Reflections From My Diary: Experience of the Columban Centennial Altar Cloth, Fiji Pilgrimage
16th February 2018
Today, I finally set foot in Navala village. For a number of times, previous plans of going to Navala have been postponed because of one reason, the weather. But today was different. A group of us left the parish at about half past eight in the morning after having breakfast. I came out from the Lay Mission house and was told that we would be crossing the river to reach the village. Crossing the river gives me a good excuse to go for a swim. When we reached the foot of the village, I was in for a big surprise as we were welcomed by raging waters overflowing the crossing. Seeing how dangerous it was, I thought we would postpone this trip and just come back another day.
I then saw a group of villagers came floating upstream transporting an elderly man who was sick. When they reach the other side of the bank where we were, he asked Columban Fr. Donal McIlraith, who went with us for the trip, to bless him before he continues on to the hospital in town for a check-up. After blessing the man, Fr. Donal went to speak with the villagers that transported him from the other side of the bank. After a while, Fr. Donal said that they will take us across the river. My jaw dropped in shock thinking how this was never on my bucket list! I had mixed feelings with what we were about to go through. I have never attempted something quite dangerous.
For this trip, I brought with me the Centenary altar cloth. We were planning to have parishioners sign it for us. But looking at the strong currents, I was already doubting how we can make it across safely, let alone keeping the altar cloth dry! But then, Fr. Donal was optimistic that we can do this and somehow, his spirit got me excited too. I thought, “I have never done this before, so why not?” Soon enough, I saw Fr. Donal floating away with the strong and brave young men wading and guiding the tire tube towards the other side of the river. He even managed to wave at us! Once he reached the other side, he beckoned to us that it was safe to cross. What a leader! A true leader!
I was next to make the trip. I was definitely scared. But once I went into the water, its coldness actually calmed me down and a surge of excitement filled me while praying for St. Christopher’s intercession for our safety. As we crossed, I imagined how, despite knowing how to swim, my legs weren’t strong enough to manage the river. I thought of this as I observed how the men were able to maneuver the tire tube with me sitting on it through the strong currents. Thankfully, we reached the other side safe and sound. The rest of our group, including Columban associate Fr. Nilton, made it across shortly afterwards.
We walked to the village with the Centenary altar cloth and held a Mass with the villagers. Fr. Nilton celebrated the Mass while Fr. Donal gave the homily during which he asked the people of Navala to pray for Columban mission and missionaries and to keep their faith alive and strong.
After our short time in the village, we decided to go back to town before the weather changed. This time, the river wasn’t as strong. There were no crazy waves, only smooth currents to wade through. When we reached the town, a few parishioners who knew of our trip asked us how we went to Navala. We answered, “Tube yani, tube mai!” (“by tube!”). The end of our day was marked with gathering the parishioners at the parish hall after Mass to watch a video presentation about the foundation and the journey of the Missionary Society of St. Columban throughout the world.
After all of our activities were done, I reflected about this day – the unexpected river adventure, the hospitality of the people, their warm smiles, their prayers, and most especially, their faith.
God definitely enjoys giving me all these surprises. What I experienced in this one day invited me to reflect on my journey as a lay missionary and the challenges it brings. There were days of laughter, and there were times I went through sorrow. There was no other way around it because six months before, my teammates left Fiji and I was still affected by their decision. But I understood they have their own reasons. It’s just that I am having a hard time getting over the feeling of being left behind.
Crossing the raging river on a tire tube made me see how to deal with the icy cold reality of a realization that comes back to me from time to time. I realized nothing is permanent, and people come and go. I know in time, I will get over the grief of being left behind. It is not an easy ride and it is scary. But just as I had to cross the river slowly and wade through the strong currents, I had to get past through this.
“Lord, grant your servant the gift of strength, courage and bravery to face the challenges of this journey as you always have. Grant also, your servant, the gifts of guidance and enlightenment as face them together with you, through you, and for you. Amen.”
Columban lay missionary Marjorie C. Engcoy lives and works in Fiji.