Sister Enza Guccione is one of the 11 women who will give testimony this coming March 8, during theVoices of Faithconference. A missionary in Nigeria since 1996, at present she is involved in an apostolate of service to the populations of the problematic river area of the Niger, often subject to flooding.
In 2009, with the support of the Bishop of Onitsha, Sister Enza founded the Onlus Association “Immanuel Family.” At present she lives in the island of Igbedor, in the Niger, where, assisted by two local volunteers, she manages development projects, evangelization and education for close to 8,000 people, 5,000 of whom are children.
In conversation with ZENIT, Sister Guccione talked about her extraordinary missionary experience.
ZENIT: Sister Enza, you will take part this coming March 8 in “Voices of Faith. What sort of testimony will you give?
Sister Guccione: I believe my testimony is based on an experience of life lived and transformed by the events of life itself. A simple experience, charged with humanity and lived ordinariness, in keeping with my full capacities as “instrument of God,” at the disposition of God, through which the love of God can shine, who continues to hear the cry of His peoples and descends to save them.
ZENIT: Can you tell us the history of your vocation?
Sister Guccione: My vocation was manifested at the age of 13, when I felt the Lord’s presence for the first time; it matured and at the age of 20, I entered the Daughters of Saint Joseph, fascinated by their Eucharistic charism. I don’t have a particular history: I lived with my family and led a very normal life, but with a particular attraction to the beauty of nature, especially the sea, which gives me the sense of God’s infinity, which envelops everything. In important moments of reflection and discernment I matured as I was contemplating the sea.
ZENIT: How did your mission in Nigeria begin?
Sister Guccione: I was sent to Nigeria by my Congregation in 1996, to take care of the formation of young Nigerian girls who wished to undertake the path to religious consecration.
In 2003, by pure accident, I was invited to visit a river village. In going there I felt great enthusiasm because of the idea of having to cross the river, ignorant of what I would find. On returning, something had touched the depth of my being. In 2005 I took part in the First Diocesan Synod in Onitsha. I was profoundly touched by the heartbroken appeal of the Archbishop, addressed especially to the Religious, and regarding in fact those river areas, far from the maternal care of the Church, areas in which the proclamation of the Word had not yet entered. I felt strongly in me the need and the desire to do something concrete for those persons, part of the people of God, Mystical Body of Christ, needing care, attention who, above all, needed to be heard.
ZENIT: The Africa in which you missionaries live is very different from the “postcard” or “Safari” Africa that many Westerners imagine …
Sister Guccione: Yes, the Africa I met has nothing to do with the romantic and movie vision of safaris and postcards. It’s not that of a postcard, but is very complex, to be understood, accepted, valued and respected, rich in values from which to draw and of sufferings that films and postcards don’t reflect.
ZENIT: Missions in developing countries require great vigor, courage and sacrifice. Has there ever been a moment in which you felt prey of discomfort and loath to continue? Or, on the contrary, has your motivation never known a giving in?
Sister Guccione: There have been moments that, more than discouraged, I felt impotent, especially in face of grave situations — I did not have the sufficient means to save children and women from death, especially pregnant women. It is terrible to see with full awareness the infinite needs and have only poor means to address them. Insufficient means for a simple strategy of action. It is now that one’s conviction and consequent motivation become stronger, because the alternative for those people, in the absence of these, is “nothing.”
ZENIT: Today especially the missionary experience is open to the laity. How many laymen are there in your mission? Would you encourage the laity more — perhaps young people without a religious vocation – to engage in an apostolate like yours?
Sister Guccione: There are several laymen who collaborate with us in the village; some of them come from other neighboring cities. However, there are also Italian laymen who would like to come to offer their service and have such a life experience. Unfortunately, we are not yet in condition to be able to offer hospitality to so many young people, and not even to young people who have made a request, because we don’t have a house in which to lodge them. There are 12 of us [religious] and we live in a house with four rooms. .. with all the consequences that I’ll let you imagine.
ZENIT: Those who go on mission to African or Latin American countries often return home saying: “I received more than I gave.” Is this true of you also?
Sister Guccione: Every occasion in which one can give of oneself, is always an experience in which one feels fulfilled in the depth of one’s being. To give oneself, in fact, satiates the thirst of man’s heart. And this doesn’t happen only by going to Africa or Latin America. In my opinion, this is the reason why one “returns” with a joyful heart and the certainty of having received more than one has given. In Africa and Latin America I think that one experiences those human values that have been lost in Europe: hospitality, the sacredness of the person, belonging to a family, sharing, spontaneity and the capacity to be together, to be able to enjoy little things.[Translation by ZENIT]
For information and further reflection on Sister Enza Guccione’s activities: