Oblate Voices is a JPIC blog that follows stories of hope and is about how Oblates and associates live and experience mission work in the spirit of the Oblate founder, St Eugene De Mazenod of responding to the needs of poor and most abandoned around the world.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Zambia Oblate Superior Fr Vincent Sakala OMI visits JPIC office: Reflects on the Opportunities and Challenges in Oblate Missions.

On February 17, 2017, after consultations and an election, the Oblate Zambia Delegation installed a new leadership team, appointing Fr. Vincent Sakala, OMI, former pastor of the Mary Immaculate Parish in Lusaka, Zambia as Superior, supported by 4 new Councilors.

Fr Vincent Sakala OMI

While in Washington, DC to attend joint meetings of the Zambia Delegation and U.S. Province, Fr. Vincent sat down for an interview with JPIC staff. He began by commending the U.S. Oblate Province for their encouragement and support to the Zambia Delegation through the years.

Asked about his new role, he explained that before becoming Superior, he worked at the same parish for 10 years in a very administrative role. In just a few months as Superior he has traveled to neighboring South Africa for a provincial council meeting, visited with Oblate students studying at the Theological Institute in Cedara in South Africa. He   attended a sub-regional meeting of Anglophone and Francophone Oblates in Madagascar, and eventually travelled to  Washington, DC for meetings. His new role also   has him directing several Oblate ministries, located mostly in Zambia’s western province, where there is the most need.

Zambia Oblate Offices Park Complex in Lusaka

Oblates arrived in Zambia in the early 1980s to work mainly as missionaries. Today they run parishes namely :  Kalabo  and  Lukulu  in the Mongu Diocese, Shangombo  in the Livingstone Diocese, Mary Immaculate Parish in   Lusaka and Chowa Parish in Kabwe. 

In Mongu Diocese, Zambia’s major rice-growing region, Oblates pastor residents and address local needs in the areas of education, agriculture, and health, including caring for a small community of lepers at the Sancta Maria Mission.  In Mongu, Oblates also evangelize through Radio Liseli, and offer programs on present-day social issues affecting their listening audience. According to information reported on the Oblate Partnership’s website, the station has the “potential to reach close to one million people in the most remote villages throughout the province.” 

Fr Vincent  expanded on their media program, which includes  Radio Liseli. He characterized the station as a remarkable success and noted that now in its 12th year of operation, it can be heard by people in remote villages, even exceeding the reach of the national radio station. He also expressed that the station is well respected locally and has maximized its purpose as a tool for ministering to people in very remote areas. The station was recently awarded a grant, which will be used to connect people to catechetical broadcasts. A bulk supply of mini radios will be purchased and distributed to remote parishes, to encourage groups meeting for catechism classes to tune in and follow along with corresponding radio broadcasts.

In the Diocese of Livingstone, Oblate programs include maintaining a borehole to provide fresh water, teaching English to high school students and running a clinic. In Lusaka, where the delegation’s main office is located, Oblates oversee various ministries, including the Mary Immaculate Parish and Our Lady’s Hospice for patients with HIV/AIDs and cancer.

Another important project in the works, Fr. Vincent said, are efforts to green their community as a way around frequent power outages. They recently received a 90,000 USD grant and have already installed solar panels at major facilities, including the Formation house and radio station.

When asked to share key justice issues impacting their communities, Fr. Vincent  highlighted the overarching challenge it is for people to meet basic needs, for example household food security. Transporting goods can also be difficult due to poor road systems and farmers are often unsuccessful negotiating higher prices for their crops. These  obstacles stand in the way of people earning a decent living, he said. He also asserted the need for local farmers to diversify their crops beyond maize. Maize is one of Zambias staple foods.  

Fr. Vincent added that they support the community by ministering to people and serving as agents of change. To more effectively do this, he said, they plan to train one priest as an outreach officer. 

Oblate parish in Chowa, Kabwe, Zambia
Fr. Vincent commented on the countrys political situation and a recent statement released by the Conference of Catholic Bishops. He said it was follow up to talks by faith leaders on the current political tensions. Since August 2016 when Zambias ruling party won the national elections by a small margin, the opposition has continued to challenge the results, asserting that their votes were stolen. The Zambian Catholic Bishops in their statement called for both parties to meet and dialogue for the peace of the nation. The countrys religious coalition has pushed to bring the opposition and government together, something the opposition feels is long overdue. Fr. Vincent noted that the Church can do more in the political sphere because the government looks to the Church as a helpful entity.

Fr. Vincent Sakala, OMI, is the third of 10 children and son of a military officer. His parents being very devoted Catholics gave he and his siblings a strong religious upbringing. Although he always wanted to become a priest, after graduating from primary school, still undecided, he studied Purchasing and Stores Management at National Institute for Public Administration (NIPA). Upon graduation he partnered with a friend to launch a small business. During this time, he was in contact with Oblate brothers teaching catechism at his local parish. It was through the brothers that he became inspired and even more curious about the life and work of priests. Still undecided, he eventually encountered Fr. Ron Walker, OMI, the local Oblate Formation Director. Fr. Vincent liked Fr. Rons approach. He felt Fr. Ron saw him as human and a young person striving to find meaning in life. Eventually he joined the priesthood and credits his continuing connections with Fr. Ron Walker as what eventually directed him. This, he said, has greatly contributed to what he is today

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