“The best two years of my life. Whatever happened, Val and I agreed that the two years we spent with the Columbans were the best two years of our life”. This was the sentiment of a returned lay missionary who came to visit us at the CLM House on April 18, 2013.
Florence “Fong” Balaoing joined the orientation in 1994. She was one among the four women and two men who initially made up the 4th team of Filipino lay missionaries in orientation. They were collectively known as RP4. Although four completed the orientation, only three were actually sent on mission to Britain in February 1995. The three were Jasmine Lood of Iligan City, Val Carancio of Iloilo and Fong Balaoing of Dasol, Pangasinan. While in Britain, Val and Fong fell in love with each other. They got married in November of the same year. It was a very difficult time for them and everyone involved with the Columban Lay Mission program in Britain and in the Philippines. While everyone recognized the contribution their presence made to the progress of the Columban lay mission and to the better collaboration between the Columban priests and the lay missionaries there, everyone was also aware that lay missionaries were highly encouraged, or better yet, expected to retain their civil status especially during their first term. Most Columbans in Britain wanted them to stay and continue their mission work as a couple. After much dialogue between the two regions, decision was reached that Val and Fong must return to the Philippines. With heavy hearts, Val and Fong came home and left the Columban Lay Mission. “Amidst what happened, I am very grateful to the Columbans. It was with the Columbans where we experienced growth the most. The orientation alone enriched us immensely. We met wonderful people who inspired us. Our life in Britain was not only a time of pain but also of discovery and joy” Fong shared.
After Britain, Val and Fong moved to Dasol, Pangasinan. They welcomed their first child in June 1996. In July of the following year, another child blessed their family. Fong found work in a local high school. Although Val had a chance to work as a seafarer having studied associate in marine engineering, he decided against leaving his young family. Instead, he set up his own business fabricating steel windows, gates and doors. And all these times, they never stopped wishing that one day they will still realize their dream of becoming missionaries. Sometime in July 1998, they sent Columban Lay Mission coordinator Fr. Michael McGuire a letter inquiring about the possibility of their family joining the Columban Lay Mission once again. They could have not been more delighted when Fr. McGuire replied and expressed a possibility indeed of their joining the orientation program. After several meetings with Fr. McGuire, the young family of Val and Fong were invited once again to join the orientation program. They returned to the CLM house in September 1998 and became part of RP8, the 8th team of Filipino lay missionaries in orientation.
|Val and Fong with daughters Diana and Julea|
Few years later, they were again blessed with another daughter. Later, they joined the Focolare Movement and committed to live a life based on the spirit of love and service. They moved to San Fernando, La Union in 2005 as part of their commitment to the group and are now residing in one compound together with six families which they have been tasked to literally look after by the Focolare. Val and Fong’s devotion to each other and their children is a powerful example to emulate. They act like parents and counselors to the other six families. These six families used to live a vagrant life but were given a new lease of hope when they were welcomed to live in the Focolare Compound. With the help of their fellow volunteers / members, Val and Fong have sought to fulfill the needs of these families based on the principles of education, formation, solidarity, and unity. Regular sharing is held to aid these families re-integrate with the community as responsible citizens. One challenge they had as Focolare volunteers happened very recently when one mother died leaving behind eight (8) very young children. They all pitched in, financially, emotionally, physically to help this family overcome this tragic event. “It was a tough time but this experience has borne compassion among us, and resilience and tenacity to the eight children” Fong said.
|Fong with three daughters Marie, Diana, and Julea|
Thank you Fong for your wonderful visit. Thank you for coming home.
By Mavic Mercene,CLM Staff Member