The Mexican Comboni Sister Lilia Karina Navarrete Solís, talks to us about her vocational and missionary journey.
When I was small, my mother and aunt often took me to a Salesian chapel near our house. I was part of the choir and on one occasion a lady came to tell us about an African country that was at war at the time. Listening to her, I thought: “I would like to go to a place like that, where I can give meaning to my life and for which it would be worth leaving everything”.
Leaving the church, the lady gave me a flyer from the Comboni Missionary Sisters with an address on the back. I was very young and didn’t have the courage to ask her for more information, but I took that paper with me and kept it as a treasure.
Over time, I began studying nursing and working to help the family economy.
One day, curiously, my work took me to a parish where someone gave me another booklet from the Comboni Sisters. It couldn’t be a coincidence. So, I decided to contact the missionaries. From then on, I began to participate once a month in vocational meetings and, when I finished my studies, I asked to enter the Institute. My mother didn’t accept my choice to be a missionary, but since the training was in Guadalajara and I didn’t have to leave Jalisco, she was satisfied. I deepened my relationship with Jesus and immediately identified with the ideals of St. Daniel Comboni, founder of the Comboni Sisters.
At the end of this first stage, I was sent to Brazil to continue my formation. It wasn’t the Africa I had dreamed of, but it was a first step towards serving the Lord outside my country. After three years I returned to my family to say “yes” to the Lord and consecrate my life to the mission. My joy was even greater when I was assigned to Mozambique. And while my heart was overflowing with joy, my mother’s was overflowing with sadness; yet she accompanied me heartbroken, but full of love.
I thought I was ready for a mission in Mozambique, but I soon realized it would be the people who would teach me how to be a missionary.
I remember that in Magunde, in the province of Sofala, I had an encounter that changed my life. A woman came to the maternity ward where I worked as a nurse, and since there were no doctors, I delivered her baby. While she rested, I bent down to examine the baby. She saw the cross I was wearing, took it in her hand and asked me: “What is it?” I don’t remember my answer, but I do remember my surprise that she didn’t know Jesus Christ. I was with her when she gave birth and I felt I was in the right place.
During the rainy season, our mission was immersed in mud, and it was almost impossible for vehicles to move around. Sometimes our health centre ran out of food and medicine. On one of these occasions, when we were short of everything and were full up as well, a very sick lady knocked on our door. She had travelled 40 kilometres to get to our health centre. I remember that when we explained to her that we couldn’t cure her because we had no food or medicine, she listened to me very carefully and after a pause, she said: “I came here because I know you would welcome me with open arms. If you have no medicine for me, at least let me die in your company.” I was speechless. I understood that if people came to the mission, it was not because of what we said about God, but because of who we were and what we did as women consecrated to serve the people.
In the community of Jambe I learned what it means to worship God in spirit and in truth. Jambe is three kilometres from our mission and when I could, I liked to participate in the Sunday celebration of the Word. It was a short walk through the fields and across a small river. The Christians would gather in the shade of a tree where they hung a cross. I had never seen such a thirst for the Word of God. What attracted Christians was the encounter with God, listening to his Word and sharing their faith.
Five years later I had to leave Mozambique to continue my nursing service in Italy, accompanying elderly and sick nuns. There I met sisters who had left everything to follow the missionary ideal and give their lives for 50 or 60 years in many parts of the world. During the pandemic, I did everything possible to prevent the virus from entering our home, even though the virus did take away some of our sisters.
I have been in Spain since last year to work in youth ministry and in mission promotion. I am also happy to see this assignment as a continuation of God’s work in me. What started out as a simple desire has become a choice that gives meaning to my life. The “yes” that I pronounced before the Lord on the day of my consecration as a Comboni missionary continues to be strongly alive in me. I have received more than I could give.