Three Comboni Missionaries talk about their missionary experience.
My name is Gédéon Ngunza Mboma from Democratic Republic of Congo. For the last eleven years, as a missionary Brother I have been working with young people at Comboni Technical College (CTC) in Malawi. The CTC is a Catholic technical school open to young people of all religious denominations, created, developed, organised, and managed by the Comboni Missionaries, in collaboration with local staff.
It is a non-profit organisation, which aims at building a better future for the youth of Malawi, by offering them training in technical and human skills. Malawi is one of the poorest countries in southern Africa. Economic hardship has a serious impact on the majority of Malawians who are low-income earners. One of the most negative effects of this is the inability of many families to educate their children.
The Comboni Technical Centre was created precisely to try to respond to this situation, through an integral education capable of helping young people to become leaders and agents of transformation in their families, communities, and workplaces, thus contributing to the development
of their country.
The CTC aims at providing the young people who come to us, with high quality and practical training in welding and manufacturing end products, carpentry, and electrical installation, leading up to the government exams for the Craft and Advanced Craft Certificate.
We also provide them with human skills, in view of their personal growth that leads to true maturity, so that they become good and responsible citizens. But this is not enough. We also think about their future.
We offer courses that provide them with entrepreneurial knowledge and skills to start businesses once they leave the CTC. Moreover, we make sure that they will not think only of themselves; that would
not be a Christian training.
We want our young people to feel they have a duty to take an active part in building their communities. To support them in this, we promote Gospel values, which motivate them to commit themselves with all their talents to promoting the Kingdom of God.
I have now lived for 11 years together with 150-180 youth, to whom I teach entrepreneurship, basic accounting, and human development. Being a member of the administration, I spend most of my time with them, trying to get to know them better and to establish a relationship of trust between them and me.
I am happy to be here, and I wish heaven would allow me to stay here for many more years, because, in this fantastic place of youth formation, I feel totally fulfilled as a Comboni Brother.
Fr. Justin, “I consider myself a ‘gardener of the Word’ ”
I am Fr. Justin Martinez, from Spain. When I was asked to work in the city of Manaus, capital of the Brazilian state of Amazonas, I remember saying “I view Manaus favourably!” Later, I had the opportunity to get to know the city, and on my return, they asked me what I thought. I answered a bit metaphorically: “Here the challenges are few and small. Few like its rivers and small like the Amazon. We will need five or six generations to solve them”.
Since 2019 I have lived in Manaus and despite the pandemic that we are experiencing, my conviction has not changed: I view Manaus favourably! Before arriving here, I spent ten years in Salvador de Bahia working with Afro-descendants and in dialogue with the Afro-Brazilian religion of Candomble. I also spent nine years in Fortaleza located in North-eastern Brazil and between these two Brazilian presences, eleven years in Spain. The challenges I have encountered were not on my agenda, but I am not changing Manaus for anything.
I consider myself a ‘gardener of the Word’ because my presence in the heart of Brazil has as its main purpose biblical and theological formation at the Institute of Theology, Pastoral and Higher Education of the Amazon (ITEPES), where seminarians, permanent deacons and lay people receive some of their formation. I also teach biblical subjects in a Pauline Centre and in various parishes, in addition to participating in radio programs and other pastoral activities. It is a joy to share the Word of God with multicultural communities.
This was not always the case during my years in Salvador de Bahia, because many times my listeners were all of African descent. I remember a meeting of black consciousness and awareness with about 70 adolescents in Salvador in which I was the only non-Afro. We were all in a circle and Raquel, one of the animators, asked: “Here, are we all black?” “Everyone”, the adolescents answered unanimously. Raquel repeated the question and the answer was the same.
The young woman pointed at me. “Justino is black too?” There was silence in the room. Anderson got up and said: “Yes, he is black!” But she did not give up: “Anderson, is Justino also black?” Anderson then responded with ease: “Sure, if he behaves like us, Justino is also black”. I always remember that anecdote with great joy.
Following Pope Francis in his encyclical Querida Amazonia, I try to motivate children, youth, and the elderly to become passionate about the Word of God and discover that it is a mine that must be explored with love, passion and competence.
This is my dream and what keeps me happy: to take the Word of God to the heart of all Christian communities of the world. Animation and missionary biblical formation are the way, taking into account that it is not about ‘knowing’ but about ‘savouring’.
It is necessary to provoke a thirst for the Word, to quench it and that is something that requires passion, time, and dedication, as with Jesus towards Nicodemus, the Samaritan woman, the blind man from birth or his disciples. It is hard work, but it’s worth it.
Among those who speak about the Bible in Manaus there are charlatans who conquer multitudes of people with sweet words that do not give life, joy, or hope, and who do not help to face the innumerable mourning of this pandemic that is leaving so many people injured, without
comfort and hope.
We see and feel all this and it hurts to see so much indifference and arrogance by government officials who have not fulfilled their obligations. The consequences translate into suffering and death. Therefore, maintaining or regenerating hope thanks to the Word of God in the midst of this situation is a missionary duty.
Fr. Francesco. A Heart for the Pygmies
My name is Fr. Francesco Laudani from Italy. I arrived in Africa fifty years ago in 1972. I was assigned to what was then Zaire,
now the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and more precisely to the mission of Mungbere, a community in the middle of the jungle in the north-east of the country.
A year later, purely by chance, I saw, for the first time, groups of pygmies on the streets of Moley, Dodi and Dingbo. I also witnessed the baptism of the first pygmies in the parish.
Two years later, I was assigned to the parish of Nangazizi and then to that of Rungu, where I spent most of my time in the bush visiting the 95 Christian communities of this huge parish; the furthest chapel was 110 kilometres from the central church. In 1984, I was assigned to the parish of Gombari, where the Comboni community was engaged in pastoral work with the Pygmies.
From 1984 until 2018, my missionary life was centred upon this village. For ten years I was the diocesan head of Pygmy pastoral care. Our work with the Pygmies focused on two fundamental and complementary areas: evangelization and education, although there were also health support programs and more specific training in agriculture and other fields.
The forest is the natural habitat of the Pygmies. As they are often on the move, one of our commitments has been to set up small schools near the larger camps so that, for at least a few months, the pygmy children could study alongside other children to help them integrate. We felt that this was the only way to enable Pygmies to go to secondary school.
The Pygmies are the poorest people in Congolese society, but the school has allowed them to better themselves. Many have learned to read and write; some have been able to go to college and now work as midwives or teachers. I am very happy with the progress the Pygmies are making.
One of the highlights of our work was when we organized a march in 2005 to demand respect for the rights of the Pygmies. About 2,500 people started out and travelled, in some cases, up to 300 kilometres, to the city of Isiro. Despite this, difficulties remain and much remains to be done to ensure that the Pygmies may be Congolese citizens with the same rights as everyone else.
As for myself, it takes much more than a lifetime to accompany these people who, being one of the poorest and most abandoned, are a priority within the Comboni charism. My memories are of thanksgiving to God because I have never felt alone.
The people, especially the Pygmies, welcomed me very warmly. God has been with us in all circumstances, even during the war, when I was taken prisoner and held for 14 days; I never felt abandoned. The Pygmy people always protected us and took care of us. I keep in my heart the love for Africa and the love of Africans for us missionaries. (C.C.)