Sunday, December 20, 2020

The Day I Met Her

 By Monliza Esteban

It was one fine Friday morning on the 21st of August when a young Hindu couple arrived at the parishs TB clinic with their tiny baby. When their turn came to meet the doctor, I was curious to see the babys situation so I went inside the doctors room. I had never seen such a disease as that. Her body, including her head, was covered with a skin infection. The cloth that was used to wrap her was even stuck to her bottom. Her eyes were affected as well. I couldnt imagine how hard it must be for a baby like her having all the pain inside and outside. She was crying the whole time the doctor examined her. As I gazed on her parentsworry eyes, I felt more compassion to this tiny Gods gift to them. I assumed it is their first child. At the end of the day I still couldnt stop thinking about that child. 

Perhaps that was the scenario when the lepers were asking Jesus to heal them. They must have been in pain, crying for help like her. And perhaps the only free medication for them is to turn to Jesus with faith.  

She was admitted that day because the doctor discovered that she had a pulmonary problem. The parents were also told to bring their baby to the clinic every other Friday for medication apart from her skin problem. And so our journey begins. 

I started to be a friend to her and the mother after that first meeting. They belong to a tribal group whose language I do not speak or understand, but with few words I was able to build a rapport with them. On the second Friday there was an improvement with our little patient and she was a little bit friendly. I offered her toffee but she was still quite shy to take it from my hand. I continue to inquire about her situation and if she was getting better with the medicine the doctor prescribed. The mother showed me her daughters body where the soft baby skin was returning to normal. As they continue to come for her medication, I saw the changes on her skin. Every time they come, her skin gets better and better. Like the lepers faith I also believed that this tiny baby fought with her strong faith and will to recover from that disease. 

 Sometimes it is hard to say and judge the kind of society we have. I sometimes also wonder about this group of people who were deprived from health privileges not because they cannot work in order to provide good health for their children or for themselves, but because of the kind of society they are in. This experience had challenged me again and again to be more compassionate with the little ones - the destitute in the society whoever they are. I am just thankful that we have generous people around who continue to help these people. Now, I am very happy to see finally this little tiny one on her fifth Friday fully recovered from her skin problem and praying that she will also recover from her other ailment in time. I will always remember the day I met her, the day I met Gangga.

Monday, November 16, 2020

Sailing on the Ocean of Life

All in the Same Boat

By Lenette Toledo


      Myanmar is far behind in terms of education, compared to other countries, having been shut off from the outside world for 50 years by the military junta. Now, they are struggling to catch up with the rest of the world. I feel that the education system here can be so oppressive. Students are requires to pass the 10th Standard exam to proceed to University, and if they don't pass they have to take it again the following year until they do. They have to go through the same process of review which would require them to stay in boarding schools where their studies are strictly supervised by hired teachers from dawn to dusk. Students have to get up a early as 5:00am to start studying their lessons under the supervision of their teachers until late in the evening, taking only short breaks to eat their meals.  Unfortunately, due to poverty, not all parents can afford to send their children to boarding school. If they don't pass the exam the first time, it can be devastating as it would put an end to their dreams.

     I teach basic English to students and young professionals as well as working in the diocesan curia
office. With increasing numbers of non-government organization (NGOs)  coming to Myanmar, many young people are aspiring to get job with the NGOSs. However, they must have skills in the English language. Some of my students are working in NGOs like Karuna (Caritas), while some are young professionals, high school and university students who want to improve their grammar and speaking skills. I never envisioned myself teaching English, because even I struggle with my grammar but thankfully can get help with resources from the internet.

    Not all of the students come regularly because of work, exams and so on, and I would often wonder how many would turn up. In the beginning, they were enthusiastic but as time went on only a few retained the motivation to continue. Generally, young people here are timid and inexperienced. They lack motivation and perseverance to continue when they are faced with difficulties. 
Lenette in her English class

    Teaching is not really my forte. It's a real challenge for me to be patient and fin creative ways to motivate and encourage the students to value the importance of education  so that they will not give up on their dreams. I often wonder if my words are sinking in or not.  For instance, I would often invite them to ask me if there's something they don't understand but they will not say anything.  When I ask them, "do you understand?" they'd invariably say "yes."  Then I'd reverse the question and ask, "what do you understand?" and they would remind so quiet, sitting with their eyes downcast, that you could almost hear their heartbeats.
     I have to remind myself to talk to them as gently as possible, knowing how vulnerable they are. So, I have to be careful with the tone of my voice especially when I lose my patience.  They were never taught in school how to assert themselves and were never allowed to question authority. For me, it is a very oppressive way of learning.  So it's not only about teaching  them English, it;s also about helping them boost their self-esteem and confidence so they can assert themselves in the wider world.
Lenette and the staff of the Diocesan Commission on Education in Banmaw


