Comboni Lay Missionaries

“Trust in Jesus and follow him through the darkness,” says Anna Obyrtacz, a Comboni Lay Missionary in the Central African Republic.

Anna RCA
Anna RCA

She had never wanted to leave. She was dreaming about starting a family and live in Poland’s countryside, but one night in a Dominican church changed her life. Anna Obyrtacz, a CLM in the RCA, speaks of her vocation and her mission in Mongoumba, Lobaye, with the pygmies where she found God.

Reporter (R): Hi Anna! How did you receive your call to serve the Lord as a Comboni Lay Missionary?

Anna Obyrtacz (AO): I had never thought of mission. It had never been my dream or deep desire. I was a young woman looking forward to marriage and a good life in my country. But the Lord is great, and came looking for me to send me to his harvest. Me a missionary? At times, when I think of it I still find it funny, because for years it had never been a deep desire. But now, I assure you, I cannot think of my life without mission and daily I ask myself where this journey from the Lord will lead me.

I studied in Krakow, Poland, where I also started working. My meeting the Comboni Missionaries was totally accidental. For me perhaps, but not for God. It took place in March 2012 in a Dominican community I frequented. On that day, the Comboni Missionaries had organized an adoration.

R: And what happened next?

AO: After graduating and finding a job I continued my little life. I was thinking, as I said, to start a family. So, I was concentrating on my job and on my life of prayer, Mass, the Eucharist, daily prayer. Then, one day, I do not know why, I cannot say, I was inspired to join the student pastoral. It was a ministry called KOMPAS dealing manly with young people. On the invitation of a Comboni Missionary, I joined the team for a retreat. During this retreat I met several people, especially people involved in missionary activities around the world. I had the chance to talk with them about mission and about being a missionary. However, at the time I still had no thought of going to the missions.

R: But after this first retreat experience, you went to Africa. How do you explain it?

AO: Soon after that experience, I began to think of mission. The conversations I had had with the missionaries kept on coming to mind. So, I started having an interest in mission. I started knowing new people, especially among missionaries. Later I had the good fortune to be sent to Uganda for a month as a first missionary experience. It was in 2013. As I left Poland, I expected to find the worst in Uganda, but something within me was telling me that it was worth the try.

R: What was your first impression of Africa?

AO: I have a foggy memory, it was very hot (laughs). At first, I was under pressure and truly wanted to do everything I was told. We had passion, good will, but the language was our barrier. I remember the faces of the children in the orphanage where we worked, who wanted to talk to us, but since we only spoke English and they only spoke their local language, it was difficult. So, being unable to communicate, we simply stayed with them, without words, and this fact moved us deeply.

After spending a month in Uganda, I returned to Poland where I got in touch with the Comboni Missionaries to discern my vocation: to be missionary in Africa? Should I do it at home? Work? Get married?…

R: Did you struggle with these thoughts for a long time?

AO: Very often in life, monotony leads us to change life’s patterns. I thought that I needed to take time to discern my feelings. For this reason, having consulted people who were guiding me, I made a retreat with the Jesuits in Zakopane. It was a time of personal reflection, a meeting with my own self and with the Lord. During these precious days I spent with the Jesuits, the Lord answered all my worries and I also raised questions, but I trusted in Him. There are times in life when we have to learn to be “blind” and let the Lord guide us. In Polish we call it “seeing in the darkness.” You have to decide to step into darkness and let Jesus lead you.

Another facet of my vocation was the support of my family. They supported me a lot both at the beginning and then during my mission experience. I pray to the Lord that he may bless them and fill them with peace.

R: Why Africa and the Central African Republic?

AO: For the Comboni Missionaries Africa is a very special place. Our founder started his mission in Africa and had a real passion for the continent. At the time we had several options: Mozambique, Ethiopia and the RCA. RCA is a post-war country, very unstable, and many people were afraid to go there. There were many reasons to believe that mission in the RCA was going to entail lots of sacrifices: the poor, the war, insecurity, etc. What I dreaded the most was French (laughing). I had never studied it, you see? But I steeled myself with courage, especially following the example of Comboni, to serve the poor. Today I can truly say in all sincerity that the RCA is a marvelous country. Having come to the RCA, it has become like my second country.

R: How did you prepare to go to Bangui, considering your lack of French?

AO: It worked well. I officially joined the Comboni Lay Missionaries on June 12, 2015 in Warsaw before leaving for the RCA, where I was going to learn French. Then, we celebrated a mission sending Mass in my parish of St. John the Baptist in Oakwa on the feast of the Sacred Heart. The celebrant was Msgr. Grzegorz Rys. I went to Congo (RDC) for four months, where I was received by Irene, a Congolese CLM. She helped me understand the African mentality, especially in Central Africa. It was a great time, because I was not only there to learn the language. The day I left for Bangui, Irene gave this advice: “Remember that we are sending you to these people to try to understand them and to love them. Share with them what you have and you will find happiness.”

