Columban Love Story

5th March 2018 - by John

“When I left Peru to go to the Philippines, I wondered what I’d find there”, observes Marisol Rojas, a former Columban Lay Missionary. Perhaps the last thing she expected to find was a husband. This is a true love story, played out against the background of Columban mission, and one in which I am proud to have played a “bit” part.

The Columbans not only send priests and Sisters on mission from one country to another, but also committed lay persons. The idea is to preach Christ’s gospel and, at the same time, mutually enrich people from different cultures and backgrounds.

Marisol was born into a Catholic family in a fairly humble part of Lima, the capital of Peru. From the start she was connected with the Columbans. Her parents lived in a Columban parish. She was baptized by a Columban priest – Fr. Pete Woodruff, from Australia. She made her First Holy Communion and Confirmation in my parish, and later (along with her sister) became an outstanding catechist for us.

Inspired by the work of the Columbans, she decided she wanted to take a step further, by volunteering for our overseas Lay Mission Programme. I was only too happy to recommend her, and soon she found herself on her way to the Philippines.

From the outset she found herself challenged to the utmost. She was posted to the island of Mindanao, an area racked by poverty, tropical typhoons and violence between Christian and Muslim communities. She was appointed to the parish of Agusan, where the pastor (Australian Columban Fr. Dick Pankratz) asked her to work in a centre for deaf and dumb children.

“I never imagined I had it in me”, recalls Marisol, “not only learning the local language but also sign language, and then getting involved in the lives of the children…….their families, their homes, their communities.”

“Nor did I realize how much I would be affected by all this”, she continues. “They gave so much of themselves to me, and I began to share so much of myself with them.”

Her fondest memory was of the time when she taught them to perform Peruvian folk dances. “They danced with such enthusiasm, even though they couldn’t hear the music. I cried, I was so happy”.

Meanwhile, hundreds of miles away, a young Filipino man by the name of Charito Borra was testing his priestly vocation, and deciding it wasn’t for him. “The pull of wanting to have a family of my own was too much for me”, he remembers. While deciding what he was going to do with his life, he went to work with a pastoral team in a hospital in the city of Manila.

Four years in to her posting, the Columbans asked Marisol to go to Manila and experience pastoral work in a hospital… yes, in the same hospital and the same team as Charito ! It seems God was planning things for them.

“It was love at first sight”, explains Charito. “For you it was”, smiles Marisol. She was slower to fall for the soft-spoken Filipino. However, by year’s end the die was cast.

Marisol returned to Mindanao, but they continued a “courtship by internet”. Finally, on leaving her posting in the south, she was reunited with Charito in Manila. He asked for her hand, and she agreed. She invited him to go back to Peru with her, and he agreed.

It was at this point that I re-entered the story. Marisol and Charito returned to her parents’ area of Lima. They asked me to celebrate their wedding, which I was only too pleased to do. Settled in the neighbourhood, they both obtained jobs as teachers and began helping in the parish.

So popular did they become with our congregation that we made them Eucharistic Ministers. People said they were a living example of love. This image was strengthened by the birth of their first child, a delightful little girl named Camile – whom I had the privilege of baptizing.

At the time of writing, they are expecting a second baby. Life is happy for Marisol and Charito, a happiness that would never have occurred without the Columbans. “The Columbans taught me how to love”, says Marisol. “It doesn’t matter what your colour is, or where you come from.”

In truth, this has been a Columban Love Story.

January, 2018.

Text by John Boles a Columban priest from England who has worked in South America for over twenty years. Photos taken by Eduardo Salas, Communications Director for the Columban Fathers in Peru.

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