Be Kind

by Ma Fe Corazon Arienza

Good morning everyone! CPE taught me that the fountain of any relationship must spring up in the heart. And because today's the end of our 10 weeks stay as associate chaplains here in Philippine Heart Center, this heart of mine is feeling the separation anxiety.

Nonetheless, I would like to extend my heartfelt gratitude to the patients who welcomed our presence in every on-call duty that we had and in every round that we did for our mini-parish. You did a lot of help to us than we to you. In every pain and struggle that you shared with us, you taught us how to care, and to be kind and to love unconditionally. You taught us how to value our stories and embrace and appreciate what we have. More than that, you enabled us to meet God in the flesh everyday.

To all the doctors, nurses and staff, thank you for accommodating us and for being our link with the patients.

To all of us gathered today, let the words of Mother Teresa, "Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God's kindness: kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile" stay within our hearts and radiate through our actions. And so with this, I would like to make an appeal. In every difficult person we encounter, be kind; for every patient we attend to, be kind; for those who are suffering from loneliness, be kind and for those who are on the process of finding themselves, be kind, for in every human being we meet is Christ. So be kind.

What we are having today is just a  culmination of the CPE program but not our learnings. For us the brave hearts family, what we have learned through this journey will have no end.  WE wll carry these experiences with us ad wull continue to be God's heart and body here on earth that others may expeirnece God's goodnes as well through us. Isang mapagpalang umaga po sa ating alahat. Maraming salamat po!

Music Eases My Journey

by Vasemaca Ratu

Learning a new language is really difficult. One has to become a child again. It is like entering a new culture that you are not born with. But the question most people always ask is: WHY LEARN A NEW LANGUAGE?
During my 6 months language studies, I really struggled to learn Cebuano. My brain was suffocated with new words, grammar, etc., every day. Sometimes I felt like quitting but I realized only losers quit. My body would react also to the change of climate, culture and language. Well I thought that I have a goal to achieve so I did SELF-CARE in order to continue with my journey.
Va sings her original composition "Bisaya" during the centenary celebrations in Cagayan de Oro City, 

Upon reflecting on this, I realized there are several methods which I can use to smoothen the rough road. So I tried practicing with the children in our neighborhood but they wanted to speak in English so that didn’t work for me. My conversation with people daily was an awesome experience. Then I realized since I love music why don’t I use this method to ease my struggles. So I started listening to Visayan songs mostly, hits by local artists, Yoyo Villame and Max Surban. Well their songs may be old hits but the lyrics were understandable.
Va with her Muslim friends
Once I heard a song sung by Max and one of the lyrics was …”dili kana ang problema, just relax and enjoy…” at that moment I felt like he was talking to me. So I decided to relax by writing a poem or song every day in Visayan. I was able to compose a song entitled, “Bisaya” expressing my feelings during my 3 years in mission. In English, the lyrics translates to: “He will be my  compass, my captain that will take me around where ever I go. He will be my yesterday, today and my future. He is my love and my world.”
This song was included in the Columban Lay  Missionaries book entitled, “SALAMAT” (which means, thank you). It was launched during the Centennial celebration of the Columbans in Cagayan De Oro. I was happy to be able to sing it on that day. 

Now I realized that in learning a new language, I gained more confidence when I get positive feedback from the locals. I became friendlier to them when I speak the native language. And also it keeps my mind young and active. So listen to that classic jazz and just relax and enjoy to your music, it’s a stress reliever. 

Vasemaca Ratu is a Columban Lay Missionary from Fiji who came to the Philippines in December 2015. After 6 months of learning the Visayan language, she was assigned to work in Barra sub-parish, Opol, Misamis Oriental, doing  catechesis with the children. She is also involved with the women’s ministry (livelihood) and Basic Ecclesial Communities (BEC), and with the Youth ministry.

Grace Under Pressure

By Ma Fe Corazon Arienza
CLM Trainee

Azon, from Cabadbaran City, Agusan Del Norte, is one of two currently in orientation with CLM Philippines. 

