Comboni Lay Missionaries

After One Year among the Gumuz of Ethiopia

LMC Etiopia
LMC Etiopia

Dear family, friends and all,

I hope this e-mail will find you well. I hope the entire family is in good health.

Gratefully to God, I am well.

I am beginning to feel the intense heat we have, almost always around 40 degrees over here. A heat that does not even begin to compare with the warmth I feel when I visit the families, play with the children or work with these wonderful people. Like St. Peter said, “how good it is to be here!” (Mt 17:4)

Here I am still involved with the library. By God’s grace and the generosity of some people, it was possible to buy some books for the library. This way, the students who come over have access to some basic textbooks. Two Portuguese ladies who visited here brought us calculators and other material. Often, I try to have school books and ball point pens to give to anyone who cannot afford them, but is interested in them. Always, if they are looking for a specific book, we try to buy it. Their time availability is not like mine. So, I find days with two or three people and others with 20. But, I understand. They are young and working in the fields, but also study, they have family and some with two or three children. Well, how can they find the time for the library. They truth is that they do and, when they come to study, there is silence. It makes me happy.

LMC Etiopia

I keep up with a faithful group in English and computer classes. They like it. They want to learn and, even though I am not an expert, I am happy to teach them.

I also have a Bible study group in English, with four catechists. We read the Bible, then I explain the texts in English, meditate on them and sometime we watch religious videos in English. I am very happy with them.

I keep playing in the school which still hosts a refugee family. We bought a ball and this is enough to get the young together and enjoy some good times.

At least twice a week we go to the villages with the catechists, visiting families, playing with the children. These moments fill our hearts. To be with people is essential to our missionary vocation.

With the Comboni Missionaries we live with, we share Mass at 6:30 in the morning and an hour of Eucharistic adoration on Saturday. On Thursdays we go to the Comboni Sisters community and also with them we have Eucharistic adoration before supper. On Wednesdays, David and I have a community prayer.

Despite the work we have, it is the desire of the CLM, myself and David, my partner in the community, to start a new type of presence among the Gumuz. We are not the first CLM in Ethiopia, but we are the first to live among the Gumuz.

LMC Etiopia

For this reason, we are visiting the communities, speaking with the people, analyzing the concrete situation of each village and family.

Unfortunately, the car we have does not allow for constant work. The roads are horrible and require a car in reasonable shape. After a month, we stopped running games for the children in the villages because our car was at the mechanic, and this happens often. On top of that, we keep on paying for these repairs. We will need to buy a new car that will allow us to continue our work.

We also intend to build a house in one of the villages, near the people, and live there. Together with the house we will start working on projects. We are continuing with the project of setting up a children home for those who remain alone during the day, without adult supervision, plus a student residence to allow children to attend school who cannot go or need to cover over 30 km to get there. These are the projects we consider the most viable, if we take into account what we have analyzed and heard from the young ones and the adults.

Unfortunately, we need money to do all this. For this I ask for your prayers that we may do the will of God with these people. If you know of any NGO that finances this type of project, please tell us. Everything help, even a little bit, and is valued by God. And since I know that I am not here alone, I am sure you are with me!

At time we face adversities, like typhus or typhoid fever, but I am happy to have been sent to this place where God already is with the people.

I have been in this beautiful place for almost a year! I have no doubt, It is a beautiful place! I am happy! I live a happy life! It does not mean that there is no suffering. It means that, despite all the obstacles, it is worth being here. It means that God gives us strength and gives us the means to do his will!

I keep you in my prayers, I feel your friendship around me, and I keep on learning that distance does not cut the ties, but makes them stronger, reminding me of the importance of your friendship and your love for me.

Hugs and kisses from this friend who loves you a lot,

Pedro Nascimento, CLM Ethiopia

Mission on Red Grounds (Climbing the mountain)

Community trip: Pedro, David, Fr. Endrias and I
[Excursiones en comunidad: Pedro, David, el padre Endrias y yo.]
Community trip: Pedro, David, Fr. Endrias and I

To enter into a new culture is a trip that requires dedication and gradual knowledge. Not only in order to see the gray of the palette, but also and above all, to notice the various colors on the palette and dab with more strength the pinks, the greens, the blues, the yellows, the reds… It means to know how to appreciate things, like a little child curious to discover this world and the next, enriched by knowing how things work. Without judging. Always with new eyes. And this is difficult, especially when we have grown up, and carry our own luggage, our vices, our opinions on everything and much more stuff.

