On Aug. 8, seven young men professed first vows at Techny, Ill., and became members of the Society of the Divine Word. They come from Indonesia, the Philippines, Togo, the United States and Vietnam. During their novitiate year together, they prayed, reflected and discerned. Today, we present Akizou Gerard Kamina.
To see with the heart brings Frater Akizou Gerard Kamina joy
By Theresa Carson
In 1998 when Gerard Akizou Kamina was ten years old, his parents divorced. That event marked the beginning of his Catholic Christian life because his paternal grandmother came to visit and took him to the church, said the 27-year-old from Togo, West Africa.
"She was so important to me,” he said in a soft voice. “I consider her as my own mom because I was so close to her. She took me to catechism class in 1998. That year, I felt the desire to be an altar boy. I asked a friend, ‘Would I have to pay to join the group?’ He said, ‘No, just go to the meeting.’”
And so Akizou went and thus began the beginning of his vocation. “When I served Mass, they said I look like a priest. They encouraged me,” he said.
Akizou received First Communion at age 13 and was confirmed at 15. Of the 80 people in the confirmation class, he is the only one who is in the seminary.
“My dad especially didn’t agree with my vocation,” he said. So, Akizou sought out religious formation on his own. He became involved in the diocese and with the children’s missionary organizations. In middle school, he began discernment with the Franciscans.
“They helped me understand more about religious life,” he said.
In time, he realized that he wanted a stake in whether he’d become a brother or a priest, and the Franciscan formation process didn’t allow the individual to take part in the decision-making process. In 2007, he stepped back and took a look at his vocation. During that time, his second year of college, he met Divine Word Missionaries.
“When I finished college, I wanted a change,” said Akizou, who holds a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and an associate’s degree in accounting and management. “In my culture, you cannot do anything without the permission of your parents. My culture is a very social culture. If something goes wrong, then you can’t go back to your parents.”
He struggle with his dad about his vocation. Since his father adamantly opposed his vocation, Akizou cut ties with the Divine Word Missionaries. But the quiet whisper within his heart, the desire to become a religious, continued.
“I could have everything, but I would be an unhappy man, so I made the decision to go back to my vocation,” he recalled.
In 2009, he reconnected with the Divine Word Missionaries. “I felt happy and peaceful. I went back to the vocation and confronted my dad and faced him. I told him that’s what I wanted to do. I was scared. I was surprised when he said okay. That was very powerful.”
The following year, he joined the seminary. “I love my ministry,” he said. "I love what I do. It’s demanding and requires a lot of energy.”
On Sundays and Mondays, Akizou visited the homebound as his novitiate ministry. On one particular day, a resident at a nursing care facility approached him. She wanted to talk. The staff tried to intervene, but she was insistent.
She spoke rapidly trying to say all that she wanted to say before the nurses stopped her. Akizou told them that it was okay, that he had time for her. The woman recognized that he was the few people who would listen to her. She thanked him.
“If I can’t bring joy to other people, then why am I here?” he rhetorically asked. Each Sunday, he saw about 30 parishioners from St. Joseph the Worker in Wheeling, Ill. On Mondays, he visited parishioners of St. Norbert in Northbrook, Ill. “Everything that someone comes to you and tells you has a meaning.
“Sometimes I tell the ministers [of Communion from the parish] to move on because I know they don’t have that time. I can’t tell the person that I must move on. The person will feel I’m putting a boundary up.”
Togolese have a utilitarian understanding of time, he said. “If you don’t know if you have [enough] time, then you don’t go there. I always try to adapt myself—try to talk with people. If I was an introvert, I would have suffered a lot [during the transition to the United States]. I try to reach out to people and get involved in activities. I started making new friends. That was the way I learned about being a missionary.
“I want to give myself to God’s mission. Happiness is not feeling good; it’s about being good. My happiness comes from people, the parish, visiting the homebound and giving them Communion. I love them,” he said.
He begins each day with a prayer of gratitude. “I don’t deserve to be in the seminary,” he said. “Many good people are out there. If God calls me, then I’m precious to His eyes.”
He also regularly recalls another petition. The year that he joined the seminary, his grandmother passed away. “I always pray for her because I owe her everything.”
Akizou will join the Theologate community in Chicago’s Hyde Park and begin graduate studies at Catholic Theological Union in a few weeks.
Article posted: August 13, 2015