Leave your country, your family and your father’s house for the land I will show you (Gen. 12:11).
This is what God asked me half a century ago. Like Abraham I too left my country, my family, people I knew, loved and were dear to me, to go to an unknown and unfamiliar place called Hong Kong to begin the mission there, armed with the only weapon of faith and trust in God. Thus a new chapter in my missionary life ad Extra started on 11th September 1968 when two of us young junior sisters Sr. Maddalena Pirodda and I Sr. Theresa Pathickal set foot in Hong Kong, part of China under British rule.
While I was studying in the secondary school , my religious education teacher used to make us pray for China every day, as at that time China was experiencing persecution under the Communists. I imagined a little that one day I will be fortunate to set foot on Chinese soil, as a missionary. Truly God’s ways are mysterious.
We were invited by Bishop L. Bianchi PIME, bishop of Hong Kong, to start a school for girls in a developing area. Schools here are regarded as means of evangelization. We enjoy religious freedom up to now, we can teach and share the Gospel message and values to the young people in the school.
Surprises were waiting for us, we did not have a house of our own and so we had to accept the hospitality of the Canossian sisters for some time. The school that we were to start did not exist. Here begins the experience of Abraham, nothing ready. Everything is unknown, uncertain, but what next? Wait… Our Foundresses waited for decades before realizing their dream.
Still in the process of insertion in to this new context, with the help of PIME Fathers and other religious congregations we were able to begin our school “Pope Paul VI College” for girls nearly one year after our arrival here. Year after year more sisters were assigned to Hong Kong mission and this enabled us to expand and take different pastoral and social activities responding to the needs of the people.
The initial challenges were many: learning Chinese, the most difficult language, adapting to the local Chinese customs, food habits, climate and many other things like communicating with people. There was not a single soul in this part of the world that I knew or receive a familiar smile from anyone.
In any beginning, there are difficulties and Challenges to be faced. Loneliness, helplessness, and difficulties for communications are but a few. Who sustained me to deal with the problems and difficulties? The story of a protestant pastor always inspired me. He was teaching his young son to drive a car. Seated in in his lap the young boy turned the steering left and right and made some turns. After a short time, he told his father, dad, I did manage the curves well, Is it? The father said, yes my son, but my hand was at the steering turning the car. Yes, God was doing the steering in the life of the young and in missionary and he continues to do so.
Now, after 50 years of missionary life in Hong Kong China, what are my feelings? My heart is full of gratitude to the Lord for the marvelous things he has accomplished through me, a weak and unworthy instrument. First of all I thank the Lord for the gift of the missionary vocation, for the gift of 50 years in this very special mission of our Institute. Is there anything more beautiful than this says Mother Igilda. It gives me great joy to realize that the seed sown years ago in the lives of our students through our life and services are bearing real fruit. We come to hear of past students attending catechesis and receiving baptism. Many of the students, who are not Catholics, share how they have been influenced by the moral education received in our school.
Living in an international community, coming in contact with different groups of people, different cultures helped me to be free and open and adapt to various situations. Visits to China and the prison ministry give me the chance to live the missionary vocation to share God’s love with many people. I believe that people may come and go, but what we have done for the kingdom will remain and bear fruit in the years to come. I hope and pray that the Lord lead and guide us to realize our dreams for China, which was the dream also of Mother Igilda.
Sr. Theresa Pathickal, Hong Kong – China