By Theresa Carson
Before completing his studies at Catholic Theological Union and being ordained to the priesthood on Saturday, Father Akizou Kamina SVD, 33, wrote a thesis titled: God, the Poor and the Oppressed: Toward a Formulation of Interreligious Theologies of Liberation in Togo.
His childhood in Togo, West Africa, led him to being open to other ways of thinking. The predominant number of his friends in his hometown Sokode practice Islam. He appreciates that they did not ostracize him because of his Christian faith. He carries that philosophy into his life as a missionary.
To fulfill his Cross-Cultural Training Program (CTP), part of the Divine Word formation process, Father Kamina spent two years in Brazil.
“The context of someone in South America is different than someone in Asia,” said Father Kamina. “There is not one way of doing theology. We cannot force our way of doing theology on others.”
He expounded upon his experience of Brazil. People in the Amazon move like the river, very slowly, he said.
“I learned a lot, but also it was a very challenging experience, especially in the Amazon,” he said. “They come late to the meetings and pastoral activities and take a long time to make decisions. I felt loved by those families, share din struggles, difficulties, pain.”
Their acceptance of him did not come easy, though. “They are very closed; they don’t open up to you until they trust you.”
He spent much time traveling on the river and enjoyed working with the young adults—organizing retreats and conferences to reinforce their spirituality and vocational lives.
“They helped me to grow,” said Father Kamina, who served at San Domingos Savio parish in Humaita, Brazil. “I had to dance like them. They taught me to follow their speed and walk with them on their pace. They have a different faith journey from mine. Working with them made me a better listener.”
“Being a missionary is not about taking the lead. We are all on this journey together. Like a music, we are called to play it together and empowering each other on the journey.”
When he returned to Chicago to complete his seminary studies, he was ordained as a transitional deacon and assigned to the Shrine of our Lady of Pompeii in Chicago’s Little Italy neighborhood.
In addition, he also did social justice outreach with Inner Muslim Action Network (IMAN), a Muslim organization in the South Side Chicago. Through IMAN, he contributed to GAPA (Grassroot Alliance for Police Accountability) and a community empowerment program in Englewood neighborhood in South Side Chicago.
“They don’t have anywhere to go,” he said. “Some of them lost all of their family members. We house them and teach them vocational skills. Anyone can apply.”
Father Kamina first considered the priesthood as an altar boy. After earning a degree in accounting and management, his father allowed him to enter the seminary and study for the priesthood. He recalled the support he received from his Muslim friends in Togo when he told them that he planned to become a priest.
“For me that was very powerful, receiving a lot of support from non-Christians,” he said.
Father Kamina will remain in the Chicago Province for his first assignment. He has been assigned to Divine Word College in Epworth, Iowa, where he will teach and serve as a formator.
To learn more about Father Kamina, take a look at this 2015 article about him: www.divineword.org/news/feature/akizou-gerard-kamina/