To enter into a new culture, the much heard of and blessed inculturation , also means making the most of the time we are in school with our fellow students of Amharic class and other languages, or the afternoons with the MCCJ (Comboni Missionaries of the Heart of Jesus), and common prayers, visits to museums, sharing food which is quite different over here and almost always with a touch of berber, a local specialty that makes everything very hot, and then the outings with the community to have an ice cream or a Coke (yes, even here you can have all this!)

To enter into the new culture is not only like imbibing from the cultural shock I mentioned in my last article, a shock that makes us come down from the mountain. It is also feeling thirsty in the midst of all this and climb the mountain again. Listen to it now, no matter what difficult it might be. This is what I am doing now, climbing a mountain. We were given two weeks of rest from our Amharic classes, while schools are closed for vacation, and so we had the chance to go to Benishangul-Gumuz for a week. That is where, God willing, we will start our mission in September. We also started a week of retreat.

I am currently in this retreat. It is an important time for me, to renew myself, to climb the mountain and to speak with God. It is a time to pray over all that I lived in Benishangu-Gumuz.

What did I see there? I remember as it were now the day we visited the villages of this area, where only the Gumuz live, to offer our catechesis. We left home about 4:30 in the afternoon. I traveled in the back of the 4×4 in the open air, even though there was room inside, where it would have been much safer because at any time it could have started to rain very hard, which is typical of this time of the year because we are in the kremt gizê (Amharic for rainy season). But I preferred the view, because it is always unique. Travelling outside also gave me the opportunity to spend time with the Gumuz catechists we were meeting. I did not know that the back of the vehicle was going to fill up with them, but that is what happened, because on the way to one of the Gumuz villages we were gathering several the young catechists. I watched the young catechists talking and laughing among themselves in their language, the Gumuzinha (another one I will have to learn), so I could not understand anything! In my mind I built up stories and phrases in Amharic in an attempt to talk to them. They also speak Amharic, but not all the Gumuz do. These are catechists picked by the MCCJ because they can be a bridge between the missionaries and the Gumuz. Besides giving their catechesis the also are Amharic-Gumuzinga translators and are the intermediaries between the Gumuz and us.

I then gathered some courage and started to talk with one of the catechists. We exchanged a half a dozen sentences. I felt friendship and the realization that I am different. The Gumuz are very friendly. Unlike the common reaction of many other Ethiopians who, when they see us, call us Farengi (foreigners), the Gumuz meet us with a smile. They see us as friends who have not forgotten them and are protecting them. They are very dark, unlike the typical Ethiopians who are a shade of brown. This is also one of the reasons they are marginalized, because many people do not see them as “racially” Ethiopian.

Catequista
Cathequist

At a certain point the catechists were dropped off at different homes. We got off the vehicle with them and started calling the young people and the children to attend the catechesis. A handshake and we looked straight into one another eyes… How did I enjoy sharing this gaze! We called out to a lot of people, but not everyone came. They are still afraid to leave their homes, considering what happened in June, when they were attacked by the Amhara. Just the same, many catechumens attended in the darkness of the night and filled this home made of wood planks where we held the catechesis.

What I saw and lived that week in Benishangul-Gumuz awakened in me contrasting emotions. Among them ideas on projects to get started, but also fears and a feeling of inadequacy. And here, during this week of retreat, it was a time to regain my confidence, for the same reason that made me say Yes, the day he sent me, like Mary, “Here is the servant of the Lord. Let it be done according to your word.” Climbing the mountain, I realize that I am not able to accomplish the mission. I am not, and we are not. But we are not alone. Oh, to accept our human frailty, our weaknesses and our dependence from God’s love at times can be so difficult! Very often to be human means to seek control of our own life. But we are mistaken. Do not fool yourself, Carolina, you are not the owner of your life. It is God’s gift. Strangely, here during the retreat I lived the day of the Lord’s Transfiguration, making it personal. I prayed. I let (and still do) this transfiguration take place in me. In fact, all I need is “not to be afraid.” Because here, on this mountain, I once again accept God’s invitation: “Get up, look, cross over, follow me, just as you are… with fears, weaknesses, mistakes, but also with gifts. Accept yourself as I created you! Follow me!” And I follow.

