My anxiety over the mass responses did not hinder me to blissfully meet Srs. Luise Ahrens and Mary Little, MM. Fr. Kenvin Conroy, Maryknoll associate priest, officiated the mass. Maryknoll Lay Missioners present at the gathering were Steve Chinavaso, Dee Dungy, Lindsay Doucette, and Sami Scott. Fr. Bob Wynne, MM, who is now on leave and Fr. Charlie Dittmeir, Maryknoll associate priest, together with other Maryknolls are all involved in Maryknoll projects except Sr. Luise who works in higher education, mainly with Royal University of Phnom Penh and the Ministry of Education. There are four sisters in Cambodia but Sr. Helene O'Sullivan, MM is in the US to celebrate her Golden Jubilee. She is involved in anti-trafficking work. Srs. Luise and Helene were both former presidents of the Maryknoll Sisters.
It's been a year now since I went home to the Philippines on July 15, 2011 from Bangladesh. My last letter to the Maryknoll Affiliates was to share about my feeling of leaving Srs. Joan, MM and Miriam, MM with a heavy heart. Visa issues forced me to leave the country which also forced Srs. Joan and Miriam to return to BACHA-Bangladesh Alternative Course on Human Advancement English Medium School from the hospital. One month before I left, Sr. Joan was confined and Sr. Mirian had to stay with her in the hospital and I was running the school in their absence. For twelve months now, I am still patiently waiting to be granted a missionary visa to Bangladesh.
When my visa was about to expire, the sisters through Fr. Bob McCahill, MM requested the Archbishop of Dhaka to petition a missionary visa for me. I had to go out of the country and wait for the result at home which was estimated to be in three months. October came and the visa was still up in the air and we were already anxious of my return. They decided that I have to take a tourist visa again, which I used to enter the country for the first time. However, at the time I applied the tourist visa for the third time, we were all dumbfounded when the issued visa was only for two weeks and not similar to the three months I got for the first time and when I renewed the same tourist visa in Kathmandu, Nepal. The sisters realized how it would be expensive to push through with the plan so we all decided that it is better to wait for the missionary visa.
December came and visa was not yet available but I did not longed to return to Bangladesh at that time since my hands were full of initiating relief programs for the victims of typhoon Sendong that brought flood in the cities of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan in the Philippines. However, around November, I got an information that a Filipino Jesuit in Cambodia, Fr. Totet Banaynal is looking for someone to assist him in the pastoral programs at his parish. Martin Perfecto, the Executive Director of the Jesuit Volunteers Philippines (JVP), which I am an alumnus, shared the information with me and asked if I could be of help. In February 27, a day before I flew to Phnom Penh, JVP set up a send-off mission mass officiated by one of its founding Jesuits, Fr. Bill Kruetz and the current chaplain Fr. Pat Falguera, SJ. This mission came true after Fr. Mark Raper, SJ, president of the Jesuit Conference of Asia Pacific agreed to take care of the transportation to and fro.
I was so happy to learn that there are Maryknolls in Cambodia. Among them, I first met Sr. Len who is also from the Philippines and an alumna of Ateneo de Manila University (where JVP holds office), the Jesuit institution beside Miriam College, formerly known as Maryknoll College. I came to know Sr. Len when her Jesuit friend came to Battambang where I am also stationed. She traveled five hours to see Fr. Chris Dumadag, SJ, her long time friend from Ateneo, who was visiting a Jesuit novice having his exposure at the Our Lady of the Assumption Parish, Apostolic Prefecture of Battambang – my mission area.
Since I am far from Phnom Penh where all Maryknolls are stationed, my desire to meet them remained just a desire for months. When I got a text message from Sr. Len informing me about the mass at the Maryknoll Father's place as a housewarming of their new place, it was so timely since I had a schedule in Phnom Penh on that day. I believe it was a providence because Fr. Bill Kreutz, SJ visited in Phnom Penh and I had a meeting with him on the same day of the mass with the Maryknoll family.
I was really honored to meet the Maryknolls in Cambodia. Though it was short, that meeting without any doubt rekindled my Maryknoll mission spirit. I persistently pray that sooner, my missionary visa for Bangladesh will be granted. I am yearning to carry on my mission work in Bangladesh as a Maryknoll Affiliate.