On the eve of the Pontiff’s trip to Colombia, Fr. Gomez recounts his first three years in mission in the country of the Indian subcontinent. Difficulties in language, first approaches to people, engagement with young people. Social work and evangelization. In the majority-Islamic country, conversion to the Christianity of young tribals. "The Lord never abandons me."
Rome (AsiaNews) - "You must have the courage to 'go out', as Pope Francis says: get out of the diocese, move away from your bishop or sisters and live the universal mission. The Church is Catholic, universal, so I have to move out beyond my comfort zone. " says Fr. Danilo Gomez of the Diocese of Sonsón-Rionegro (Colombia), on the eve of Pope Francis's journey to his country of origin. The Pope will travel to Colombia from 6 to 11 this month. And Fr. Danilo will find himself thereon his first vacation since taking up his mission three years ago. The interview was given This is what it says to AsiaNews during his brief stopover in Rome.
Father Danilo, 39, was ordained a priest in 2009. He was made the pastor of two diocesan villages, then was called to teach at a seminary. The call to the universal mission led him to say yes to his bishop's proposal to go on mission as a Pime associate (Pontifical Institute of Foreign Missions) in Bangladesh. After a short time in Rome, in 2014 Fr. Danilo left together with another priest in his diocese, Fr. Belisario de Jesus Ciro Montoya, who is younger than him. After two years Fr. Belisario returned to Colombia due to serious family problems. Fr. Danilo, however, does not feel alone: he found a new "family"in Bangladesh: "Once in Dhaka, a Colombian businessman told me not to go out alone and be careful. But I replied: I'm never alone. I am a Christian. Where there is the Church, there is also my family. The Lord never leaves me alone. We are here for people who are our brothers and sisters. I am never an orphan, I am a brother of my Christian family. "
To be part of the "family" and to have contact with the "brothers and sisters" you have to spend a lot of time studying the language. "We started studying the language in Dhaka," he says, "because I did not even know how to answer a conversation. The alphabet is different. Like children, we first learned the vowels and then the consonants; they then taught us how to combine them together. " Some local nuns in a French congregation taught them how to pronounce Bengali. After six months, Fr. Danilo moved to the village of Mirpur, in the vicinity of Dhaka, along with some Pime fathers. "People asked me many questions: are you married? are you foreign? where are you from? With a nun, Sister Clara, I learned to write small passages of a homily, in Bengali characters. It was a very enchanting, very beautiful experience, especially with children. I still remember two years ago, the first confession I held in Bengali. Two children, Xavier and Surgio, came to me and ask me to confess. I was surprised because I was still learning the tongue. But it was very nice, they were about 8-9 nine, they had just made their first communion. Eventually the kids were happy and I was surprised. To learn the language, the golden rule is to persevere. "
In 2015, Fr. Danilo went to work with Fr. Gianpaolo Gualzetti in Zirani in a center for young people, which depends on the parish of Mary Queen of the Apostles in Mirpur. The center is called "Worker Jesus". "In reality - he says – it is a hostel-center for young people who enter the world of work. The kids reside there because they pay very little, 2500 taka each month [25.86 euros], and every day they travel to reach the workplace. It is the first social center to support young people, all around the age of 18-19. The sisters, on the other hand, care for the girls."
"The goal - he continues - is to educate on coexistence and responsibility, with fixed times and some rules. Young people come mainly from the villages, where they are like 'free birds' so they are not accustomed to respecting times, for example those from farms. Our job is to prepare them for the impact with the big city. The kids stay for about 2-3 years, no longer: just enough time to become self-sufficient and organize themselves, renting rooms together with other comrades. In fact, the purpose of this mission is to make them autonomous. "
The "Zirani Jesus the Worker center is not just social work.” Every day there is Mass. The young people cannot participate every day. But despite the commitments, they usually come at least once a week, even Muslims. Everyone knows it is a Catholic structure, that our proposal is the Gospel, and they are not obliged, but are willing to respect us. Some young people make a path of catechesis and from "beddin", or "pagans", they become Christians. There are many of them who become Christians. Most are tribal origin Santal, Oraon or Garo. What fascinates them is the testimony of the life of the nun or the missionary; or they are curious about reading the Gospel, they approach the catechist, and show interest in the Christian faith. The catechist is called Dipok, a family father, with wife and two daughters. He is an exceptional person because he approaches these young people and knows how to talk to them and present the beauty of Christianity. He also helped me many times to prepare my Bengali homilies, to structure them and to pronounce them. "
"The Zirani mission also has a group of 600 Christian families among whom we carry out pastoral work. In Bangladesh, the holiday day is Friday. Before independence, it was Sunday. After the government of Khaleda Zia, the day of rest and celebration became Friday. This made it more complicated to participate in the sacraments. But that does not stop us from praying, since we can celebrate the Mass on Saturday night and we usually do it in their homes. But there are so many people who are forced to work forever, without a day off".
"It is amazing to see the religiosity of people and tribal groups: all Christians greet you with a reference to Jesus. Muslims also greet you with a reference to Allah. Relations with them are good in general, though here and there some signs of fundamentalism now being seen. In Bangladesh’s constitution the country is defined as a secular country, religion has been compromising for some time with the state, and Bangladesh is increasingly becoming an Islamic country. "
To the question "What has struck you most in these years?", Fr. Danilo responds: "The relationship with the people. The Bengali is a person with a large, open heart. If they see a stranger, they immediately ask questions filled with curiosity. Then they are tireless people, they work a lot. And they are very religious. Young people are losing these features: the spread of new culture, cell phones and technology are eroding the space for family and religion. "
Fr. Danilo, what can your experience contribute to your Latin American diocese?
It is the proof of faith that faith can be everything. The first time you arrive in a country you do not know, a culture you do not know, where you do not know where to go, you need to know what you are. I am a missionary, who came to announce Christ and his Gospel. Maybe I will not be able to use the right words, but in my missionary experience I live the faith.
I seek to nourish this faith every day, without which I can do nothing. Without the Lord I am nothing. It takes courage. No one expected me to make it, to learn the language, to have lasted. I do not mean that I am strong, in fact, I am weak, limited. But my limitations, that little I have, I offer with joy. That does not keep me from being afraid. I live in a country that is not easy, where news of massacres against Christians arrives. But my faith comforts me.
Would you recommend some of your friends to come with you to Bangladesh?
Yes, 100%. The nature of the Church is missionary. When you come out of your comfort zone, you see what the Church really does. Unfortunately, a great problem for the Catholics themselves is that they are self-referential. This leads us to becoming tired and unable to see the richness of the Church. Instead, the Church is Catholic, universal, so I have to get out of my comfort zone. We must have the courage to "go out", as Pope Francis says: to leave our diocese, to leave our bishop or religious brothers and sisters.
All of this is healthy. During these three years I have never repented, even though I was afraid. Within me I wondered, 'Will I be able? Will I embarrass myself so much that I have to go home? ' But I'm sure the Lord always gives you His grace, never puts you in a place where you cannot do anything. The Lord gives you the grace to go anywhere and gives you a family, which is the Church.