Father Guerlain-Joachim Biseka, from the Democratic Republic of Congo, reflects on the missionary experience in a different context.
Two years ago, I arrived in Costa Rica, Central America. I was assigned to the parish of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, located in the southwest of San Jose, the country’s capital. They have asked me to do a pastoral follow-up in the well-known Barrio Cuba, with special attention to youth ministry. Although in the parish there is a nice family atmosphere between the apostolic groups, the commissions and the movements I believe could be more missionary.
I come from a country where religion, especially Christianity, is part of people’s daily lives. The churches are large and almost always full, at least in Kinshasa, my city. In contrast, here our parish temple is very small and, even so, people cannot fill it. We have two daily masses, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, but few people come.
As an African and foreigner in another country and on another continent, I know that I have to adapt to this reality and not make too many comparisons. Although I felt a certain fear of not being accepted, from the beginning people made that fear dissipate. The experience of the catholicity of the Church, of its universality, is a reality that amazes me. The Ticos, as Costa Ricans are called, have welcomed me very well. This has opened me to the hope of being able to live this time of Mission intensely.
In Barrio Cuba, they have a lot of respect for God, whom they consider the origin of everything. “God first”, people often say, who are very religious and devoted to the saints and especially the Virgin Mary. They come daily to ask for the sacrament of confession and we go to visit the sick and elderly people who require our presence.
Those who get involved in the life of the Church do so with great love, although there are others who have distanced themselves from it and their faith is dying. I feel that there is a great need to revive these people and I believe that to do so, the best option is to promote close pastoral care where we can talk heart to heart. Visits to families are very important as people are very happy to welcome us into their homes, share with us their lives, their food and receive God’s blessing.
During last Christmas, I was surprised by the attention and generosity of the parish faithful towards the children. The rich parishes in the centre of the city gave us a lot of toys and sweets for the little ones in the neighbourhood. More than 300 children, Catholics and non-Catholics, benefited from this aid.
The parish also organizes so-called “parish fairs”. Some benefactors have donated from their gardens vegetables, fruits and flour with which food is prepared to sell. Poor people can buy it very cheaply or take it for free if they can’t pay anything. This is how you see the generosity of simple people, who have a big heart to help the Church and the missionaries. The money obtained at these fairs remains to cover parish expenses. Additionally, on the last Friday of each month, in collaboration with some companies, food is offered to 45 poor families.
I have to thank the Lord because he has been good to me and has sent me to a parish that is considered a large family with numerous children. I feel called to accompany them in both spiritual and material things, and that makes me happy.