Mission Diary. Sr. Maria Reina: “There is always a reason”

After her first missionary experience in Peru, she was appointed to Tapachula, in Chiapas, in southern Mexico, to work with migrants who arrive mainly from Central America and Haiti. Sr. Maria Reina Ametepé, a Togolese Comboni Sister, talks to us about her missionary experience and the new challenges she must face.

I am originally from Togo and come from the parish of Adidogome, where the Comboni Missionaries and the Comboni Sisters operate. I was baptised at the age of 13. My godmother asked me if I would like to be a Sister, but at that time I didn’t even know what being a Sister meant and I didn’t say anything.

Later, her nephew invited me to participate in the parish vocational group and I began to go occasionally. The missionaries would come to share their experiences with us. Little by little I questioned myself and asked God: “What do you want me to be in the future? When I obtained my high school diploma, which gives access to university, a Comboni Sister asked me what I was waiting for before deciding to visit a religious congregation.

I told her that the time had not yet come and I attended a retreat at the Missionary Animation Center of the Comboni Missionaries. There, when I was about to start university, I asked the Lord again “What do you want me to do with my life? In the chapel of the Comboni Missionaries, there was an image of Saint Daniel Comboni and, during a moment of adoration before the Blessed Sacrament, I came across it and was struck by his gaze.

I had read some books about his life and the Comboni Missionaries had told us about him. I learned that he was the only surviving child of his family and that he had dedicated his life to helping the Africans. I kept looking at that photo and that gaze and, in the end, I started crying. I don’t know what came over me. I began my vocational journey with the Comboni Sisters in 2007. On the fourth Sunday of Easter, World Vocations Day, I was very struck by the Gospel text that says “The harvest is great but the labourers are few”.

I started to allow other people to accompany me and this helped me discover my vocation little by little. I also participated in various groups, as an animator, coordinator or secretary, and this encouraged me to be an example and give shape to my vocation. My mother always told me “Stay in the parish, tell the priest to build you a house and then you can stay there” because I was always involved in parish activities. I began to understand that my happiness lay in carrying out activities in the service of the Lord and I realized that if I consecrated my life to God, I would have more time to serve others.

This and the Comboni motto of “saving Africa with Africa” were the spark that made me decide to become an African instrument to help my African brothers and sisters. After five years of accompaniment with the Comboni Sisters and after obtaining a degree in Sociology of Education, I entered the postulancy in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Then I did my novitiate in Uganda.

After taking my vows, I was sent to Ecuador, where I arrived in October 2017 to study Spanish and in June 2018, I was assigned to work in Peru. In Peru, my first job was on a Jesuit social education project, which provided basic education for young people who were unable to finish secondary school. We were on the outskirts of Lima, an area heavily populated by people from all regions of the country fleeing violence or terrorism.

People survive on low-paid jobs, children return home and their parents are not there because they have to go to work. Many are on the streets. The “Casita” program aimed to gather these children and help them with their homework, organize workshops on self-esteem, etc. I went to visit families to see how they lived. Little by little, people opened up and told me their worries and fears. Based on what they told me, I developed the training themes. Every year, in the summer, I taught catechists a missiology course based on Church documents.

I also collaborated with Caritas, visiting the sick and with what we called the “shared pots” during the pandemic period, preparing food for many people. In December 2022 I went to Italy to prepare for my final vows, which I pronounced on September 2 in my parish in Togo. During the preparation, I met two Mexican sisters who also made their final vows. I later returned to Peru.

I was happy to live out the experience of “saving Africa with Africa” in Peru. I had hoped to stay in my own Africa, but I found Africa in Peru and in the people there, I found the reason why I dedicated my life to God.

With my new assignment in Tapachula, Chiapas, I feel like I have to start over; it’s a new job with new people in a different reality. They told me that Tapachula is a community open to working with migrants. I am very open to discovering what the Lord wants from me. For me, it is a great challenge and sometimes I also feel helpless, being unable to meet all that is required of me.

I don’t know yet what my job will be, because I am also completing some studies and from time to time I will have to go to Guadalajara for lectures. For me, it is important to enter a reality little by little and get to know the community project to see what I can best do to help. The only thing I ask of myself is to be open to see what I can offer or what I can give.

I go with a great desire to learn and with a lot of joy. A new reality like Tapachula requires time to listen to the people, the community, and myself; a space to learn. I need time to observe, and to let people teach me. It is the Lord who sends me and I make myself available to him. I didn’t expect this change, but as they say in Peru, “there is always a reason”, and I’m happy to go. God’s ways are not our ways, we must make ourselves available to him with openness.

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