“I was searching for a direction in my life, a direction which I hoped, could lead me somewhere closer to God…I was searching for this presence with the wrong initial perspectives… and it took me a while to understand that I was getting lost”. A Comboni Brother, Paolo Rizzetto, tell us his story.
I lived in a small town in the North of Italy. Till the end of my secondary school. I took part into the activities of the youth club of the Salesians in my town and besides the Sunday school, my faith was nourished in this environment. I chose to study medicine and surgery at university, probably because I was inspired by the possibility of being close to people in their moments of suffering, as Jesus did. I was aware of how demanding the task was, probably above my intellectual capability. I try to reconcile a certain liking for scientific subjects with the desire to do something useful for someone else.
By that time, I was searching for a direction in my life, a direction which I hoped, could lead me somewhere closer to God. I honestly, did not know that God was already close to me but I was searching for this presence with the wrong initial perspectives… and it took me a while to understand that I was getting lost.
Yes, because there was too much of thinking that I had to do something extraordinary to find God and that, if I could just to that, God would be more present to my life. I think my mistake was that I thought I had to deserve God! I began to explore the possibility of choosing for religious life in a situation of emotional and spiritual turmoil.
When I met the Comboni Missionaries I found that the vocation of the Comboni Missionaries was really appealing to me. I was seeing how finally the choice of my medical profession could find a direction. Through the formation process the dimensions of this vocation, its lay and consecrated nature, its concrete attachment to everyday life and the inspiration by the Holy Spirit for a concrete service to the Christian community, developed in my heart.
Well, I soon realised that at the beginning of this vocation journey I had put too much of myself… It was very much about how I was struggling to do something pleasing to God. Acknowledging my limitations and shortcoming was probably the first necessary thing I need to do in order to let God be the God of my life. Trusting in God’s mercy more than in my abilities was in fact the only and truthful thing to do. It was then that the real journey began. I professed my consecration with the first simple religious vows in 2007.
The period of the Temporary vow was a time of integration of the professional aspect into the received faith. I was called to live my vocation as Comboni Brothers in (so far) three African Countries: Uganda, Kenya and South Sudan. I can say that the specific situations that I found in this three countries, shaped my ministry as well as my personality. This was the garden where the seed of religious life blossom and in December 2015 I pronounced my final yes to the consecration for the Mission with the Comboni Missionaries: brother forever, with the help of God!
During the first missionary service I was given the chance to be posted in a rural hospital in Uganda for about three years in order to focus on professional practice. During this first time in Uganda I became more competent in the care of people with HIV/AIDS, an area which, I acknowledge, has always been one of my interests.
The second experience in mission happened to be a mixed experience of postgraduate studies and apostolate in a limit situation. I was given the chance to visit people living with HIV/AIDS in one of the slums of Nairobi, Kenya. I did not practice my profession in a hospital but I was visiting these people in their homes, being part of a reach out team in a homebased care program.
I was called in 2012 to live the third missionary service in South Sudan. There was energy in the atmosphere! The Country had just come out form a civil war in the struggle for the independence of the South form the fundamentalist rule of the North. I was happy to be able to come to South Sudan in this contingency.
My ministry has been of two different kinds in two successive periods. Firstly, I was invited to be part of an inter-congregational project of training. I was a member of the teaching staff in a school which offered a Diploma Course for Nurses and Midwives, the Catholic Health Training Institute in Wau, in the North-western region of the Country. The second service requested to me in Mapourdit in South Sudan in the Mary Immaculate Hospital. I arrived in February 2016. This is my current ministry.
What keeps me going, is the belief that my presence here is the mark of being part of something bigger than me. I often think that Africa -in general- and the Community of Mapuordit –specifically- deserve better health care than what I can offer. However, being here and now, walking with these people, the health workers and the patients of this hospital is a unique possibility to believe in Mission as complementary and mutual trust: a it can be achieved only by putting each one’s gift together and by believing that the other can and will reach were I cannot.
Life and Love. I think it is all about these two interconnected aspect of our existence. Whatever is the ministry we are called to undertake, two questions should bother our spirit, on a daily basis: where is life in this situation? And where is love? The type of answer we give to these questions, will mark the pace of who we are called to be and (maybe, later) what we are called to do.
Being a Comboni Missionary Brother is a beautiful vocation. I may not know much about other congregations. I might have chosen something different if, at certain crossroads of life, I had made different choice but answering to this call gave meaning to all choices done previously and a unifying direction.