The first was our weekly gathering during which we took turns educating one another about specific social justice issues while sharing how our faith played a role in approaching the office priorities. What could have been mere business meetings became prayerful encounters when we found ourselves enriched through our shared beliefs.
For instance, one of the volunteers, Katherine Moone, is always eager to share her passion for the migration and immigration issue with everyone she meets. So when the theme for the Ecumenical Advocacy Days Conference in March centered on immigrants, refugees and displaced persons, everyone in our office easily connected with the themes thanks in large part to the information shared by Katherine. Her enthusiasm for the issue helped all of us to appreciate and embrace the personal stories and fellowship featured during the conference.
Another way we grew as a community throughout the semester was by hosting Columban missionaries who came to join us in advocacy efforts on Capitol Hill. We were joined by Fr. Bill Morton who lives in El Paso, Texas, and works at the U.S.-Mexico border on migration and other issues of human and environmental rights.
Fr. Bobby Gilmore, who is the founder of the Migrants Rights Center Ireland, and Fr. Frank Nally, who lives in England and has dedicated his life to environmental justice and human rights in the Philippines, also visited our office. These Columbans met with congressional staffers and shared their personal experiences regarding migration and climate legislation and inspired all of us with the Columban commitment to a more just and peaceful world.
In addition to congressional office visits, we would celebrate Mass and eat meals together when Columbans came to D.C. We also held an Easter retreat which former interns were invited to attend. Fr. Chuck Lintz, member of the U.S. Regional Council, joined us as we spent the day in reflection and sharing, listening to each others’ personal experiences and being inspired by our shared passion for social justice work.
During the retreat as well as throughout the semester, the staff, volunteers, interns and any visitors who stopped by at the office all shared laughter in immeasurable proportions. The laughter was and continues to be a clear sign of joy in both working on social justice issues and in working together. Also part of the community is Ariel Presbitero, the Columban West Coast Mission Outreach Coordinator. He is regularly involved and updated with the CCAO’s advocacy progress and efforts, participating in all meetings via teleconference. Ariel also finds other ways to stay connected, including through the CCAO Facebook page. Despite the distance, his work and shared vision to seek justice and serve others makes him an integral part of our community.
In the office, internship and volunteer positions rotate throughout the course of the year. Individuals accept the invitation to join in mission with Columbans for a short time, only to leave at the end of their term and move on to where they are called next. Despite this transience, we collectively maintain communication and preserve the CCAO faith community. When all else falls away, official titles and formalities of paperwork, intervals and limits of time, distances and separations, what remains is our shared sincerity and faithful love for one other, for God and for His creation. It is this love that drives us independently yet draws us communally to fight for justice in solidarity with and for God’s people.
Kena Roxas is a Columban Volunteer.
This article first appeared in the August / September issue of Columban Mission.