Patricio: My Father’s Name
by Father Patricio de los Reyes SVD
Father de los Reyes is Provincial of the Botswana-Zambia-Zimbabwe of the Society of the Divine Word (SVD), www.svdbotswana.com . He has been recovering well from a brutal attack in December at his residence that left him gravely injured.
When I was born on 14 July 1956, everyone in the family thought I had inherited my father’s physical features, and so I inherited his name as Patricio de los Reyes Jr. But I was never meant to be just like my father. After high school graduation, my father suggested I should become a lawyer like him. But I said I wanted to become a missionary priest. So I did. I joined the Society of the Divine Word (SVD) inCebu City and started my training as a Divine Word missionary.
Ten months after my ordination on 23 October 1982, Father Gerardo de los Reyes, my classmate, and I left on 15 August 1983 for the missions through Rome. My month’s experience there gave me a glimpse of how big the tree of Catholic faith has grown; and arriving in Botswana on 21 September 1983 I realized how many of its branches have reached out even to the ‘ends of the earth.’
After three months of tongue-twisting language learning, I joined Father Krystian Traczyk SVD, from Poland, in Serowe. There I started learning, truly learning, to be a missionary. One experience in Serowe that really made an impact on my missionary orientation was our weekly home visits to the sick and the old. Praying is a universal need and gesture of believers and that made me, although imperfectly, one with them.
After three years in Serowe, I was asked if I was ready and willing to be sent to Zambia to start a new mission. Without hesitation, more probably because of my sense of adventure rather than my missionary aspiration, I accepted the offer. So, on 1 April 1986, joined by Father Stanislaw Zysk SVD from Poland, I left Botswana for Zambia. Immediately we plunged ourselves again into tongue-twisting language learning in the western part of the country. Seven months later, joined by another companion from India, Father Kuriakose Kozhikaddan SVD, we started work in Mukuni, a small and compact village just eight kilometers from the world famous natural wonder - Victoria Falls.
I stayed longer in Zambia than in any other country, from 1986 till 1994. I was put in charge of Mukuni. Some years later, I found myself doing more things for the local church, like retreat directing, animating youth groups, coordinating diocesan pastoral planning and so on. Then in 1990 I was given the task of starting our own SVD formation program. So, in August of that year I began with our first group of seven postulants from Zambia and Zimbabwe.
In my initial years as formator, I was still in charge of Mukuni parish and also doing many other things for the Diocese of Livingstone and for the SVD as well, like vocation promotion and coordinating the Overseas Training Program of our seminarians. But frankly, doing so many things at the same time made me realize more and more the things that I could not and ought not do. And plunged into formation work without professional training and preparation also brought me to the realization of how little I knew. The tasks I did from 1990 to 1994 created a vacuum in me like a well that had run dry. Fortunately, I was sent to St Louis, Missouri, USA, for studies. My three years there not only gave me time and space for learning but also for a deeper exploration of myself - my pains, my doubts, mypersona and my faith.
With great hopes and expectations, I came back to Botswana in April 1997 to become a novice master, something that didn’t materialize. But I was in the parish where the novitiate was and helped both in the formation of the novices and in the parish. My ministry in Sebina was short-lived. I was asked after a year to take Palapye, although I had the choice of remaining in Sebina. But I took Palapye because of its challenges. It was a challenge, all right, but I had a wonderful time with the community there. They taught me that I needed to trust them and let them become what they dreamt of being by letting them be and by following at their pace. They re-ignited in me my love for the sick, the old and the poor.
Again, it was planned that I would re-start the novitiate in 2002. So, to prepare for this task, I was sent to the Nemi Renewal Course in Nemi, Rome. This was another event in my life that gave me time and space to dig deeper into myself, especially the shadows which prevented me from growing to maturity as a person. I thanked God for this opportunity. But again, another major turn in my life. Just before I returned from my home leave which I took after Nemi, I was elected Provincial Superior of Botswana-Zambia-Zimbabwe Province for the triennium 2002 - 2005. (Editor’s note: Father de los Reyes was recently appointed to serve a second term). Presently, this is my task and I am full of mixed feelings. One side of me tells me I made a mistake in accepting this task and another side is telling me, ‘go on, take up the challenge.’ However, I’m confident that with my confreres and with God, there is nothing that cannot be overcome.
You may email the author at firstname.lastname@example.org or write him at: PO Box 209,FRANCISTOWN,BOTSWANA.