Born into a family of Muslim origin, the nun was baptised as an adult. Now she is a member of the Missionaries of Mary in Thailand. During her childhood, she attended the Xaverian mission in Kasongo, where she discovered faith and mission. For her, Jesus is already “present in the history of every people.”
Pak Kret (AsiaNews) – Sister Eudoxie Colette Ngongo Banunu works among the poor and marginalised in Thailand, almost 9,000 kilometres from her homeland, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), ex-Zaire. Along with disabled children from the House of Angels in Pak Kret, she attended Pope Francis’s historic apostolic visit to the Southeast Asian country.
Speaking to AsiaNews about the journey of faith that led her five years ago to Thailand, she said that proclaiming the Gospel by bearing witness to God's mercy in Bangkok’s poor areas, where disability is seen as a judgement, defines her story. Currently, the 42-year-old nun (pictured) of the Missionaries of Mary (Xaverian) works in Thailand, where she arrived five years ago.
She was born in Kasongo, a town of almost 65,000 people in the eastern province of Maniema, one of the DRC’s regions with the greatest presence of Muslims. Also present is the mission in Ngene, which the Xaverian Fathers handed over to the Diocese of Kasongo last October. “I grew up with them, even though I had not received the baptism as a child," she explained. In fact, "My parents had not married religiously, since they came from families that were originally Muslim.”
“In my diocese, 85 per cent of the population is Muslim. But Catholics and Muslims are used to living together, even within the same family. My father converted to Christianity as an adult, after starting to work with the missionaries. Mom was born after her parents had already become Christian.
“My siblings and I received a mixed Catholic and Muslim education because it reflected the nature of our family. Since I was a child, I attended the local church, where some nuns also worked. I looked at these women curiously and asked my mother: ‘Why don't these women have a man next to them?’ ‘Because they are married to the Lord," she answered. ‘I too want to be one, one day,’ I told her.”
“Growing up, I decided to be baptised. So, at 18, I became a Christian. During the catechesis, I listened to the story of how my people had received the faith thanks to the evangelising work of the missionaries.’ I thought: ‘How nice it would be to be a Christian and proclaim the Gospel to those who still don't know him.’ At such instances, my desire to do the same was strengthened.”
After high school, Sister Eudoxie decided to dedicate her life to God. But in her family, this was not welcomed by everyone. “I lost my father when I was 6. In my culture, which is very patriarchal, children do not belong just to the mother; indeed, she has no say in the matter.
“Family responsibility and inheritance were to go to my older brother who was against my wishes. He instead became a Protestant. Most of my relatives were on his side, but I was stubborn: I continued to follow and participate in the pastoral activities of Catholic Action, an organisation that accompanied my growth.”
In 1998, the worst war in Africa's recent history broke out in the DRC. The conflict, which ended in 2003, involved eight African nations and about 25 armed groups. According to estimates, it caused 5.4 million deaths (mostly from illness and hunger) and several million refugees.
“It was 1999; we were forced to flee. My brother was travelling, so he stayed where he was. At the time, the congregation called me and I answered, even without his approval. We didn't talk for a year. Later we reconciled and he respected, although never accepted, my decision to become a nun.”
The path that led her to enter the congregation began with four and a half years of training at the community in Bukavu, South Kivu province. This was followed by her temporary vows, at the age of 28; after this she worked for almost three years in the DRC and studied for as many years in Rome to prepare for the mission. Two more years were spent at the Xaverian Mother House in Parma and then one in Milan to serve the community at San Luca Parish.
In December 2013, Sister Eudoxie was told that she would go to Thailand. “At first, I was called to do my work in Brazil, in the Amazon rainforest. The Order then chose to give priority to the first proclamation, so the programmes changed. I did not expect to be sent to Thailand where the language is hard to learn and I was already almost 36 years old.” Still, in her words, “when I chose to be a missionary, I knew that I would share my faith wherever they sent me.”
Sister Eudoxie pronounced her perpetual vows (chastity, poverty and obedience) on 24 May 2014 in Parma, at the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta. Afterwards, she left for Thailand in November 2014, where the Missionaries of Mary have been present since 2000 and now have two communities: one in Ban Mai, a village in Pak Kret district (Nonthaburi province) on the outskirts of Bangkok; the other in Sanian, among the tribal communities of Mueang Nan sub-district, in the northern province of Nan, on the border with Laos.
The missionary was assigned to Ban Mai. “Per our statute, I devoted the first two years to studying Thai, a difficult but not impossible task. It was a period of great effort but of profound joy because I discovered other people and places. I was the first African nun to join the clergy in Thailand.
"Even before proclaiming the Gospel, the mission brought a revelation between me and the Thai people: the wonder of discovering one other, each with their own culture. This meeting is the first gift that the mission gives us. From here a relationship begins, opening the way to talking about Jesus. Once upon a time we would have said ‘bringing Jesus’, but experience has shown that He is already present in the history of every people. As Saint Paul put it: ‘What therefore you unknowingly worship, I proclaim to you’ (Acts 17:23).”