R: What were the first difficulties when you first arrived in the RCA?

AO: From Kinshasa, where we lived like we do in Europe, I found myself in a forest, without internet, electricity and hot water (laughing). At the beginning it was difficult. Difficult because I did not have many friends and had to start from scratch. But now I am happy, because I have gone much beyond friendship, and now I have a family.

R: What was your ministry in Mongoumba?

AO: The lay community of Mongoumba is made up of four people: one Italian, two Portuguese and I am Polish. We decide in common how to live and help each other. In Mongoumba, the lay people take care of education, the Pygmies and health. As for myself, I worked at the clinic. Concretely, I took care of the Pygmies first and then of undernourished children. Now and then we also organize sessions for the formation of caretakers, etc.

R: Is it a unique mission because of the Pygmies living there? And how do you help this minority?

AO: The Pygmies have a special place in our activities. They are a priority. In this part of the RCA they are not taken into consideration. These are the type of people that our founder wanted to know and serve. However, working with them is not that easy because, for example, they are very free people who do not like to be confined by a structure. Slowly, we teach them to read and write, to keep basic hygiene, how to avoid illnesses brought about by dirt, etc. I tried to show them other ways of life, to live independently, to administer the little money they have.

R: What are the needs in this area? What are the main problems affecting the RCA and its people?

AO: What we need most in the RCA is peace. Peace in the streets, in the hearts, in the cities. People want to live without fear, raise their children, work, grow. Th government must spare no efforts to ensure security for its people, who only want to live in peace. The other challenge for the RCA is education and the creation of business opportunities. Young people should be able to study well, in good conditions and find job opportunities at the end of their studies.

R: What are the dangers of missionary service in this region?

AO: In Mongoumba we are safe, being a rather secure area where we are not bothered. However, the RCA is very big and there are still areas where people are hiding, and live in constant danger because there is still armed conflict. Probably the only real danger is disease. Of course, there are medications available, but you never know where. God, however, always protects us.

R: What do you ask the world for the RCA?

AO: I ask one and all to support the RCA through prayer and especially with concrete help. I refer to help in the way of projects, financial contributions, etc. I also invite other lay people to come to this beautiful country.

R: Anna, what has mission in the RCA given to you personally?

AO: First of all, I learned to open up to other people, very often very different from the way I grew in a different culture. I learned to live frugally, humbly and be satisfied with what we have. This is one of the best experiences I have had. This experience also showed me that, when we leave our biological family, God gives another one.

R: What are your plans for your immediate future?

AO: After my vacation in Poland I will go to Canada for three years to study psychology. It is a program for missionaries. As I told you earlier, if God gives me life, I will return to RCA to bring psychological help specifically to those who have been traumatized by war and others. Back there, I will give hope to those who have been wounded and abandoned.

Interviewed by Eustache Michael Mounzatela

Diversity is truly beautiful

LMC Kinshasa
LMC Kinshasa

Dear Friends,

It has been two months now since I am in Africa. My first stop was Democratic Republic of Congo. First thing that surprised me when I landed in Kinshasa was the temperature, it was very, very high. I was already in Kenia twice so far, so I supposed I would not be very surprised by African reality, and for sure not by the weather!

At the airport, there were waiting for me two persons: father Celestin, responsible for CLM movement in DRC and Tiffany – CLM Coordinator. They took me to the provincial house of the MCCJ where I was welcomed very warmly by all CLM and Comboni fathers’ community.

During these two months spent in Kinshasa, I focused mainly on learning French, but also on experiencing community life, in big international group. It showed me that diversity is truly beautiful. So many different cultures, different languages, habits, it can really work and give joy to the people who live together. We can find something that connects us: first of all – God, other people, happiness of being together, common mission and care of God’s work. Of course, life with other people is not easy, but the awareness that we share the same goal helps a lot.

As I mentioned before, time spent in Kinshasa was mainly to learn French, quite difficult experience for me, but it really taught me many things.

At the beginning, I tried to mix up French and English, but most of the time I still used simple English instead of French. The later, the harder, more and more people required from me to speak French, but that worked for the best! I was of course stressed and frustrated, but I knew that was for my own good and I am grateful for that time. Every day I tried to speak more and more in French, sometimes I felt shameful because of my spelling or grammar mistakes, but it was an additional motivation to improve my language skills.

