My Experience with Fr Rocco: A Puzzle of Religious Life

After I was ordained a deacon by our very own Bishop Jose’ Luis Ponce Imc.  I was posted to Madadeni to exercise my diaconate under Fr Rocco, I must say I was scared as all of us were of Fr Rocco. We didn’t know how to handle his personality, he could scare the hell out of you when angry, but while you were still in shock Fr Rocco would be back smiling and joyful having forgotten what just happened. But at personal level, Rocco was the sweetest human being: so understanding, so caring; so down to earth; he will support you to succeed in whatever it is that you were doing; a man who loved community life and always felt bad when he had to miss community activity. 

Fr. Rocco Marra (left), Fr. Mario Barbero (center) and Fr. Francis Onyango in Casa Madre – Torino in September last year. 

My life with Fr Rocco helped me look at religious life from a very different perspective. First, I served under him as a deacon and indeed he was of great help (then he travelled to Kenya for my ordination). On my return, I worked with him as his assistant for eight months until when we closed over Madadeni and handed it over to the diocese. The eight months i worked with him was like a real honeymoon for a newly ordained priest. We then moved together to Swaziland to open a new mission in Manzini where he became my second assistant and we worked together so well for nearly two years before he was elected the delegate superior, a term he did not finish due to ill health. As my assistant, he was obedient in every sense. Never did we fight over pastoral issues. He was someone you could count on, anytime, any day.

Looking at these alternates I could ask myself: if we didn’t work well with Fr Rocco when I was a deacon or when I was his assistant, would we have worked together with him when he became my assistant, and if we didn’t work well with him as my assistant how would we have related with him as the superior? From this I learnt how religious life can humble a person, at one moment you are in charge the next moment someone is and trying to make someone’s life miserable may only be counter-productive especially when the roles are reversed. Religious Life calls for true spirit of brotherhood adorned with humility. Disagreements will be there, yes, like there are in any human family, but the true spirit of brotherhood wrapped in humility will save us a lot of anger, heartaches, and desire for revenge! It’s unfortunate that sometimes missionaries are bitter with each other and unable to relate just because someone mistreated the other when circumstances favoured them, but circumstances change all the time like they did for me and Fr Rocco but true brotherhood will last the test of time!

Fr Rocco liked saying: “There is no peace in this world!” Hopefully, he now finds true peace in Christ!

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