    To understand their reality I have to dig deeper into their history of being oppressed. There are so many factors that contribute to how and why they behave the way they do, and I cannot help but join them in their resentment and sorrow of being deprived of their right to speak for so long. Some of them are orphans or are separated from their parents because of civil war.  Each has his own sad story to tell.  Motivating them to use their personal experience to achieve what they really set out to achieve is important.  They need somebody who can listen and understand them without judgment.

     I think at this time, they feel that I care deeply for them because even if there's only one that will turn up, they know that I will always be there waiting for them and am not willing to give up on them.  I often think of the image of the compassionate God who never abandons His people, and as a missionary I continue to live out and be a witness to His compassion. I tell them that learning is a life time process and like them, I too am learning from them everyday, so we are all in the same boat sailing on the ocean of life.


Lenette Toledo, from Sultan Kudarat, was assigned in Ireland from 2008 until 2014. She now serves in Myanmar helping in the curia office of the Diocese of Banmaw (also spelt as Bhamo).

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Covid-19 Reflection

Just Believe and Keep Going
By Marea Lyn Almiranez 

One of my favorite Mandarin phrases is 加油 (jiā yóu). The first character ‘’ (jiā) means "add" and the second character ‘’ (yóu) means "oil”. 加油 means "to add oil" or “refuel”. In Taiwan, you will see the sign, ‘加油’ in gasoline stations but 加油 is also an expression of encouragement and support such as "Go!"; "Come on!" and “Keep it up!". 

Matthew 6: 25-27 says "For this reason, I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?  Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life?

When the coronavirus began to spread in Taiwan, the first thing I witnessed was the panic buying of face masks, alcohol sanitizers, and toilet paper that caused shortages in many stores. Shortly after, other activities including masses were postponed or canceled, particularly in Hsinchu City where I live. I felt sad and worried. I felt that the coronavirus was a serious public health concern. I asked God in prayer how the faith of Catholic migrants and immigrants would be nourished without the sacraments, particularly the Sacrament of the Eucharist and Confession. At the same time, we won’t be able to receive the Body of Christ. Most of the time, I stayed in my apartment due to the restrictions. Every time I ventured outside the apartment, I became more aware of the things I touch, the places I go and the people I encounter. I’m always wearing a face mask and carrying hand sanitizer with me for protection. I feel uncomfortable doing these things as I'm not used to it but, I have to in order to protect myself and others from the virus.

Masses in Taiwan resumed on May 24, 2020
Once coronavirus was confirmed as a pandemic, I became more worried because many countries are affected including the Philippines. In the news,  I read that many countries implemented lockdown by closing businesses, offices and people were to stay in their houses. Moreover, events or activities were also canceled or postponed. I’m worried about my country, my family, relatives, and friends.

I often talk with my family and friends in the Philippines as well as in other countries and asked them how are they. They shared with me their stories and challenges during the lockdown. My two brothers who are working in a factory and another brother who is a tricycle driver have no income because they couldn’t work. Some of them are getting bored staying in the house. I feel sorry for them. I also feel sorry for my nephew and niece who were looking forward to their graduation ceremony but which were also canceled.

I watched a documentary about the frontline workers in Wuhan, China during the lockdown. Most of the doctors and nurses couldn't go home because they needed to work overtime to save the lives of those infected by the virus. Some ended up contracting the virus themselves, especially the doctors. This scenario was not only happening in Wuhan, but also in other parts the world particularly in the US, Spain, Russia, UK and Italy. I read in the news that some doc-tors have died in the Philippines. I salute all the frontline workers who are doing their best to serve the people.

I am worried about the elderly like my parents as they are most vulnerable to the virus. I'm afraid of what's happening in the world now. Many people have no income. Many people are hungry and afraid. I'm always praying to God to stop this pandemic. I prayed not only for myself and for my loved ones but also to all the people who are suffering. I don't know how to help my loved ones and other people. All I can do is pray. I wish I could do something to lighten up the mood.