And as I follow him I leave you with a tender hug. I ask you for a special prayer for the mission God wants us to establish there. That it may not be the result of our European ideas of mission, but rather the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, because mission will never be our own. Mission belongs to God.

Your friend and Comboni Lay Missionary, Carolina Fiúza

In RED – Digital Magazine of the Diocese of Leiria – Fátima, #30, July 25, 2019 (available in https://leiria-fatima.pt/noticias/subir-ao-monte/ )

An (un)expected trip – News from the Ethiopia mission

Viaje

In mission between Kenya and Ethiopia, our CLM Carolina Fiúza writes for the digital newsletter of the diocese of Leiria-Fátima (RED). We share the article with you.

I write to you as I am about to end my stay in Nairobi, Kenya. It was a tourist tip I really desired. For reasons beyond my control I had to exit Ethiopia, because the visa we as missionaries use to enter the country is a business visa valid for a month. For longer stays, such as my two years, upon reaching Ethiopia, during this month we must obtain a residence certificate. But my business visa expired and, in order not to remain in Ethiopia illegally, I had to step out into Kenya for a week, then come back and start again the residence process. The exigent bureaucracy makes it difficult for us to enter the country. Perhaps we can say that, generally speaking, the history of Ethiopia is marked by demanding regimes and imperialist systems that were very controlling. This the history that marks the population! Let it suffice to say that they lived under an emperor up to 1974 and it is one of the few African countries that were never colonized… Ethiopia has history, a great history!

Feelings of sadness and frustration added up the day I found out that I had to leave. Mostly, because I had already started to attend Amharic classes two weeks earlier. So I was going to miss a week of classes at the school, which is the door to enter into the culture, where they plant the sounds of the words in our heads, making a melody that I am beginning to love. It is not an easy language! I must admit that I feel the paradox between the enthusiasm of being like a little girl learning words by imitation (how to say colors, food, animal, etc.) and being doubtful. I feel that learning quickly this language will be a complicated affair.

It was not enough just to learn Amharic, a complicated language, that now I have to go to Kenya, miss classes, slow down my learning of the language! This way I do not know when I will be able to do what I came for – mission! – This is what I was thinking.

We fall into the temptation to think that mission is to do, to be successful, to plan everything at a practical level.

But let us not fool ourselves. I am fooling myself if I think that my true mission will start the day I will begin to live with the Gumuz and start a project with my group. We forget that it is not the great things that we see and touch that will produce much life. Not a few times it is in silence that we do the most.

I could tell you that it is easy to personally understand this paradox of waiting. This time spent learning the language makes me feel the lack of practical results. By I gratefully remember the words of my friend, CLM Cristina Sousa, who is currently in the Central African Republic, when she was saying with a play on words that she was leaving for the mission to graze (pastar). To graze, translates in our Portuguese saying that if you graze, you are doing nothing. But you can change it into P’astar, namely To Be. And reflecting on these wise words I tell myself, Carolina, you have already started! The same I say to all of you… for you, mission has already started from the moment when you came to be in the world as God’s creatures.

First you are surprised, then you understand. So goes the saying. Having accepted that the Lord wanted me to know a new and wonderful country like Kenya, now I can say that it was worth coming and it was for me a necessary visit. Nairobi is like a European or North American city – it’s green and organized, despite the heavy traffic, cars, people, but it does not have the heavy air we breath in Addis Ababa. Besides studying Amharic through the audios my classmates sent me when they had internet connection, I got to know the center of Nairobi with two Kenyans, members of the Parliament Mass choir, in which I took part at the invitation of Comboni Fr. Giuseppe Caramazza. It is also a business city, and it is enough for this to glimpse at the great Kenyatta Convention Center, a 28 story building, which is the venue for many assemblies, seminars, exhibits and international meetings.

