Love and Grace
In August last year, I arrived at St. John the Apostle Parish in Natovi, Fiji, to begin my ministry, where, among other things I would help facilitate church programs, village activities, and bi-monthly Mass visitations. This has brought with it its own challenges because sometimes, if the village is far from the parish, I would have to stay overnight. During my first few village visitations, people would often ask questions about my presence there, primarily because the parish is not actually a Columban Parish, but rather a Vincentian one. I understood that it would take time for the people to adjust to me and I to them, so I took it as an opportunity for me to share with them what a lay missionary is and what we do, which in turn, opened up the lines of communication, acceptance and friendship between us.
In early September, I helped facilitate the annual retreat for the girls of St. Joseph’s Secondary School in Suva. The theme centered around “Creation,” which was fitting because the parish had been very active during September’s “Season of Creation.” We organized a “Walk for Creation” and together we made our way from the girls’ dorms as far as the church, pausing a while in quiet reflection to gaze upon the sea in admiration of its splendor, after which we repeated the same gesture facing the mountain. It was wonderful to share this moment with the students and together appreciate the beauty of God’s creation, and I was overjoyed with the active participation of the students and staff.
To mark the end of the “Season of Creation” month, the St. John de Paul primary dorm participated in a “cleanup drive” along the Natovi Jetty. It was a very challenging day as it rained heavily with strong winds most of the day, preventing us from doing anything. But God blessed our plans in the end, and the weather cleared up, enabling us to pick up the rubbish.
In October we celebrated rosary month, where prayer meetings took place every night in people’s houses and I saw that, despite the heavy rain or bad weather, the parishioners were faithful in their devotion to Mary, not allowing anything to get in the way. I also assisted in the annual retreat for the students from St. Vincent College with the theme of “Who Am I.”
My ongoing activities in this parish will be attending the different youth groups, parish census, promoting justice, peace and integrity of creation at the parish level, and acting as the liaison to the families affected by calamities and disasters.
Before coming here to Fiji I thought that my mission journey would be relatively smooth and easy and that I could teach more to the people because of my educational background and my life and work experience, but it didn’t turn out the way I had expected.
Being a lay missionary is full of rich and challenging moments and I’ve been challenged with the culture, language, food, places and people. However, after being here for over a year I have changed into being a more reflective and responsible individual. Accompanying the people has changed my perception of the way I do things and how I deal with difficult and unexpected situations. Not only has it opened my eyes to a new culture, but it clearly demonstrates how the “crosscultural” charism of the Columban mission that is being played out through the love and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Columban lay missionary Lily Fainillan lives and works in Fiji.