One day, I passed a gasoline station and saw the word 加油. I smiled. I realized that if the drivers go to the gasoline stations (加油站) to refuel their vehicles, then the people who are experiencing down moments in their lives also need to refuel their strength to keep going. This is a new realization for me. I decided to shift my perspective of letting go of my worries and frustrations to accepting the new reality.

Marea (lower left corner) during an online reunion with friends from MOL
This helped me see the silver lining in all of these, such as people spending more time with their families and friends. Even though they couldn't work, the opportunity to be with their loved ones is precious time. The air is clean and fresh because there is no traffic. Several generous people extended their hands to help others especially in those areas that have been greatly affected. I appreciate the value of the internet. In the midst of a pandemic, many Catholics attended online Masses. People who live far away from home like me could connect to our families and friends. I see their faces while we talk, share our own experiences during the pandemic, and do funny things like sharing jokes or playing with AR effects in Messenger. I see and talk with my classmates from the Mother of Life (MOL) for the first time in 13 years. It's good to talk with them and reminisce about the past. I am doing an online Mandarin language class with my teacher which I find more convenient and safe.

I am still blessed because I am staying in Taiwan where the government is doing their best to prevent the spread of the virus. They put in place strict regulations for buying face masks and alcohol sanitizers which I find very effective. We do not have lockdown and I can go out and do my errands cautiously. I appreciate the presence of my fellow lay missionaries in the apartment. We regularly share our feelings and thoughts about what's happening in our home countries and our families. Also, I appreciate the value of prayer time. This is a time where I connect to God most and find peace. These are what matters to me now. I am thankful to God for giving me this beautiful insight to lighten my mood despite the problems and difficulties. I am always telling myself, "加油! 加油!"加油!" (Go! Go! Go!) to remind me that life is still good and God is still in control.

There are a lot of things to be worried about but there are also a lot of things to be grateful for. I chose to be grateful and it helps me keep going. I surrender to God all my worries and frustrations and this helps me trust Him more. He will make a way. Just believe and keep going. 

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Covid19 Reflections

Call for a Change of Heart
By Monaliza Esteban

Monaliza (in white) with the women of Meheramul Khirpur village, Badin Parish.
LM Monaliza Esteban from Baguio City shares how the lockdown in Pakistan where she is currently assigned invited her to learn new things and made her realize that God has dug out a strength in her which she never knew she had if not for the  lockdown.    She continues to trust that God  will always be in command whatever lies ahead of this pandemic.

First Month

Lockdown kicked off in Karachi, Pakistan on March 23,  two weeks before the end of our Urdu language classes. The whole area where we were was in total silence which was very unusual. We don’t get this kind of silence during ordinary days. The only usual sound left was the call to prayer for our Muslim brothers and sisters which at one time I felt was a very sad voice. I took that initial lockdown time to rest from our language studies and do some stuff. My first month gave me the feeling of being in solitude. Spiritually I was enthusiastic and faithful to the schedule that I set up. The feeling of being alone with God was a moment of grace and joy.  From time to time I received voice or video calls from my friends and family around the globe. Thanks to the internet communication is  possible. It made us updated and felt closer to each other. I remember towards the end of March one of my family members had to go back to her work place abroad.  The fear and worries my family had to go through was really bizarre. I felt the effect of this pandemic emotionally when we started sharing our fears which I didn’t feel during the first few months the news erupted.  

Second Month

Towards the second month of this lockdown I started to feel strange. I think the feeling of boredom struck me. “What am I supposed to do now?”  There’s nothing to do even if there are things to be done. “When will I go to my ministry?” These were the strange questions that bombarded my mind those days. But seeing the people’s situation and watching the news, I felt we were all on the same boat but perhaps in a different kind of boat. So I thought to myself, ‘why should I allow these things to stress me? Should I be doing something that I can benefit from?‘ So like others, I started to do some new things. Sewing doormats from recycled materials for my room was encouraging.  I befriended the kitchen and it welcomed me when I least expected it. It gave me a foretaste of being a baker. Because we are fond of eating pickles or achara, I also did not hesitate  to make some. My heart leapt with joy with all the new things I learned during this pandemic.  God dug out things from us that we never imagined we have and can. I was at peace with those feelings through these new activities.

Time to move on

Moving into the interior part of Sindh after the lockdown was a good decision. I was greeted with the super summer heat upon arrival. While others were taking precautions against this pandemic,  here I was struggling with the heat. I wondered how people coped with this kind of heat alongside the government’s safety measures on this covid-19.  

