Liveliness, Space for Youth Inspiration for Vocations in Africa: Comboni Missionary

Secretary-General for the Formation of Comboni Missionaries, Fr.Elias Essognimam Sindjalim (Right) with some of his confreres/ Credit: Agenzia Fides

Lively liturgical celebrations that give space for young people to participate in the life of the church in Africa explains the growing number of vocations on the continent, a member of the Comboni Missionaries of the Heart of Jesus (MCCJ) has said.

In an interview ahead of the World Day of Prayer for Vocations marked Sunday, April 25, the Secretary-General for the Formation of Comboni Missionaries, Fr. Elias Essognimam Sindjalim, has been quoted as saying, “Some say that Africans enter Religious Life because of poverty. I think that the real humus for vocations is the liveliness and vitality of the African local churches, in which young people find a space for the growth of their faith.”

“Even if this motivation for flight from poverty may exist in some candidates, it is purified in the long Comboni formative process,” Fr. Elias notes in the Saturday, April 24 interview report highlighting the status of vocations in Religious Order founded by St. Daniele Comboni.

Historically, African vocations for the Institute “almost exclusively” came from Parishes animated by Comboni missionaries, a situation Fr. Elias says has now changed.

“By now the young people who ask to become Comboni also come from non-Comboni Parishes because of globalization, but above all as the result of the missionary animation service carried out through missionary magazines and the vocational promotion on which our Institute has invested as well as by the social ministries,” the Togolese-born Cleric says in the report obtained by ACI Africa.


Making reference to new vocations in the 150-year-old Institute, he adds, “Most of them come from living churches, where they have the testimony of many consecrated persons (different Religious Orders) and of lay people who encourage them to choose religious life.”

Speaking to what drives young people to aspire to become Comboni Missionaries, Fr. Elias who has also ministered in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) says, “The first cause is undoubtedly the life of faith that they live in families and local churches, with their vitality and vivacity.”

He explains, “Where there is a life of faith, the Spirit is at work, and only a young person who is immersed in this life of faith can listen to the voice of God who calls him to set out on a vocational journey.”

“The testimony of life and mission of so many missionaries who are engaged in Africa” is another reason why young people desire to join the Institute, Fr. Elias says, adding, “Many young people tell us ‘I want to be a missionary,’ even without knowing everything regarding what it means to be a Comboni missionary. Good testimony is contagious.”

In the interview report by Agenzia Fides, the information service of Propaganda Fide, the Comboni Cleric says that young people also join the Institute because of “the social impact of missionary charitable works.”

More in Africa

“In many African countries it is the social ministry of the Church (in schools, hospitals, centers for human promotion, justice, peace, and integrity of creation, etc.) that saves the lives of so many people every day in a concrete way,” he further explains.

With a large number of candidates joining the Institute whose members are dedicated to ministering to the world’s poorest and most abandoned people, the Rome-based Comboni Priest says the challenges they face include the responsibility “to discern vocations well, to accompany them and to train them to live the commitments of Religious Life throughout their lives.”

The leadership of the Institute whose members serve in 41 countries in five continents including Africa has over the past ten years, “invested a lot in personnel and financial means to prepare formators and vocational promoters,” Fr. Elias says.

He explains, “The 2009 Chapter made the choice of the educational model of integration (integrating all the energies and dimensions of the person's life around the vital center which is Christ) as a model to follow in the accompaniment and formation of our candidates.” 

Some of the educational models of integration used include those of the school for formators of the Gregorian University, of the Salesian University, and of the schools for formators of alumni of the Institute of Psychology of the Gregorian University, which are found in different continents, Fr. Elias further says in the April 24 report.


Insufficient funds is another challenge members of the Institute face. Because of this challenge, Fr. Elias says, the leadership of the Religious Institute are forced to “adapt the formation structures to the growing numbers, invest in quality studies and have the necessary financial means to support the candidates and formators in the houses of formation.” 

“For the moment this challenge is being addressed thanks to the solidarity of the circumscriptions of Europe and the USA and Canada. But there are also self-sustaining initiatives that are growing in the big cities where we work,” he says.

According to the Comboni Missionary, the Institute is also grappling with interculturality, which he notes “has always been the most important challenge of our Institute because since its foundation it has been called to give witness to the Church's catholicity by forming international and intercultural communities in mission.”

The leadership of the Institute is addressing this challenge by structuring formation in Novitiates, Scholasticates, and Formation Centers for Brothers with internationality, Fr. Elias says in the interview report.

He adds, “The formation projects are conceived with the aim of helping candidates to move from multiculturalism to interculturality, from a national or continental to a Catholic mentality, which embraces the fact that in Jesus Christ we are all brothers.”

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“To form for mission today” is another challenge experienced by the Comboni missionaries according to Fr. Elias who explains, “Living in a ‘liquid’ society, one can fall into the temptation to think that mission is everywhere and forget the specifics of the Comboni mission, which is the mission ad gentes, ad vitam, ad pauperes.”

He explains, “Young people can find it hard to live what the Comboni Missionaries call the difficult mission, the mission of the periphery. For this reason, preparation for the mission is always on the horizon of the entire formation process.”

In the report, the Secretary General for the Formation of the Comboni Missionaries notes that Africans comprise the majority of the Institute’s Novices set to make their first profession in May, as well as of the candidates in their formative year.

“8.1% come from Asia, almost 19% from America, and 72.9% are African,” he says referencing those in Comboni Novitiates, and continues, “Theology students and brothers in the final stage of basic formation are 147 in this formative year 2020-2021. 86.39% are African, 2.04% are Asian, 10.88% are American and 0.68% European.”

In Africa, the Comboni circumscriptions that record the highest number of candidates are DRC, Togo-Ghana-Benin, Mozambique, Malawi-Zambia, and Uganda, Fr. Elias says in the report, adding, “Lately the numbers have been growing in South Sudan and Kenya.”

"Africa is a continent of hope as regards to vocations to the consecrated Comboni missionary life. It is a moment of blessing as it was for Europe after the Second World War,” Fr. Elias says in the April 24 interview report.