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I’m a missionary and I’m a lay person

HONG KONG (Mabuhay): Jhoanna Resari is a fully-fledged missionary, but she is not a sister. She is a lay person and that is what she wants to be, but she also wants to be a missionary.

“But I did not always know that,” she admits. “While I was studying in Manila I knew I was looking for something I could not quite define, but I did pray to God to help me find a way.”

She received her reply when, for a reason she cannot remember, she went to a different church one Sunday where a large banner was proclaiming something about lay mission. “I thought that’s the answer to my prayer and wanted to sign up straight away.”

But God’s ways are not always simple and she needed three year’s work experience to be accepted.

“So I took a job as a graphic artist and joined a volunteer group, spending my free time working in community projects and disaster response teams,” she related.

But the feeling did not die and when the three years were up, she retrieved the pamphlet and contacted the Columban Lay Missionaries.

That was in 2005 and Resari describes her experience since then as a voyage into a world she could not even have dreamed of.

“We had nine months preparation. We had modules on scripture, sociology, missiology, history and all sorts of wonderfully interesting things. I did three months accompanying patients in hospital and had an experience in the Muslim-majority Marawi, as well as Cagayan.”

Then she went to Taiwan, where she lived with other lay missionaries and began learning Mandarin, and how to care for children and adults who are living with HIV/AIDS.

“But I also learned about the stigma,” she said. “So I started an education campaign in parishes and other communities for awareness and prevention.”

Resari said this was where her preparation began to make real sense. “I remembered we studied The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium) from Vatican II.”

It emphasises the universal call to holiness, which applies to all the people of God—clergy, religious and lay people. It states, “All Christians in any state or walk of life are called to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of love, and by this holiness a more humane manner of life is fostered also in earthly society.”

It further states, “(The laity) carries on the mission of the whole Christian people in the Church and in the world” (No 31).

In 2014, Pope Francis, at a conference on The Mission of Lay Christians in the City, referred to Vatican II saying that all lay people are “protagonists in the work of evangelisation and human promotion.”

While there have always been lay missionaries in the Church, in the second half of the last century the vocation became better recognised, and stronger structures and support mechanisms were put in place.

Often programmes are built on skill-sharing and people go to foreign lands to share, not only their faith, but also their professional knowledge.

Today, most countries where the Church is well established have national lay mission societies, as do major mission congregations. “But I joined the Columbans,” Resari said.

“This year we celebrate 25 years. We are a mixed group of women and men from several countries; single and married couples with children, who feel called to respond to God’s mission.”

She describes the way lay missionaries give witness through living simply and being with the poor, the marginalised and the exploited earth, as a great joy.

“It was my first time in a country where Catholics are a minority and local people asked me lots of questions about what a lay missionary is,” she said.

“All I could say is I am happy with my vocation as a lay person, but I do want to respond to God’s call to mission and be involved in building a Church that is part of the lives of the poor and marginalised.

I learned over time that living close to people whom society has rejected, says more of what it means to live the faith I grew up in.

At present, there are 49 lay missionaries from South Korea, Fiji, Tonga, Chile, The Philippines, Ireland and Peru. They serve in eight regions around the Asia Pacific area, plus Britain, and on the United States of America and Mexico border.

“We live out our spirituality in the Church and in the secular world. We immerse ourselves in justice, peace and integrity of
creation issues, interreligious dialogue, as well as work with youth, indigenous peoples, parish communities, migrants and immigrants, victims of human trafficking, asylum seekers and refugees,” Resari explained.

Ten years ago, Resari signed on for three years, but as her life attests, there is always room for three more years… and three more years...

Last year she signed on for another six.


Interested in knowing more about the Columban Lay Missionaries? 
Contact: Garcia Kibad on (852) 6804 2621 or