Wednesday, September 27, 2023

When in Pakistan

 By Monaliza Esteban, CLM

I vividly remember my arrival in Pakistan and how the environment felt so different to me. I sensed I had to be cautious all the time. People stared at me every time I ventured in public places. Whether I was in the market or in a restaurant or in an office, men predominantly fill these spaces, that I wondered, "Where are the women?"

It was difficult to understand at first but as time went by I started to gain  confidence and  I started interacting with the people around me, especially the men. Reflecting on my years in Pakistan now, I consider them to be a blessing filled with experiences that influenced my being. It was a bonus to have learnt new things about life and to have been challenged in my understanding of my womanhood. It’s always a joy and a challenge to be in a new society like Pakistan. Living with the women is one of the joyous things that mission has given me. But like the woman at the well, I have to have courage to go beyond the people’s culture with respect. It is a sweet challenge because it includes many dimensions in order not to hurt or go beyond the unexpected. 

Sometimes, when I contemplate about the wedding season here, I can’t help but wonder how young girls and boys navigate marriage at such a young age. It’s a culture reminiscent of my own back home. I recall similar stories of some of our elders on how they got married at such tender age. One of my grandmothers once told me of how young she was when our grandfather married her. Surprisingly, parents didn’t oppose it; instead, they allowed their daughter to be married at a young age.

Now that I find myself back in Pakistan during another wedding season, I’m reminded once again of the importance of embracing marriage as integral part of their life,  rooted in its culture.

Monaliza with a Parkari bride. This photo was taken
during her Tapna, the ritual week before the wedding. 

Tuesday, July 4, 2023

From Displacement to Hope: A Journey of Survival

By Ana Flores, Columban Lay Missionary


In June 2021, I returned to my home country Peru, and had the opportunity to be with people who were displaced and in distress, especially during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

During my visit, I had the chance to go to the Columban Fathers' place, where I encountered many people engaged in various activities. Among them were around 30 women, young people, and men involved in organic vegetable gardening. I also participated in an opening activity with children who were unable to attend their regular classes due to COVID-19 health protocols and restrictions. Representatives from organizations like UNICEF, the Department of Education of the Rimac-Lima region of Peru, and the Warmi Huasi (Women's House) Columbans Project, led by Father Edward O'Connell, also took part in the event.

Peruvian and Venezuelan children learning together

Given my profession as a teacher, I was offered a teaching job at the project. However, since I have not taught for a long time and because I had prior commitments in another Columban mission area, I initially declined the offer. After almost a month, the person in charge of the Warmi Huasi project reached out to me again with the same request. This time, I decided to accept the offer for four days a week so that I could fulfill my other commitment as well.

Interacting with the children proved to be a heartwarming experience throughout those four months. We followed the distancing rules, keeping at least a meter apart and wearing masks all the time. However, it was quite challenging as we needed to come closer to each other to effectively teach reading and writing. As our connection with each other grew, the children started sharing their snacks with me, and we even had lunch together.

I began teaching children aged 4, 5, and 6 years old, which brought back memories of my teaching days. With my experience, it became somewhat easier, but I had to exercise more patience in handling children of different ages and preparing age-appropriate activities for their better learning. The challenge intensified when I was assigned to take care of third graders who were still learning to read and write. This situation required me to be less observant of the protocols as I needed to be closer to these mostly Peruvian and Venezuelan children.

 My heart swelled with joy when one of the Venezuelan children articulated the word "chamo." I inquired why they called each other "chamo," and they explained that it was a term of endearment meaning friend, dude, brother, or sister. What I learned from them is that, in their situation, their nationality didn't matter; what mattered most to them was that they were friends and enjoyed each other's company. Kindness, mutual understanding, and a sense of belonging to one big family were some of the values I learned from them.

Ana Flores (middle) teaches children of different ages


As we grew closer, I discovered that some of my Venezuelan students had been displaced, having traveled to Colombia and then to Peru. Others had even journeyed to Ecuador. In their stories of displacement, they recounted experiences of hunger, hopelessness, missing their family members, encountering relatives or new people who became their adopted family, and yearning for the place they once called home.

Reflecting back, their experience of displacement paralleled that of Mother Mary and Joseph, who traveled to Bethlehem. Similar to the Venezuelan families, they faced difficulties along the way. Eventually, they found a simple stable where Jesus was born, just as the Venezuelan families found humble places in different locations to seek refuge and provide sustenance for their loved ones. 

Ana Flores returned to the Philippines in May 2022, after one year in Peru. She is now back in Mindanao serving at  the Mother of Divine Mercy, Opol, Cagayan de Oro.

