Father João Mponda, a young Comboni missionary from Mozambique, shares his vocational experience and the evangelization work he is carrying out in Ecuador, the country in Latin America where he has been for a year.
I was born into a Catholic family, but it had never crossed my mind to dedicate my life to the service of the Lord. But things turned out different and surprising. It all started with my passion for football. In my neighbourhood, there was only one football field and it belonged to the parish. One of the conditions that the priests of Burgos, responsible for the parish, placed on the young people who wanted to go to the pitch was to participate in the Sunday Eucharistic celebration.
I was literally forced to attend Mass in order to play! And it was precisely on one of those Sundays that during the celebration the reading of Isaiah 6.8 was proclaimed: “Then I heard the voice of the Lord crying: “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?” And I replied “Here I am. Send me!” This word reached my heart and touched me deeply! I felt invited to respond personally to this call from God.
So, I began to participate actively in parish activities and, after baptism and confirmation, I felt the call to the missionary vocation. I decided to discern my vocation with the Comboni Missionaries. After completing my secondary studies, I joined the postulancy of the Comboni Missionaries.
In 2009, I began my philosophical studies at the Matola Seminary. In 2012, I went to Santarém, Portugal, for a two-year novitiate. Once this phase was completed and after having taken my first religious vows, I left for Lima, Peru, to study theology. In January 2021, I was ordained a priest.
Shortly afterwards, I was assigned to Ecuador, an Andean country where I have been for a year. I work in the apostolic vicariate of Esmeraldas, in the parish of San Lorenzo Martyr located in the municipality of the same name. The municipality of San Lorenzo has approximately 57,000 inhabitants, mostly Afro-Ecuadorians, with a minority of indigenous and mestizos. Given this heterogeneity of the population, pastoral activity has its own particular contours.
I am responsible for the three rural pastoral areas of the Comboni mission of San Lorenzo, which includes thirty-three communities. These are found in three very different geographical and cultural regions: the coast, where the Afro-Ecuadorian population is mainly found; the jungle, where the indigenous population live and the islands, where the mixed-race people have their homes.
Evangelizing in these areas is always a great challenge. It is difficult to visit communities, especially the indigenous ones and the islands where we use small canoes. In the case of the indigenous villages, we have to walk a long way, often for three to four hours. The main pastoral activities we carry out are the training of catechists and local leaders, biblical training, courses for young people and adolescents on Christian values and music courses for young people.
We recently launched an initiative called ‘Youth Encounter’, which consists of an exchange of experiences between young people from different areas through the organization of a football championship in which Afro, indigenous and mixed-race players participate. These events create mutual knowledge and greater socialization between community members.
With these training and recreational activities, we try to empower the members as people and promote a life in which human and Christian values are present, namely brotherhood, tolerance and respect. In this way, they have the tools to make conscious choices in their lives and not allow themselves to be led down the easy paths of delinquency, crime and drugs.
The situation of the mission in São Lourenço which is plagued by poverty, insecurity and widespread crime in almost all the rural communities in which we are present, seems to tell us that our work is a losing battle. However, without losing hope, we are called to persevere and implore God’s grace. Our closeness to these communities gives people comfort and hope. Our presence tells them that we are with them in the fight, that we do not abandon them despite the difficult situation they are experiencing.
The commitment that we Comboni Missionaries have towards these communities of Afro-descendants, indigenous and mestizos leads us to share our lives with these particular people and to give our lives to their service with joy and availability.
I am convinced that it is from these Christian communities – poor but full of the Holy Spirit – that various vocations to ecclesial service will emerge, including men and women who, in the name of the Church, will testify to the joy of the Gospel with all the peoples worldwide.