In honor of Claretian Mission Day 2020
here is an excerpt from an interview with
Brother Rene B. Lepage, C.M.F.
December 17, 2003
How old were you when you went to your first foreign mission? Where did you go? Who sent you and how did you feel about the assignment?
Actually, I went on two missionary experiences to some small villages in Alamos, Mexico with a group of seminarians. I was 27 years old the first time I went and it was during my last year at Claretville in 1966. We used two vehicles and drove to the Claretian house in Alamos. There we were met by Fr. Leo Delgado from our own province. The second time was a year later during my first year of assignment at Dominguez Seminary in 1967. We had two priests with us this time, Frs. John Zelia and John Fessler.
We went and stayed in remote villages to teach catechism and prepare the people and children for the sacraments. We stayed there for over two months each time and suffered many hardships of health, food and language. However, we all profited greatly from the experience. I wasn't very good with the language so I did most of the driving, cooking, shopping, and repairing of the vehicle. On one occasion, I even helped deliver a baby.
In 1969 Fr. McPolin asked for volunteers to go to Basilan City, Philippines to be missionaries there. I volunteered immediately…It was the most dangerous place I have been because of the rebel uprising and constant military action on the island. However, it was also the most rewarding and happiest time of my missionary experience. The people I worked with were wonderful. I worked with Christians, Muslims, Yakans, Samals, the Bajao and many others.
Which countries have you been assigned to as a missionary? How many years have you been in each mission?
Let's see. As I said before, I went to Mexico for two months in two different years. That was not much time but it made a great impression on me.
The first full mission assignment was to Basilan City, Philippines. I was there for six years from 1969 to 1975. On the way back to the United States after our Province’s commitment to that mission ended, Fr. Herrera and I passed through Cameroon and Nigeria, Africa and visited with our Claretian Communities there.
In Nigeria, Fr. Ambrosi was the Novice Master of a rapidly growing community. He was in poor health and needed to return to the U.S.A. I felt the need to offer my help there which I did when I returned to the U.S.A. I was assigned to and back in Nigeria by Christmas of 1976. Fr. Sherwood was just one month behind me since he also volunteered to help out in Nigeria. I spent eight fruitful years there before returning to the U.S.A. in 1985.
My Province answered the call of the General Government to accept another foreign mission. In 1986 the Province chose to go to English speaking Cameroon and work in Bamenda. I was there for only three years and left in 1989 after hurting my back.
What work have you done? Which have been the most satisfying? Why? What was most difficult about adjusting to another country, to another culture?
I have worn many hats during my years in different missions adapting to the needs of the place and especially the needs of my community. I have been: a relief program organizer, an auto mechanic, a welder, a plumber, a well digger, an electrician, a photographer, a printer, a press mechanic, a type setter, in short - a jack of all trades. I have served my communities as a treasurer, consultor and companion.
The most satisfying work was with the poor and needy. In the Philippines we had many evacuees to take care of as well as the Muslim and pagan tribal peoples. I always felt comfortable with them, working for them and with them. Nigeria is also close to my heart because I was part of a great beginning. There was always plenty of work for me to do there.
Most of what I do has to do with the material aspects of life. I have not been a preacher, or done other works that are usually considered to be apostolic. I think the work I have done and am doing is a witness of love and dedication. I am doing God's work in the only way I know how. I am trying to set a good example of what it means to be Christian and especially a Son of the Heart of Mary.
The most difficult adjustment has been the language barrier. I feel that that has limited the amount of good that could have been accomplished. It is a gift I do not have, no matter how hard I try. Next to that, would be the diseases and insects. Malaria is no fun and I have had it at least four times. Cameroon has all kinds of things that get under your flesh and compensate for a multitude of sins.
I found different cultures fascinating and enjoyed learning about them and experiencing them. Even the different foods at first took getting used to but I soon had my favorites.
Would you do it again?
Definitely, yes, without question!
To read the full interview in English, click here.
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