Brother José Eduardo Macedo de Freitas is a Portuguese Comboni missionary working as a nurse in the hospital of Kalongo, Uganda. He tells us how his missionary vocation came about and what he is doing in the field of healthcare in Africa.
I was born in Santo Estêvão de Briteiros, a village in the municipality of Guimarães, in Portugal. The Comboni Missionaries used to visit my family frequently even before I was born. As a young boy, I started to participate in different activities in the house of the Comboni Missionaries in Vila Nova de Famalicão.
During the years of formation and vocational discernment, I realized that God was calling me to be a Comboni Missionary Brother. Direct and close contact with people, fraternity building, and evangelical witness through professional service made me – and still make me – incarnate the words of Jesus: “… that the blind may see, the lame may walk… and the Gospel be preached to the poor” (cf. Lk 7:22).
I took my first religious vows in 2004. Then I studied nursing in Lisbon. The course offered me not only theoretical and practical training but also a vision of closeness and openness to people, especially the most vulnerable. This ‘spirit of closeness’ allowed me to grow in my identification as a Comboni Brother and a nurse.
For me, the mission is an encounter, a search for points of contact, a communion of emotions and experiences. We are men and women made up of a myriad of relationships that, when processed and integrated, make us more human and healthier. Our founder, St Daniel Comboni wanted his followers to be ‘holy and capable’.
I feel that my missionary vocation and my profession form a unity. The two dimensions make room for that ‘depth of encounter’ proper to the heart. Victor Frankl (Austrian psychiatrist and philosopher, one of the founders of existential analysis and logotherapy) said that the human person is a unity, despite the multiplicity of his or her dimensions. In the various ‘spaces of human encounter’, I fulfil with my ‘hands’ the option of life that I embrace with my heart.
When, in 2013, I was assigned to Uganda, in the Karamoja region, I soon realized what this ‘spirit of closeness’ meant to me. While organizing the pharmacy at Matany Hospital from 2013 to 2019, I realized how being close and available to others challenged me. There I discovered, in myself and in others, the need for freedom and contact with our deep humanity and our own history, what really moves us, and the wounds we carry within us.
The challenge that the “other” represented for me led me to seek accompaniment training to facilitate human and spiritual growth. During this training, I realized that growth through pain opens us up to deeper realities and, by accepting such pain, we are able to discover potential and energy “capable of moving mountains”. There is no resurrection without a cross, nor is there glory without pain.
I am writing to you right now from Kalongo. I have been for a month and a half among the Acholi in northern Uganda. A landscape of green expanses and beautiful mountains. I felt enriched on this trip, which was a grace and a gift from God.
Being a brother is the greatest wealth I can offer: a reality that goes beyond professional training, although the latter is an essential dimension to realize my vocation in holiness and ability.
I remember the testimony of a friend from Matany. He came to see me and said he wanted to talk to me. I suggested he turn to the priest, but he said: “I want to talk to you. You are different. You are one like us. Brother among brothers”. This is the closeness that the vocation of brother offers and demands: to be a brother to the other, and the other is my brother and sister.
In Kalongo, I am an ‘extra stone’ in the building. I am a brother in an immense family of brothers and sisters, where all contribute with their gifts to the establishment of the Kingdom of God. I try to listen to and follow the Master of Nazareth, knowing that I am called to “carry the cross day after day” (cf. Lk 9:23). We are all aware of the difficulties we encounter in our lives (individualism, climate change, conflicts, wars…), but we all have the inner capacity to choose the wisdom that can come from facing and overcoming these challenges. When I can live consciously in the present, then I am a gift to others, and Jesus becomes present in us. It is not so much ‘what we do’ that transforms the lives of others, but ‘who we are’ – and ‘the way’ we live and express this true being of ours.
I remember that, on the first day of my training in the palliative care unit, a woman, already well into her old age, told me: “I am going to die”. Both she and I knew it was true! During these days, I was a friendly presence for her, and she was a great gift to me: she taught me to have hope even when torn by pain. On another occasion, a Comboni Sister, looking me in the eye, said to me: “Brother, remember that your life and vocation are much more important than the service you can offer”.
I do not forget that each of us is called to be ‘life in abundance’ for others. This, after all, was the reason why Jesus came: “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (Jn 10:10).