Johnpromise Umeozuru, a regular attendee of the Westminster Vocations Discernment Group, writes about their meeting with Sr Graça Almeida and Sr Natália Gomes from the Comboni Missionary Sisters.
The Westminster Vocation Group had its firstly monthly meeting of this year on Friday 30 January, continuing its series of meetings with religious of different congregations during this Year for Consecrated Life. This month’s speakers were two Comboni Missionary Sisters, Sr Graça Almeida and Sr Natália Gomes, originally from Portugal, but now based in their community in Chiswick. They shared with us how they had discerned God’s call early in their lives and were drawn to the life, spirituality and charism of St Daniel Comboni. St Daniel Comboni was born in Italy in 1831, and discerned God’s call to spread the Good News in Africa which he did until his death. He was canonised on 5 October 2003 by Pope St John Paul II.
Sr Graça and Sr Natália shared with us the essential charism of the Comboni Missionary Fathers, Brothers and Sisters, which is simply to tell the Good News of Jesus Christ to people who have not yet heard it, and to do so with a profound respect for the culture of those being evangelised. They also seek to help those they live besides to lead lives worthy of their human dignity through helping with education, health-care provision and issues of social justice, thus making real Christ’s call that we should ‘love God and love our neighbour as ourselves’.
The two sisters described the amazing pastoral experiences they have had in Africa (e.g. Ethiopia and the Sudan) with many colourful stories, including putting their lives at risk for the sake of Christ to the point of receiving kidnap and death threats. When asked what keeps them going in the face of such challenges, the two sisters said that prayer, living in community, commitment to their founder’s mission of evangelisation kept them grounded through the long years they have lived the religious. They also said that their mission to the poor and the marginalised in the society were key undertakings. Living in community is very much a part of the Comboni charism, something which the sisters acknowledged does not always come easy! What helps is their resolve to keep to the essentials of their mission, to not dwell on the shortcomings of one another and to practise constant forgiveness. Sr Graça and Sr Natália are energetic, passionate, fearless and profoundly committed to their mission. Indeed at 5am the morning after our meeting they were due to lead a group 30 volunteers to take emergency supplies by car to those asylum seekers caught in ‘the jungle’ camps around Calais. At the heart of their engagement with those in need is the example of the Good Shepherd who gives everything for his flock. My impression was that the sisters have always taken this calling very seriously and live their lives with an amazing commitment, trust in God and courage.
They urged us to constantly discern God’s purpose for our lives and to be ‘good shepherds’ according to the mind of Christ. As someone discerning a possible calling to the priesthood, this reminded me of Pope Francis’ words about pastors having the smell of their sheep. Meeting the sisters was a real inspiration. I have been attending this discernment group for over a year now and I can truly say what a grace it has been for me, not only because of the inspiring speakers but also to have the chance to meet so many like-minded young men and women discerning God’s purpose for their lives in the silence of the Hinsley Room next to Westminster Cathedral. This is a really blessed group, which is helping me and many others to feel supported on our journey of discerning God’s will, and giving us great food for the journey by learning from those, such as Sr Graça and Sr Natália, who have already given so much of their lives in total trust and abandonment to God’s will. The next meeting is on Friday 27 February, 7-9pm in the Hinsley Room, Morpeth Terrace next to Westminster Cathedral, when the Dominican, Fr Lawrence Lew, OP, will be the guest speaker. Highly recommended!