I have been a Columban missionary priest for many years now. I first worked on cross-cultural mission in Chile, China and Taiwan. Now I am working in my home region in the Philippines in our formation program to prepare young men to become Columban missionary priests. I like my work in formation. It’s a privilege for me to accompany our students and see their growth in their vocation to become missionaries. One of the things that I particularly like is the aspect of intercultural living of the program.
Our students are coming from different countries such as Korea, Fiji, Banaba, Kiribati, Myanmar, and Philippines. Interesting stories abound coming from the different places where students are from around the world. We get to share the unique characteristics of our individual cultures and also share our food and spices. Watching movies as a community on Saturday nights is particularly a unique experience since the movies we watch range from Bollywood, to Korean drama, Philippine cinema and of course Hollywood. But not only that, we seem to develop a taste of international cinema because the students become interested in countries and culture other than their own. Without knowing it, we have become more appreciative of other cultures and the uniqueness of each person.
It’s a privilege for me to accompany our students and see their growth in their vocation to become missionaries.
We always have interesting table conversations, most often fun but it could also be serious when we get to talking about the international political and economic situations especially of our own countries. This leads to a much greater sensitivity to others’ experience and life situations. Although there is not much we can do as a community about the situation at home, the students always express their support and willingness to listen and understand what others are going through. Thus, a deep friendship is established among the students where they feel supported, appreciated and valued.
Such a diverse cultural group can also be challenging at times particularly when it comes to ways of communicating. But the learning we gained from living together is always more profound and rewarding. By bringing into awareness one’s own prejudices and biases against others who are different, it leads a way towards self-transformation and openness towards others. Once a month we have a cultural night. Students from a particular country make presentations about their place of origin. It is an opportunity for each student to showcase their own country, their culture and history to the bigger group. Even if this is only introductory, I get more interested in the places where the students are coming from which leads me to do more my own exploration.
I realized that I need to constantly listen to the wisdom our students bring into the community and appreciate the richness of their culture, history and society. The Holy Spirit is alive and actively working in every person and every human community. This is what missionary means for me, to discover the different ways of being human outside the boundaries of one’s culture and even religion, and as Saint Paul says, to become human together.
Columban Fr. Cireneo Matulac lives and works in the Philippines.