Rome, Monday, October 17, 2011
"I still have not done much, but I'm here. I think the key to our mission is to be alongside the marginalized people. People living with very little, almost nothing, but who sing, dance and laugh," writes Elias Gomes, registered nurse, who works as a Comboni Lay Missionary in the Central African Republic.
We publish below excerpts of the letter Elijah Gomes sent to the Comboni Lay Missionaries (CLM) in Portugal:
"We are at the end of September. Already some time ago we finished the Sango language course and the integration period. But I still do not feel ready to speak Sango. Also with regard to work, I’m doing very little, but I’m in no rush to just "do things". For now, I collaborate with some French soldiers that every four months come for a week, helping the mission in the campaign against “Pian” a contagious infectious diseases, especially among the pygmies.
My first contact with the country was positive. I found many similarities with the Africa that I already knew: the warmth, humility, the red earth, the colors, clay houses, markets and "stalls" in the street at dusk, at night the drums and aromas, in particular the strong smell of drying cassava, and above all the joy of the people and the laughter of children.
During this period, more than learning the language or beginning to do many things, what was important was the contact with the people and a completely different reality. I speak of the Aka pygmies. I accompanied the Comboni Sisters to sewing classes in an encampment and have helped to clear fields for planting. I sowed millet and I planted banana trees. I also accompanied them on visits to mission schools. On Good Friday I attended a Way of the Cross, at seven in the morning, in an encampment in the forest. It was a unique experience. I have no words to describe what I experienced. I still have not done much, but I'm here. I think the key to our mission is to be alongside the marginalized people. People living with very little, almost nothing, but who nevertheless sing, dance and laugh.
Also in Mongoumba I had some rewarding experiences. In the first week I had the opportunity to take part in the pastoral visit of our Bishop, Mgr. Guerrino Perin, to the parish. The second week, we had a visit from Dr. Onimus, French orthopedic, who for five days visited and operated on children hospitalized in the mission’s Rehabilitation Center. In late May, in collaboration with the French army, I participated in the campaign against the “Pian”, helping with vaccination in five encampments.
Meanwhile, I have begun to do small things in the health field, but not much because the clinic of the mission has been closed for some time. Our work is mainly to ensure that the Aka patients are well cared for in the hospital and integrated into the national health system, because there is still a lot of discrimination. In collaboration with Caritas, we support six health centers – at the moment I only know of two - and also the medicine depot.
During my leisure time, I prepare the milk for malnourished children and orphans we care for. When I have a free day I accompany my colleague on visits to schools. So far I have always been well received and I am happy to be here. I only ask the Lord for the strength to continue to work with humility and love.