While visiting the small hermitage of St Damiano, in Assisi (Italy) I heard that the Crucifix spoke to St Francis there and told him: “Build My house”. Those words resounded also inside my heart as I was a student in a technical institute for building constructions. I had already clear in my mind that I should seek in life something more than merely building houses. Moreover, I also realized that relationships will be fruitful when built on love for God.
During springtime 1993 I accompanied a friend of mine who invited me to attend a youth meeting at the house of the Comboni Missionaries in a nearby town. I already knew something about them through their publications. I heard also about some Comboni missionaries: one among them was Fr. Egidio Ferracin, martyr in Uganda, whose sister lived in my neighbourhood and whose nephew was my football companion. At that meeting I came to know more about them, especially about St Daniel Comboni and his vision for the mission in Africa. I wondered whether this could have been the way offered to me by the Lord.
After a month I went back to the Comboni community to meet the vocation director and I asked him to accompany me in the discernment about my vocation. During all the year I witnessed that the Lord, by calling me, called also them to deepen their faith and strengthen their missionary spirit.
I joined the seminary in September 1994 and through all stages I was helped to deepen my vocational motivations, to grow as a person with a sound spiritual life and knowledge. During this time of formation I also matured more interest and concern for the people and mission in Africa, particularly in South Sudan. I was ordained on September 4, 2004, by a Franciscan Bishop and I was assigned to South Sudan. I just felt grateful for how the Lord made everything just happen in my life. Everything had a purpose.
I arrived in South Sudan on the year of the comprehensive peace agreement (2005) – a year of great hope – and I was sent to form a new Comboni community in the mission of Old Fangak (Jongley State). People welcomed me warmly and the confreres as well: I learnt a lot from them. Nonetheless the first period was not easy: I had to put much effort to get on with the people in this very poor set up and find my place or rather understand what kind of contribution I could offer.
At the beginning I did not know what to do, but it was clear where I had to start from: learning their language. So, I put much effort to learn the Nuer Language. I also learnt to be patient and go the way people do journey with them. During the first years we were also concerned to put up the structures of the new mission in semi-permanent material. We did it counting on the volunteer work of the Christians under the direction of Bro. Raniero Iacomella. It was a great occasion to join hands and work together.
Fr. Antonio La Braca was mostly concerned to introduce me into the pastoral work. The first thing he did was to take me around to visit all the chapels and centres of the parish (about 60). It took almost one year and half because most places are reachable only after days of walking through bushes and swamps. Each chapel was organized as a small Christian community ministered by the catechist: in most places the priest could reach only once or twice a year. During this visits we were accompanied by catechists, women and youth.
As soon as I got confident with the language, I could put hand to another building: the spiritual building of the Christian communities that needed much leadership, coordination and encouragement. Christian communities were in fact there before the arrival of the missionaries, but they were facing many challenges. Chapels and Centres were very disconnected among themselves, so I had to work much to bring them together through the activities of the youth and a common pastoral plan and calendar of activities. Then, I realized that catechists and Church leaders were in need of spiritual and catechetical formation. Therefore in the parish centre we offered a rich programme of courses for the different groups of the parish.
Relationship is actually the key for a fruitful mission rather than many other enterprises. We must be close to the people and their daily struggles. We must also promote a spirit of communion among the Christians so that the Church can visibly be seen as a family where people have a sense of belonging that goes beyond their clan and tribe. As I look back to these ten years of pastoral work, I (personally) did not build much, but we (together) built a Christian community more mature in faith and concern for each other. This I believe is the House of Jesus. I am grateful to the Lord that let me live in his house and with his people. Since the end of October 2016, I am now the animator of the community of Pre-postulants in Juba. (Father Christian Carlassare)