Now I know, why it is so important to speak, even with mistakes, because someone can correct them. We need other people to help us with defeating the barrier of speaking (even with the mistakes). That is why community is so important.

In our Comboni spirit it is crucial to appreciate people we are among, their presence and support, their motivation. Alone, we do not have so much strength as we have together. Maybe you can find this as an ideal vision, so perfect that cannot be true, but that is my experience both from Cracow and Kinshasa.

This time showed me how adequate are the words: “God does not call the qualified. He qualifies the called”.

LMC Kinshasa

When I had some free time on Saturdays, together with Enochi (CLM from Kinshasa) I served people on the street. It was a program called “meal from your heart”. It was prepared by one family for people who lived on the street. Kinshasa is a very big city, and people came from different parts, just to have a warm meal. During a couple of hours, we were giving around 250-300 plates. I realized how blessed I am that I have something to eat, access to drinkable water, place to sleep and clothes to wear. There is so many people in the world who cannot afford it. I have in mind pictures of young boys who “take a bath” and washed their clothes in the small moat near to the provincial house. I will remember it for the rest of my life.

Time in Kinshasa allowed me also to experience the happiness of people here, despite of difficulties, they need to go through. To see their energy and commitment.

LMC RCA

Now, for over 3 weeks, I am in Bangui – capital of Republic of Central Africa. I will stay here also for two months to learn Sango – local language. I got to know my community – Christina and Simone, I will live and work with them in Mongoumba. On Friday 28 June, we celebrated together the Day of Holiest Heart of Jesus Christ. It was time for adoration, dinner and talk together.

I wanted to ask you all to pray for me, for the people I meet here, for all I am about to do here, my mission and my life. I will also pray for you.

Monika

Monica Jamer, CLM

News from the Central Africa Republic mission

RCA
RCA

The CLM María Augusta writes for her parish paper, the Astrolabio.

I came to Bangui, the capital of the Central Africa Republic, because Fr. Fernando had an accident and is here in the hospital. The accident happened when he was returning from Mbaiki after attending the Chrismal Mass. Mongoumba belongs to the diocese of Mbaiki. The CLM Cristina and Fr. Maurice were with him and behind them there were seven people. Luckily, Cristina and Fr. Maurice were not hurt and had no great physical pains, but it is always difficult to absorb the accident emotionally. However, they were able to stay by Fr. Fernando, which was the important and necessary part.

The people following behind were hurt a bit, but fortunately there was nothing serious and only one was taken to the hospital, but with nothing major, by God’s grace. Fr. Fernando was thrown out though the glass on the door side and suffered a double trauma, one in the face including the eyes and one in the back. He underwent surgery on Easter Sunday and all went well.

Ana and I arrived in Bangui on Tuesday and stayed at the postulancy, because they were having the Comboni Assembly. We spent Easter worrying a lot, because we did not know how they were doing. When we saw Fr. Fernando he was still in a bad shape. Only today he came briefly to Comboni House, the Comboni residence in Bangui, because we have been very busy with him. By God’s grace, he is improving every day. Just the same, he must eat everything pureed because his upper jaw does not meet his lower jaw and so he cannot chew. We are hopeful that at the level of his head everything is working, because he speaks well and all his senses work… We thank God who protected all the travelers. God’s Providence was with them, because the accident happened 1 km from the Mbata mission and also because a vehicle went by that took them to the town hospital, where Fr. Fernando was sutured, and then all the way to Bangui.

Fr. Fernando will be moved to Benin for a CAT-scan of his head, to make sure he is well, and then to rest and get his energy back to continue the mission the Lord has chosen for him. I am confident that, by God’s grace, all will be well!

Cristina underwent some tests and all is well. She helped Fr. Fernando a lot! She will remain in Bangui to rest until she recovers enough to go back to Mongoumba.

Fr. Maurice is well, but very tired… up until Wednesday he spent night and day taking care of the wounded. Thanks be to God that on Thursday and Friday he could rest and begin to feel better…

Fr. Samuel returned on Wednesday, fully animated for the mission waiting for him. In July and August he will do mission promotion in the United States.

We hope that by then Fr. Fernando will be back in good health.

The assembly went well. A brother from Togo, a friend of Fr. Maurice, came to take part in it.

The twin girl I talked to you about in my last message, eventually died… The Lord welcomed her in his arms, because she suffered a lot.

Always united in prayer.

I wish all of you a Happy Easter!

A worldwide embrace to you all! Thanks for your prayers.

