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Fr. Pascal Kumanda answered the call, overseas

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As the young boy watched the priest consecrating the host, he wondered why the cleric was being so selfish. Everyone else got pieces of communion much smaller than the one the priest was holding up, the boy thought. His mother tried to explain why priests use a large host, but only one thing was clear to the child. Well, the future Missionhurst Father Pascal Kumanda told his mother, if that’s the way it is, then I’m going to be a priest.

Father Kumanda, who now lives at the U.S. Missionhurst Provincial House in Arlington, was born Aug. 23, 1980, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. His mother encouraged his budding vocation by telling him to pray often. He also admired his local parish priest, who was always helping the poor, sick and elderly in their community. But his discernment was complicated by the fact that he was an only child.

“In my tradition, as an only child it was forbidden to become a priest or to join the military because you have to continue the name of the family — that was the rule from our ancestors. And people believed it, strongly,” he said. “It was like, if you go against that rule, you will die before finishing and the family will have bad things happen to them. That is the reason why many people did not agree with the decision, because they wanted to protect me and the family.”

But the pressure ultimately didn’t deter him, and his mother supported his decision. “She thought, ‘I know our ancestors who are with God will protect him, and he will do what God wants him to do for the church and for the poor,’ and that gave me strength,” he said. Still, every time he got sick in the seminary, he was a little worried. “Oh my goodness, maybe this is the end,” he said, laughing. “But thanks to God, everything went well, and I became a priest.”

Father Kumanda decided to join the Missionhurst order because they were highly regarded in his community and devoted to Mary. After attending the seminary in the Congo and Cameroon, he was sent to the United States in 2011. “(Missionhurst missionaries) are always sent outside of our country to highlight the universality of our church as being one family of God,” he said.

Once here, he had to adjust to the weather and the culture, make new friends and learn Spanish and English. In 2013, he was ordained to the priesthood in San Antonio. He served for a year in the Diocese of Raleigh and then moved to St. Ann Church in Arlington, where he was parochial vicar for three years. He now travels around the country talking to people about the international charity Cross Catholic Outreach. “We both have passion for the poor and are committed to improving their lives. That is our common mission and that is the reason why I teamed up with them,” he said. When he has free time, he likes to play soccer, minister to the homeless and visit the sick.

Father Kumanda is a missionary in the traditional sense, but he believes everyone is called to be a missionary at home. “We can be missionaries when we are trying to witness Jesus’ love and compassion at work and the schoolyard,” he said. “Being a missionary in this area means we need to pay attention to one another, to be nice to one another, to love one another and especially to respond to the needs of the poor.”

Another way to be a missionary from home is to pray for and give money to those serving the needy nearby and overseas. “When I go around giving those talks, (it’s) to mobilize others to become missionaries through their prayers or through their compassion and generosity in providing for the poor, giving them the opportunity to be a missionary without leaving,” he said.

But for those who feel they have a call to serve God overseas, Father Kumanda has a message: say yes. “The one calling them will be with them all the way, every single day, but most importantly, the people to whom they will be sent will be amazing. They will love them to death,” he said. “And that is the joy of our life. Before you know it, you have friends and family who welcome you like one of them, so it makes a big difference. I’ve been assigned many places and it’s overwhelming, and every time I have to leave, it is heartbreaking. At St. Ann’s, I was in tears when I was leaving.”

In Jesus’ own words, the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few, said Father Kumanda. “Think about being an instrument of salvation not just to one person but to hundreds, thousands and millions of people who are going to have salvation through you,” said Father Kumanda. “There’s no words to describe that feeling.”

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2019

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