In the 1980s before the onset of cheap air fares and the free movement of people introduced by the European Union Irish immigrants in London were always on the look-out for news about people going to Ireland. As my work took me back and forth I was frequently asked to take items in my car. On one such occasion a few people heard that I was about to make the journey. I began to get calls requesting to take a few items.
It was about three in the afternoon on a Tuesday. I was seated at my desk in the parish office chatting with a young couple who had come to ask for baptism for their newborn baby. As parish priest of the 90,000 parishioners of San Matias parish on the southern periphery of Santiago, Chile, a large part of my day was spent listening to the concerns of those who came to see me.
Now that I'm home, I realized I do not have a room to call my own. My room is the bag I carry on my back every time I move from one mission to another. Right after high school I left home to pursue a childhood dream– to become a priest.
I joined the college program of the Columbans in Cebu, but after a few years decided to leave the seminary and work. Cebu became my adoptive home for a long time. It was where I completed my degree, worked as a teacher and then in the government, pursued graduate studies and found out that there is more to that.
In the history of human life suffering is what every person will encounter in their lifetime. Not even Jesus, the Son of God, was spared from pain as He too had to suffer to fulfill the plan of the Father for His people. A mother could never give birth to a new life unless she goes through the pain of labor. No single human being or any creature has ever escaped pain. It is a reality for each and every one of us.
My name is Sr. Young Mi Choi, and I live and work in the parish of Cristo Liberador, (Christ the Liberator), one of twelve parishes which comprise the district of San Juan de Lurigancho in the eastern part of Lima, Peru, in the foothills of the Andes. It is one of the most densely populated districts in all Latin America, with a population of over one million people. Most of the people who live here have come as migrants seeking a better life from rural and mountainous areas over the last 25 to 30 years.
I started to write these two poems last year during a workshop training on poetry writing in my ministry with asylum seekers. I thought of polishing it and sharing it here because writing these poems was memorable for me in that it led me to deeper reflection and to recall important events in my life. It also reminded to be thankful to God for the great privilege of serving Him in mission and the grace to say "Yes" to His invitation. Hopefully these poems give people a glimpse of what I do in mission trying to be feet and hands of Jesus for others.
Ethnic Indian people are traditionally obsessed with matters of pollution and purity. Purity is a central value in the culture. The caste system in India is based on this. While ethnic Indians in Fiji don't observe the caste system, purity and cleanliness are major values of their culture and have traction in many areas of life. The sacrament of Baptism which is a ritual of washing then has deep meaning for Indo-Fijians.
"What do you know about Ireland?" I asked the third grade class that was excited to have just learnt that I was from there. "St. Patrick was from there" responded a girl in the front row. "So did that mean that he was Irish?" I inquired, my tone betraying an element of doubt. "Yes!" came back a chorus of voices, filled with disbelief that I would even pose such a question.
I still have vivid memories of my first awakening in Lima, Peru, on June 24, 1971. The population all around our mission was made up of thousands of Peruvians from the highlands, who had ventured to the coastal cities looking for a better life for their children. Living in bamboo huts, without light, water, sewer, roads or any kind of security, they literally slaved in the process of building new towns all around the coastal cities of Peru. In spite of the hardships, they succeeded as can be seen today.
When I was sixteen years old, my father was diagnosed with cancer and died ten weeks later. Soon afterwards, I dropped out of high school to manage the family farm in order to support my mother and four younger siblings. For the next several years I worked on the land, deepening my love of nature, and growing in awareness of God's presence around and within me.