Reflection - Holy Week - In memory of her

A woman prepares to anoint Jesus, Hill of Grace Sanctuary, Jeju, Korea. - Photo: Fr Tim MulroyA woman prepares to anoint Jesus, Hill of Grace Sanctuary, Jeju, Korea. - Photo: Fr Tim Mulroy

A few days before his crucifixion, having made the long journey from Galilee to Jerusalem on foot, Jesus was resting over supper in a friend's home. Then, suddenly, a woman carrying a large jar of perfumed ointment entered the room and approached him. Without hesitation but with great tenderness, she poured it over him, kneeling to rub it into his aching and weary feet. Then, as the fragrance of the ointment filled the entire room, Jesus was prompted to exclaim, "She has performed a beautiful service for me" (Mt. 26:10).

Throughout these past thirty-three years, most Columban lay missionaries have been women. In various mission countries and through various ministries, they have consoled and supported people whose hearts were aching and whose feet had grown weary on life's journey.

In Fatima House in England, Nathalie Marytsch Rojas, a Columban lay missionary from Chile, is a team member that provides a haven and hospitality to poor women who have travelled long and dangerous journeys in the hope of finding asylum in Britain. Similarly, Lee Christina Kyungja Lee, a Korean Columban lay missionary who ministered to vulnerable migrants in Ireland for several years, is now a member of a team caring for refugees and asylum seekers in her home country.

For many years, Columba Eunyeal Chang, now a former Columban lay missionary from Korea, walked the long, lonely corridors of San Lazaro hospital and of various prisons in Manila, Philippines, providing solace to patients and prisoners with HIV-AIDS. She also provided emotional support to their families and friends. Another Columban lay missionary, Jao Resari from the Philippines, continues to minister to people with HIV-AIDS in Taiwan. Moreover, as an artist, Jao uses her love of design and colour to educate others about their silent suffering due to being rejected by their own families and stigmatized by society.

Jesus washes the feet of Simon Peter, Hill of Grace Sanctuary, Jeju, Korea. - Photo: Fr Tim MulroyJesus washes the feet of Simon Peter, Hill of Grace Sanctuary, Jeju, Korea. - Photo: Fr Tim Mulroy

In the Columban parish of Badin in Pakistan, Monaliza Esteban, a lay missionary from the Philippines, ministers to TB patients, the majority of whom are susceptible to various ailments due to malnourishment. On the other hand, in the Columban parish of Barra in the Philippines, Lanieta Tamatawale from Fiji provides encouragement and hope to people with hearing disabilities – and to their families – through the teaching of sign language.

These lay missionary women – and many others – have walked alongside countless people in various mission countries, lent some of them a helping hand to overcome obstacles on their path, and guided others to a place of rest where they poured ointment on their tired and aching hearts. Their dedication is based on their conviction that whatever they do to the least of Jesus' sisters and brothers, they do to Jesus himself. Their courage and commitment, as well as their care and compassion, are like the fragrance of perfumed ointment, reminding those around them that, despite so much turmoil and suffering, the world is still a beautiful place.

Throughout his public ministry, both in his words and actions, Jesus emphasized the humble, caring service to others. However, his disciples were unable to understand or didn't want to accept such teaching. They had hopes they wanted to fulfil and dreams they wanted to achieve, frequently leading to arguments about who among them was the greatest. Such disputes continued until that evening when they gathered around the table with him for the Last Supper. As Jesus looked around at them, conscious that time was quickly running out, he must have wondered what he could do to unlock their minds and open their hearts to his core message.

Then, the fragrant memory of that "beautiful service", that surprising yet thoughtful, caring and humble gesture of which he had been the recipient from an unknown woman just a few days previously, flashed across his mind. With that, "he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. Then, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples' feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him" (Jn. 13:4-5). When he had finished and returned to the table, lest the true meaning of what he had done be misunderstood, he said to his disciples, "If I, your Lord and teacher have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet" (Jn. 13:14).

During Holy Week, as we recall Jesus' caring and humble example at the Last Supper, let us also remember his promise that the gesture of the woman who had washed and anointed his own feet would never be forgotten: "Truly I say to you, wherever this Gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her" (Mt. 26:13). Looking back on these past thirty-three years of Columban lay mission, similar stories about thoughtful, caring, and humble service by so many women ought also to be treasured.

Columban Fr Timothy Mulroy, Superior General, St Columbans Mission Society, lives and works in Hong Kong.

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