Reflections From a Newly Ordained Columban
Observing the Sacraments, particularly the Holy Eucharist, is something I look forward to celebrating. The joy comes in sharing the same space and time with people who like me desire nothing but encountering Christ. It is always a humbling experience when I listen to people at confession or faith sharing or when a young person comes to me and opens up about himself. I always pray for the grace that I become a compassionate and forgiving presence of God to them.
As a newly ordained Columban, I am grateful to my Columban senior brothers in the parish who not only helped me navigate the intricacies and complexities of parish life but also gave me moral support and encouragement. Another joy is my involvement in various ministries, parrticularly the youth groups, small Christian communities and interfaith dialogue with the Muslims. These are the things that give me joy and for which I am truly grateful.
Influences in My Vocation Journey
A number of Columbans have been great influences on my vocation from the vocation promoter who initially recruited me to the many formators in the Columban formation program who journeyed with me the past ten years and more.
As a young Columban student on mission in the Fiji islands, I consider Columban Fr. J.J. Ryan a great influence in my vocation journey. He was more than just my parish priest; he was a great mentor and spiritual director. I admired how at his age, he would still drive to the villages to address the pastoral needs of the parishioners. He was a teacher and a great parish administrator working well with the people. He loved to drink his kava (Fijian traditional drink made from yagona roots) before having his dinner. After Mass, he would sit with the people to give them the opportunity to ask questions – an instant catechism class or a faith formation session. I believe what allowed him to remain joyful and faithful to his call is his prayer life – his day begins and ends before God. At the end of the day I would find him sitting before God in the Blessed Sacrament, his arms would rest on the back of the bench.
Aspects of Formation
Every stage of preparation to the priesthood is essential and requires a lot of time and effort. The different stages allow different aspects of the person to grow and develop. The goal of formation is a well-integrated person. I am not a very outgoing person. I get energy from being alone, but my formation brought me out of my comfort zone and challenged me to be more outgoing and be better at reaching out to people.
I found the FMA (first missionary assignment) not only the most interesting and helpful but also the most rewarding. My entire experience on mission in Fiji affirmed my decision to join the Columbans and my yes to God’s invitation. It was very humbling to know that I do not know everything. I was helpless and vulnerable in many situations while I was on mission on the islands of Fiji. What prepared me is my initial formation in the program like pastoral assignments in various ministries, the vocational growth counseling and spiritual direction which both brought out personal issues and helped me deal with them appropriately, especially my motivation to become a Columban missionary priest.
Dealing with Challenges During Priestly Formation
Two components of the formation that I found very challenging were academics and FMA. I love to learn. Academics are an important part of the formation, but the demands from studies can be very stressful and difficult. I learned to try to find balance and my true motivation for studying – I study with having the people in mind as my motivation, the people I will minister to in the future. Similarly, the FMA is as challenging as academics, because it also requires a lot of time in learning a new language and adjusting to a new culture and environment.
Ultimately, the responsibility of formation rest on us first not on the formators. Of course God is the ultimate formator and then ourselves. It is up to us – to put ourselves 100 percent in the formation program. No matter how good the formator is unless the student is giving himself totally to the program, the formation program is not effective.
Filipinos and Foreign Missionaries
As a Filipino, I am very grateful to Columban missionaries who facilitated the growth of the Church in many parts of Northern Mindanao and the Philippines. They built churches and schools and facilitated the training and growth of lay leaders in the various parishes. Missionaries, particularly Columban missionaries, were always considered partners and companions in the struggle of many Filipinos both in their faith and daily life. The Columban missionaries also worked very hard in areas where conflict and misunderstanding exists, particularly in communities of Christians and Muslims. I am grateful for their witness and also accepting local vocations to participate and share in the Columban mission.
For my FMA, I was asked to name three countries I preferred to go to for my first mission appointment; I was hoping to go to China, or possibly to beautiful and serene Japan or maybe yet to unknown Myanmar, which we used to call Burma. This maybe is the hope God finally is granting me. The of Fiji prepared me so well, and now I am very excited for Myanmar. Learning a new language excites me and even if I know from my experience from learning Hindi how difficult it is to start learning a new way of writing and of making new sounds, I am quite excited about it.
I do not know how much I will be able to celebrate the Holy Eucharist and practice my priestly ministry in Myanmar with the restrictions they have for foreign missionaries. As a newly ordained priest, I hope to work pastoral ministries like working with the youth, small Christian communities and interfaith dialogue particularly with the Buddhist majority and the Muslims and other minorities. I want to stay with the people and be where they are. It is the best way for me to learn their life and language. I like traveling and learning new things, and knowing how huge and mysterious Myanmar is, it won’t be difficult for me to love mission in Myanmar.
It is important to recognize that as missionaries, we miss our home countries. The 3Fs: food, family and friends – these three things as a Filipino are very important, and these are the ones I miss a lot when I am away from home. I try to cook food that reminds me of the Philippines.
What Makes a Happy Missionary?
It is important to have time for myself. Sometimes it is so easy to forget about the self when one is in the mission. It is important to give time and space for one’s self because an unhappy missionary does not make a joyful witness to the Good News. What I really enjoy on my free day is a cup of coffee and a book. I read a lot, and I am a big fan of crime novels, novels by Lee Child and the books and writings of Ron Rolheiser. I also enjoy writing. I keep a personal blog of my experiences. I like to travel and learn new things about the places I go and from the people I meet. I enjoy watching Bollywood movies and listening to music. I am also into social networking on Facebook where I am able to connect with friends and family and use it to evangelize.
Message to Our Benefactors Who Support Me and Other Columban Missionaries
I am grateful to the people who take part in Columban mission through their prayers and financial partnership. You play an important part in the missionary work of God through the Columban missionaries.
I will continue to pray for you and also beg you to pray for us, your missionaries. I am inviting you to actively participate in God’s mission not only through your prayers and financial support but to give yourself to become priests, sisters and lay missionaries of the Missionary Society of St. Columban. Join us in one of the greatest adventures of your life. Be a Columban missionary, a life for the world – crossing boundaries, building bridges, make a difference in someone’s life and find your purpose.
Originally from the Philippines, Columban Fr. Kurt Pala lives and works in Myanmar.