Dear Columban Friend,
As we enter into the hopeful season of Advent, I can think of no better time to share with you the work of one of our most recently ordained Columban Fathers and his joy in living out his vocation.
Ordained in 2008, Fr. William Lee was appointed to Santiago, Chile, in February 2009. A native Fijian, Fr. Willie already spoke three languages – Fijian, English and Hindi – when he was appointed pastor of San Matias Parish on the southern edge of Santiago. Learning Spanish might have been the easiest task to date for this young and energetic missionary! However, Fr. Willie sees his ministry in Chile as an “ongoing formation and learning experience about missionary life, culture, language and the faith experience.” It is an exciting time for Fr. Willie as he is now being formed by his mission, ministry and real world experience.
The parish of San Matias consists of nine communities with eight chapels serving approximately 90,000 people who live within the parish boundary. After more than a year in San Matias, Fr. Willie is well versed in the joys and sorrows that come with serving such a large parish.
Like many Columban parishes, the parish of San Matias is economically poor. Most of the people living within the parish live in poverty. There is an overall lack of educational opportunity for people within the parish. Unfortunately, the lack of education and resulting lack of opportunity leads to drug use, violence, suicide, teenage pregnancy and other social ills. In order to combat these systemic problems associated with economic poverty, the Columban Fathers have made working with the Chilean youth one of our main areas of focus and attention. We focus on the youth of the community every day, either in the family, the neighborhood or the Church, because they are the way forward. We lose too many of them to the streets, to drugs, to crime, for us not to try to change things for them.
Father Willie is enthusiastic about his work with the young people, some of whom are pictured in the photo at the bottom of the page. He recently wrote, “Our youth program includes pastoral programs that involve all youth. For example, we have youth who are preparing for Confirmation and their catechists are the youth who have already received their sacrament and have had catechetical formation in preparing young people for Confirmation and children for First Holy Communion. It’s really part of an ongoing formation for our youth, not only in church, but for how the youth value their lives and what they need to do in order to build a Christian community in their homes, in the church and in their geographic communities. Our helping the youth become involved, responsible and committed to pastoral activity gives them a sense of identity as they realize their importance in their church, their families and their communities.”
There are many needs within the parish. Serving 90,000 people is quite similar to running a small city, although there is no tax revenue to fund programs. Chapels need to be renovated. The main building where the youth meet needs to be expanded and renovated. Our desire is to provide educational opportunities in additional to pastoral programs for the youth. Furthermore, the young people need an area for recreation and, though there is plenty of land area open and available next to the main building, the area needs to be landscaped to make it suitable for activities such as sports and retreats. Unfortunately these programs and improvements currently are not within reach for the parish. This is why I am writing you once again, faithful friends who so generously help our missionaries help the people among whom they are sent to live and work.
Father Willie also shared a personal reflection in his letter. He wrote, “I became a Columban missionary because I valued their commitment to cross borders of country, language and culture in the name of mission. Now, I am privileged to offer my life as a Columban missionary priest in continuing the mission of God in Chile.” There is much joy in Fr. Willie’s work, and there is anticipation as well. Fr. Willie looks for signs, however small they might be, that the youth in his parish will see a brighter future for themselves as valued members of their families, their parish and their communities. There is hope that the cycle of poverty will one day be broken.
In reading Fr. Willie’s words about his work, I reflected on my own first mission assignment after ordination. I well remember those days and the prayerful support that I received from the entire Columban family – my brothers in Christ, the Columban Sisters, the lay and associate missionaries and our generous friends in the United States – and how spiritually sustaining that was for me. In going beyond what is familiar and comfortable, in leaving our family and friends, we witness to the Good News of Jesus Christ and find ourselves exactly where God needs us be, furthering the work of the Kingdom and living in community with His people.
As we celebrate this Advent season, as we wait with joyful anticipation to commemorate the birth of Jesus and all that He brings to us, I would like to say a special word of gratitude to you. It is the support of our Columban friends and benefactors that allows missionaries like Fr. Willie to further the work of the Kingdom and to bring about a brighter future for the youth in his parish. You, your loved ones and your intentions will have a special place in the prayers and Masses of Columbans worldwide during this Advent and Christmas season.
Gratefully yours in Christ,
Fr. Arturo Aguilar