Marco Antonio Faria, a Brazilian Comboni missionary brother, shares his vocational journey and the mission he carries out among the Nuer in South Sudan.
I feel very satisfied with the path to which God has called me and which I have agreed to follow. Previously I had some goals in life that I was trying to achieve and I thought if I achieved them, I would be a happy man.
At 18 I started studying Mechanical Engineering at university, graduating at 23; and I immediately started working in a large company, with a good salary. I often went with my friends to parties and played many sports.
At some point in life, I began to reflect more deeply on the meaning of life and happiness. I asked myself many questions about my person, about my happiness. The answer was always: the love that one can give.
So, I tried to understand how to live more fully this greatest feeling of the human being. First, I joined a youth group and started helping those most in need; then, as a seminarian in my diocese and, finally, as a Comboni Missionary Brother, to be sent, in the words of St. Daniel Comboni, to “the poorest and most abandoned in the universe”, concretely, to the African people.
In 2020, after finishing basic training with the Comboni Missionaries, I was sent to the South Sudan mission and was assigned to work among the Nuer, a Nilotic ethnic group living in the Upper Great Nile region. With a semi-nomadic lifestyle, the Nuer live in flooded areas where there are no roads, no telephone network or internet. This region can only be accessed by cruising the River Nile or by helicopter.
In Nyal, where our community has settled, the only practicable means of transport is the palm-wood canoe. In this culture, men are allowed to have multiple wives. The number of wives indicates the man’s material wealth since marriage is concluded with the payment of a dowry to the bride’s father. The value of the dowry generally varies between 25 and 50 cows, taking into account factors such as the bride’s height, her health, her cooking skills and her level of education.
The figure can exceed 50 cows if the bride has completed secondary school, which is very rare, as women’s rights are almost non-existent in this society. Education is so precarious that there are almost no qualified teachers. The more qualified people look for other jobs, usually in NGOs, because they receive a much higher salary. There are no hospitals in this area. There are only small health posts where patients are often cared for by volunteers with little or no professional training. People called doctors often haven’t even finished secondary school.
Mortality is very high due to the lack of equipment, qualified medical care and medicines. In the midst of so many difficulties, our missionary presence is essential to give some sort of encouragement to these people. It is beautiful and very gratifying to see how they celebrate when we visit them in the more distant villages. There are hundreds of baptisms at each visit. The party involves the whole village. This experience is teaching me a lot.
As they say: “Kuoth a thin!”, which means “God is always present”. Without this trust in the presence of God, it would be almost impossible to live. I have also learned to understand and accept what is different and to be more compassionate. Now I realize that many things that I used to consider essential are actually not. Today, for me, the truly essential thing is to give oneself to one’s brothers according to the teachings of the Gospel. As Antoine de Saint-Exupéry states in his work The Little Prince: “The essential is invisible to the eye”.