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Rwandan experience shapes ministry


When Kenyan-born Fr Dominick Awiti Okwadha arrived to serve the Catholics of Rwanda he soon realised his ability “to listen” would be in great demand as people continued to recover from the genocide of the 1990s.

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It also quickly became apparent that he might be of greater assistance to his parishioners if he had some formal counselling skills and so embarked on years of study to become a counselling psychologist.

Now serving the Adelaide Archdiocese for the next four years, Fr Dominick (pictured) hopes to continue to offer a compassionate listening ear to parishioners.

Fr Dominick, 51, told The Southern Cross that Rwanda was still a country affected by the conflict between the Hutus and Tutsis, and that being an outspoken priest in this environment came with its own risks.

“Of course, I feared for my safety many times,” he said, referring to some homilies in which he had dared to speak out against the government.

“I was lucky enough not to be put in gaol. You have to be very careful what you say.”

After being ordained in 2000, Fr Dominick was appointed to serve in Rwanda and immediately he sensed how the genocide in the 1990s continued to cast a dark shadow over the country.

“When I was working in the parishes I felt that the people needed someone to listen to them and saw how they could be helped with counselling,” he said.

When he was later sent to Barcelona, Spain, to undertake studies he chose to pursue psychology as he knew this would assist his ministry.

Upon returning to Rwanda Fr Dominick served as the chaplain at a psychiatric hospital sponsored by the Brothers of Charity, offering pastoral care and counselling to patients and hospital staff.

He also taught counselling psychology to the novices of the Brothers of Charity, and his most recent appointment was teaching social studies and communication skills at St Vincent’s Minor Seminary in Ndera.

Fr Dominick said his call to the priesthood was partly influenced by his desire to follow in the footsteps of his older brother who was in the seminary, and to wear the elaborate robes worn by the local priest.

“I used to see my brother at Mass and the parish priest was a good friend of my father. They would come to visit us and I thought I wanted to dress like him, with the robes and all that,” he laughed.

During Year 6 at primary school he became an altar server and then entered the minor seminary, and his path to the priesthood was set.

At a staff gathering to welcome Fr Dominick and new chaplains Fr Paul Park (Korean community) and Fr Michal Skiba (Polish community), Fr Philip Marshall thanked the international priests for their service.

“You bring a missionary heart to a country and an Archdiocese that has its own culture and a thirst and a hunger for faith that you will nourish,” Fr Marshall said.

“We want to surround you with care, friendship, community and love because you are doing an extraordinarily generous thing by being here and we know you will shape us, enrich us and we look forward to that.”

Fr Dominick joins Kenyan priests – Fr Charles Lukati, Fr Michael Odiwa and Fr Michael Musyoka – who are also serving in the Archdiocese.


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