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What are you doing for Lent?

Every year Catholics around the world prepare for the Easter season with forty days of fasting and prayer. Easter is that wonderful time of year when we celebrate the resurrection of Christ. It is preceded by Lent, a season of self-examination, fasting and penance in preparation for our Easter Day celebration.

The Catholic Church begins Lent each year on Ash Wednesday. This is a time to reflect on our own mortality and the need for ongoing repentance. The ashes, applied to the forehead in the sign of the cross, remind us that we are from dust and to dust we shall return.

And while some of this may sound bleak, the reality is that during the forty days of Lent we are preparing our hearts and soul for Easter – a joyous celebration of the resurrection of our Lord!

As you being your Lenten fast this year, try something new. Service is just as important as sacrifice when it comes to preparing for Easter. Below is a list of some things you can do for Lent from prayer, to fasting, to service. Ash Wednesday is March 1 this year!

1. Prayer of Examen each day: http://www.ignatianspirituality.com/ignatian-prayer/the-examen
2. Pray the Liturgy of the Hours: http://universalis.com/
3. Go on a mini-pilgrimage – set aside a day during Lent to visit a nearby monastery, basilica, or national shrine.
4. Give up pessimism and sarcasm, and replace them with wonder, hope, and compassion.
5. If you give up something such as coffee or sweets, donate the money saved to a mission or charity. We can think of some wonderful missions to support!
6. Wake up early every morning for prayer and contemplation, even if it is just five minutes.
7. Don’t buy anything you don’t NEED – Focus on how God helps provide for you needs. You will probably save quite a few dollars. Consider adding it to your savings or donating some it.
8. No gossiping! Just like the old adage “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”
9. Say something nice to someone (family, friends, or strangers) at least once a day. Try to notice the clerk at the grocery store. One small act of kindness can change a person’s day.
10. Take time to learn more about the life of Catholics and Christians in other countries – you will begin to see how wonderfully diverse and spiritual our world really is!
11. Attend Mass on a weekday or attend Eucharistic Adoration.
12. Switch from regular radio to Christian radio or Catholic talk radio – even if just for your morning commute.
13. Find a way to give more of your time to your local parish or community – volunteer at the food pantry, visit the sick in your parish, visit a nursing home, bring a meal to the fire station, etc.
14. Study the life of a different saint every day. There are so many to choose from! Maybe you could start with St. Daniel Comboni.
15. List five things you are grateful for every day.

A call to the missionary life - Fr. Victor Dominguez

By: Roxanne Schorbach

On January 9, 2017, Fr. Victor Alejandro Mejia Dominguez, mccj stopped by the Covina Mission Center. Fr. Victor is originally from La Paz, Baja California Sur in Mexico. During his brief visit to the Comboni Mission Center, I was able to sit down with him and learn his vocation story.

Fr VictorVictor was just 8-years old when he first felt the call to become a priest. His parish priest, Fr. Gonzalez, who had gone through formation with the Comboni Missionaries, was the first to offer Victor a taste of mission.

One Christmas Fr. Gonzalez took several of the altar boys on a mission trip to one of the many small islands in Baja. There they visited some local families. The young boys brought clothes, toys, and games to the island and each stayed with a family for a week. Victor remembers how excited he was to go on that mission trip - giving up his own presents and Christmas with his family. 

The small group left early from their homes, crossed the desert, and after several hours finally reached the beach, then boarded a small boat. They crossed the water and came to Isla Margarita, a small fishing island.

Victor stayed with a family who adopted him for that week. He remembers the strong feeling of complete welcome and, as if, he were part of the family. This was a great experience for him and one that he remembers very clearly.

There was a girl that asked him “why are you here?” He responded, “I don’t know exactly but my friend is Jesus,” to which the young girl said, “Jesus is my friend too.” Those few words were the start of a lifelong friendship. 

During his time on that island, Victor realized that he had not thought about his own family, and recognized the love and feeling of belonging to another family other than his own. In those early days, he had no idea what it meant to be a priest but he knew in his heart that he wanted to become a missionary. Looking back at that week, he said that it was the “most memorable week of his childhood.”

Fr. Victor said the most important thing is to know Jesus, and to know others who also know and love Jesus, not to force or coerce others to know Him.

After returning from the mission trip his mother and grandmother helped Victor to become more involved with their parish. He reflected on how God puts people and circumstances in our lives to help us through our life journey. His grandmother was instrumental in helping him find his way to fulfill his calling to the priesthood.

During his teenage years he worked with the youth as a leader and peer. During this time he learned the necessary social skills to work with people. This helped him transition to the next phase of his life, where at 18-years old he made the decision to become a Comboni Missionary.