When you ask God to do something for you, be prepared for His answer. You might be surprised on the funny ways He will reveal it to you. That’s what happened to me. As I look back from four months ago, I can’t help but remember the reluctant girl who came in the Columban Lay Mission (CLM) house. I was debating with myself if I am making the right decision to join the program.

The orientation program for me is my second chance to life, a second chance to create a better version of myself. When I started my CLM journey, my first prayer to God is for him to mold me to a person He wants me to be as His and I got my first lesson in humility few months after. People who knew me back home know that I am not a forgiving person. In fact, I was often viewed as arrogant, bossy, proud and stuff like that. That experience I have had on humility was really tough and I cried so much for it. I cried because it was so much harder to fight against yourself. That feeling when you wanted so much to retaliate because you felt that you were wronged but said “I’m sorry” instead. It was never easy, but I’ve grown to embrace the beauty of becoming at the receiving end because you get to test where your limit is and you felt good in the end knowing that you have won over your greatest enemy----yourself. I guess what helps me to have won over myself is that I bear in my mind and in my heart that it was me who asked God to mold me into His liking. He only responded so I have to do my part of being open for the fulfillment of His task.

During a mission promotion in Olongapo City
And another few months after, the lesson on being selfless was revealed to me. As the youngest in the family, I am used to having all of the attention and provided with all of my wants. When I came here there are a lot of things that I don’t understand. There are a lot of people as well that is hard to understand. But God revealed to me that the people I encountered are mirrors and they are a reflection of myself. I am also the type of person who’s hard to understand and perhaps they’re struggling also to do the same. I learned that we came to hate people because we failed to understand them and we don’t like how they remind us of ourselves. We failed to get to know who they really are because we are selfish---I was selfish. I only accepted situations when it’s not difficult, I only like people when they’re of the same interests as mine. In here, I came to appreciate the beauty of diversity and individuality. That what bridge the gap between my uniqueness and that of others is our respect for each other. That we cannot ask somebody to change for us because that is beyond our control but there is that one person that we can get a hold of and that is our self. Lesson; change must come from within.
With classmates during Integration Day at the Institute of Formation and Religious Studies

Perhaps the hardest lesson I’ve ever encountered in the orientation program is forgiving myself. I never liked silence. I’m uncomfortable with silence because in silence there are a lot of thoughts that enter my mind and mostly it goes back to confrontation with myself. In one of my reflections, I realized that I never knew how broken I was until I chose to confront my past. There are a lot of things that we have done in the past that we are not proud of. There are situations that we let ourselves into and wish we hadn’t gone to that stage. These are the hardest to let go because you felt that you are unworthy to experience happiness. And for me to be tied to my past is my way of accepting that it might be my punishment so I have to carry it with me. But God revealed to me that I am not defined by my past. I was not my past. Just like what 2 Corinthians 5:17 says “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” That’s why we were given every new day to remind ourselves that God is giving us another chance to redeem and revive ourselves. 

I know I will have more of these learnings, lessons, revelations or whatever they are called as I continue on my quest to becoming what God wants me to be. There will still be lots of happy moments to experience and challenging ones too. I will still come across with difficult situations and difficult people but I know in my heart that If I keep on reminding myself that it’s God who holds the biggest space in my life, no disappointments could ever make me turn my back on Him. I’m glad I said YES!

On Living a Dream

by Hazel Jean Angwani

 Hazel, from Bontoc, Mt. Province is one of two members of PH25, the 25th team of the Columban Lay Missionaries Philippines.  She is currently on her fifth month of orientation to mission.

Who am I? What is life? Where am I really going? Is there really a God? These are the questions that I used to ask myself, and still ask until today. One way or the other, asking myself these questions helped me to confidently face life, make decisions and take a leap forward. And one of these decisions is to become a missionary, particularly a Columban lay missionary.

                I came to know of the Columbans when I was in high school because of my passion for reading and life of adventure. And I can still remember that after reading stories about the life and works of the missionaries, I felt a nudge in my heart that somehow made me decide at that time that I want to become a missionary and live a life of adventure. And of course, like every other dream, it was forgotten for quite a long time. But, indeed, God works in mysterious ways and now, I am close-maybe to living that dream already.

