It was my first time to be a foreigner when I was asked to join the 8th Asia-Pacific Common Study held in Sri Lanka. Upon arriving at the Colombo Airport, the reality of being in another country struck me when a Sri Lankan migration officer interviewed me about my whereabouts. We were fortunate that Br. Jaime Alamillo, OP and Br. Manoj Rasanjana, OP were the ones who welcomed us at the airport. Their presence made me feel at home in the place as they were our former companions at Santo Domingo Convent.
There is certainly a feeling of “mixed emotions”when we travel to another country. There is a feeling ofexcitement, and at the same time, of fear, because ofthe uncertainty it brings. However, how do we addresssomething that is foreign to us? How do we traverse theunknown? I suddenly remember that every time I give atalk about love, I always ask my students if they believein love at first sight. Most of them, if not all, answer“no”. It is undeniable that we cannot love a stranger,someone whom we do not know. The same is true withmy experience in Sri Lanka for the said Common Study.Sri Lanka was just a proper name for me, a name of acountry, a mission area of the Dominican Province of the Philippines, the birthplace of Br. Manoj. I do notreally know anything about the country until the time Ihave been there.
The words of Saint Thomas Aquinas echo in my mindas I embrace my journey in Sri Lanka. It is throughknowing someone or something that we start to learnhow to love them. My mind was like a tabula rasa beforeI arrived there. I started to fill it with experiences of the place. It is undeniable that nothing is in the mind unlessit passes through the senses. My stay there has givenme the opportunity to know the country more throughall my five senses. I was able to see, hear, smell, tasteand touch Sri Lanka.
I was welcomed by the distinct taste of Sri Lankanfood. The spices which has made me sweat like I havejust taken a bath. I was also given the opportunity tolive in an international community as this CommonStudy had the biggest number of participants so far,with 22 brothers coming from 8 countries (Philippines,Vietnam, India, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, SolomonIsland, Myanmar and China). We were all foreigners inthe land and having them as my companions made thisjourney more extraordinary. Their culture is also foreignto me and it is this diversity that made this Common Study more interesting.
Aside from the sessions we had with our speakers,what I appreciate most is our immersion with theSri Lankans and with the place itself, especially thedifferent areas with Buddhist and Hindu temples. Theinterreligious dialogue we had with religious leadersfrom Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Baha’i Faith, MethodistChurch, and Anglican Church gave me a bigger pictureof how we should relate with others whose views differfrom ours in some aspects.
I was dumbfounded and even felt embarrassed tolearn that Sri Lanka has just ended a three-decade warlast year, something I had no idea about. Perhaps it is true that we care less for the things we do not reallyknow or for the things that do not affect us. Our visit tothe war-torn area in Sri Lanka broke my heart. It wasmy first time to see in person remnants of war and howit affected the people. Our conversations with peoplewho fought for justice and peace and who stayed withthe people during the war revealed an inspiring story.
by Br. Jayson R. Gonzales, OP