By Akizou Gerard Kamina SVD
“The poor have a privileged place in the Gospel. In a world deeply scarred by injustice and inhuman living conditions, our faith calls us to recognize the presence of Christ in the poor and the oppressed.” (C. 112)
Upon my arrival in Brazil, I discovered that the pastoral guidelines of the Divine Word Missionaries are based on this constitution of our religious order. Current political and economic situations are deeply affecting Brazilians of low and middle classes. Such was the context in which I found myself.
Though I focused on language learning during my first months in Brazil, I decided to also do pastoral work at Nossa Senhora da Aparecida (Our Lady of Aparecida) parish in São Paulo.
My first pastoral experience was with our homeless brothers and sisters. Every Thursday, my fellow volunteers and I served meals to them. Before each meal, we prayed together to show solidarity in struggles and to rely on God’s assistance. Through prayer, we all asked God to provide for our future ministry and mission.
I admire the women who cook for those in need. They are devoted and committed. I also admire the recipients, the people who are homeless. I admire their ability to show up with high spirits. We share an hour of happy time. The goal is not so much to cook for those without homes but to build a community with them.
We eat the same meal. We engage in discussion. They share their difficulties and joys with us. We feel that they are part of our lives, and we are part of their lives. We celebrate together. For instance, I celebrated my birthday with them. We shared Christmas with each other. We are one family under God.
The shelter serves about 60 people of various ages, including children. I was stunned the first time I met four homeless children. It was a challenging experience for me because it was the first time in my entire life that I had seen children who were homeless. After this encounter, I always made sure to take good care of these children. In addition to offering meals to them, we now offer haircuts to those who want them. Our services to these homeless people are ways to make them feel dignified and included in society.
This experience has allowed me to reflect on a question that was asked of Jesus: “Who is my neighbor?” (Lk 10:29) By serving and being with my homeless brothers and sisters, I came to realize that every human being—without distinction of color, race and social class—is a reflection of God’s love; therefore, each person should be loved unconditionally.
Such a life-changing experience wouldn’t have been possible without the initial formation that I received in Chicago. The formation process helps us as seminarians to be Christ-like for the People of God, those to whom we are being sent. This is an opportunity for me to thank all those who have been contributing to my formation as a Christian and as a religious missionary. Consequently, we are called as Divine Word Missionaries to make the goodness and kindness of God visible through our lives and service to the world.
Last summer, seminarian Akizou Gerard Kamina SVD began his Cross-Cultural Training Program in Brazil. Born and raised in Togo, West Africa, Akizou professed vows with the Society of the Divine Word in 2015. Next year, he will return to Catholic Theological Union in Chicago to complete his seminary studies.