Wednesday, November 16, 2022

A Faithful Follower of God

 By Reina Mosqueda 
Columban Lay Missionary in Taiwan


When I was young, my family was not religious or active in the parish. My father had a different belief and hated the Catholic faith, especially the priests. My Mom just agreed with my father to avoid conflicts with him. My eight siblings and I were all baptized in the Catholic Church but, as a family, we did not go to church like other Catholic families in our neighborhood. Growing up, I did not have an idea of who Jesus was because we did not talk about it at home. But there is one member in the family who was so brave and courageous in expressing his faith and love in God - my brother Levy.

My brother Levy is the third brother among my six older brothers. Growing up, he was very much aware of the poor financial condition of our family. At a young age, oftentimes after school, he used to go to the farm which is almost two hours walk from our house to get some wood or vegetables to sell and give money to my parents. Until now he is very kind, helpful, hardworking, and responsible.

He was a teenager when he started to get interested in knowing God by going to mass every  Sunday. He liked listening to the homilies of the parish priest and the songs of the choir. He found fulfillment in what he did. He did not feel disappointed even though he was aware that our family was in poverty. The physical hard work he did on the farm became light and full of satisfaction because he knew that God was with him. Even if he was sick, he would go to the farm and work. He did not feel discouraged because he found joy in everything he did. His desire to know God became stronger and stronger every day like his will to follow Him. When he decided to follow God, he did many things to know Him well. He tuned in to the Catholic radio station as a member of the Bible study group, bought spiritual books, joined a charismatic community, and became a catechist in the parish. Through these activities and the formation he received in the church, he developed a deep relationship with God. He saw God as his strength and great provider. He believed that following Him and His teachings would make him inherit His kingdom which is his ultimate goal as a Christian.

However, my father was not happy that my brother Levy was an active member of the church: my father scolded him every time he got drunk. Whenever our father arrived home drunk, even if it was in the middle of the night, he would get a bible and fight with him. Even so, my brother did not fight back and did not hold grudges against our father. Instead, he forgave and prayed for him. His relationship with God shaped his Christian values and character.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:16-17)

From the early age this Biblical passage became my brother’s great reminder of God’s love for him. His faith led him toward the right path. He desired to become a monk or a religious someday. When he started to search for the true plan of God for him, he was amazed at how God accompanied him throughout his search. He believed that the graces of courage and determination he had during those times of searching for the call of God for him were the manifestations of God’s faithfulness to him. Nevertheless, God had a different plan for my brother Levy. He got an opportunity to study in a Catechetical Center for two years for free on the condition that he would teach in the parish school. And after some years of working in the school as a Religion teacher, he found his future wife in the parish who was also a catechist at that time. When he got married, he studied a four-year course in college majoring in Mathematics. At present, my brother is a public-school elementary teacher. He did not become a monk or a religious but he continues to serve God in his parish together with his own family.

 The fulfilment and deep joy I witnessed in my brother were the reasons why I also desired to follow God. He inspired me to put my faith and trust in God’s divine providence and to learn more about the life and teachings of Jesus so I can also share His great love for His people. I also became a student catechist in high school and took up a course majoring in Religious Education. My brother Levy is one of the significant people in my journey of faith for whom I will always be grateful. God is truly faithful and generous to His people. He gave me my brother Levy who led me to know and love Him. I hope that like my brother, I may lead other people to know God’s great love for them with deep joy and a heart that is fulfilled.

Levy with wife Malou and their son


Wednesday, October 26, 2022

My Vocation Story

The Language of My Heart

By Latai Muller 
Columban Lay Missionary from the Kingdom of Tonga


A vocation is not just something God calls us to do, but also the person God calls us to be. When Jesus summoned his first disciples beside the Sea of Galilee, it was not just to assist him in his ministry but also to alter their lives through his friendship and love. We have been invited to follow Christ, God's son, who became one of us to rescue us for eternal life. He sent his holy spirit for us to share in his divine life and express it by loving him and our neighbors.

I always had the idea of serving God as a missionary and helping those in need when I was younger. I learned to imitate their behaviours by seeing and listening to people when I was a youngster. The same also motivated and inspired me to watch television programs about the lives of those in the margins and to emulate my parents' deeds of kindness, since they frequently welcomed strangers into our homes, fed them, and provided them with a place to stay. My father used to remark, "We never know, maybe the stranger that we helped was Jesus," and as I got older, I realized how deeply ingrained this attitude of giving was in my family.