I then started my visitation to the villages. Receiving the hands of these village people was irresistible. I don’t know why, but things just happened whenever I meet them. It made me remember the story of Jesus with the lepers. Through him, I should always gaze through people’s heart because the surface is not always the manifestation of the whole person regarding his/her condition. Should I know who’s carrying the virus, things would be different. 

While I continue to face the effects of this pandemic, I am grateful to the positive effects it brought to the people especially me. The natural humanitarian attitude towards each other surfaced.  It made me more trusting that hope is always present amidst this crisis.  I kept thanking God and trusting that whatever is ahead of us He will always be in command of everything. Indeed, today’s wineskin is a call for a change of heart.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Covid19 Reflections

Through My Lens
By Sunhee Kim

LM Sunhee Kim from South Korea shares her reflection on the exacerbation of hunger and poverty amidst Covid19. While others focus their worries against contracting the virus, a lot of people are in distress searching for food;  food as their priority, the threat of Covid19 as secondary.

"Throwing away food is like stealing from the table of those who are poor and hungry..."-  Pope Francis

As a measure to limit the spread of Covid19 in the Philippines, the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) in Luzon was set on March 17. Most of the things we need for our daily living such as public transport, stores, and restaurants stopped at an instant except those which provide basic necessities  (e.g. supermarket, pharmacy, hospital, and so on), and critical services. There was the restriction of the movement of people and a curfew that I had only seen in tv drama was imposed. Instantly, I was forced to stay home. The day before, I took a rest at the Columban Lay Mission (CLM) house and celebrated the Feast day of St. Patrick in Singalong. Looking back, it was like a dream.

I began my first ever community quarantine life, imagining what would have happened if I had stayed at the CLM house. I had no sense of reality in the first few days; I enjoyed quietness I had rarely experienced in Manila.  I planned to do this and that, things that I could not do before this unexpected free time. The reality I faced, however, was not as nice or comfortable as time went by, as the ECQ was extended.

What broke my heart is the reality that people suffer from hunger and poverty, especially the urban poor who have lost their means of livelihood and had to be sent home due to the ECQ. One of the unforgettable news for me was that some residents took to the streets to demand food supply or financial assistance from the government. Sadly, however, they were arrested. They were hungry and only asking for food and urgent help. On the one hand, it is understandable for the government to take sterner measures to prevent the spread of the disease. On the other hand, I would like to ask back “What is more important than human dignity and human rights for survival?”  At the same time, I reflected on how much I tried to pay attention to people who are having a hard time in the midst of the ECQ: the jeepney and tricycle drivers, the peddlers in the streets, the day workers and the irregular workers. They are not far from me; they are those who I regularly meet in my mission area.

Sunhee at the Light the Life Candle Project
The “Light the Life (LTL)” candle project which I have been managing was also affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.  As a result of the ECQ, the eight mothers who work in the project have had to stay at home; no work, no pay. LTL, a small livelihood project, is not registered with the government, so the mothers were not qualified for the Covid-19 cash aid of the department of labor and employment. They had a tough time with their own circumstances during this pandemic: they are the breadwinners in their family, their husbands are non-standard employees working as construction workers. They have no money to buy milk for their children.  One mother even has to undergo dialysis three times a week. They received relief packs from the government, yet it was not distributed often. It might wet their lips, but it could not quench their thirst.

It is not only the unemployed but also the employed who are suffering the economic hardship due to the pandemic impact. This is not just a problem in the Philippines. My family in South Korea has the same difficulty. They are working, yet their income has decreased. It led them to tighten their belts. It is not easy to witness people around me in a trying situation, especially if they are my beloved family members in need. Though sad and sorry I could not help them. I am just grateful they are well and safe when the severe coronavirus outbreak in South Korea happened. Like everything, the community quarantine has its pros and con. Now, I can attend mass and liturgies through various channels during this time. I can even attend mass every day if I want to, something which I had always thought but could not practice before.  Inspired by one priest’s idea, I posted photos of people who are in my prayer intention on the wall in my room. When I offer the sign of peace to them in the picture during Mass wishing their peace, it brought me the serenity of mind as well. It is an indescribably blessed experience.

Socio-economic activities have slowly resumed since the general community quarantine was implemented. As I am preparing to return to my ministry with the new normal, I have concerns about what would happen.  I may have to accept something new I have never experienced before, whether I want it or not. It will take time. I admit my weakness, I pray to the Lord with faith. May he take my fear and worries away. May he comfort me and give me the courage to face the difficulties before me.

