World, Project Europe, 9 January 2021 -- After GC26 (2008) when "Project Europe" began, other than the re-vitalization of our charism in the old continent, some 100 Salesians were sent from other continents while others moved from their own country to provinces "more in need". This includes some missionaries from our EAO region - Vietnam and the Philippines, where as recently as 2021, two young Vietnamese missionaries received their destination to Slovenia, the motherland of Venerable Andre Majcen (1905-1999) the Don Bosco of Vietnam.
Being a missionary today in secularized or "post-Christian" societies is quite a challenge. But we can be inspired by a simple life sharing with one of two practical trainees who were sent by their provincial to Africa (ZMB) and Poland (PLE - Warsaw).
How did you grow in your faith?
My name is Bwalya Kasonde. I was born in Zambia in the Copper-belt province. From a young age I knew only about the Franciscans, because I was brought up in a Franscican parish. I admired their religious habit very much and even wanted to dress up in it one day. My Christian faith was inspired very much by my parents, their commitment to Sunday mass and the sacraments. They are to me my first models in faith.
How did your Salesian vocation come about?
When I completed my secondary school I wrote my first application letter to the Franciscans, wanting to be an aspirant. My letter was accepted and I received an invitation letter to attend a Franscican "come and see" program for three weeks. The program was very well organized. I met new people, and learnt about their spirituality. After the program I returned back home. We talked about the program with my parents and siblings. They were very happy for me that I liked the come and see program.
After I got my secondary school results, I started thinking about study, because I had made up my mind that I would join the Franscicans maybe after completing my college studies. My parents used to buy magazines from the church on Sundays. One Sunday when I returned from church, I found a new magazine on the table. I opened it and saw inside a reflection on the Salesians of Don Bosco technical school, located in a city quiet close to where we were staying. I talked to my parents, saying that I would like to go and meet the principal of this Don Bosco school and from there I would see the way forward.
As I approached the building of the Don Bosco school and Oratory in Chingola, on the wall of the building there were written different quotes of Don Bosco, beautiful paintings of Don Bosco with the kids in the playground, church, oratory and school. The paintings on the wall gave me an impression of the kind of people I was likely to meet inside the building. It was around afternoon, the entrance gate was wide open, with the security man sitting there. He looked very calm and welcoming, and I think he noticed from the way I was looking that I was a newcomer, because I looked a bit lost and uncertain. He approached me with a warm smile, and gently asked me: Are you the new applicant expected to meet the principal today? I think he was told by the principal that around afternoon there would be someone coming to meet him.. I responded "yes its me", and he directed me to the principal's office.
From my experience with school and college principals I have always known them to be serious people who rarely smile. For this reason, when I was approaching the principal's office, I had to put on a serious face, adjusted my trousers and shirt and arranged my hair nicely. But it was one of the greatest shocks in my whole life. I had knocked only once at the door and already the door was open. I heard a very calm but cheering voice: "come in please and take a seat". I looked at the man and instantly concluded in my heart that he could not be the principal; he was dressed in work clothes, his hands stained with crude oil, and on his table I saw different tools found in the carpentry workshop. It seemed like he was working then stopped on the way, because he knew that I was coming. After the interview with the school principal, I had to return home and share with my parents everything we discussed with him. When I went to my room I reflected on what I had seen about the life of Don Bosco.
The following day I talked to my parents. I wanted to start my studies at Don Bosco Chingola or go to another Don Bosco school which was recommended by the school principal. I went to that town and started my Salesian formation.
How was your Salesian initial formation in Africa?
After Aspirantate and Novitiate in Zambia, I went for philosophical studies in Tanzania. During my all period of initial formation it never crossed my mind that one day I would become a missionary or to be sent to the Missions. After completing my philosophical and pedagogical studies at Moshi, Tanzania, our SDB provincial suggested that two of us should go to Poland for practical training and then, if they had learned the Polish language well, would remain for theological studies in that country. I found the proposal very interesting; I did not expect that I would be able to do practical training in Poland.
I went home for holidays and talked to my family about the proposal . My family asked me many questions: why in Poland? Are you sure you can do it? I did not know what to answer ... I did say, however, that in life we just have to trust ourselves, other people and God. They wished me well and promised me their prayers.
How do you feel after one year in Poland?
I have been in Poland for a year now and time has passed very quickly. I have met many young people, and learned a lot of things that I would like to write about. I did the first year of my practical training at Łódź, the third largest city in Poland. There I had Polish language classes for half a year and worked in the Oratory, parish and school. At the end of the summer holidays, I moved to Warsaw, for the second year of practical training in a Salesian hostel for young people. During meetings with young people in Poland, the first questions I am usually asked concerns my experience in Poland. Questions about weather, food, religion or music. And I always answer them without any problems because I am already used to these questions.
Any challenges during your practical training in Poland?
Have I experienced any challenges in Poland? In the beginning, there were three challenges: weather, language, and food. When it comes to the weather in Zambia, it is usually warm, but in Poland it is often cold ... The most interesting thing was that I saw snow for the first time. I remember once with Godfrey we made a snowman and went ice skating.
The other challenge is the Polish language, quiet different from English or other languages spoken in Africa. I remember for almost three or four months I couldn't understand what people were talking about. I lost my patience and even hope for a further life in Poland. This was one of the moments I learnt even more how to trust God and others.
How do you feel now, after one year in Poland?
First I can say that am happy that I am in Poland for practical training. For me it is one of the ways I have come to know more about the Salesian mission and works. I have made huge progress in learning the language. For this reason I have to complete the Polish language course (B2) and go for theological studies at the Salesian theologate in Krakow - Poland. I have come to realize that openness to new challenges like language or different culture of people is one of the concretes ways of expressing our trust in God and in others. And I think that from the beginning our Salesian formation prepares us for this. As Salesians we are privileged to grow with an open attitude to different Salesian experiences and works of Don Bosco.