With kids at the Balitawak (Quezon City) overpass bridge

                But living that dream still takes a lot of effort to be able to fully achieve it. There are things to give up and things to work out or nourish. One of the things that was not easy for me to give up is the comfort I have with my family. I have been with them all my life and in the glimpse of an eye, I am leaving them for a dream. It sounds so selfish that sometimes I want to pack my bags and go back home. Then it hit me that maybe it goes the same for them that is why they just let me be. But given that there were no objections coming from them, I take it as a positive note that they also want the best for me. That they trust me and that they give their support. Besides, in the end, I will always have the last call to decide on what to do with my life.

The things to work out and nourish were made possible because of the great support coming from the Columban society. All I can say for now, is that the orientation program is running smoothly. There are times that it gets bumpy given that we are still humans and that everyone of us have our own struggles to live with. But in general, I am enjoying the ride to that moment, God-willing, when I become officially a part of the Columban society. The orientation program has helped me a lot in ways I could not explain in detail. I am thankful for all the lessons, sessions and experiences because it helped a great deal in my internalizations on who I am and my realizations of God. For me, this part of my journey is probably one of the most liberating. Liberating in a sense that I learned that it is ok to be me, that you do not have to be perfect. And that your imperfections are part of who you are. Perhaps, this is the charisma of the Columban society that even after forgetting a dream I made for myself many years ago, God made a way to help me in pursuing that dream.

As I continue this journey in preparation for my overseas mission and discovering more of myself and God, I pray that I will finally get to that point to say, “Yes, finally!”. In God’s grace, everything is possible.

CLM Book


"Where there is a Filipino Family, there is a Christian Community"

 By Maria Elena Venzon-Wood
Columban Lay Missionary in Britain, 1983-1988

Way back in 1983, I was sent as a Lay Missionary to the United Kingdom under the auspices of the Columban Fathers Philippines.  The purpose of the program is to share our experiences of Philippine Church to the English Church and be able to get some of their "churchness" in return.    For centuries the Philippines was a receiving church. Now is a chance to be a sending church.

When we just arrived in Britain, someone  exclaimed "So, you are now a missionary!"  My reply was "I am a missionary long time ago" because for me a missionary is a person who helps in the spread of the Gospel of Jesus. I'd been involved in my home parish in passing on the faith/spreading the Good News  both in the schools and parishes in the Diocese. I was also a part of a group training lay leaders  and giving Basic Bible Seminar (BBS) both in my home  parish in Castillejos,  Zambales and in St. Joseph parish, Olongapo City.  I was also involved in the rehabilitation of prostituted women in Olongapo City. I worked  with the Columbans  and Benedictine Sisters long  before I joined the Columban Lay Mission Program. So what is the difference? 

Britain 1983, From left: Zosima Mecasio, Amparo Abalos and Maria Elena Venzon
Ah… This time, I am in a foreign  country.  There were three of us; Zosing Mecasio  from Mindanao and myself from Zambales came together in 1983 after some preparatory course at  Asian Social Institute (ASI) in Manila.  Amparo Abalos from Pangasinan  came to Britain a year earlier. We were the pioneers. Our initial contract was three years renewable for another two years maximum - no salary, only personal allowance of £100.00 a month.  

The British Church was not ready to accept us, not even some of the Columban Fathers. The program had a rocky start.  "Why don't you go to another third world country" was a welcome greeting of an old parish priest in the north of England.  Some priests were even blaming Fr. Sean McGrath, who was the Director in Britain that time, for bringing us to Britain "too soon". But his answer was "If we do not start now we will never start at all".  The Lay Mission Program was his brain child.  It took time before we finally found a placement.

We were helping at the Far East Magazine office before I  was assigned in the Parish of Our Lady of Fatima in White City in London's west, then at the parish  of St Gabriel in the city's north  doing parish work like preparing children for First Holy  Communion, helping in the preparation of youth for the reception of the sacrament of Confirmation,  giving talks to parents of children for baptism, helping in children's liturgy, helping in the preparation for adults who want to be received in the Catholic Church (RCIA), organizing house masses to enable neighbors to know one other and worship together in their homes.

