I thank the Lord for the gift of my priesthood and missionary life. I was ordained a priest of the Church on 8th July 2017. It’s been 12 years of joys, sorrows and perseverance since I left St. Kizito SSS Bugoloobi to join the Comboni Missionaries. My vocation is deeply rooted from my family i.e. from childhood, when my parents taught me how to pray. When I grew up, I started to participate in Church and used to sing in the choir as a young boy. All this took place in my primary school back in Ibanda. After my primary school, I was brought to Kampala for my secondary school, which I attended at St. Kizito SSS Bugoloobi.
During my secondary school, St. Kizito became my second home up to date. I entered when the school was making the 4th year and we were all treated like children by the teaching staff. We were offered a behavior change program (BCP) for a week before classes, which initiated us to the school. It was from the school that I learnt how to say the rosary in English, learnt to serve during mass and received many other Christian teachings about the Catholic faith.
I remember that when I joined the renewal (prayer group) we used to have youth conferences every holiday and I never even missed one. All these prepared me to make a strong decision that makes me a priest today. Thanks to the Fathers: Mario Imperial who started the school, Fr. Joseph Archetti who dedicated a lot for us. Thanks to Mrs. Odyek (H/T), Mr. & Mrs. Prof. Patrick Ogwok, Mr. Kabagambe and to the entire family of St. Kizito, which formed me to be a good Christian and now a priest. I am proud to be an Old Boy of St. Kizito.
Along side St. Kizito family was Mbuya Parish and Kiswa Christian community where I used to stay. The parish of Mbuya contributed a lot towards my vocation. It was from the parish that I made my final commitment. My vocation towards the Alter of the Lord started in a humble way of being an alter boy at the parish. This strengthens me more to love the missionary life as a young boy. And since the school where I did my secondary belonged to the parish, I always met the fathers from the parish who knew me well.
The search for ta way out
When time came to join the Comboni missionaries, the Vocations Director (Fr. Ruffino Ezama) asked me to go back to my village to pick a recommendation letter but surprisingly, the Parish Priest in the village couldn’t recommend me and instead asked me to be recommended where I was for the past years. I made my way back and told the vocational director who in turn gave me another letter addressed to the parish priest of Mbuya and by that time that was Fr. Joseph. He welcomed me with joy and never asked me who I was because he knew me. He took the letter and opened it. He told me to come back the following morning to pick the recommendation.
This was the beginning of my vocational journey under the parish of Mbuya. And for the many years I dedicated my energy and youthful life in helping at the church in all activities. I don’t remember how many times I cleaned, mopped or wiped the glasses or even pulled the church benches. This gave me a sense of belonging to the parish and I loved to do it with all my heart even during my holidays from the seminary.
The first taste of formation life
Notably, I received an 8 days orientation at the Comboni house and later posted to Kasaala Parish for three months experience. Thereafter, I received a letter admitting me to Philosophical Centre Jinja (PCJ) for formation. When I arrived at Jinja for postulancy in august 2006, everything was different. It took me some months to get used to the programs of the house and other adoptions of formation. So much was introduced to us both in theory and practice, e.g., opening the Breviary (prayer book) to get the right pages of the prayers of the day. Having formative encounters with the priest accompanying you. And the most challenging was writing a self-evaluation: pointing out all the aspects of your daily life. This would be given to the formator who would write his own evaluation about one pointing out the positive and negative aspects of a candidate. Along side the studies, I was also involved in pastoral activities like: the prisons, schools and visiting the needy around.
The second taste of formation
After the three years of the degree in philosophy, I was referred to Lusaka-Zambia for my novitiate. During this stage, there are several talks about our Founder St. Daniel Comboni, religious life, community life and personal prayer/ experience of God. For the two years of my stay in Lusaka I worked in the University Teaching Hospital (UTH) for my apostolate and one of the slum parish. What marked my life here was the suffering of many people that I encountered as they lay on their beds waiting for death in the hospitals. I recall of one incidence of a woman who had been bedridden for two weeks without anyone assisting her. Her body was already pilling and smelling since she was not even taking a shower or changing the position. There we were with my colleague to give help in wiping the dying woman who was abandoned by her children. We visited her several times, but after some weeks of visiting her we were shocked to come back one day and see her bed clean. We asked what had happened and the answer was she’s gone forever. This touched my feelings for some days as I prayed for her soul to rest in peace.
Another experience was the 4 months bush experience in the northeastern part of the country. Just saying ‘bush experience’ you can imagine what it means ridding 50kms on a bike, sleeping on a mat, meeting with wild animals and eating bush meat. Oh how I loved to eat bush meat!!! After the novitiate, we took our first religious vows and I was assigned to go and study in Brazil for the next stage, which was theology or what we call ‘Scholasticate’.
The other side of the sea
I stayed in Brazil for 4 years and a half; first, I studied the language and later started my studies at the Pontifical University of São Paulo. Here, my vocation continually grew as I contemplated on the mysteries of the God-man incarnation. Besides the studies, I also did pastoral work coupled with challenges as far as suffering is concerned. I did prison apostolate and for many times I visited, I was always challenged by the human understanding of justice, peace and love! Mathew (25:31-46) always rang in my mind. The love for the poor and the most abandoned of our society was manifested in the prisons. This was a manifestation of Christ being tortured, imprisoned, beaten and neglected on the Cross. As a missionary, I had to offer all that I could to manifest the love of Christ to my brothers and sisters in the prisons. This always reminded me the words of Comboni; a missionary must learn to contemplate the crucified Christ.
I thank the Parishioners of Alenga who welcomed me since I was a seminarian, saw me being ordained a deacon and accompanied me to ordination as a priest in Ibanda. The joy of being among the Langi people, learning their culture and customs, speaking their language in one year is the sign of God’s wonders among a missionary who dedicates his life for the people of God. I thank Dr. M. Kasande, family, relatives, Mbuya community, Mr. & Mrs. Peter Kasenene and all friends. May God bless you all in his great mercy.
What does it mean to be a missionary priest?
I always told the people in my homilies that in heaven there would be only one question. And this will not be how many masses did you attend, how many rosaries did you say? But there will be one fundamental question; DID YOU LOVE? If going to Mass everyday or Sunday doesn’t transform us to love one another just as Christ who in the sacrifice of the Eucharist pours Himself for our sake, then we should pause and ask ourselves why do we go for Mass? If saying the rosary doesn’t manifest in us the love of Christ who living on earth gave up everything for the sake of the Kingdom of God, then something is missing. The mysteries of the rosary through the interception of Mary must make us true disciples and missionaries of the Kingdom just as Mary was; present in the beginning of Jesus’ ministry (the first miracles of Cana Jn. 2: 1-12) and present when Jesus is offering Himself on the cross (Jn. 19: 25-27). Why say all this? A true missionary is called to love the people of God where he or she is sent. Because it’s only through Love that one understands the meaning of sacrificing his or her life to God in the missions. When the love of God seduces you like St. Paul, the consequence of everything is true dedication; it’s not I who live, But Christ in me (c.f Gal 2:20).
Fr. Vincent Rutaremwa Asiimwe MCCJ