As part of the on-going formation and education of Columban lay missionaries, I was privileged to take a six-month course on facilitating retreats for young people. The course has given me an in-depth understanding on the psyche and culture of young people in this modern time.
It was a great joy for me to be invited, two years ago, to return to Santiago, Chile, to celebrate 40 years of the Columban Sisters' mission in that beautiful country.
Fifty years ago I was pastor of an "old Christian" community on Amakusa Island in the far south of Japan. By "old Christian" I mean that a Jesuit missionary, Fr. Luis Almeida, founded the parish in 1566. Then the Tokugawa daimyo government expelled or executed all missionaries.
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.
"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.
In my early days as a missionary in Fiji, I worked mainly among the Hindu Indo-Fijians around the town of Labasa. I was often invited by head teachers of primary schools to explain to their students the meaning of Good Friday and Easter Monday, since both were public holidays. I gladly availed of these opportunities to share my faith and understanding of the meaning of the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
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.