Why did he choose the Comboni Missionaries?  His mother took him to a parish where there were Comboni Missionaries, and many, many pictures of people from around the world. He was thrilled!

It was there that an old priest gave him some sound advice. The priest said, “If you are really serious to be a missionary I suggest that you stay home until you finish high school, because for many years you will not see your parents or your relatives so better you spend the time with them now.” That sound advice really helped him.

After high school, Victor left La Paz to go to Mexico City to join the Comboni Missionaries for his studies. Mexico City was his first experience in a big city and that helped him to have “an open heart and an open mind.” Once his studies in Mexico were completed, Victor was sent to Rome for four years of theology. Afterwards, he returned to Mexico and was ordained on August 19, 2000.

His first assignment was China. Fr. Victor had one year in England to study English then five years in Taiwan where he studied Chinese Mandarin at the University. He spent four years helping at a local parish to further his education and familiarity with the culture.

Fr. Victor said the biggest challenge was learning and understanding the culture because it is so different from his own. Their way of thinking, solving problems and doing things is much harder to understand then the language.

The interview was cut short since he was leaving for Hong Kong. In closing, Fr. Victor left a message for the youth: “Don’t be afraid, follow what is in your heart and follow your dreams, trust in God and always know that Jesus is in your life.”

Goodbye Africa, Hello Illinois

Fr Baltz Missionary DreamsFr. David Baltz is returning to the North American Province. This is the last update he sent before leaving Africa on February 2.

Dear CACN Friends,

This is it—my last few days before departure from Africa! I pause this morning in the lengthy process of “sorting-thru-stuff” here in my room in Ombaci mission to write to you, dear family and friends, who have faithfully journeyed with me for so many years— thru individual letters and thru this Cousin Albert Cyberspace Network—in my incredible African safari. Some of you are wondering where I am, since I officially belonged to the NAP, starting Jan. 1, 2017. An extra month was allowed for me here in my beloved Uganda, where I first arrived 42 years ago, to carry out this difficult uprooting and handing-over process.

I can now share with you my travel plans, so you will know that I am not dragging my feet to stay here any longer than necessary. My one-way ticket out of Africa has me arriving in O’Hare Airport in Chicago on Friday, Feb.3, 2017, at 1:30 p.m. My departure from Entebbe, Uganda, is at 9:55 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017. The duration of that flight is an atrocious 10 hours and 55 minutes (a very long night in a plane seat!), including a stop-over in Kigali, Rwanda (south of the equator), where we have to wait an hour or so inside the plane itself. Arrival in Brussels, Belgium, is at 6:50 a.m. the next morning, Friday, Feb. 3. Unless all the security check-points (if they are crowded) delay me, I might have time to celebrate my First Friday Mass in the Catholic chapel of Brussels Airport, as I’ve done several times in the past! My departure from Brussels is at 11:05 a.m. That flight across the Atlantic will last 9 hours and 25 minutes, giving me a total duration of 20 hours and 20 minutes (flying time), from Entebbe to O’Hare!

This will be my second time to be assigned to the Comboni community in La Grange Park, Illinois. Thirty years ago, in 1987, I was called back from Africa to take over the formation program there for our postulants. One of those young men living with me for the three-year program was named Manuel.

When my Dad who loved to fish would catch a big one and good enough to keep, he would joyfully shout “it’s a keeper.” Hall of Fame announcer, Jack Buck, would always conclude a Cardinal baseball victory by exclaiming “that’s a winner.” Indeed, Manuel was a “keeper” and a “winner,” becoming Fr. Manuel in 1996. He just finished 6 years as the Provincial Superior in the NAP! Thank you, Fr. Manuel!

Some of you have asked: “what will you be doing in La Grange Park?” I hope first of all that I have a lot more quality time for prayer. I believe this: if you are too busy to pray, you are too busy! I know that a Comboni Father in La Grange Park is now anxiously awaiting my arrival in order to hand over to me the ministry in which he has been involved, so I can perhaps answer your question better in my next letter!

Returning from my lengthy and positive experience in Africa, it would be wonderful to share this with some interested young men who might become “keepers” and “winners” as Comboni Missionaries. Also in La Grange Park there is an excellent program for preparing Comboni Lay Missionaries, both individuals and families. Of course, I can’t hide from some personal health issues nor from the calendar, as I approach my 77th birthday. I’m also very aware that, as I return to my home province, the NAP, I will have to go to the cemetery to visit two very dear confreres, Fr. Bill Jansen, just one year ahead of me throughout our seminary formation, and Fr. Dennis Conway, just one year after me. They both departed at the beginning of last year. So it will be prudent for me to prepare myself for that important safari, too!

