By Marife Padao
I was so happy when I received my mission appointment. I had asked God to give me St Joseph’s Parish, Ballymun in Dublin as my home here in Ireland. I had a glimpse of what my life would be for three years there. I then made a list of work to do and who to work with.
My first seven months of mission were difficult. I thought it would be easy to be away from home since I was used to being away from my family. But I realised that it is different being away from the Philippines. I deleted my lists, erased the ‘things to do’ and started from the beginning with mixed emotions: excited, afraid of young lads hanging around, confused with the weather (Ireland has ‘four seasons’ in a day!)
My shyness made it difficult to overcome my culture shock. I had to wait two months for the start of another busy year in Ireland from when I was transferred to Ballymun during summer. I spent those months trying to understand the local accent. I was helped, thanks to the advice of a Columban Sister, by watching Fair City, a telenovela set in Dublin.
In the Philippines I was engaged in Payatas for ten years and saw my life as always being for the elderly. I had also been with the Street Children Programme when I was in the Philippine National Red Cross, Quezon City Chapter but only for a short time. My heart belonged to the elderly, I thought.
Here in Ballymun I’m in touch with the elderly every Monday afternoon doing Tai-chi, singing and sometimes just being with them. Many nights I’m with ‘The Ladies’, as they call themselves, women in their 60s and 70s, as they chat and tell stories of how they spent their weekends and holidays.
I also have time for parish activities but I focus mostly on St Margaret’s Playschool. ‘This is it’, I said to myself when I first went there. I didn’t have the skills to work and be with children. I was really into geriatrics. It was very challenging to be part of the teaching staff as a volunteer for pre-schoolers.
My first month was spent observing not only the work but myself. I was disappointed when they asked for an NBI clearance from the Philippines, needed because of the government’s Child Protection Policy. After I got it I started my regular presence in the playschool.
I noticed that I had the skills to give basic teaching to the pre-schoolers. I enjoyed my daily ministry with the little children and it was also like playing with them. I settled in well with the support of my colleagues. They even helped me to understand childcare in Ireland by giving me a modular course.
I have now spent two years with the pre-schoolers and really enjoy being with them. I get energy from them as well. I miss the children who are now in ‘big school’. This is my last year in playschool and I would like to maximise my time with the children. The ‘I thought’ that I had before is gone.
It is important for me to listen to God’s message clearly. He always gives me gifts and surprises, and the best thing I have done is to accept these with an open heart and mind.
Aside from these regular ministries, my companion and I started a choir that sings at Mass in St Joseph’s Parish the last Sunday of the month. This is the special ministry we have in Ballymun to harness the energy of Filipino migrants in north Dublin.
We started with only seven and gradually increased in number. I am hoping for the best for these Filipino migrants who commit themselves to serve God and who spare time from their busy schedules to be with Him. I hope that the choir will continue even after we Columban lay missionaries leave Ballymun.