From Africa to regional Australia: Fr Eddie’s missionary journey

More than 12,000km from his home and family in Kenya, Fr Eddie Khaemba CSSP says while it has taken some time to become accustomed to life in a new country, he feels completely at home now as one of Australia’s many migrant priests.

The youngest child of a family of 17, Fr Eddie was ordained in 2011 in Kenya for the Congregation of the Holy Spirit – often known as Holy Ghost Fathers or Spiritans – an international religious congregation with members based in almost 50 countries around the world. Australia is home to nine active and two retired Spiritan priests.

Fr Eddie KhaembaAlthough he knew his priestly ministry would take him to new parts of the world, Fr Eddie says it was challenging when he was sent to Germany after his ordination. A major hurdle was learning the German language. He failed his first test, but passed three months later.

“When I left home to go to Germany, you feel like you have lost some part of you,” he says. “As much as we were trained to be missionaries, you miss your family and your connections.

“It’s a challenge. But, as time goes by, I think you end up adapting.”

After several years in Germany, Fr Eddie responded to a call for priests to minister to Aboriginal communities in Australia, having spent some time Down Under as part of his pastoral experience program as a deacon.

During his seven years in the Western Australian dioceses of Broome and Geraldton, Fr Eddie says he quickly observed great benefits from getting involved in the lives of community members.

“When I was in Broome, what helped me was going out for activities like camping and fishing, and getting involved in sports,” he says.

“When you go out and involve yourself in those activities, you meet people in their original state.”

His interactions with the Aboriginal communities were particularly rewarding, Fr Eddie adds.

“The Aboriginal people are very welcoming and very generous,” he says. “Every time they go out fishing or hunting, they bring you something, and they invite you to go out with them.

“They are very spiritual people even though they don’t come to church… they still have a lot of respect for the Catholic religion.”

Unlike his home in Kenya, where priests have to sneak away from large crowds of people seeking them, Fr Eddie says the Australian context requires priests to go out to the people.

“In Africa, the people come to us, but here you have to make an effort after Mass to stand outside the church and say ‘hello’ to people,” he says. “It’s so different, and that’s why, as a new priest, you really need to take time just to learn the culture.”

Ministering in some of the most remote parts of the country provided additional challenges, Fr Eddie says.

“The first challenge is the big distances you have to go to meet people,” he says. “When I was in the parish of Bidyadanga La Grange, I used to go to the desert communities almost 900km away.

“Then I would go there and there would only be five people for Mass. Even if it is only one person, they represent the Body of Christ, but it can be frustrating.”

While such numbers attending Mass may reflect the overall decline in Mass attendance in Australia over recent years, Fr Eddie says the same issues facing the Church in Australia are also present in other parts of the world.

“The world has become a small village, so the things that are affecting Australia are also affecting Africa,” he says. “The Church in Africa is beginning to get tired, and the number of ordinations in Africa is decreasing.”

Now based at Holy Spirit Parish in Bray Park, in the Archdiocese of Brisbane, Fr Eddie says his advice for migrant priests coming to Australia is to participate in the regular activities and gatherings of the community as much as possible and to be patient.

“Take time to learn, because we do things differently where we come from,” he says. “Don’t be in a rush to make an impression, don’t be in a rush to solve things, don’t be in a rush to prove what you are worth. Just take time and learn from the people; and join them in their activities because I think that’s very helpful in getting used to the culture.”


Image: Diocese of Geraldton
Words: Matthew Biddle

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