“We need to be on our way now” were the words of Columban Fr. Pat Colgan even though the rain continued to heavily pour in Korovou village, Fiji. The Prophet Mohammed’s birth (Peace Upon Him) is publicly celebrated throughout the country of Fiji, where the government has made it a public holiday, November 11.
One of the many joys of being a Columban lay missionary is the joy of entering into a new culture and sharing my faith and experience with the people, while at the same time learning so much more from them in return.
“Why did you choose to join the Columban missionaries and not some other missionary organization?” is a question that I’m often asked. My simple response is, “A letter from God!,” which generally leads to the other person becoming even more inquisitive.
I grew up on a farm in Co. Clare, Ireland, with four brothers and five sisters. We all did our share on the farm, helping out during the holidays. My brother John, who was five years older than me, joined the Columbans after school. When a Columban priest came to my school to give a talk on the Maynooth Mission to China, I understood John’s decision. I too decided to join. At the time I had never been outside Co. Clare. I was ordained in 1952 and set off for the Philippines on June 24, 1953, where I was assigned to the mountains of Candoni, one of the towns in the south of Negros Island. The only available transport at the time was by horseback.
The city of Wuhan where I live is always changing. We can see new public slogans almost every day. Jobs and government policies change very frequently, and buildings are been constantly knocked down and replaced by new ones. Even the weather in Wuhan is always changing fast.
Na yacamu? Na yacaqu, O Jinky mai, Philippines. What is your name? This is the common question I used to hear and the common answer I used to say every time I meet people in the village of Navatuyaba, Toga, in Rewa province Fiji where I am having my exposure for language and culture.
Since I was appointed to mission in China I have been constantly asked what kind of ministry I have been involved in given that mission activity is banned in China. Due to a number of restrictions placed on foreign missionaries, I cannot be involved in parish ministry.
In the Gospel we hear how Jesus performed a miracle by saying to the paralyzed man, “Rise up and walk!” Today He continues to work the same miracle, maybe not directly, but through the intervention of people like us.
After I qualified as a veterinarian, I volunteered to work on an agricultural project in South Korea for two years which was started by Columban Fr. P.J. McGlinchey. While attending Sunday Mass the time went very slowly. Not having any Korean, I sat, stood and kneeled in silence. I was familiar with most of the Mass, but the readings changed every week, as well as the sermon. I didn’t understand a word, so I just presumed it was different every week.
A good friend of mine, a religious Sister, served on the missions in Ethiopia during a terrible famine there. A year or two later she found herself back in the United States speaking to various groups, sometimes to Catholic schoolchildren, about her mission experience. She felt herself becoming angry when she would see the children emptying perfectly good sandwiches and fruits into the trash. She was smart and selfreflective and realized the kids had not seen the poverty and desperation she had seen, so she knew she had to work on her own feelings.
But, of course, as much as it may have been unfair to judge the kids harshly, she was not wrong about the issue of food. A few months back Pope Francis said that a negligent and selfish culture of food waste is fueling the global hunger crisis, damaging the lives of individuals and preventing the progress of all people.
I responded to my baptismal call to become a lay missionary with the Columbans in 2017. I can still remember how my heart was pounding with joy as I signed my agreement even though I was aware that there would be uncertainties on the road ahead as I embarked on my mission journey to Fiji.