At the age of 18, I received God's calling in my life through a former Columban lay missionary, Losana Ve'ehala (May she rest in Peace). I was excited to join the Columban Missionary right away, but I was turned down because I was too young then. I was urged to finish my education first and gain work experience. At 23 years old, or after 5 years of waiting, I finished my studies and got myself a job. Even though I had already settled into my career and was already enjoying my life as an active youth in my parish, the idea and desire to be a lay missionary were still very strong.

Latai (2nd from left) with her team mates during the orientation program for Columban Lay Missionaries in Fiji

I'll never forget the day I returned to Losana's office. With a huge smile on my face, I said, "Here I am, Lord; I have come to do your will." It was supposed to be hilarious, but it ended with emotional tears. Her expression was priceless because she could not believe I would return after five years of waiting. In 2017, I joined the accompaniment program for Columban Lay Missionaries. Despite that feeling of wanting to give up several times, and the many ups and downs, I persevered.  Discovering that my faith speaks the language of the heart has enabled me to develop my faith and prayer life.

Reflecting back on those five years of waiting, I prayed for a sign, and God gave me the strength to persevere in my desire to be a lay missionary, to wait patiently, and have faith in his perfect timing. Overtime, everything made sense to me. He made me wait because he wanted me to get closer to him and continue his good work. He wanted to shape me into a person who is willing to serve rather than to be served. Ephesians 2:10  “ For we are God’s Handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good work, which God prepared in advance for us to do”.

Friday, October 21, 2022

My Vocation Story

 Fanning the Flame of Faith

By Mereani Nailevu 
Columban Lay Missionary from Fiji


  Everyone’s journey is different. When I reflect and think about my own, I realize that I have come a long way from my life as a young girl in my village where technology is not yet a norm. In my village, people visit each to stay in touch and the only means of news was through the radio. At night we gather together with a lamp and old people would tell stories to the young until it was time to go to bed.

    My journey as a lay missionary began when I was asked by our village catechist to visit the sick with him. Although  he was too old to walk by himself to the communities, that did not stop him from ministering to the sick.  Sometimes, we go by horseback which was the only way to reach other villages.  He loved horseback riding and telling stories about his childhood and early adulthood memories on the farm where he grew up in, while I enjoyed listening. Little did I know that from that day forward, I would spend a lot of my childhood accompanying him to the different villages.  It was through him that I came to meet some of the Columban lay missionaries who accompanied the priests whenever there’s a mass in the village. Their stories of struggles and the joys they shared with the people opened their hearts to extend their hands to those in need. After listening, reading and observing the work of the missionaries, accompanying our village catechist to his ministry was no longer something I just do and move on.  I became more intentional with it. When I see the faces of the sick light up upon seeing us, my faith in God is even more strengthened. This value of spreading and living the word of God seared into my heart.  Growing up in that environment taught me a lot about who we are called to be in the body of Christ. Although I felt that my faith journey is an on-going process, I also believed deep within me that I was on the right track.  I have a better understanding of my faith and my God. I believe that God planted a seed of faith in my heart and all I have to do was to water it with my prayers.

    During my last year in my primary school (Class 8), my interest to join the Columban Lay Mission grew.  One of the requirements was a Form 6 pass with good English mark which I thought I could not accomplish because of financial constraints.  So I made up my mind to give up school and help my mom meet the school needs of my younger siblings. But God had other plans for me. With the help and financial support of my parish priest and his family in Limerick, Ireland, I was able to complete my studies and all the requirements to join the accompaniment program for Columban Lay Missionaries. This strengthened my faith and gave me hope to serve His people. So I went to Suva, the capital of Fiji, and met the coordinator of the Columban Lay Missionaries.

Mereani (R) with her team mates during their orientation period

    Moving out from the village and coming to the city for my nine months accompaniment program was not easy. I tried to adjust and fit in with my new environment where the use of technology and gadgets is a normal way of life.  I was surprised to know that people in the neighborhood don’t know each other. I compared my village life with city life but somehow I realized that cities are only dwelling places for hundreds of thousands of working people making it impossible for them to know each other.

