Discovering the Different Faces of Jesus

By Richelle H. Verdeprado

As he recalled his missionary story, Peter Dong or Lee Chon, a 32-year-old Columban seminarian, journeyed back to Jilin province, in the central part of northeastern China. Reminiscing about his hometown and childhood he recalled how his family has always been with him. He told how he would travel 20 kilometers with his parents and brother on bicycles on Sundays to attend Mass. Consequently, talking with him gave me an idea of how it is to live in a village where your family was the only Catholic one and you have to close your windows and doors when you pray. It made me realize then how God can still continue working in our lives despite all the barriers the world can build. It made me realize that faith can still grow beautifully amidst unfavorable circumstances.

The author and Peter after their interview.

After finishing middle school, Peter started thinking about the path he would be taking. He wasn’t physically strong, thus, he could not just take any course. His father opened to him the idea of entering the seminary. Instantly, his mind remembered their place which had a chapel it but had no priest. Though he knew very little about what it is to be a priest, he had just no objection. He didn’t know where such a desire to try was coming from. He just found himself one day with his 21 classmates, preparing themselves to become diocesan priests.

Peter sharing his story, during his visit to Misyon office.

It was a moment of self-discovery and knowing God more. But it wasn’t a smooth journey for Peter. He was shy and silent inside the seminary. Thus, his formator sent him home and told him to try to find himself first. He was 17 years old that time and took his formator’s words to heart. He knew he had to find himself, although that appeared still vague to him.

His mother warmly welcomed him home and told him to study another course. But his father advised him to go to their relatives for a while as it was the middle of the school year. That appealed to him. He had never traveled that far all by himself. He prepared himself for that.

Enjoying the company of his new friends.

It was an enjoyable 16-hour trip by train and four hours by bus. But what has made the trip even more exciting was that at the end of it he would be able to see his aunts and cousins. That made him reflect that in his life, if he wanted to become a priest, he needed to go through the process too. He had to patiently ‘travel’ if he wanted to be ‘home.’

One day, his father visited him and asked him what he wanted to do. He knew, this time with conviction, that he still wanted to become a priest, and so would do his best in the seminary.

Peter had the chance to visit one of the urban poor areas in Bacolod City.

But something happened in the midst of his studies. His diocese was about to be merged with another only three seminarians from his diocese were left. His two companions decided to transfer to the other diocese while he was unsure of where he would go. It was at this time that he got to know the Columban missionaries. One of his classmates introduced him to Fr Kevin O’Neill, an Australian priest who is now Superior General. Father Kevin was looking for people to join them in their mission.

Peter told himself, as before, that he felt the desire to try. This time he understood the need to be open to more learning and experiences. The journey wasn’t always smooth. He encountered difficulties learning English and adjusting to many things. Sometimes his mother would ask him to come home and that would make him miss his family more. But Peter knew the desire in his heart and where he was being called and was determined to fulfill this desire and so successfully finished his theology course in China in 2011.

Before meeting the Columbans, Peter wasn’t really interested in studying English. In Wuhan, China, he spent eight months studying the language. The Columbans had taught him another way of seeing things. Peter said, ‘It was really difficult. Before I didn’t like to learn English and thought that I would not pass’. But Father Kevin would always encourage him. Moreover, he was continually inspired by Columban leaders from other countries but spoke Mandarin in China.

‘We leave our country and our family to go to another country in order to work as God’s missionaries. We do this to discover different faces of Jesus from different nations and different languages.’ These words of Father Kevin deeply touched him. They have been a challenge and an inspiration to him on how he could become someone who could show the face of Jesus wherever he found himself.

Meeting these fisherfolks in Brgy. Magsungay has allowed Peter to experience and indeed discover the different faces of Jesus.

Peter is presently in Spiritual Year, having last year studied in a program on Missiology and Justice and Liberation in Manila. He is continually amazed at the way Filipinos relate to one another. Though he does not yet speak Filipino, his heart can understand the warmth and kindness of the people. Asked about his realizations as a seminarian, he shared the message of Columban Fr David Clay, ‘To be a missionary is not a job. It’s a joy’. That is his life now according to him: a life that is faced with instabilities and challenges, but is filled with so much joy.

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