Mass

Speaking of Mass, its red soil is already a symbol of its preparation and celebration. Many people gather very early to prepare what will be the real celebration. One of the choir members told me: When you go to attend a festival or a concert, you get ready, don’t you? Therefore, we must do the same, or better, for the Eucharist, because there is no greater feast. And here, this is the rule. This is a Eucharist where nobody just comes, but participates, from children to grownups. They all have something to contribute to the banquest with their voice, dancing, palms, etc.

A transversal reality, not only in Kenya, but also in Ethiopia is that at the Eucharist you do not look at your watch. It is not the kind that lasts 50 minutes or an hour, where often we see people busy with their watch, in the hope perhaps that the Feast may be close to the end. Not so! Here the Eucharist lasts about one and a half to two hours. The rhythm is given by happy songs and dances, a well defined rhythm that awakens the soul… and then I become aware that my own body is swaying, waking up. And suddenly, after we have been filled up by this banquet that gives us life, the feast in the Lord’s house is over and those who had been invited to it linger at the entrance to converse. I look at my watch, time just flew by!

And so it is. Time here flew! Just like the hugs I am sending to you, filled with good memories.

With love, Carolina de Jesús Fiúza, CLM

Online-Digital Newsletter of the Diocese of Leiria-Fátima no. 26, June 27 2019 (available at https://leiria-fatima.pt/noticias/uma-viagem-inesperada/ )

Be mission in Ethiopia – first moments

CLM Ethiopia
CLM Ethiopia

We left back behind Qillenso, Adola and Daaye and what I saw during the journey, in this green that contrasts with everything I had seen so far since I arrived in this new place where God awaits every one of us, at least in the embrace of a prayer that, it cans travel from far away (I hope from your hearts). I take the duration of this trip to try to share (at least a grain) the wonders of this people that has received me so well.

We are in an unusual week. We take advantage of the fact that the Amharic classes will only start on June 3 (next week) to get to know the various missions of the MCCJ and also of the CLM (in Awassa) in the southern zone of Ethiopia.

Addis Ababa, is a city where pollution reigns, noise, the frenzy of the many cars and people who roam without rule through the streets. It could be seen in almost any European city if it were not for the disorder that governs here. Traveling by car is always an adventure, because the road here also belongs to animals and people (after all, the cars arrived later!). Among the several and crowded streets that exist here, the one more difficult for me to cross (until now) is the indescribable Mexico Square, point of reference for the arrival at home. Indescribable for not having words to express the pain it cause me when I see those bodies stretched out in the middle of the street, thin bodies, barely alive, some that do not see, others that have no feet to walk … Along with these bodies we can find many times the face of a child, whose lost eyes does not pass unnoticed. I imagine stories in my head that probably are his. They are malnourished mothers and their children. How it hurts to look and it hurts even more not knowing what to do!

CLM Ethiopia

This week’s trip through southern Ethiopia also allowed us to have a very different and colorful vision of this great and immense country. As we travel from Addis Ababa to Awassa, Qillenso, Adola and Daaye, the landscape changes its shapes and figures. If in Adis and Awassa there is a mantle of houses as far as the eye can see, in Qillenso, Adola and Daaye the earth is dressed in red and the green of the plants just born with the first rains. Along the way, houses are planted, with a rudimentary configuration but which are authentic works of art. The car passes and those who see us pass also look at us. I watch them also through the glass of the van. What a beautiful look! They always smile when they see us pass!

I am happy for the mission that God gave to the three of us and for which we ask for your prayers. The mission will never be ours. It is also yours. And above all, it’s God´s. Probably, and aware of this, we know that the mature fruits of this work only (and God willing) will be visible within a few years.

CLM Ethiopia

I’m fine! Feeling everything. The people, their looks, their words that I often do not understand, but I try to respond with a smile, or a look of tenderness, or using the few words I already know in Amharic. It has been a time to observe, hear, try to understand. It is also an advantage that I do not have a fluent level of English that allows me to talk a lot (and even less Amharic). I take advantage of that and I end up listening more, observing more. It’s time for that!

