A Choice For Life

By Sister Ashwena C. Apao SSC

Sister Ashwena or ‘Winnie’ returned to Myanmar in September. You can find out more about her and the Columban Sisters at www.columbansisters.org

On 15 August I made my Final Profession as a Columban Sister in Jimenez, my home town in Misamis Occidental. My mother still lives there, my father having died nearly 14, years ago. I am one of five and from early in my life was active in the parish which was run before by the Columbans. My dad was a lay minister and my mother's faith very deep and strong. Their commitment to God and to others helped to cultivate and deepen my faith. As a young person I was involved in the Basic Ecclesial Communities, which stressed the empowerment of the laity. This helped to enlarge my vision of Church and deepen my missionary zeal.

Mission in Myanmar

My next assignment was to our motherhouse in Ireland where I spent about eight months. Then I was invited to be part of a group of Columban Sisters going to Myanmar (formerly Burma) to reopen a mission from which the Sisters had been expelled in 1966. I left forMyanmar in March 2003 with four other Sisters: two Irish, a Korean and a Filipina.

We live and work in Myitkyina, in northern Myanmar, among the Kachin people. My work is with the young. I teach religion, do creative arts and work in human development activities. The lifestyle here is very simple. I’m still struggling with the language and with insertion into a new culture, but I like it here.

My most unforgettable day

I was very happy, however, that I could return to the Philippines and to my native place to make my Perpetual Vows before the people most dear to my heart: my mother, my two brothers, my sister, my nieces and nephews, my relatives and friends and the Columban Sisters, Fathers and Lay Missionaries. It was a day never to be forgotten and a celebration that drew together the various strands of my life into a fitting offering to God. A Subanen flute and gong were played during the Entrance Procession and two Subanen dancers led us to the sanctuary. At the Offertory there were symbols offered: flowers, soil, a cross, candles, a Bible, a Kachin cloth from Myanmar, all accompanied by traditional Kachin Manau music. A variety of languages was used during the liturgy: Visayan, my native language; Tagalog; Subanen, the language of the people with whom I first worked after Profession; Kachin, the language of the people of Myanmar with whom I now live and work, and English.

You chose me

For my motto, I took John 15:16: ‘I chose you.’ After formally signing my vow statement I sang a special song inspired by those words, in my own language, ‘Gipili Mo Ako.’

Before the Mass ended, I thanked everyone who had come to celebrate with me and make it such a joyful and happy event. Then, with their hands extended over me in prayer, the Columban Sisters, together with all those present, blessed me and sent me forth. After the Mass everyone gathered to share food and friendship.

Before going to bed that night I reflected back on this most important day in my life. I felt overwhelmed at being so blessed. In my journey through life as a Columban Sister, the only thing I can boast of is that I am loved by God, the One who has chosen me to share the Good News with other people, especially the poor and the marginalized. It is God's grace that sustains and inspires me to continue responding to my vocational call as that unfolds for me day by day.