Synodal Church: The People of God Walking Together in Vocation and Formation Ministries
By Sister Helena Adaku Ogbuji, CCVI
The biennial Vocation/Formation meeting of the Congregation took place at Ukarimu Centre in Molo Kenya, from November 27th to December 1, 2022. This meeting was originally scheduled to be held in 2021 but was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak, most importantly we were happy to attend the meeting this year. It was attended by most of the Sisters in vocation and formation ministries as well as the Leadership Team; eleven Sisters were physically present at the meeting while three Sisters joined through Zoom.
Leadership Team: Sisters Celeste Trahan, Ricca Dimalibot, Betty Campos Arias,
Joyce Susan Njeri Mbataru, and Kim Phuong Tran.
Sisters from Africa Region: Sisters Annunciata Kavinya Kisuva, Edith Bulubisi Wasike, and Justina Nzula Mutiso.
Sisters from Central America: Sisters Maria Magdalena Rodriguez Ortiz and
Maria Ubalda Romero Ramirez.
Sister from the United States: Sister Helena Adaku Ogbuji
Sisters from the United States: Sisters Deenan Hubbard, Ita Harnett, and Kim Xuan Thi Nguyen
The meeting began on Sunday, November 27, with Solemn Vespers at 5.00 p.m., officiated by Sr.Celeste Trahan (Congregational Leader). After the prayer, Sr. Celeste welcomed the Formators and Vocation Animators to our international meeting in Molo, Kenya. In her remarks, she thanked the attendees for the work they are doing, which is an important ministry in the Congregation. She urged us to continue to journey more compassionately with the younger Sisters in their formative stages, recognizing specific areas of growth which may be needed and helping them find help along the way. She encouraged us to create spaces where “contemplative dialogue” can happen and where all parties are led by the Spirit to actively listen to one another through open and honest communication. She challenged us to be open in the coming days of our meetings by adding our voices in assessing the needs within our ministries; including the appointment and preparation of personnel as vocation and formation ministries are critical for the continued life, sustainability and growth of our Congregation.
After the welcome remarks, Sr. Helena Ogbuji orientated the attendees on the unfolding events during the days of the meeting and clarified on some housekeeping issues. The attendees and the Sisters from nearby communities: Baraka Convent (Sisters Mary Wanjiru Kamara, Rose Nyambura Githuka, Pamela Kanja Thiaine, and Christine Naswa Barasa) and Dubuis Community (Sisters Esther Njeri Rambagia and Veronicah Muthoni Mburu), enjoyed a festive dinner at Ukarimu Centre organized by the administrator, Sr. Christine Barasa.
From Monday, November 28th – Thursday, December 1, 2022, the meetings began at 8.00 a.m. with an opening prayer/faith sharing as well as a closing prayer at 5:00 p.m. Each region took turns to prepare for prayers and the Holy Eucharist. Masses were celebrated each day by Fr. Jacob Augustine Sellam, SDB, who was one of the speakers and Fr. Malasi Kaka, SJ, the Architect of our schools in Molo.
During the meetings, we had two excellent speakers: Fr. Jacob Augustine Sellam,(Salesians of Don Bosco) and Sister Mary Pauline Waititu (Little Daughters of St. Joseph). Fr. Jacob was with us for two days (Monday – November 28 and Tuesday – November 29).
On Monday, Fr. Jacob presented his talk on Synodality and Formation in Reference to the African Church. He expressed that “walking together” in formation/vocation ministries means: Mutual listening where everyone is heard and valued, creating a space for relationship and trust, no room for cultural dominance, and to focus more on the process rather than the programs in formation, He encouraged us to have synodal hearts which encounters the Formees where they are (the Emmaus encounter in Luke 24: 13-35) to focus on our joyful service rather than our positions which may lead to policing the Sisters. It allows the Holy Spirit to lead the way, to attend to our inner conflicts and wounds for personal healing, and to move from structural mindsets to relationships of tenderness and care.
On Tuesday, November 29, Fr. Jacob focused on The Contemporary Issues in Formation-Vocation Ministries and the Reality of the Church in Reference to Africa. He challenged us with these questions: What stories are the young people telling us? How do we interpret their stories? Do we use old solutions to answer the new questions of young people? Do we promote vocations or accompany vocations? He encouraged us to listen with compassion to the reality of the young people today: Their preference for spirituality (relationship with and a personal experience of God) rather than religiosity, their approach to the digital world and its challenges, as well as their mode of communication. We are to accompany them with love and affection, and they must know that they are loved!
On Wednesday, November 30th, Sr. Mary Pauline Waititu spoke on Religious Formation and African Culture. She focused on the challenges of religious formation and the values of African cultures. Some of the challenges are: How the formation process has become more informative than performative, the impact of the digital world on formation, lack of role models in formation houses, internal dispositions and unhealthy attitudes of formees, excessive inferiority and/or superiority of formees and formators. She mentioned some of the values in African culture that are necessary in formation houses: Communitarianism rather than individualism, the value of motherhood and respect for our human nature, hospitality, African obedience, and respect for elders.
On Thursday, December 1, 2022, we shared around the issues concerning formation and vocation ministries. Some of the issues that surfaced were: The need to prepare more Sisters for formation/vocation ministries, to have effective succession planning and time limit in formation/vocation ministries, to strengthen our formation and vocation teams across regions, the immigration/visa challenges as well as the challenges of learning English in order to come for the international novitiate, shortage of formative communities to send the Sisters in initial formation, etc.
The meeting ended on Thursday, December 1, 2022, with a festive dinner, entertainment, and gifts of African polo t-shirts and small bags from the host region to all the attendees. Sr. Helena Ogbuji also shared her latest book, along with the other three contributors (among them is Sr. Margaret Bulmer, CCVI), with the participants. The title of the book is Incarnational Spirituality: Embodying the Love of the Incarnate Word.
As some Sisters explored Kericho and Molo areas in Kenya on Friday, December 2, we also witnessed and enjoyed the perpetual profession of Sr. Agnes Njoki Njeru on Saturday, December 3, 2022. We thank God for the gift of vocations in our Congregation. We pray to God, the Owner of the harvest, to bring more laborers into His vineyard!
Praised be the Incarnate Word! Forever!