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God Lights My Path

The Candle of Faith and Courage

By Uakela Tawala

My name is Uakeia Tawaia, and I come from the Kiribati Islands. In 2016, I was studying Accounting at the Kiribati Institute of Technology (KIT) and was focused on completing my studies and finding a good job. There was no thought in my mind of becoming a missionary priest.

At the end of that same year I heard about the Columban missionary society from some members of my sister’s Charismatic Church group. I was curious and asked Mr. Betero Atanibora, a local promoter of the Society, for more information. Mr. Atanibora encouraged my interest and advised that I learn more about the Columbans.

Before I made any impulsive decision, I went home and talked with my parents and siblings about this new call in my life. It was very hard for my parents to accept the change, but after a couple of months they gave me the opportunity to choose between becoming an accountant or a missionary priest.

I took my time in discernment and made my personal intercession to Mother Mary.

On November 23 of that year, Columban Fr. Willie Lee from Fiji invited me for a celebration at Bikenibeu Parish but I did not go because it was also the day I told my parents of my final decision to join the Columban Missionaries. I went on to complete one year of study at KIT, before I transferred to the Kitibati Pastoral Institute (KPI) and prepared to join the Columbans and enter Pacific Regional Seminary (PRS) in Fiji. It was a huge change for me when I arrived at the formation house in Suva.

I had to learn the cultures of my Pacifican brothers as theirs were different to mine.

Through humility, respect, and patience I settled into life as a seminarian with my fellow Columban brothers. We got to know each other through laughing, joking, and communal living.

On June 8, 2018, I was sent for my studies at the Loyola School of Theology in the Philippines. Part of the Columban formation is that seminarians are sent to study philosophy and theology in Manila. This was another big transition for me as I encountered an international group of Columban seminarians from Fiji, Korea, Myanmar, China, and the Philippines.

Although I encountered challenges with the different cultures and languages, I reminded myself that we are all human-beings at the end of the day.

I have learned to trust God to help and guide me on this journey towards priesthood. He sees my struggles, distress, and discouragement, but He continues to light the candle of faith and courage in my heart.

Uakeia Tawaia is a Columban seminarian.