Elbert Balbastro. Photo: Elbert Balbastro SSC
Praying, fasting and almsgiving: three words that gave me meaningful and substantial insights in my missionary journey here in Khipro, Pakistan. These have always been the three pillars of Lent. But I still wondered, why exactly do we do these things? Upon further reflection, I came to the conclusion that these actions are a result of our love of God and our neighbours.
My 4-day exposure in one of the villages opened my eyes to a renewed perception. In Mirhwa, the primary school caters to both Hindu and Christian students. In helping these children, I observed that most of the masters (teachers) do not just teach passionately but also express their love and support for the children well. In one of our conversations, they mentioned that most of the students enrolled are poor. Thus, it was left to them to convince parents into sending their children to school. There are times when they would even shoulder whatever fees necessary so that the families will not be discouraged, despite the masters’ own financial struggles. Year after year, this is what they do.
This is what fasting and almsgiving are all about. These teachers do not have much and yet they sacrifice the little that they have out of love for the children whom they treat as their own. I realised then that the power of love conquers anything and goes all the way into the innermost goodness of a person.
The village has a tradition of praying from Ash Wednesday until Easter. Most of their prayers are for the well being of the students who are mostly Hindu. Regardless of our differences, we need to pray for everyone. Jesus commanded us to love one another, and that love should encompass religions, race, caste or nationality.
The three pillars of Lent are a guide in following God. As we journey through this season, we are not only encouraged to pray, fast and give alms but we are also reminded that to act with love and inclusivity towards neighbours and enemies alike.
Elbert Balbastro is a Columban seminarian from the Philippines and is on his First Mission Assignment in Pakistan.