Later, I was assigned in East London for the Deanery of Newham based in East Ham.  This time my job was mainly to work among the Filipinos living there. "Get inside the church through the back door."  I encouraged and got the Filipinos to be involved in church life and in the choir. I introduced bayanihan babysitting among the Filipinos, so they can go to work.  Coffee mornings were also introduced.  I organized cultural and religious activities like those we have in the Philippines. So the Filipino Night was borne. It starts off with a mass where readings and songs are all in Filipino, and a fiesta of Filipino food, then a program showcasing our literary singing and dancing abilities.  When a Filipino priest in not available, we would invite any priest who had worked in the Philippines to say the mass. I also introduced the Simbang Gabi, followed by a salo-salo.  We also held raffles with prizes donated by the public. Proceeds went to a project in the Philippines.  All these activities helped the Filipinos get integrated in the life of the parish.

Filipino Night
I had so many culture shocks, the weather, the food, the accent, the vocabulary, the unwelcoming attitude of co-workers.  Someone once said "They are as cold as their weather" referring to the people. Sometimes, I think they are afraid of females, or the colour of our skin and the fact that we are from the third world country  or sometimes I suspect that they are afraid that we might take over.  Church here is priest-centered, whereas it’s lay participation back home in the Philippines.   

But with determination and help from above, I survived!

After my contract as a Columban Lay Missionary was finished, I continued to get involved, this time mostly helping Filipino Overseas Workers.  I did this with the help of my husband Patrick. In those days, there were many Filipino domestic helpers accompanying their Arab employers to London.  Many of them are victims of  sexual, physical, emotional abuse, some not getting their wages at all.  They were sent to me through the Philippine Embassy  or the Filipino Chaplaincy. We tried to help them.

When Patrick and I moved to the Republic of Ireland, we settled in a village called Killargue. It is part of the town of Dromahair but nearer to Manorhamilton in County Leitrim, not far from Sligo.  Here I also gave support to Filipinas married to Irishmen.

In 2002, Filipino nurses started flocking to Ireland and England. So we thought it’s good to extend my apostolate in this area, to introduce them in the community, and let our presence be felt and be welcomed and integrated.   The idea of a Cultural Day was conceived and with the help of the village leaders we had the first Irish-Filipino Cultural Day. It was held in the village hall. It was like a fiesta! The morning was a display of arts and crafts of Ireland and the Philippines. The Philippine Embassy in London contributed materials for the occasion.  We also had a taste of Irish and Filipino food.  In the afternoon, we had mass celebrated by Fr. Bobby Gilmore, Director of the Migrant Centre in Dublin, and joined by our two local priests.  In his homily, Fr. Bobby who was assigned formerly in Mindanao spoke about the benefits of migration and the importance of the welcome and acceptance of the migrants by the host country. He inspired us to be missionaries in our own way. The offertory procession was symbolical of the two communities. The Philippines and Ireland share many values and cultural traits.   Finally, we had a program of songs, dances and playing of musical instruments to show our literary- musical abilities. We had the tinikling, they had Irish dances. This was attended by representatives of the local and provincial government.  It was also graced by the Consul of the Philippines in Ireland. Five Columban sisters came to show support and many nurses came and even people from nearby province came.  As Patrick said "I want to put Killargue in the map". Everyone enjoyed the event and I can say it was a success. The local media was also very helpful.
With Fr. Tony Convery, Parish Priest of Our Lady of Fatima Parish and Cardinal Sin.
These are just a few of my activities.  Despite the difficulties, I really enjoyed walking along with people. I hope my little story can be of inspiration to others.  The late Cardinal Sin visited my work place when he visited London and said, and I quote  "Where there is a Filipino family, there is a Christian Community.”  

Last year 2016, I had a chance to stay in London for Christmas after I cancelled my flight back to Cookstown, Northern Ireland because I was unwell on the day of my flight.   Thus I had the chance to meet up with friends.  I visited White City, my first mission assignment back in 1983, which to my delight, Filipinos whom I saw still recognized me and my work with them after more than 30 years!  I also had the privilege of gracing the Simbang Gabi at East Ham, a project I initiated in East London now copied and practiced  in most parts of London and other UK parishes.  I was asked to say a few words after mass and I was able to tell the crowd how we started and thanked them for continuing it.  I'm sure God used my illness to experience the joy of mission again.  That was my Christmas present.