Thursday, May 4, 2023

Learning a New Language

 By Lilibeth Sabado, CLM


Today I caught myself smiling, realizing that after twenty years of mission in Asia, here I am again anew acting like a child learning to speak a new language.  

I was 34 years old when I learned Chinese Mandarin. After 20 years, I am learning Spanish. “What have I gotten myself into?” I asked but then I realized that 21 years ago I wanted to learn Spanish! 

In 2002, during our preparation for overseas mission, we were asked our preference for country of assignment. I remember saying Pakistan as my first choice then South America. When asked why Pakistan, my adventurous self replied with another question, “Isn’t it great to be caught in the middle of a conflict and be with the people?”  And “Why South America?” My curious and innocent self responded, “I believe beautiful ladies speak Spanish, as seen in beauty pageants.  It would be exciting to see beautiful ladies and speak their language especially so that the language program is in Bolivia.”

Two conflicting answers. The first one focused on mission and the second focused more on self. Recalling my answers then made me smile even more. We all live in conflict, most of the time coming within the very core of our being. But what amazes me more is that, the conflict within is transformed by God into something beautiful. Twenty one years! I waited and here I am learning Spanish in preparation for a new mission assignment. Grateful beyond words for the opportunity to learn another language.

To study a new language is like playing games with your language teacher, according to the late Columban Jim Mulroney. Here I am in Bolivia. I am in for the game!

Bolivia, February 2023: Lilibeth with her Spanish language teacher


Tuesday, April 11, 2023

Guided by Faith, Fueled by Hope, Resulted in Transformation

By Latai Muller, Columban Lay Missionary 


As I reflect on the past three years of my life as a Columban Lay Missionary assigned in the Philippines, I am overwhelmed with a flood of emotions. The journey has been one of the most challenging yet rewarding experiences in my life.

When I first decided to embark on this mission, I had no idea what to expect. I had heard stories of the struggles and triumphs of other missionaries, but I never imagined that I would experience them myself. I was filled with a sense of excitement, nervousness, and uncertainty as I stepped onto the plane and headed to my new home.

The first few months were a blur of new faces, new cultures, and new languages. I struggled to understand the customs and beliefs of the people I was living amongst. I struggled to
communicate with them and make sense of the poverty and injustice I saw around me. But as I slowly began to understand and connect with the people, I began to see the beauty in their lives and the resilience of their spirits.

The mission was not always easy, there were moments of doubt, fear, exhaustion, and missing home. But in those moments, I was reminded of why I am here and what I have to offer. I saw the impact that my presence and my work had on the people I was serving, and it gave me the strength to push through difficult times.

Working with the people. It was a humbling experience. I saw the impact of poverty and injustice on these people’s lives, and it broke my heart. But I also saw the power of hope and the resilience of the human spirit. I saw young people who had lost everything still smiling and moving on, and I saw women who had been oppressed standing up for their rights and fighting for a better future. There were three wings that I always carried with me through my 3 years Journey and those are FAITH, HOPE, and TRANSFORMATION.

FAITH has been the foundation of my mission. It has given me the courage to step out of my comfort
zone and trust in God's plan for my life. It has reminded me that I am not alone in this journey and that God is always with me, guiding me and strengthening me. My faith has also been strengthened by the faith of the people I have met along the way. Seeing their unwavering trust in God, despite difficult circumstances, has been an inspiration to me.

HOPE has been the fuel that has kept me going. It has given me the belief that there is a brighter future ahead and that, through God's grace, we can achieve it. It has reminded me that no matter how difficult things may seem, there is always a glimmer of hope. My hope has also been strengthened by the hope of the people I have encountered. Seeing their resilience and determination to make a better life for themselves and their families has also been a source of inspiration for me.

TRANSFORMATION has been the fruit of my mission. It has reminded me that change is possible and that, through God's love, we can be transformed and become the best version of ourselves. It has reminded me that my mission is not just about helping others, but also about being transformed myself. The transformation I have witnessed in the people that I have journeyed with has been a testament to the power of God's love. My mission as a Columban lay missionary has been an amazing journey that has been guided by faith, fueled by hope, and has resulted in transformation. I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to serve, the people I have met, and the rich experiences that have helped me grow in my faith, hope, and transformation.

Latai (3rd from the back row) with the children in Barra

When in Pakistan

  By Monaliza Esteban, CLM I vividly remember my arrival in Pakistan and how the environment felt so different to me. I sensed I had to be c...