Finally,  I would like to express my gratitude to the Columban mission partners and individual benefactors for their generous support to the Columban mission, the mothers in the Light the Life candle project was able to receive emergency assistance. It was a great comfort to them and gave them room to breathe in these days of trouble. I and the mothers thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

Monday, June 15, 2020

COVID19 Reflections

Two first-term Columban Lay Missionaries arrived in the Philippines last February 22, 2020. On February 27, they traveled to Davao City to begin their six months of full-time language studies (Binisaya). On March 11, the World Health Organization had declared COVID-19 a pandemic. In March 15, a modified lockdown had been declared in the different provinces of the country. Barely four months in the Philippines, Latai and Mereani share how they are coping with all the uncertainties.

LMS Latai Muller (l) from the Kingdom of Tonga and Mereani Nailevu from the Fiji Islands, while having an online language class in Davao City.

Storms of Life
Latai Muller

One day Jesus said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side of the lake.” So they got into a boat and set out. As they sailed, he fell asleep. A squall came down on the lake so that the boat was being swamped, and they were in great danger. The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we’re going to drown! “He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm. “Where is your faith?” he asked his disciples. In fear and amazement, they asked one another, “Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him.” (LUKE 8:22-25)

I have been here in Davao City for three and a half months learning the local language (Binisaya). Facing this pandemic and experiencing lockdown in a place I am barely familiar with, I am hit with fear, restlessness, feeling worried and anxious, and I miss home. Experiencing this global crisis away from the comfort of my home and family, have caused me to panic, even angry. 

Having to deal with the newness of everything is limiting in itself. Having to deal with the restrictions to stay indoors,  wearing masks, frequent handwashing, physical distancing is irritating and upsetting. I can’t help but ask, ‘what have I gotten myself into?’ 

However, I have to accept that there is nothing I can do with the reality I am facing. The question Jesus asked his disciples came to mind ‘where is your faith?’ Living in this storm, in this pandemic reality I sometimes lose faith and begin to question God with so many things. But these past few weeks I discover myself dwelling into the reality of living in lockdown. I cannot change the situation, but I can change my own outlook on the situation. This difficult situation has given me the opportunity to strengthen my spiritual life and has drawn me closer to God through prayers. This situation has given me a chance to look at myself inwardly. I am able to use my time to focus and concentrate fully in my studies, to focus on my physical well-being, to eat healthy food, exercise a lot, and develop mutual support with my companion.

I heard myself uttering the same cry as the disciples, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” The disciples thought they were all going to drown. But who was on board with them? The Lord uses the storm to reveal new areas where we need to learn to trust Him. We all must come to know our weaknesses so that we will rely on the Lord’s strength. This pandemic often shows us things that we don’t see in calmer times and that we must learn to be more patient. Even if we feel helpless and restless, we will always remember that God is with us in our stormy life even though we cannot see him physically but spiritually we can. Things may feel difficult now but let us all take a moment and encourage everyone and say, “everything will be okay because God is with us”. Lord, may I never lose sight in your promise. Amen. 

Holding On....
Mereani Nailevu

Talomo has just become one of the most infected areas in Davao City. Changes have been taking place quickly that most of the people have been caught off guard. We are all trying to adapt to this new reality in the hope that the pandemic will end soon, although it is impossible to predict how long it will last and what consequences it will bring. 

Fear and uncertainty causing me to feel stressed, anxious, and powerless in the direction of my life. Watching what has been going around the world today has drained me emotionally especially when I see people getting sick, mourning for their loved ones, losing jobs, and struggling to put food on the table. 

However, faith and hope still push us through this difficult time. I realized that a lot of people try to distinguish economic, faith, social and cultural differences, but this pandemic is reminding me that we can all get sick and that my actions have an impact on the lives of the people I live with. 

We are all interconnected with each other. It also reminds me that no matter what country I live in, how old we are, or what we do, we are all important and therefore we must fight at all costs to care for each other. It doesn’t matter if the problems are big or small or the consequences might be impossible to bear, what matters most is that God doesn’t give us the spirit of fear but of power and love which enables us to face the circumstances with confidence. 

Columban Lay Missionaries in the Philippines

The Day I Met Her

 By Monliza Esteban It was one fine Friday morning on the 21 st of August when a young Hindu couple arrived at the parish ’ s TB clin...