One year on, Stephen Awre reflects back on his experience as a participant in the Columban Invitation to Mission programme visit to the Philippines.
Recently, at the end of a tiring, but fulfilling afternoon breaking up the soil on our allotment plot in preparation for the growing season, I discovered it was gone. The colourful red, yellow, green and black wrist band that I have worn every day for almost a year was nowhere to be found. I felt immediately as though I had both broken a promise and taken another step towards fulfilling it.
I had been given the wrist band on Easter Monday 2019 by my fellow pilgrim Catherine. Together with four others from Britain – Katie, John, Marina and Joe – we were taking part in the Columban Invitation to Mission programme and it was the fifth day of a visit to Columban ministries in the Philippines. We had been taken to the Centre for Ecozoic Living and Learning (CELL), a sort of demonstration farm established by three Columban missionaries 30km south of Manila. The farm encourages its visitors to explore how we can adapt our way of living, thinking and being to be more connected to, and respectful of, creation, ‘our common home’. In the afternoon of our visit, Columban Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation workers, John and Arlenne, took us on a ‘deep journey’ in to Laudato Si’, Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment, and invited us to wake up and ‘change our dream’ for the world; to become more respectful of God’s creation that provides the beauty and resources we all depend upon to live. In pairs, we then exchanged wrist bands as a sign of our promise and commitment to transform the way we live.
Flying to and from the Philippines was hardly the best of starts, but looking back over the past year I begin to see the small ways in which the commitment I made has begun to emerge in daily life. Not that my family (wife Fiona and three children) were starting from square one. We have always been a one car family and when our old car started to expire last October, it was ‘green credentials’ that were top of our list when it came to choosing a new one. Last May, my son signed up to ‘The Mission Project’, an experiential learning experience exploring the value of compost among other things and run jointly by the Columbans and the Catholic Education Service in the Archdiocese of Birmingham. This led to him and I joining the Climate rally organised by CAFOD in June and the Climate strike in Birmingham in September, an inspiring reminder that our combined efforts can make a difference. Back at home, the demands of family life had led us to give up on our allotment plot in October. As the freshly frozen raspberries and blackberries in our freezer began to run out and we started to appreciate the benefits of going vegetarian for Lent, we were spurred on to take half a plot back.
The wrist band was a reminder of that Easter Monday and, when I lost it, I realised that I was clinging to the memory of that visit to CELL. Remembering a turning point in your life is important, but it is only the beginning of the journey. Losing the band sparked a review of what has happened on the road since then and it is this that is spurring me onward. How romantic it would be if the tale ended there, but I can always rely on my youngest daughter to find something that is lost, so the wrist band is now back on my wrist and continues to be a visible reminder of my Easter Promise.
Stephen Awre is the Columban Mission Office Administrator based in Solihull