Indeed, our Comboni Missionary Congregation has begun offering a course for its members who are over 70 years of age. If it was rather difficult here in my African mission to find time for that, I can now hope to set aside those few months for the course in Rome with other elderly confreres. The possibility of soon having greater contact with my beloved family is surely a blessing for me and for them. Since I first left for my missionary life in Africa in the beginning of 1975, some 42 years ago, my Dad and Mom, and brothers Jerry and Joe—plus other close family members—have all died without my being present. In our big family I’d also love to find a couple grand-nephews and nieces (and cousins) ready to take the place of Uncle Dave in the missionary life, not just keeping their faith but also sharing it. Speaking after a long experience, I can assure them/you that it has been a very fulfilling and a most rewarding way to live the one life that God and my parents have given me!

I will have to update myself in communication technology. Sitting here on my African desk is my original fat Nokia telephone from 1998. It ain’t as “smart” as your phones, but it can (after almost 20 years!) still receive your precious calls, as well as enable me to call all around the world. This is the phone I used in 2003 to pray for dear mother, surrounded by 12 of her 13 children, as she was dying…while I was far away in my mission of Odravu in Africa. It has also bounced along with me in my bike saddle-bag on numerous safarifour pieces of candy lessons into the outback. I’ll also have to trade in my 2010 Dell computer, which I am using for this letter, and which still carries a Windows 7 sticker on it! It scared me recently when it informed me that my one-year anti-virus program had expired, only three weeks after being installed, because my defective computer clock had jumped ahead a whole year!

As my process of “sorting-thru-stuff” continues, going thru hundreds of pages of notes in my files of the last 20 years here in Africa, I’ve gone thru some emotional moments, letting the tears flow here in the privacy of my room. So many precious memories for which to be very grateful to God, like finding my appointment letter from the Bishop of Arua to be chaplain for the South Sudanese refugees living in the camps near my parish of Odravu; or the personal letters from many of you, taking time to draw close to me from so far away!

I thank each one of you for sharing your time and your love with me throughout my years here in Africa. I continue the difficult choices of what to take with me and what to let go of, what to preserve and what to burn, and what to leave behind for other confreres and what to give away. My motorcycle, my mountain bike, and my guitar will remain here for my Comboni confreres, along with many books and some important files/papers, also lots of rosaries and some useful tools, plus soccer balls and kites and other games for the children.  

My now famous “uplifting-experience” rat trap will surely be more useful here in Ombaci mission than in La Grange Park (I hope!). Just in the last couple weeks I have eliminated about 10 big rats that slip into our kitchen each night as soon as our cook turns off the light and goes home. I’m still doing a few safaris for ministry in our chapels, so I am enjoying my last few miles on my mountain bike, increasing my total beyond 51,000 bike miles in Africa. I will surely miss the warm weather here, where my bathroom window is always open. Thinking about arriving in the bitter cold of Chicago in the first week of February, I just made a quick sum of how many miles I’ve biked only in that month during these last 20 years in Africa: 4277 miles, or 214 miles each February. What a different February this will be for me in 2017!  

Yesterday, when I was over near our parish church here in Ombaci mission where I met 5 children, I gave 4 pieces of candy to the smallest little boy, and told him to share them with his friends. Remaining with just one piece in his hand, he hesitated to give it to the last child with nothing. I told him (and the others who were listening) that God would surely find a way to bless him, if he could give away even that last piece instead of keeping it for himself. So he slowly placed that piece in the other boy’s outstretched hand. I then walked over to my bike and pulled out of my saddle bag two more pieces of candy, and gave them both to that little boy. All five children learned the lesson!

Well I better leave something to write (and to talk!) about when I get back to the States. Now I have to get back to my “sorting-thru stuff,” which is frequently interrupted by a knock on my door. Indeed, leaving behind a few material things, or struggling to haul them with me all the way to La Grange Park, will not be nearly as challenging as letting go of the people. Leaving my African mission with these very real people I know and love, and who know and love me, means that I cannot forget them. I must find ways to continue to help these Christian communities and their chapels and the individual Christians, especially the poor. Thank you for a prayer for me that I’ll be ready physically and psychologically to leave Africa in another 10 days…and that I’ll have a safe trip. But pray especially for my dear African friends who are finding it very difficult to accept that I will not be returning to them anymore. They deserve your prayerful remembrance. God bless each and every one of you! See you all real soon!  

From Africa (a last time),
with love and gratitude,
Fr. David Paul Baltz
Comboni Missionary