Iowane the gardener!
Iowane the gardener!

A Rich Experience

By Iowane Najo

“Hola a todas y todos, saludos muy cordiales desde Lima, Perú.”

Columban Fr. Iowane Gukibau with donations
Columban Fr. Iowane Gukibau with donations

So far, it has been a challenging but rich experience for me even though our participation in the parish activities is very limited due to the pandemic. It has been eight months now since the churches closed, and we hope that they will open up gradually, with the respective and necessary protocols, by the end of November 2020. As of now all the liturgies, novenas and the celebration of the Eucharist are transmitted online through Zoom and Facebook. But we have also been helping out needy families by providing packs of groceries, both to Peruvians and Venezuelans during this pandemic. There are many people suffering here because most of them do not have jobs. Whilst it is difficult to help them all with the little that we have, we are trying our best to help those who are in most need.

I would like to share a little bit of my experience on how I have been coping with this situation. At the beginning of the pandemic, I was quite calm because I thought that coronavirus will be overcome just like any other disease. But after three months of lockdown, I began to worry about my health, I was afraid that I might catch it as well. I began to worry about my FMA program since the churches were closed, and there was no interaction with the people with whom I was supposed to work. I was worried about how I could witness or experience Columban missionary work here in this new context. Seeing the vulnerable people suffering around us during this lockdown really frustrated me as well. I could watch it on television and could also witness it personally in our neighborhood. I began to ask myself questions like: As missionaries why are we not doing more to help these people? This is the time that the people really need our accompaniment. I tussled with this question and as usual offered it to God during my prayer. I could not keep this tension within myself so, I shared it with two of my companions. I found out that they were going through the exactly same experience as well.

This brought me to a deeper reflection, and I came to realize that this situation is new to all of us. None of these priests had ever gone through this experience even though they have been working here for some time. All of us were trying to make sense of the new situation. So, we began to talk about the situation and then decided as a group to meet once a week, just to have a space to reflect on our experiences. These weekly meetings were really helpful for me, and I began to understand that I was not alone in this situation. It helped me to reflect more on my missionary vocation and to identify new ways of being church in this situation. I understood that this situation was really challenging, but at the same time I trusted God was inviting us to be more practical in our faith, maybe we were focusing more on loving God but not so much on loving our neighbor. This situation invited us to find a middle ground, a right balance between our love for God and our love for our neighbors. I realized that we cannot separate these two great commandments which defines true humanity; they coexist in nature just like the two sides of a coin. It is impossible to love our neighbors without experiencing ourselves the love of God.

By the month of July, there was more flexibility in the lockdown, and I began to cycle around some of the places, walking and jogging in the football field close to our house. I also bought some simple exercising equipment just to use at home since all the gyms were closed. During this period, we also gradually, with the help of the chapel coordinators, began to identify vulnerable families and, following all the safety precautions, we began to distribute packs of groceries to them. So, all these activities really enabled me to adjust to this new situation and to settle down gradually accepting new routines. At this stage, I felt a bit more content as I realized that not everything is out of my control. I can at least control some of my simple routines now, unlike at the beginning of the pandemic where I felt really helpless and useless.

Working at the Manuel Duato Special Needs School is one of my favorite experiences during this pandemic. During one of our Zoom formation meetings with Fr. Lalo (Columban Fr. Ed O´Connell), I was surprised that he suggested the possibility of us doing some gardening in Manuel Duato since they have a lot of empty space there. Upon hearing this, I was really happy and excited about it and so was Atonio, the other Fijian seminarian here with me. We finally began the gardening. The space was quite big, but the soil was not that impressive. It looked really dusty, dry and useless, but it had a water tap installed there which gave us a little bit of hope. First of all, we dug up a few plots, got some manure and on the third day we began planting. The first three plots we planted did not geminate, but we never gave up, we kept on digging up plots, putting manure on them and watering them. There was a ray of hope when we saw the potatoes had begun to geminate. It was challenging but happy time for me, because I was doing one of the things I loved to do.

I love working on the farm, I love working with soil. The soil is very significant for me because, before the seminary, I spent most of my time working on the farm. There are some characteristics of the soil which can CMbe compared to God. For example: God is so loving and never hates or neglects us regardless of how sinful we are. In the same way, the soil accepts everything we do to her, regardless of good and bad. Whether we spit or pour hot water on to the soil, it never gives us stones when we plant potatoes, she will always give us back potatoes. If we relate well and closely to God, we are always at peace despite the normal ups and downs. Similarly, if we relate well to the soil, if we are closely connected to her, surely, we will have something to harvest despite the ups and downs. The soil never takes revenge on us, and it’s the same with God. Working with the soil also teaches us patience, because time is always needed before the harvest. It also teaches us to be more sensitive to things around us, because we have to be mindful of the seasons and the resources available before we start working. With the soil, we need commitment, and we need exactly the same attitude while relating to God. Working with the soil helps us in letting go of the things which are out of our control and to accept what is there and to move forward with it. I believe as missionaries, we need to have the attitude of a farmer. Farmers are always full of hope, and they are people of commitment. They are very considerate, do not surrender, are humble, generous and full of patience. For me, gardening is kind of therapy as well, because it inspired me to look into my own “soil” and work on it while cultivating the real soil.

Columban seminarian Iowane Naio is originally from Fiji, currently on his First Mission Assignment program in Lima, Peru.