- by Gloria S. Canama
“The fire which is in the sun, the fire which is in the earth,
that fire is in my own heart.” Upanishad
My childhood dream was always to be a religious sister. This dream seed must have been sown by the Columban missionaries, sisters and priests, who were my educators and friends from my early years. I was baptized by the late Columban Fr. Paul Cooney.
|Gloria Canama in Pakistan|
More years of searching God’s will, of how to respond the persistent call within, of how to live meaningful way of life. The Spirit who kept the fire burning in my whole being, eventually led me to PCLM (Philippine Catholic Lay Missionaries), the pioneering missionary group of the laity founded by the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers. It was May 1986 when I left again my family and my teaching job. This time, there was no turning back. Since then, I have lived and offered myself as a lay missionary, my act of gratitude to the Source of all Life. Years with PCLM affirmed and strengthened my lay missionary vocation. By baptism am called to follow and participate the mission of Jesus. It was also my baptism of fire. I literally crossed rivers, seas and mountains, had same simple meals for days, had nothing extra to buy gifts on Christmas for my family. My cup was overflowing. I received more than I’ve given. I have found my pearl of great price. I’ve found a meaningful way of life and the fire within kept on burning.
|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|
Two months later, I got news from home that both my parents were confined in the hospital. How long would I be tested? How could I bear all these? I cried to my God in the depths of my being. I couldn’t make sense of the recent happenings. Is it time to go home for good and be with my ageing parents? Five years ago I wrote in my journal, “I was crying most of the afternoon and night. I woke up the following morning feeling that I’ve risen.” This is still true for me now, even deeper. In my grief, concern with my ageing parents and own share of insecurity, there’s peace, courage, hope and gratitude. All is grace. I am not alone in the journey, never had been with my family, Columbans and the widening circle of co-creator friends with the earth community. It’s a privilege to be involved in ministries that I love and very happy to initiate, to be part of creative relevant responses to changing missionary challenges. There is this inner knowing that there is always enough cosmic grace not only to continue but to thrive and glow in my missionary journey. “Only in burning itself that a candle gives light”.