A recent visit in London, with other Columban Missionaries

In the Name of the Trinity, I am a Missionary

By Luda Egbalic

A Messenger of His Love
Luda in traditional Talaandig dress
I am not a writer, but I’m writing this reflection for myself and for others, hoping to be enlightened more about the Trinity’s love and God’s desire for each one of us to become a messenger of His love and the Holy Spirit, the Giver of Life.
I’ve always believed it is the love of the Trinity that brought me to this beautiful country, South Korea, and compelled me to persevere on mission. I also believe that this mission is not mine. It is God’s mission, and He has blessed me to carry it out with Him. God is always at the forefront, and I follow Him. There would be times when I kept my distance from Him because I felt tired and even tempted to stop. But along the way I knew God had sent the Holy Spirit to keep me going.

For my ministry, I was assigned to the parish of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary ( 성탄 ), Neungguk, Diocese of Uijeungbu, created from the Archdiocese of Seoul in 2004. I would say about 75% of the church-goers are the youth and older parishioners. Most often the youth and young professionals or couples are seen whenever they sponsor Masses. But what is really inspiring is having many of the elderly who, despite complaining about the pain in their backs or knees – are joyfully carrying out their ministries in the church. They are more involved in church activities, because we cannot ask for more time from the youth due to their studies, nor the young adults due to their work. Because of the high cost of living, the younger parishioners need to work hard to earn enough to be able to afford their daily needs and maintain their lifestyles which are influenced by fast-changing trends and fashions.

What is it like to be a Columban Lay Missionary in situations like these?

I visit the sick and the elderly in their homes. Most of them live alone, but there are those who are alone only during daytime because their family members are at work or in school.

Luda celebrating her birthday with friends
Grandma Ana is one of the women I visit. She is 75 and suffering from pulmonary fibrosis, which makes it hard for her to breathe without an oxygen tank. Her son, who is in his 50s and is mentally disturbed, and her granddaughter, who is studying in middle school, both live with her. Grandma Ana doesn’t have other relatives and had no one to help do errands for her. This is why whenever I visit her, she would always express her gratitude. In return, I would always answer, ‘We are one in God’s family, Grandma’. A few times I went to the hospital to see her doctor to explain her condition, using my limited Korean. On each occasion the doctor gave me the prescribed medicines for her. It is a challenging ministry for me, but I believe God works with me all the time.

Another patient I visit is Theresa who is undergoing hemodialysis. She is 58 years old and has two sons. The eldest son lives with her. Her son leaves the house very early and arrives home late at night from work. Theresa’s right arm is paralyzed, and she has difficulty standing up as well as walking. She cannot prepare meals by herself. She is dependent on her son who prepares her meals for her. During my visits, I noticed Theresa would eat either bread with milk, noodles, or even nothing for lunch. Oftentimes, I’d bring some food for her. But I sense she is more grateful for my presence than the food I bring. When I’m with her, we would share about our experiences with smiles and tears, watch our favorite television programs and pray together. I help her with a few house errands as well.

There is another grandmother I visit who is in her 80s. She lives alone. Her house doesn’t have its own toilet. With her physical condition, I sense her discomforts especially during autumn and winter. She is hard of hearing and communicating by phone is impossible. Whenever I ask her about her family, she replies, ‘They’ve all died’. During my early visits she refused to answer or listen to my queries. Eventually, I gained her trust enough for her to open up about her family. She still has a daughter who lives in the USA, but she has not visited South Korea since she left. I could sense the pain in the facial expression of the grandmother. I was happy when she told me to come again. Since then, I’ve been visiting her regularly.

What is the Holy Trinity’s message for me?

God, the Father created the world with human beings as the stewards of His creation. God sent His only Begotten Son, born of the Virgin Mary. Jesus suffered, died and rose from the dead for all humankind. The Divine Persons of the Holy Trinity are bound together in love. As a lay missionary assigned to South Korea I believe that I must bind myself in God’s love and be the messenger of the Giver of life to others, Christians and non-Christians, most especially to the elderly and the sick.

