My letter of appointment to Mexico arrived in December 2014. I was Parish Priest of Kasamba and Dean of the Samfya Deanery in the Diocese of Mansa in Zambia. This appointment surprised me and put me in a state of uncertainty and doubting. And what about learning Spanish? A short period of discernment reproached me that language problems were not an excuse for a missionary brain. I accepted the appointment.
My first contact with Mexico left me with an empty feeling. I had arrived in this new land without knowing either the language or the customs of this vast country and continent. It was a completely new world for me. Nobody understood me and I did not understand them. I can describe this important phase of my presence in Mexico as the consciousness of not knowing. Children often told me, “how can you be a Father when you do not even know a word of Spanish, what part of the world do you come from?” I could not say anything because I could not express any thoughts at all. Little by little, I learnt to speak and understand, just like a baby learning to walk, then suddenly a whole new world opened up in front of me and the sky cleared. Now, I cannot imagine the effect on me of this violent blow of feeling ignorant, depressed and discouraged. On the other hand, I cannot underestimate the brightness which unveiled the beauty of a real encounter with a world that was unknown to me.
Once I had finished my language course, I enrolled in the Jesuit University of Guadalajara (ITESO). Admission to the University made me happy. However, this was clouded by a certain anxiety about whether the training in Philosophy I was about to receive would have any relevance to my life as a missionary.
In this perspective, how was I going to reconcile my philosophical training with the pastoral work of a missionary? I think this is a legitimate question. Moreover, I would also say that this question is not a preoccupation with the future but rather more with the present. My experience may have been so unique that I consider learning the language and the insertion into the local culture was already a positive response to my missionary approach. All the more so as the time spent learning the language constitutes an integral part of my study programme in Mexico. It was during this time that I experienced the rigour of missionary requirements to further my knowledge because I realised that there were many things that I did not know.
By the time I started to speak Spanish, I was finally wondering if anyone could claim the honour of considering themselves a specialist in any field. We do what we call “specialised studies”, but in my experience, there is never a time when we can claim to be a complete specialist. It would be illusory to hope that being sent for higher studies makes one a better person than a farmhand in a village. The little that I have just learnt makes me realise that higher studies are only a step on the journey of a process of humanisation because, being already human, we are always called to be more human. Without any doubt, the world and society can function just as well without my “speciality,” even without Philosophy.
In the midst of all this questioning, there is also a dawn that rises up as in a dream. The experience of my presence in Mexico for studies opens up for me a dimension of noticing the reality of things. It gives me the elements to have, to some degree, a worldview of mission. Studying gives me an assured motivation to be what we are called to be: “Apostles and nothing but apostles,” full of the Spirit and knowledge. I understand now, without misgivings, that philosophy is nothing other than formative knowledge to the extent that it offers me a certain determined approach to tackle fundamental human questions which include those of the missionary apostolate, which is our common project. From now on, to anybody who asks me the question about the impact of my studies on my life and mission, I would reply: “I am sure of one thing, I understand myself better and that helps me to better understand others and the world surrounding me.” I think that the mission is based on this attitude of knowing oneself which I consider to be fundamentally evangelical.
Coming to a more practical question, I live in an already existing community, firstly, I do not feel that I am outside of community and that is important for me to feel the support of my confreres. Secondly, I do not feel remote from the daily reality of people live. The widely differing contexts of the country in which I live constitutes a crossroads between conjecturing and the lived experience of everyday life and that always makes me think hard about the existential challenges facing the African world.
I am also keen to point out that sending a confrere for specialised studies to an already existing community, as in my case, can have a positive outcome on the condition that the welcoming community has been well briefed and well informed about the confrere. The Society’s policy on specialized formation is crucial for many of our companions because, at this stage of their human formation, they are once again setting out on the path of knowledge in order to serve better and be better missionaries in Africa creating mutual support among themselves and in the service of the whole Church.
Dieudonne Rizinde, M.Afr.