|Gloria Canama in Pakistan|
|Philippines 1990, L-R: Michael Martin, Gloria Canama, Michael McGuire, and Columba Chang|
We arrived in Lahore on a Mission Sunday. One of those synchronistic moments confirming my yes. When we experienced difficulties and doubted our decision, the three of us found it helpful to remember why we came. Being on mission is a gift from God, our magnificat in praxis. All three of us had long connections with Columban missionaries as friends and mentors. Now as Columban lay missionaries, we joined them as partners, sharing Columban life and mission and witnessing a new way of being church. Still, I questioned God. My yes was to life in mission as lay woman but only in the Philippines, preferably in Mindanao where I come from. How could I leave home for three years? Why Pakistan when there are Columban missions in other countries? In hindsight, it’s a blessing I didn’t know Columbans were sent on cross-cultural mission. A blessing in disguise that I wasn’t to know beforehand the many restrictions and difficulties we would experience in Pakistan especially as single women.
Over twenty years now since I first set foot on the “land of the pure”. My first years in mission had been purifying years. I came with excitement and confidence. “ I am a woman of experience. I’ve brought with me my faith, my lived-experiences of working to earn a living and my voluntary Christian community involvement. Moreover, I know the Columbans!” Learning the language alone was like being back in first grade, struggling and getting excited when I was able to read the word Lahore in Urdu script. My first big difficulty was the many don’ts in the culture to women, myself included. What I considered as a simple piece of cloth to cover my head was a cultural symbol if I am a good woman or not. The late Archbishop Armando Trindade of Lahore, on our first courtesy call to him asked us, “What are you three women doing here in Pakistan? How can you travel on your own in a very male-dominated society? How do you hope to empower Pakistani women?” We didn’t have the answers and honestly told the Archbishop with the assurance that we’d share with him our mission experiences. We did and in the process gained his trust and support.
|Pakistan, Gloria Canama in one of the monthly mass and gathering for the Filipino Community|
Joining the Columbans is a gift and a privilege but not without cost. Partnership in mission, especially 20 years ago was more an ideal, a dream. It took a lot to change attitudes, to be seriously valued as laity on mission and to be integrated in Columban life as partners in mission. Earlier on, LMs were often asked, “What do you do on mission?” There was no easy answer as many of us, if not all joined with no blueprints except the faith and commitment of a disciple to actively participate in the mission of Jesus.
Sometimes, the light within seemed to be flickering, dimming as I struggle to find seeds of hope and meaning in chaotic, worsening situations, locally and globally. A quote from Clarissa Pinkola Estes reasonates with my own experience, “ Struggling souls catch light from other souls who are fully lit and willing to show it.” It was sheer joy to be with Shaina, the 5-yr old daughter who calls herself “madam”. Her laughter was infectious and her gift, pair of socks gave me was priceless. A precious gift to be part of their lives even as I struggle with my own helplessness. I can partly identify with St. Paul who went through many trying moments in his missionary journey. I experienced sickness; deaths of Pilar, Pat and Tanvir; armed robbery in the Columban house, deportation from Karachi airport and the “given” challenges just by being here as woman, lay, part of the minority Christian community in an Islamic country which has been fighting against terrorism, violence, intolerance and the many forms of poverty and injustice.
|Lay Missionaries Aniceta Budiongan, Aurora Luceño, and Gloria Canama visiting the tomb of Pilar Tilos|