Fr. Louis Tony Okot Ochermoi, a Sudanese Comboni missionary shares with us his vocation journey. “How can I become a Comboni Missionary?”.
During my childhood, my father and elders in our village, Iboni, shared about two Comboni missionaries and their trips to the Lafon mission to celebrate the sacraments and important liturgical feasts. When the Comboni Missionaries were expelled from Sudan in 1964 there were few diocesan priests. Therefore, our elderly catechists cared for us pastorally. These catechists lived their vocation with passion and fidelity.
These catechists sowed in me a passion for mission and love for people. Unfortunately, due to civil war, my family fled to Uganda. We returned in 1973 and settled in Juba where I continued with my education. I frequented St. Theresa of the Child Jesus, the Cathedral parish for masses and other liturgical celebrations.
During my Senior Secondary School in Juba Day, a Comboni Missionary taught us religion. Through his radical and prophetic lifestyle and missionary zeal a new dream and direction was born in me. One day, during break time, we asked him several questions: Are you married? Why are you here? In a few words, he shared with us about Comboni. Then from his old missionary handbag, he distributed to us a book: “A Heart for Africa”, and added, “You can also become a Comboni Missionary…”.
That day, I walked back home alone reading that book several times. Comboni’s passion, dream and love for Africa captivated me. I could not resist loving the bearded man. Comboni was a foreigner. Unlike others at the time, he never came for the slave trade and other personal interests but brought us God and empowerment.
Through this encounter, God seduced me to dream together with him for his Kingdom. I did not know how it would be done. But I only surrendered to Him with a little knowing faith. This was an invitation to follow St. Comboni in his passion and zeal for Africa. One day, after the lesson, I asked to the Comboni Missionary : How can I become a Comboni Missionary?”.
He invited me to join the group of youth who were preparing for baptism, and confirmation and others who were Comboni aspirants. Here, my journey to become a disciple and a Comboni Missionary gained momentum. I arrived at the Comboni House compound at 5 pm on 5th October 1987 to join the Pre-postulancy.
During my basic formation (1988-1997), the formators helped me to clarify my vocation motivations and to know the Master who was calling me. I grew in my intimate relationship with God and Jesus Christ. My passion for mission and people swelled. On 24th April 1993, I made my first vows. I took my final vows on 22nd December 1996 and on the 25th May 1997, I was ordained priest in my parish St. Mary in Iboni.
Five months later I travelled to Peru. I was assigned to the community of Chorrillos, in the periphery of Lima, “Cristo Misionero del Padre” parish. The parish comprised fifteen well-organized chapels. We had active parish pastoral agents. We planned, implemented and evaluated together the parish pastoral plan. The parish was a model of a Church that “goes out”. We had a general parish annual and monthly objective. The parish was self-sustaining.
I remember that, initially, I was shy but after insertion, I enjoyed the pastoral work. My confreres helped me in my process of learning the Spanish language and insertion into parish life. Sometimes, the language learning and insertion process drained my energy. I had moments of discouragement and frustration.
The atmosphere of teamwork and care for each other both in the parish and community life helped me to live a positive missionary life and to enlarge my missionary horizon. I learned to work with and value the role of laypeople in the Church. They are instrumental in the building of a Christian community and the insertion of a missionary in the mission.
In October 2004, after this positive missionary experience in the parish, I was appointed as formator in the postulancy. During this period, I learned to accompany young people in their vocation discernment journey. It was a different environment and ministry where we walked together in search of Jesus.
I returned to Sudan in 2005 after the signing of the “Comprehensive Peace Agreement” in Kenya and after participating in the Comboni Year (an in-house refresher course) in South Africa in 2009. I was assigned to the Kajo-keji mission in 2009. I served both in the Comboni schools and in the parish. After the missionary experience in Peru, it was a blessing working in country. The schools welcomed children of different backgrounds. We joyfully cared for their spiritual needs. The feast of St. Comboni was celebrated by all as if we were all Catholics; it was clear that he was a mentor to all.
In 2011, I was appointed Vocation Promoter. I cheerfully embraced this ministry to work and accompany young people in their vocation discernment process. Throughout the country, I travelled to speak of vocations despite the numerous challenges facing the country and the youth. I returned to Kajo-keji to open a Pre-postulancy with the first group of Pre-postulants from 2013 to 2014. In 2015, we moved to our permanent residence in Juba.
When I started to get immersed in formation again, the confreres elected me in October 2016 as the Provincial Superior. I served for two terms from January 2017 to December 2022.
This service was another challenging but enriching missionary experience journeying with confreres in the missions. To follow the Master, to be a “Servant” is costly and needs the assistance of the very Master to serve others with humility and love. I thank God for this experience.
As of January 2023, our superiors in Rome assigned me to “go out” to the North America Province. I embrace this new assignment with humility, faith, hope and passion for Christ, mission and humanity.