Kenya - "Since childhood I’ve had the dream of being a missionary": interview with Fr Camiel Swertvagher

15 September 2021

(ANS - Nairobi) - Fr Camiel Swertvagher is a Belgian Salesian who has been a missionary in three countries in Central Africa: Congo, Rwanda and Burundi. It was in 1975 that he was sent, for the first time, to Burundi as a missionary, exactly 100 years after Don Bosco's first missionary expedition in 1875. He talks to ANS about his experience and the challenges he’s encountered over the years.

What motivated you to go as a missionary 40 years ago?

Since childhood, I have had the dream of being a missionary. When I finished my novitiate and  post-novitiate, I had the opportunity to be sent as a young missionary to Burundi. It was in 1975… and then, after my ordination in 1981, I was sent to Rwanda, where I served for 13 years. Later, in 1994, I was sent to the Democratic Republic of the Congo to extend my service in the field of education and evangelization for 10 years. After which I came back to Rwanda and served there for a few years. From 2018, I am in “DBYES”, Nairobi, Kenya.

You have been the Delegate Superior of Rwanda/Burundi, and also the Provincial in AFC and then in AGL. How did you experience this vocation as superior/provincial? Did you find any challenges?

As a Provincial there are always moments of joy to see the commitment of the confreres in the mission entrusted to them and the communities rendering their services to the young people, especially the poorest of the poor, and the development that takes place in the local communities. This is indeed the growth of the Province as well. On the contrary, the difficulties are the situation of the country or, at times, misunderstandings between the members of the community and so on. However, on a larger perspective I have seen more joyful moments that enrich our mission and hence the difficulties can always be faced.

How do you find the Salesian charism in Africa? How to measure the overall impact of our contribution?

The impact of the Salesian charism in Africa is commendable. The Salesians across the African continent are committed in the mission entrusted to them. The bishops are appreciative of the Salesian mission. The Salesians are invited to extend their service in the dioceses, especially in the field of education, keeping in mind the vulnerable, the poor and youth at risk. The Church in Africa is very optimistic about our mission for the poor and the young.

What can you tell us about the important mission of "SAFCAM"?

SAFCAM – Salesian Formation Centre for Africa and Madagascar is a need of the time for ongoing formation. It is still young and in the initial stage. Fr Francois [Dufuour] and myself are involved in this project. This centre is not only for the Salesians, but also for the members of the Salesian Family and our lay collaborators in the continent of Africa. This animation centre is also foreseen for the formation of the formators, spiritual accompaniment and many other themes pertaining to Salesianity. We are now focusing on the implementation of the guidelines of the GC28 by framing a six-year plan. Hence, we are hopeful to go ahead with this project, keeping in mind the limitations of the COVID-19 pandemic situation.

The major part of your life, you have lived in Africa. What makes you happy and enthusiastic as a missionary of 40+ years in Africa?

My life as a missionary in Africa is a memorable one. I was happy to render my service in the Youth Pastoral and Formation sectors. The years spent in the youth services sector in Rwanda helped me keep alive my missionary zeal. I am ready to continue the Salesian mission in the field of education and formation. By God’s grace and good health, I am willing to extend my service for the youngsters, young confreres in formation and the poor people.

The Rector Major requested you make an extraordinary visit this year. How was your experience in making this visit?

I had to pray over it before giving my response to the Rector Major. After two days, I accepted this request. I hope that this visit was a fruitful one for the confreres, especially to know the quality of the Salesian mission that is carried out in different communities. I was glad to discover and learn from this visit many good works that are rendered by the Salesians.


ANS - “Agenzia iNfo Salesiana” is a on-line almost daily publication, the communication agency of the Salesian Congregation enrolled in the Press Register of the Tibunal of Rome as n 153/2007.

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