Vocation Story: My mission service, listening

Fr. Pawe Opiola, is a Comboni Missionary from Poland. He is working as parish priest in Kanyanga Parish, among the Tumbuka people in Zambia. He tells us his story.

Life in Kanyanga Parish is always vibrant, never boring. Visiting people in the 13 outstations is quite demanding and tiring, especially during the rainy season when the roads are difficult to pass, but meeting them and staying with them rewards my efforts many times over. They always show a big desire to listen to the Word of God and to celebrate the Eucharist.

Even when I am in the centre, life is never a routine. People flock to me with their problems. I read on their faces the hope that I may help. Many times, I feel powerless before their many requests, but I always listen to them: I set aside what I am doing, sit back and give them my full attention. Nothing is more important than what they have to say. They open their hearts, share their pains… and healing occurs. They go back home with joy and new energy.

I am deeply convinced that my primary missionary service consists in listening. Listening, of course, implies understanding, and understanding is fostered by learning other cultures and languages. Being Polish, when I first arrived in Zambia, I experienced several cultural shocks. Yet, far from discouraging me, they stimulated me to know more and more about the people. Today I can say that I am fluent in Chitumbuka and I feel at home with the local culture. People say I have become one of them. An exaggerated compliment, no doubt, but not an insincere flattery.

I sincerely love the people I am living with, and I believe they feel loved by me. Without love, no work of evangelisation is possible. If I want to be a tangible sign of Christ’s presence among them, I must try to be what Christ was: incarnate love. It goes by itself that the art of loving does not come automatically. One has to learn it daily through prayer.

Proclaiming the Word of God and celebrating sacraments literally thrills me. People long to meet Christ. They hunger for the Eucharist and feel disappointed if I fail to reach them in their outstations. Quite often, the sacrament of reconciliation is for many of them a real encounter with God’s mercy, and I am deeply moved when I see it at work. Few weeks ago, a woman asked me to hear her confession. She was lying on the ground crying, almost paralyzed by her guilty conscience. The absolution was indeed what it really means: “to loosen, to release, to untie’: With her eyes filled with joy, she stood up and walked away free and straight. She was completely changed.

Being with people is my favourite pastime. I visit families, read a passage of the Gospel and bless those present. They consider this a ‘gift from above’, the best they can receive. I totally agree with Pope Francis: “In fidelity to the example of the Master, it is vitally important for the Church today to go forth and preach the Gospel to all: to all places, on all occasions, without hesitation, reluctance or fear. The joy of the Gospel is for all people: no one can be excluded.  I want to be a minister of a dynamic Church that opens to the world and does not withdraw into herself and her internal problems; a Church that keeps her eyes on the many geographical and existential ‘periphery’ of the world where God loves to be present with his love. My prioritising evangelisation does not bring me to forget human development. For instance, three years ago we built a health centre in Mwira, the poorest zone of our Parish.

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