Journalist-turned-missionary finds happiness in evangelization

Manrique with local children in Ethiopia.
Manrique with local children in Ethiopia.

.- Belén Manrique had a promising career in journalism, surrounded by good friends and family. But at age 30, she left her life in Spain behind to become a missionary in Ethiopia.

“I always say that the mission is never boring. It's a thousand times better than what we could imagine. It's a life full of surprises if you put yourself in the Lord's hands,” she told ACI Prensa, CNA's Spanish-language sister agency, during a recent visit to Rome.

“I live in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, and my mission is to be a witness to the love of God there where he puts me, to build up the Church because it's very poor there. The Christian community is very weak, and so it is very important to help the people know Jesus Christ,” she explained.

Despite worldly success, “the life I led did not fulfill me,” she said. “The plan God had for me was different, and when I discovered that what he wanted was for me to bring the love of God to people who don't know him, I did not doubt God's call – it wasn't hard for me to leave my job as a journalist or leave Madrid.”

Manrique belongs to the Neocatechumenal Way, an ecclesial movement that focuses on post-baptismal adult formation. She said the movement helped her grow in faith.

“I was able to encounter Jesus Christ and realize that he's the only one who gives happiness to man. I went there where I found the mission the Lord had planned for me.”

Her first destination in Ethiopia was the eastern desert, “where most people are Muslims.”

“I realized it was necessary for the Church to come there to bring the Gospel to those people who don't know [Christ],” she said. “Ethiopia is 50 percent Muslim and 50 percent Christian, but most of them are Orthodox Christians. The Catholic Church is less than 1 percent of the population.”

“We're building a 'missio ad gentes' on the outskirts of Addis Ababa, in a neighborhood where the Catholic Church has no presence. Besides the Orthodox, there are a lot of Protestants,” she said.

Manrique’s work consists of helping out in the parishes, and talking to people. She stressed that success in her mission is “not about gaining followers but of being witnesses and making Jesus Christ known.”

“Not long ago a boy asked me: 'Can you be a Catholic without being a nun or a priest'? Most of the Catholics that have come to Ethiopia are nuns and priests, and so they have that thought.”

She added that she often encounters Ethiopians who want to leave their country, either to flee violence or because they have seen an idealized version of Europe on television, and believe life there to be luxurious and worry-free.

“Every day, there's someone who asks me to bring him to my country, and I tell them that the one who's not going back to her country is me,” she said. “I tell them that I lived in this idyllic world that they want to go to, and I have renounced it.”

“I explain that riches don't give happiness, that I had all that which they long for and it wasn't making me happy.  I'm much happier because God gives happiness and love for one's neighbor.”

This article was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

Tags: Catholic News, Evangelization, Neocatechumenal Way, Ethiopia