“Experiences with the poor and hungry have given me the strength to continue living my missionary life. The good that I have been able to do is due to the collaboration with so many people. I am so thankful to all”. Father David Domingues a Portuguese Comboni Missionary tells.
People say that to commemorate is to relive, and they are right. In fact, we commemorate not just to recall stories in order to tell them, but also to relive and celebrate the past and welcome the present with renewed vigour. By building on the foundations of the past and living intensely in the present moment, we can strengthen our hope for an ever better future.
It is in this perspective that I write these lines: to recall, with deep and heartfelt gratitude, and celebrate my 25 years of priestly service in the family of the Comboni Missionaries, founded by Saint Daniel Comboni.
It all started for me at the tender age of twelve. I grew up in the simple but profound religiosity of my family and with a certain curiosity for the mission world, which at that time was still very vague. God wanted to touch my heart, not by sounding His voice from above, but by using His ‘extraordinary’ ways. I was going to catechism and, one day, the catechist asked: “Who wants to be a missionary?”, “Me!”, I answered. Everything started from there.
Saying goodbye to family, friends, and my youth football team in Calvão was not easy. But I wanted something more serious and lasting. So, in 1984, I entered the Comboni Seminary in Viseu. I was not alone! A nice group of schoolmates and the football team joined this new adventure. The thing that really cheered me up was that I had friends with whom I would play football.
During the many years of training, I saw my companions take other paths. I moved on. After 14 years of studies, on 9 August 1998, I was ordained a priest in the parish of Calvão, surrounded by my family and the Christian community that had seen me born and grow.
Since then, 25 years of grace have passed, which took me first to the north of Portugal, to Famalicão, for five years (1998-2003), and then to the unknown world of Asia, where I stayed for almost twenty years (2003-2022). If it was all down to my own will, I would certainly still be there! But we are not missionaries to do what we want. Therefore, in June 2022, I agreed to leave Asia to come to Rome where I now find myself performing a different service: this time, to the whole Comboni Institute.
Of the many beautiful experiences, I have had over the past 25 years, here I recount one that has particularly marked me. Shortly after arriving in Manila, Philippines, I could not close my eyes to the reality of the many poor who live and sleep in the streets and struggle to survive, often with what they find in the garbage from the rich.
So, I started bringing them rice, tins of food and clothes. Little by little, this became for me a pleasant habit of communion with these people, accustomed as they were to being ignored and rejected. Out of shame, they preferred to go out at night to look through the rubbish for their daily food.
One day, in one of these dumps, I came across a boy who was rummaging through the dirt. I offered him the bag of food I had brought with me and stopped to have a few words with him. At that moment, a young pregnant woman approached and said: “I am so hungry.” The boy looked at her, lowered his eyes to the bag I had just given him, and, without hesitation, offered it to her. “Take it,” he said. The young woman opened the bag, took a handful of uncooked rice and began to eat it quickly. Such was the hunger she felt!
It was experiences like this that gave me the strength to continue living my missionary life. But I am aware that the good I have been able to do has only been possible thanks to the precious collaboration of so many people who, in one way or another, have shared this commitment of mine to communion and solidarity with those most in need. So many friends and benefactors, both near and far, have supported me with great love and generosity, this adventure for me has lasted almost twenty years and has marked me forever.
In recalling the past 25 years of my priesthood, I can say that I have lived them with all my heart, with joy and sadness, and also with some difficulties and frailties, but wholeheartedly. Precisely for this reason, I celebrate this jubilee with much gratitude. I have had many mission experiences over the years, many of them unforgettable. I have met so many people who, in different ways, have been – and still are – part of my journey.
To all of them, I feel I must say “Thank you from the bottom of my heart!” A special thanks goes to my family, for all their support and for always being by my side.
Today, it is with great joy that I commemorate my 25 years of mission. It is true: to remember is to live; to remember helps to perpetuate all that the good Lord has done for me and through me, despite my weaknesses. Oh yes, it is good to remember, and it always regenerates the spirit.