Reflections on Mission
I loved what I was doing while on mission in two different countries. For fifteen years I shared my life in Peru, and I know that I have learned and grown a lot. I believe that my presence and my journey with the people as a person and a lay missionary made a difference. It was and is an affirmation that every lay person is a missionary to their own family, neighbors, their own parish and the society. And, it can be an inspiration for others to become involved in lay mission. Some people need others to encourage them, to trust them, and allow them to commit mistakes and the chance to improve themselves. I could say that the Catholic church is alive until now because of the active lay participation.
In reality, even if there are a lot of priests and religious Sisters in a parish, if there is no lay participation, then the church will die. Based on my experience, empowering lay people, giving them the space to be a part and be responsible of the life of the church will help it to continue to exist and be alive. I could say that the lay participation in the church is active and alive though some do not frequently attend Mass, but they contribute to the life of the church in other ways. Active lay people never stop inviting and inspiring everybody to participate.
Recognizing the presence and the face of God through my experience with the people of different cultures and ways of celebrating life is a gift. I am evangelized by all who journeyed with me. That is the treasure that is a part of me, and I will be bringing it wherever God wants me to be to continue to tell Christ´s story. The uniqueness and beauty of the different cultures, realities and the people that I encountered and who journeyed with me teach me to appreciate and value my own culture.
My commitment to the ministries in working with the poor and marginalized, living among the people, learning their language and culture deepens my call as a lay missionary. Participation in God’s mission is not only for religious and ordained priests. The church is missionary at its very own nature. As lay missionaries, we are called to participate in God’s mission. We participate in God’s mission through prophetic dialogue. We are all called to this way of doing mission in prophetic dialogue joining God. As we dance with God to bring wholeness and healing and peace in the world, we ourselves become whole, healed and graced with peace.
My missionary experience has affirmed the primacy of our Christian identity; laity and priesthood are roles that we assume. These roles are supposed to enhance our Christian identity of service and not debilitate nor succumb to the temptation of power. In my work experience with the Columbans, I never feel that these roles are a source of tension except when discussions about structures are involved. I have had the privilege of belonging to the Brazil Mission Unit (BMU) and the Region of Peru and can see a lot of differences and similarities. My experience in the BMU has shown how structures can enable and free missionaries to assume their commitment in a more creative way. Smaller numbers encourage visibility and participation while big numbers can nurture anonymity. Columban contribution to the whole church can be summed up in the way ordained Columbans and lay missionaries relate to each other. Ordained Columbans and Columban lay missionaries working together in cross-cultural mission is the Columban gift to the wider church.
This relationship of partnership is equally visible in the way Columbans work in their mission. Many times I hear comments from the people we work with about how inspired they are because of the way they are treated with respect, equality and dignity. Columbans’ heart for the poor as expressed in our ministries with the disabled, women, children, interreligious dialogue, care for the environment and commitment to truth and reconciliation, speaks a lot of Gospel values to other groups and the people with whom we work.
The challenge of being a lay missionary is to discover who we are, what we are good at and put ourselves at the service of God’s mission. Openness to give and receive support and challenges from co-lay missionaries and from the people we work with continues to be a demand for every lay missionary in order to be faithful to the Gospel. Experience taught me that it is an art of harmonizing our person with the demand of Columban mission to ensure that it is enhancing and life giving for both.
The lived-spirituality of the Columban lay missionaries is our key contribution to the life of the church. The key aspects to this spirituality highlights our commitment to working in collaborative partnership with the ordained, fellow lay missionaries, the poor and marginalized and those of other faiths, our sense of calling and need for connection to the source of mission by building a relationship with God, living a simple way of life, the commitment to work as one community of missionaries to live meaningful lives as Christians. With this way of life, living out our spirituality is a counter witness in our contemporary world.
Looking back, I find myself in awe of God’s constant faithfulness and wisdom through all the highs and lows of my journey. I felt a deep gratitude for being blessed with family, friends, companions and mentors who have been with me throughout the years, inspiring and challenging me to grow. Most of all, I humbly thank God for my vocation to serve as a Columban lay missionary, and for giving me the courage to take that very first leap of faith to go on mission. I discovered how God has always been present in my encounters with others. Along the way, God has filled my life with meaning and the purpose to discover the many seeds of love in this life, meant to be sown, nurtured and shared with others.
My journey as a lay missionary, has led me to an awareness, consciousness and involvement with issues concerning justice, peace and integrity of creation. I understand and appreciate religious and cultural differences due to a complete head-to-heart conversion. This involved a process of changing my long-held perspective of seeing God as associated with Church and primarily with Christians, to seeing God as a person who is present to all peoples and present in all religions. I firmly believe that our differences must not divide but unite us and therefore must be celebrated. Our differences of beliefs should not be the basis for defining who we are, but, rather should be a space in which to understand and respect one another. This is one of the significant contributions of the Columban lay missionaries in the life of the Church. We offer ourselves by crossing boundaries of cultures, creed and race. We became a bridge connecting the gap caused by ignorance and injustice.
Over time I have seen my life unfolding, and I see gratitude and confidence in the continuous inspiration and conviction to my call as a Columban lay missionary.
Time and time again I give my life to God as a sign of my trust in His love for me. I am convinced at this point this is where He wants me to be and that I am following the path that He has laid out for me.