This is a personal reflection of Ariel Presbitero of his journey as a Columban lay missionary from 1993-2006.
I suppose what really attracted me to become an associate with the Society of St. Columban as a lay volunteer was conviction and commitment to the same message that Jesus had started 2,000 years ago, to the same vision of Jesus in building the kingdom. It is not building the kingdom for the Columbans, but the Columbans building the kingdom for Jesus. Being a disciple and apostle of Jesus one has to take a definite position on for whom, what and why we exist as missionaries. Gustavo Gutierrez as always quotes that in order for any person to follow a preferential option for the poor, three elements are very important.
One, go to the place where the poor people are. What makes people alienated is that they don’t live and experience what is like to be poor because they don’t physically go there. They become prisoners of their own “knowledge of the poor” but not being with the poor.
Two, one has to think from the perspective of the poor. It is not enough to be with the poor with a stranger’s imposing mentality. Being with them will help assimilate the spirit of being poor and let God intervene through the restlessness of the people because for them only God is the sole resource to survive. It’s an attempt to think differently.
Thirdly, is spirituality. The heart of the message of Jesus is to experience personally those who are poor in spirit. Having all these in mind was really challenging me in this reality and current social context. The challenge to be there present is indeed a demanding motivation but it’s the only way out to understand what Jesus and mission is all about. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus started preaching to the people and giving them hope, “Blessed are those who have the spirit of the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven; blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they shall be satisfied…” The marginalized, oppressed, isolated, restless, dying, fearful and abandoned are the preferred people of Jesus so that one day they will be able to enjoy life completely in order to be healed and reconciled with all the hurts and pains in this world.
As missionaries we are also called to give hope and challenge to the emerging social ills that oppress the freedom of people, especially the poor, to truly feel the completeness of being children of God. For God, there is equality and freedom for those who sincerely seek the goodness of God and follow in fidelity to the love that we received from Him.
Ariel Presbitero was a lay missionary in Brazil for three years and then moved to Peru until 2006. He has since left the Columban lay mission program and is currently living in the US.