“During my aspirantate very often we used to have visits from many Salesian missionaries who narrated to us their missionary experiences. Many of them were from Africa and I can say that my desire for Africa precisely began there. Most of them insisted on praying to Our Blessed Mother for the missionary vocation so I also began to pray to Our Lady to make me a missionary.” These are the words of Fr Lijo Vadakkan, an Indian Salesian missionary in Ethiopia.
Surely India still has need for many missionaries, but there are still so many countries and regions where Salesians are not present yet. But we also cannot undermine the fact that India is the region in which the Salesian presence has grown in a substantial fashion in recent years. In less than 110 years, we have grown to be one of the largest Salesian presences in the world, with more than 2,500 Salesians in 11 Provinces.
Don Bosco’s charism was planted and nurtured on the Indian soil by the courageous and self-sacrificing efforts of the missionaries. I believe firmly that now India has now a historic responsibility to give back to the wider Salesian Society what it has received from others in the past.
My prayers were finally heard in 2006 when I became part of the Missionary Expedition to commemorate the centenary of the Salesian presence in India. I strongly believe that my missionary vocation is a special gift from our Blessed Mother.
I came to Ethiopia in 2006 as a practical trainee and I had spent time to learn Amharic, the local language. I did my practical training in one of the remotest missions of Ethiopia – in the Apostolic Prefecture of Gambella, which is entrusted to the Salesians. But after a year I was sent to Rome for my theological studies and specialisation.
On my return to Ethiopia as a priest I struggled to relearn Amharic. I was hoping to go back to the Gambella and be involved in direct evangelisation but I was sent to teach Philosophy in the Post-Novitiate. Here I am busy with classes, exams and all other activities of a typical formation house. Even though I may not have many adventurous experiences to my credit as a missionary, becoming a missionary in Africa was a long cherished dream and the realization of that dream brings me a great sense of joy and satisfaction.
Being part of the formation of the future Salesians of Ethiopia is also a great joy. Here in Ethiopia, the priests are addressed as “Abba”, the Amharic word for ‘Father’. Each time someone greets me as “Abba Lijo”, it brings x an incomparable joy to my heart because it reminds me of my missionary vocation, a gift of Mary to me and to the youth of Ethiopia !