“I am living out this service by trying to witness and share the beauty and joy of the Mission with these young women who wish to offer their lives as missionaries of the Gospel”. Sr. Salome Wangari, Kenyan, talks to us about her experience as a formator of future missionaries.
Missionary life urges you to accept many and varied services, and since 2019 I have been the novice mistress of the novitiate that the Comboni Missionaries have in Namugongo (Uganda). We are currently three formators for 16 novices, five of whom are in their second year and the others in their first. These girls are young and full of life. They are all African, originally from Togo, Uganda, Malawi, Mozambique, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), South Sudan, Chad and Zambia. Since I am Kenyan and another of the sisters on the training team is Italian, we have ten different nationalities which represents an enormous resource, even if coexistence is not always easy.
I live this service trying to witness and share the beauty and joy of the Mission with these young people who wish to offer their lives as missionaries of the Gospel. It is true that you can only give what you have, which is why I share with the novices the spiritual and missionary capital that I have acquired in the different places I have been. My first destination was Cameroon, where I arrived with the excitement of a new experience and suffered a lot while learning French. Then I was sent to the DRC, specifically to Kisangani, a martyr city for everything its inhabitants had suffered during the wars of the 1990s.
My experience there was beautiful and inspiring at the same time. When I arrived, Kisangani was going through a time of healing and reconciliation and I thought that with my theological studies, I would evangelize and change things, but I had to “Take off my shoes” because it was “Holy Ground”. I needed time to interact with people and understand why they behaved the way they did. I learned that they didn’t need an intellectual but a partner in their daily struggles. I found that in the school where I taught, I had to step out of my comfort zone and sit with the teachers in their houses to learn about the real lives of the population.
Now in Uganda, everything is different. The formation of these young novices is complex. Those who come from Francophone or Portuguese-speaking countries must travel to Kenya before starting the novitiate to learn English, so when they arrive in Namugongo the language will not be a problem. In addition to the studies, they carried out before arriving at the novitiate, they undergo training together with novices from other congregations on the Bible and fundamental notions of theology. Meanwhile, at home, we help them to get to know well our Congregation and the meaning of consecrated life. We greatly insist on self-knowledge and the value of work, service and community, so important in the daily life of our missionary communities.
The girls do various practical and manual jobs, such as cultivating a small vegetable garden. At least one day a week they play sports and Fridays are dedicated to the apostolate. Some novices go to Kampala prison, others teach catechism in schools, others work in a shelter for street children and still others bring communion to the sick and visit the elderly. I usually accompany this last group and, even if I have not yet managed to learn the local language, I am happy to visit the elderly people, who show great joy in seeing us. Some live alone and no one thinks about them. There are also people who don’t really understand what we do and ask us why we aren’t married and don’t have children.
In this service as a trainer, I often remember Comboni’s phrase: “I die, but my work will not die”, because it helps me give meaning to what I do by preparing new missionaries to send into the world. This makes me sleep soundly every night.