    After completing my nine-month accompaniment program, I was asked to wait for two years for a new group because my companions in the accompaniment program did not make it to the end. I patiently waited for another two years while I worked and provided for my family until I was told that the Columban Regions of Fiji, Tonga, Australia and New Zealand have joined to become the new Oceania region.  From this union came three new candidates for lay mission. That’s when I resigned from my work and joined the orientation program (JSOP) for nine months.


Mereani (front) with Columban Missionaries taking the boat to Rabi Island, Fiji for an ordination

    Living and fitting in with a multi-cultural group (Malaysians,  Tongans, Filipinos and Koreans) under one roof was very challenging. I had to come out from my comfort zone to blend in. I had to learn their values, manners, decision making practices, way of communication, and most importantly discover more about myself in the midst of other cultures. Being brought up in a small village, I really didn’t have much knowledge about being in a cross-cultural environment. Everything was new to me even the cooking and eating practices. I remember that during our first community night at the Regional House in Suva, I was told to sit among the priests and use fork and knife to eat. I nervously sat with them as this was my first time to use fork and knife. The culture of “respect” towards the ordained was so strong in me. The most embarrassing moment came when I started digging in my food with the fork and knife and half of my chicken meat flew over to the other side of the table. However, I did not give up. I took my time to learn new ways of doing things and allowed myself to make mistakes and learn from them as I went along. 

     My culture is the very fabric of my being that I cannot separate it from myself. At first I compared everything new to my own culture but this caused misunderstanding and created barriers among my group mates.  While I wanted to preserve my own culture, letting go of some of my own traditions and adapting to a new way was necessary and symbolic as part of the transitions I was going through. Although living with a multi-cultural group was challenging, it has also helped me understand them better and helped me to see my own culture from a different perspective. Despite our differences, we were able to build a bond not only as a team but as a family.  Conversations with someone from a different culture sometimes is difficult but this is normal. Despite this, I have learned that adding humor in our cross-cultural situation makes everyone feel at ease and happy.

    I arrived in the Philippines in February 2020. My more than two years in my mission area in Barra, Opol, Misamis Oriental has not been easy. However, I believe that the Lord has prepared the way for me. I thank the Columbans in my home region for being there for me in times of difficulty. Although I’m already thousands of miles away from home, I still feel the sense of belongingness. I also thank the Columbans in the Philippines for providing programs which helped me broaden my knowledge and use my potential to be God's living witness to His people.

Friday, October 7, 2022

Deaf Ministry during Pandemic

 By Lanieta Tamatawale
Columban Lay Missionary from Fiji


 During this pandemic, the deaf people are more isolated in their own world; they only know what is going on in the world through things visual, like watching TV and social media. However, the information interpreted for them is limited.  Ministering to them is a challenge. It is even made more difficult because of the limitations set by the government. 
In our ministry with them, we keep in contact with them through video calls on Messenger, communicating through sign language to inform them on what is happening around them. We are very dependent on internet connection. Some of the Catholic deaf attend Mass but they cannot fully participate because the Mass is not interpreted for them.  We do home visitations with precautions and give donations of food for their families. There have been many uncertainties and we could not plan for our ministries but simply take one day at a time. With these limitations, I keep them in my daily prayers in these difficult times. But we continue to celebrate, and deepen the gifts of faith and Christian service to each and everyone. It reminds me of the mystery of faith: “We remember how you loved us, through your death, and still we celebrate for you are with us here, and we believe that we will see you when you come, in your glory Lord, we remember, we celebrate, we believe.”

The pandemic has deepened my faith, reflecting on what God is telling us. What can I do for them? How can we deepen their faith in this difficult time?

God is so good. In February this year, Fr. Erl Dylan Tabaco, a Columban Priest working in Peru, came home for vacation. I was very happy because I know that his heart is for the deaf. I first met Fr. Erl in 2003 when I was assigned to his parish, Holy Rosary, Agusan, Cagayan de Oro. We worked together with the Youth and Deaf Ministry in the parish. Father Erl shared that it was through his work with the Deaf ministry that inspired him to become a priest. Not many priests were interested in learning the sign language to communicate and serve in the Deaf ministry. This experience made him ask the questions “Who will hear the confessions of the deaf?”, “Who will preside for their wedding ceremonies?”, “Who will help them receive the sacraments and educate them in the Catechism of the Catholic Church?”

True enough, Father Erl made himself available for the Lent and Advent recollections for the Deaf, hear their confessions and celebrate the Eucharist. He was very helpful in deepening their faith giving them hope to always have Jesus in their hearts. It also reminds me that the Holy Spirit inspires us to serve no matter the cost. We are never alone! The TRINITY is always with us. We care and even we need caring.