María Augusta, CLM

For Astrolabio

Year 5 – No. 147 – May 5, 2019

The parishes of Cabril, Dornelas do Zêzese, Fajão, Janeiro de Baixo, Machio, Pampilhosa da Serra, Portela do Fôjo,Unhais-o-Velho and Vidual

Mission Echoes from the Central African Republic

LMC RCA
LMC RCA

“Here I am sending you some tidbits on mission life.” With these words our dear friend María Augusta embraces us and writes on what is going on in the mission of the CAR.   Ana [CLM from Poland] had a problem with an elbow. X-rays were taken and then we went with her to the military medical center in Bangui. People there were very kind and helpful. God willing, we will have lunch with them tomorrow. Gratefully, the rest of us is doing well. We had news from Fr. Samuel, who is also doing well, taking advantage of his vacation to rest and to visit family and friends. This week a mother with twin girls came to us. She had already been here other times to ask for milk, because she did not have enough for both babies. They were already undernourished. We took care of them and they had returned home in good shape. Now she came with one of the babies being very skinny, and weighing only 2 Kg at 9 months… I was very stressed by it and immediately I went with the mother to the place where we treat those who are undernourished, to have her admitted. I do not know whether she is going to make it! May the Lord do what is best for her. Little Andrés, the orphan I met in November 2015 and to whom we gave milk, has Pott disease (vertebral tuberculosis). He was taken to the pediatrician in Bangui and now he is being treated for it. Later he will undergo surgery like Gervelais*, who up to this point was not able to walk, but after two months of this TB treatment, has already started to take a few steps and it is clear he has a lot of inner strength to make him want to learn how to walk in a hurry. At the school we have started two remedial classes** of 90 minutes each, twice a week. In the early years we concentrate on reading and writing.  And then later we add Mathematics. May the Lord give our students strength and good will so as not to fail, but may improve their chances. By God’s grace we have some students with a lot of will power… this is what gives us the encouragement to continue. We are grateful to the Lord who gives us good health, happiness and the will to keep on with it. I wish all of you a Lent filled with Quiet and Growth in the love of God and our brothers and sisters. Always united in prayer and mission! Thanks for your prayers. María Augusta Pires, CLM in CAR   * Gervelais is the name of a “little one” María Augusta referred to earlier on April 13 and June 11, 2018. ** Because the results of the students are not encouraging, as she explained in her last letter.

News from the Central African Republic –Astrolabio Newspaper

LMC RCA

LMC RCA

The CLM María Augusta writes from Mongoumba, CAR, for her parish paper – The Astrolabio.

Dear Fr. Orlando,

How are you? I hope the new year started very well and so it will be to the end. A happy 2019 to all the parishioners and to your family.

Last week I had malaria, but, by God’s help, I already recovered. The rest of the community is well.

Fr. Samuel left today for his vacation. We ask God that it be a good one and that he may return full of pep and courage to continue the mission entrusted to him.

On December 17 and 18 the Cardinal came to visit. The people of the parish were delighted! A large crowd gathered when he arrived… many people of other denominations also came. For the Eucharist the church was full, and lots of people were gathered outside as well. It lasted five hours! He spoke very eloquently on the problem of likundu* (witchcraft) and other problems.

Ana and Cristina were in Bangui and Simone was in Italy, and I was with the priests to receive him. With God’s help all went well! I hope people will put into practice what they heard. He visited the 10 parishes of the diocese. Ours was the one before the last. He ended his visitation in the cathedral of St. Jeanne of Arc, in Mbaiki.  I know that he ended up being very tired, but happy with the participation he saw.

Last time we were in Bangui, at the supermarket we met a policeman from Janeiro da Cima (a place in Portugal). He said that he had already heard that there was around a missionary woman from Janeiro de Baixo (a neighboring place). It was great! He told us that there were soldiers stationed around the airport and yesterday we went to visit. They gave us a great and happy reception! They also gave us medical supplies and invited us to lunch. God willing, we will go tomorrow.

The results of our students are not encouraging and we hope they will improve during this quarter.

I know that you have seen and listened to many reports, none of them pleasant, about our poor country. By God’s grace, here we are at peace, but we mourn with our brothers who are being massacred!

We don’t know yet when we will return to Mongoumba…

Let us continue united in prayer.

A great missionary hug from all of us, to you and to all the readers of Astrolabio.

CLM Maria Augusta in Astrolabio

Year 5 – #139 – February 3, 2019

Parishes of Cabril, Dornelas do Zêzere, Fajão, Janeiro de Baixo, Machio, Pampilhosa da Serra, Portela do Fôjo, Unhais-o-Velho e Vidual

 

* The problem of likundu is that people are falsely accused of witchcraft and then they are brutally murdered.