I consider each stage on my formation journey momentous. Each step was a hurdle that came with its baggage of opportunities for self-discovery and more growth. Particularly, the gift and challenge of having to be formed with students of different cultures, nationalities, some younger than me, right from the pre-postulancy to the Scholasticate. Such an environment afforded me space for continual self-examination and purification of my motivation. In many instances, much was demanded of me due to the age difference, something that helped me to be always vigilant.
Initially I had to struggle with the transition of starting a new way of life, giving up all my independence and projects and submitting to my formators to be formed and helped to grow. I am really indebted to my formators who midwifed this transition, notwithstanding the storms that had to be weathered. For instance, my formator in the postulancy, Fr Daniel Villaverde, always encouraged me that what counts is the quality of service but not the number of years that one has served or ministered. It is in the Scholasticate that our formators, Fr Lelo and Fr Casillas opened vistas for us to experience integral formation and explore leadership and creativity. I will always cherish the many moments our confreres in the different missions joyfully hosted us for mission exposures. It was an opportunity to have a lived experience on the concerns of our different missions in the world and to make our studies useful.
Values based Formation
I am grateful that I have been formed for life; my formators journeyed with me and showed me by examples that it is far much better to be more than to have more. It has been a formation hinged on values that many education systems in the world do not offer. In the pre postulancy, I encountered for the first time community life and I learnt the joys and struggles of witnessing and evangelizing as a community. This short experience helped me to live with confreres from other cultures and nations both in the novitiate and the Scholasticate. I remember my formator in the postulancy stressing the need for detachment and always going an extra mile in what we do. He not only said these but we saw him acting on it. I learnt how to make sacrifices and to take studies seriously. Seriousness in studies was coupled with a high sense of time management and discipline. My formator in the postulancy, Fr Jesus Lobato, always reminded us that we are formed in the best ways and taken to good Universities so that we can minister and serve people better. Indeed there was no room for mediocrity with respect to academics.
Prayer life, both personal and communitarian has been at the centre of my formation journey. Along this line other values that were inculcated included: detachment, service, self-control, moderation, hardwork, perseverance, creativity, stewardship, accountability, spirit of community, solidarity, tolerance, flexibility, continuous reflection and evaluation, self-confrontation, and fraternity. I have never forgotten the spirit of living with intensity and going an extra mile. This was emphasised in the novitiate by my novice master, Fr Pierpaolo, and it is in the missions that I found its fullest expression or lack of it.In the Novitiate, we produced our own crops and stuffed the store with different variety of homemade jam and juice. This was the greatest lesson on self-reliance and healthy feeding. We were formed not to be consumers but producers. Indeed in the spirit of the founder, the little things and the sacrifices we made daily as individuals and as a community helped us to grow in dying to oneself like a grain of wheat (Jn 12:24). In fact the Socius, Fr Moroni, always reminded us missionary life entails slow martyrdom, something that has started making sense now that I am out of the formation house.
In line with St Daniel Comboni
Comboni was a great gift to the people of Africa. This is seen in his conception of Africans in his introduction to the Plan for the Regeneration of Africa.In no uncertain terms his letter on the day he came back to Africa after illness suffices to show how dear Africa was to his heart. Such sentiments were incomparable; he was not just sentimentalizing or romanticizing but speaking from an existential point of view; his writings explodes with what he lived. It is devoid of rhetoric and leads the readers to the envisage a different world for the Africans, a world of justice and equity as envisioned in the book of Revelation.
It is very difficult to see a conflict between what he wrote and what he lived. I find this irresistible in Comboni. His passion for the people of Africa and the Cross is unexampled. His spirit of detachment and sacrifice was exceptional. His resilience and courage in face of difficulties and determination to get what he wanted for the good of the African people challenges any establishment. Infact his novelty and passion to embrace the cross and to ask for more for the good of the Africans is unprecedented. Most importantly is his open heart to forgive and reconcile with those who presented calumnies against him.
Paraphrasing Fr David Glenday MCCJ, I see myself having been led by gratitude to see how Grace has unlocked the mystery of my existence. Moreover I have seen also how the same grace has been crystallising in my salvation history as providence. The Comboni formation has increased in me a desire to work for the liberation of the African continent. I believe the best way of doing this is to continue increasing my knowledge about Comboni and share his vision for Africans. As we prepare to celebrate 150th anniversary of our institute, I am convinced that there is still plenty of untapped heritage from his life that can help in living my vocation today. I began this journey in 2007 and was ordained a priest on 16th July 2017. Yet I know that my ordination does not complete me; on the contrary, itis,infact, another bold step towards more life, greater growth, service and deep knowledge and love of God and St Daniel Comboni ( Acts 20:24).
BY FR. ROBERT KINENA NDUNG’U MCCJ