Fr. Erl Tabaco celebrates the Eucharist with the Deaf


Thursday, October 6, 2022

Amplifiers of God's Word and Love

 By Sherryl Lou Capili
Columban Lay Missionary in Taiwan


I have been with the Columban Lay Missionaries for 11 years. At present, I serve as pastoral coordinator for the English-speaking community at the Hope Workers’ Center (HWC). One of the things that I find fulfilling and enjoyable doing is facilitating seminars or workshops among the volunteers who are mostly Filipino migrant workers and immigrants married to Taiwanese. They serve in the various liturgical ministries during the English Mass on Sundays. As servers and ministers, we encourage them to realize how participating in ongoing faith formation is important not only to do better in their ministries but to continue to nourish their spirituality. I feel blessed and inspired to witness their growing faith and dedication while serving in the church and the community. 
Recently, we held the seminar for the lectors and commentators with around 25 participants. Such a seminar may sound boring for many so I planned to make it fun by giving them small group activities such as competing among other groups in arranging the Order of the Mass within a time limit and sharing and coming up with their own 10 Commandments as lectors and commentators. 
When asked: “What is it for them to serve in this ministry?” 
 Here’s what some of them shared… 
 “I prayed, ‘Lord please guide me, show me where I can be of service to you.’ Then, one day, I was asked if I can be a commentator, without hesitation I said yes.” – Joy 
 “This is an opportunity to serve the Lord. It teaches me to be courageous because in spite of being an introvert with stage fright, my purpose to voice out and proclaim The Word is bigger than all my fears.” – Charlotte 
“I am so grateful to God for giving me this chance in my lifetime even though I am not worthy. It is indeed a faith-filled experience. – Liza 
 “It is a big privilege to be part of the lectors and commentator’s ministry. It is a priceless experience to be able to overcome my nervousness standing in front of hundreds of people while sharing the Word of God with all my heart. All of these is possible because of God’s grace.” - Jayson 
 “One of the most important will of the Lord is to spread his word and his love by means of words and action. For me, the only way to do that is to be part of this ministry. At first I thought that it’s just about reading and then it’s done! However, in my experience, the moment that I am assigned to read on that specific Sunday, I have to examine my conscience. I have to discipline myself. The Lord has done many great things for me and serving in this minis-try is one of the ways I have in order to express my gratitude. I am very happy to get involved in the church community led by HWC. My daughter as well as the other immigrant’s children get to witness what we do and they are also following in our footsteps and are willing to serve in the church as well.” – Aini 
 “I want to serve in the lectors and commentators ministry so that I can use my gifts to give back to the Lord and to be a blessing to others.” –Tina
Members of Lectors and Commentators

Monday, September 19, 2022

Jubgan Residents: One Voice Against Mining

By Michael Javier
Columban Lay Missionary in Myanmar


JUBGAN is the name of our small village where I grew up and had my primary education. Maybe for some, this is their first time hearing about this place because it is neither famous nor popular. It is the last village of the Municipality of San Francisco, Surigao del Norte, in North Eastern Mindanao. It is located at the foot of the mountain along the coast, between two rivers where the residents get their water for daily use. More than 500 families live here and most of their livelihood is either fishing or farming. I could still vividly remember how simple our life was. We could get food from the harvest and the abundance of God's gift of creation.  But an unfortunate event happened. 

In March 2014, there was a tarpaulin posted on the national highway of Jubgan which said "Farm to Market Road," but there were no other details aside from the fact that it was a government project. They started making a road from the national highway up to the mountain. The residents and the landowners were surprised because they were not informed of the project and the local officials didn't say anything. The Surigao Mining (SURIMIN) was the contractor of the said project. They worked very fast that they completed the roadway in just a few days. They cut many trees, dug the soil, and started collecting minerals. From that day on, every time it rains, the water in the river became muddy brown, affecting our bluish seawater. The people began to complain. The sad reality though was that they were divided into two groups: one was pro-mining, those who worked and received a salary from the activity, in short, those who wanted easy money; and the other was anti-mining, those who don't like to have mining in our place because their livelihoods were badly affected. Most of this anti-mining group were fishermen. 