Our walking on the street is always a cause of looks. People look at us, as if we were something strange. For children it’s a party! They look at us and sketch daring smiles:

– Farengi! Farengi! Or China! China!

Don’t knowing what to do many times, we look at them and smile. We extend the arm and exchange a handshake. They’re all happy to touch us … it’s reciprocal!

One of these days, in Awassa, we visited the sisters of Mother Teresa, and the expected thing happened: the same reaction of the children who want to grab us … They run in our direction to touch our hands. But not just the hand. The arms, the face. They get closer, delighting in our heat. They run searching for love. And we try to give it to them. In the difficulty of not knowing much Amharic, I say the same all the times. I couldn’t limit myself to the same old words, I thought. I try to remember other things I can say, and there it comes out:

CLM Ethiopia

– Mndn new? (What is this?) – I ask pointing to my shirt.

– Makina (car) – several answer, each one in time.

I repeat the same question for other things, including the cross I bring to my chest.

And so they answer me. It’s a party for them! And for me. They do not know how much they teach me. I believe they are the best teachers I can have. They are happy with this little. As the one who is thirsty, like me.

I feel everything, even nostalgia. Great nostalgia! This also inhabits me, of course (I am Portuguese … of those very nostalgic)! As someone told me, nostalgia is the love that remains. Therefore, I always want this nostalgia to be part of me.

They have been beautiful days, full of novelty. Also within the community, with David and Pedro. In our differences, I see three pieces of a puzzle that come together and fit together. It is being beautiful as we realize what we are called to do here. We feel the weight of the responsibility of being starting to sow this grain that we want others to come to water, to reap, to harvest. The harvest here is great! But we feel a great strength of wanting to take steps. May the Holy Spirit enlighten us to take the right steps, in the right times and places.

Pray for us, for the mission and above all for this people that welcomes us and that seeks and fights for life, day by day.

With lots of love,

CLM Carolina Fiúza

Ethiopia, missionary land

CLM Ethiopia
CLM Ethiopia

Dear Comboni Lay Missionaries and friends discerning the CLM vocation! We send you warm greetings from Awassa – a beautiful city in southern Ethiopia where CLM presence has continued for already 9 years. However, changes are coming and we invite you to make this change better.

In the beginning of May Madzia ends her mission in Ethiopia and in the beginning of June also Adela&Tobiasz go back to Poland. This practically means the end of CLM presence in Awassa. Hopefully it doesn’t mean the end of the CLM presence in Ethiopia. Pedro is already in Ethiopia studying Amharic language.

Throughout all these years we experienced very good cooperation with the Ethiopian Comboni Family. MCCJ are very open for CLM presence, understand our charism and are eager to help us to settle a stable, permanent and independent presence in Ethiopia. It would really be a pity not to continue our presence in Ethiopia.

CLM Ethiopia

We, as current Ethiopian CLM group, think that now came the best time to move our presence from Awassa to Gumuz, which is the region of first evangelization in north-west Ethiopia. Gumuz people were for long time discriminated by other Ethiopian tribes and until recent years excluded from society. Things started to change with arrival of Comboni missionaries less than 20 years ago, who has shared with them Good News and helped them socially, building educational and health facilities in 3 missions (Gilgel-Beles and Gublack run by Comboni Fathers and Mandura run by Comboni Sisters). Needs of missionaries, also lay missionaries, who would come to share their time and skills is huge, both in pastoral and social work. We have to admit that the work in Gumuz area may also be quite challenging, just to mention the hot climate, many cases of malaria and typhoid and Amharic language to learn… We are sure however that satisfaction would be greater than any obstacles.

Comboni Fathers would be very happy if our movement could open a community in Gumuz. But to achieve this aim, to run this mission, we need people. We are happy that Pedro is ready to go to Gumuz; also David and Carolina are about to come to Ethiopia. For sure we would need more CLMs ready to come, to live some years in Africa among the most needy. We encourage to come to Gumuz all discerning their missionary vocation and we are sure that Daniel Comboni would do the same!

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Greetings Tobiasz & Adela, Madzia

CLM Ethiopia