Interview with Sr. Magdalena Orczykowska, Missionary Sister of Our Lady of Africa. She comes from Poland and currently works in Uganda in East Africa.
How did you meet the Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Africa?
It all started when one of the priests in my home parish was preparing to go on mission to Africa. I was in the 2nd grade of the junior high school when, after the Mass, during which this priest talked about his preparations, suddenly such a thought came to my mind: “You will be a missionary in Africa”. I was surprised because I had never thought about it before. I always wanted to have a husband and many children, so the only option to reconcile this with going on mission was to find a husband to go there with me or to find a husband in Africa. However, I left these plans, without thinking about them much until my graduation. After graduation, I went on a walking pilgrimage to Częstochowa, a place of Marian devotion in Poland. Sometimes pilgrims have such “zones of silence” when everyone goes in silence for some time. It was the third day of the pilgrimage, dedicated to missions and vocations, when just walking in this “zone of silence”, I saw a veil of a nun in front of me and this question came to my mind: “Why not you?”. I was stupefied: “Me a nun?” I never thought about it! On that day everything was about vocation: songs, sermons, reading, etc. I could hardly hide my tears until finally, during Mass, I said to the Lord: “Okay, I tell you yes, but guide me, because I have no idea what kind of congregation I am going to, or how to become a nun!” After returning from the pilgrimage, I quickly searched the Internet for a missionary congregation in Lublin, because I knew already then that I would study there. The Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Africa had just appeared as the first in the browser. But I was waiting for a sign that came quickly. During the retreat for the first year students at the university there were various groups from the academic pastoral ministry, encouraging others to join and one of them was a missionary group. They sang beautifully in different languages dressed in colorful costumes. I thought it would be nice if I belonged to this group. I was surprised when I found out that this group was being looked after by the Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Africa (White Sisters), a congregation that I had searched earlier on the Internet. This is how for the five years of my studies I was getting to know the congregation and the sisters, and I was confirming my vocation. In 2012 I asked to join, then I made a two-year postulancy in Poland, a novitiate in Burkina Faso and made my first vows.
What does being a missionary mean to you?
A missionary is a person who is called and sent to proclaim God’s love for each person, to bring God close to all those we meet every day. All the baptized are called to be missionaries, and among them the Lord chooses those whom He sends abroad, to different continents, to places where Jesus is still unknown, where others cannot or do not want to go. Each missionary, when he goes to a different country and meets with a different culture, a different mentality, must be open and ready to learn, to receive what the people he is sent to have to offer. As a missionary I have to let myself be evangelized by the people to whom I am sent, by people who may not have many material goods but are rich in spirit.
You are a missionary sister in Uganda. What do you admire in the local culture, people, and what was the challenge?
What I admire in the Baganda people, among whom I work, is a spirit of gratitude that fills almost all conversations.
In greetings there is a lot of thanks for the work done. After the meal, of course, we thank the person who prepared it, and then we hear in response: “Thank you for having eaten,” because there are those who refuse. When I come back from school, where I work as a teacher, apart from a simple thank you: “Thanks for your work”, I hear: “Thanks for teaching the children!” What’s more, after Mass, when I sing in the choir, people often thank me for singing. I have learned from the people I spend time with, to give thanks in moments when I have never seen such a need before. My heart and my eyes have opened to the greatness and infinite goodness of our God. Another thing I admire in the local people is their generosity and solidarity. On the occasion of weddings, the death of a family member, or in other difficult circumstances, people gather to support a neighbor, parishioner, or choir member, and when possible share even the smallest amount of money.
One thing that still challenges me is one of the aspects of the greetings. When they greet, women and children kneel down to express their respect for the elderly, the man, the priest or the nun. To this day I still feel very uncomfortable when someone kneels in front of me to greet me or when a woman older than me gets up to give me a seat or brings me a chair.
What is the face of the Church in Uganda?
Uganda is an 85% Christian country, of which 43% are Catholics. The first missionaries came here in 1879 and they were the White Fathers. The Ugandan people are very proud of them and love the missionaries very much, and the beatification process of the first French missionaries, which was started at the request of the faithful from Uganda, testifies to this. The Church in Uganda is a Church full of music. In almost every parish, almost all Sunday Masses have their own choir, which helps the faithful to pray. People are not ashamed of their faith. Many Catholics wear the rosary around their necks as a sign of dedication to the Lord and to Our Lady. Religious life here is quite rich, there are many local female congregations with many vocations. One of the challenges of the Church in Uganda is the small number of priests. We still have dioceses and remote corners of the country where the faithful cannot attend Sunday Mass every week.
What can we wish you?
That each day I become more and more like Jesus Christ and be an instrument in His hands in the service of those to whom He sends me.
Interviewed by sr. Anna Wójcik