Since some of the villagers have foreseen the drastic effects of the mining activity, the young men and women used social media to catch the attention of the local government, while some were gathering ideas on how to stop it.  They called for a meeting exactly at the time when I was there, so I joined them. Someone advised us to go to the nearest Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and to the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) to check if the said activity has legal papers. We organized a signature campaign so we can forward our complaints against the people behind the mining activity. When we forwarded it to the DENR and the MGB in Surigao City Branch, they were amazed at the number of signatories. There were almost one hundred complainants with a very concrete reason to stop the activity – the pollution that turned the water into a muddy brown. The officer-in-charge inspected the area where the mining activity happened, and they found out that the mining operators were really in violation of the required papers for legal operation. After a week of the submission of our complaints, we received a message from the office inviting us to attend the hearing together with our local officials. This will be attended as well by the financier of the mining company.  We encouraged everyone who signed the petition to attend the hearing, but most of them could not join because of the cost of transportation. Their money was just enough to buy food for their family. To resolve it, we took the initiative to rent a van so we can bring those people to the hearing. During the hearing at the office of the Mines Bureau, we learned that the activity did not have any legal documents to operate because they only applied for a permit for small-scale mining. What they did was more than small-scale mining, and they operated even if the application was not approved yet! So, they were ordered to stop the operation at once.  We partly blamed the barangay officials for this unfortunate event because they allowed those people to operate without thinking of its consequences. It was a victory for us that we were able to stop their "farm to mining road" activity. 

Jubgan residents attend hearing 

Since then, nature started to heal. The water in the river and sea is clear once again. The farm to mining road was filled with bushes and the people started living normally as they did before. But not for long! 

Last September 2021, with our new barangay captain, the mining operator came back under the new name “Gotinga.” Ramon Gotinga is allegedly one of the owners of Gosun Siargao Waves Corp, and he represented the company. With the permission of some of the local officials, they operated again. This time, they planned to build a seaport for faster and easier transport of the minerals that they could get. Another tarpaulin was posted stating that they already have a permit from the DENR. So, they worked double time and even did some quarrying in the rivers. This time, the people in my hometown were faced with the same problem, which became worse because the operator and the people behind the mining activity were more aggressive. The residents couldn't go up to the site to check what Gotinga was doing because armed soldiers were guarding the area. Again, many concerned citizens were alarmed. The people asked for a meeting with our barangay officials but the latter deceived the residents.  As usual, they said that this mining was good for the people in our barangay but the truth was it was only good for those who were involved in the mining but not for the whole barangay, and eventually not good for nature. Again, the people took the initiative to file a complaint against the barangay captain, some local officials, and the operator. The same way as we did before, only this time we called the attention of the Municipal Mayor and the neighbouring barangay to help us in solving our problem. Our Mayor secretly made his move to respond to our cry. He called for a press briefing with the local media, DENR, MGB, Philippine Ports Authority (PPA), Gotinga (mine operator), and the Local officials. The residents were not even informed about that press briefing. However, when I got some information about it, I notified them right away and told them to invite and gather as many residents  as possible.  The problem again was their fare. Some of our friends overseas who are also against this mining activity contributed some money for the fare and the snacks for the people. 

During the briefing, it was exposed that the documents Gotinga presented were a fraud. All the agencies who were invited were telling them to stop the activity. The operator said that the people in Jubgan already approved the activity as the barangay captain told them. The people who were there reacted to what they were saying and courageously said: "Wala mi mouyon anang mina mina diha, nabuhi mi bisan walay mina!" (We did not agree to that mining. We survived even without mining). So, they were forced to stop and leave the place immediately. 

We believe that these mining companies will never stop destroying our place for their greedy interest. Still, we believe that when people are united to defend the sanctity of our natural resources, there is hope that these greedy companies will not succeed. No matter how wealthy they are, still, the united voice of the people will be heard. And we hope and pray that this voice will be respected. 

As this new dawn of hope begins to emerge, we are happy to know that our new governor has cancelled all the permits involving the destruction of nature, even those of the mining firms that had been operating for a long time.

GoSun Siargao Waves Corp. extracting tons of debris along Jubgan River in Barangay Jubgan to build a wharf and road for its mining operations in the area. Photo taken Nov. 6, 2021 by ROEL N. CATOTO/MindaNews

A Faithful Follower of God

  By Reina Mosqueda  Columban Lay Missionary in Taiwan   When I was young, my family was not religious or active in the parish. My father ha...