Jesus Christ has taught me that to be a lay missionary means to love. When I love I have to die to myself. It is not an easy way of life. With my little faith and love, I commit myself to following God and to be with others especially those who are suffering from emotional poverty.

Korean Sunset
There are times when I wanted to go back to the Philippines, particularly when I got sick and missed my family, my friends and familiar comforts back home. My faith wavered during these low moments. I experienced God’s love which has brought tears of genuine happiness and striking pains as well, which is beyond my human understanding.

In my prayer, I heard Him whispering to me His words through the Gospel of St John, ‘If you understand these things, you will be blessed if you do them’ (John 13:17). In facing different circumstances in my life, I cannot fully understand God’s will, yet His love is amazingly powerful and inspiring that it has moved me to continue on this mission whether in happiness or in sadness.
This is why I always begin and end my prayers of thanksgiving ‘In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.’

May 2017

Seeing What is Right in Front of Us

By John Din

I had the privilege to visit the Punduhan (Stopover) ng Mga Dumagat Center in Norzagaray, Bulacan as part of the elaboration of an Eco-spirituality module that the Save Sierra Madre Network Alliance is developing. The module is based on the practices of the Dumagat, a tribal group that lives in the Sierra Madre mountain ranges in the island of Luzon, Philippines. I went with the organization with a concrete program in mind -- to conduct a workshop with the indigenous group with a view of drafting a spirituality based on the way of life of the Dumagat.

We arrived at our destination on a Friday evening in the middle of torrential rains. Mud was everywhere, even inside the makeshift school and small houses that served as our sleeping area. This sight raised a concern to me as to what would happen the following day. Would there be a suitable place to hold our planned workshop that was free from rain and mud? Would this planned activity be a failure?

I slept over with this preoccupation in mind in a small nipa house, a typical stopover place of the Dumagat, designed mostly for resting and sleeping. This is an integral part of their nomadic way of life. I was lucky I was offered a sleeping bag to keep me from the cold winds brought about by the rain. I woke up the following day still with the same preoccupation in mind.

While waiting for our activity to start, something happened that just imbued me with a sense of awe and wonder looking at what seemed to be familiar and natural. I saw the Dumagat children walking around as if everything was fine despite the non-stop rain and mud inside the school caused by the water coming in. After seeing the kids playing in the rain barefoot, I saw, or maybe it was revealed to me, how there was simply an inner homeness in their habitat, not an uneasiness of the natural world.

Homeness is not only defined by the walls of the nipa house but extended to the natural world. This is indeed a very different concept compared to our current technocratic paradigm where we shield ourselves from a world that is becoming stranger to us. Our security is based on the walls we build.

In contrast, the Dumagat is very at home with the weather, the animals, the trees and everything that surrounds them. There is nothing strange to them. Home for them is everywhere in the Sierra Madre mountain ranges. Their habitat is their home. Thus, defending the Sierra Madre mountain range is to defend and ensure the existence of the Dumagat tribe. Currently, Sierra Madre is threatened with continuous illegal logging, mining, land grabbing, road construction and the construction of a dam supposedly to ensure the water supply for Metro Manila.

Indeed, the mindset that promotes these wanton destruction is alien to the Dumagat people. This experience has taught me that the spirituality of the Dumagat tribe expressed in the reverence and respect towards the natural world is deeply grounded and rooted in their habitat. We were there with the task of putting words to their experience but we found the limits of  words to describe  an inner at-homeness with the natural world. I waited for the Dumagat to tell me how they come to have a way of life that is one and connected with the environment, but instead, they have shown me their innate ease with the natural world. I was grateful for that gift to see what was right in front of me.

Indeed, the Dumagat people as well as the different indigenous peoples around the world, particularly those in Peru and Brazil with whom I had the privilege to meet, have a very important lesson to teach us – to rediscover this sense of at-homeness with the natural world, with creation, because we are a part of it.

Posted: May 9, 2017

(This article first appeared in Laycom, January 2017)