Growing up in Kalwaria – Zebrzydowska, Poland, I was spiritually influenced by the Franciscans. While living only a kilometer from one of Poland’s religious centers, the Sanctuary of Our Lady, I experienced the power of faith and decided to follow in the footsteps of St. Francis of Assisi. The Franciscan Order appealed to me because of the simplicity, openness, and closeness to the people.
I made my solemn profession in October 2000 and was ordained to the priesthood in 2002 in the Province of the Immaculate Conception in Krakow. After my ordination, I accepted an assignment as a Spiritual Director of a Franciscan secondary school Blessed Anastesius Pankiewicz in Łódź, Poland, where I taught religion. After three years of teaching, I volunteered to go to a Franciscan mission in Africa. In preparation for this assignment, I was first sent to Ireland to learn the English language, then to Belgium for mission orientation.
Soon after my orientation, I was on my way to Africa. My missionary experience, starting in 2006, took me throughout East Africa where I served in Uganda until 2015. As a young missionary, I was excited about making great changes in the lives of the people that I was about to serve, but in reality they changed my life.
As a missionary, the differences in languages and cultures can be an enormous hurdle to overcome. English is taught in primary and secondary schools in the larger cities, but other languages like Swahili, Luganda, and Arabic are prominent in rural areas and remote villages. My knowledge of English helped me to communicate with many people, but I found that learning Swahili was important to communicate with the local people and show respect for their culture.
My experiences in East Africa showed me the great diversity among the people. The ethnic diversity is very obvious. Uganda has been a refuge for many different tribes escaping violence in other African nations. Small villages only a short distance away may follow different tribal rituals. The people in Uganda are very spiritual. There are many different religious orders in Uganda with Christianity well represented.
In developed nations, we expect conveniences like running water, electricity to power our devices, heat when it is cold, medical attention when we are ill, and enough food to eat everyday. In many African missions, these simple things do not exist or are in very short supply. In rural Africa, the simple conveniences are considered luxuries. Water is probably the most important life-sustaining resource of all. In many villages, the people must walk daily to communal wells for water.
Certainly, there are many things I can share about my experiences. So, I will save them for later posts. I hope that you will find this blog to be interesting and an insight into Franciscan missionary life. Please be generous in your prayers and your gifts because, together, we deliver hope.
God bless you,
Fr. Teofil Czarniak, OFM