Easy Access To A Priest

Oblate Formation

By Mike Viola

Bro. Raphael Banda, OMI

When Bro. Rafael Banda, OMI, was exploring a calling to religious life, he looked at two options, joining the local diocese or the Missionary Oblates. The decision didn’t come down to theology or philosophy. Rather, it was a decision made on something much simpler – access.

“To me the diocesan priests always seemed so very far away from the people. You saw them at the altar and that was about it,” explained Bro. Rafael. “But the Oblates are different.  They greet you; they love you. They become part of your family. The Oblates give the people they serve easy access to a priest.”

Brother Rafael has had easy access to the Oblates ever since he was a child growing up in Lusaka, Zambia. His family are members of the Oblates’ Mary Immaculate Parish and Bro. Rafael became an Altar Server while in grade school. Later he joined the choir, youth group and vocation club.

In the vocation club Bro. Rafael examined a variety of options for his future including marriage and maybe a medical career. But he kept being drawn back to the idea of religious life.  He then contacted the Oblate Vocation Director in Zambia, Fr Ron Walker, OMI.

“I became very close to Fr. Ron who was truly a friend to everyone,” said Bro. Rafael. “He was wonderful in showing me the way to find happiness as a Missionary Oblate.”

Brother Rafael joined the Oblates’ pre-novitiate program in Zambia.  He then spent a year in South Africa attending the novitiate, and then took theology courses at the Oblates’ St. Joseph Scholasticate in Cedara, South Africa.

In 2021, Bro. Rafael was given the honor of becoming a student at Oblate School of Theology (OST) in San Antonio, Texas. He is now part of a global community of Oblate seminarians studying at OST.

Fr. Stephen Montez, OMI visits with Bro. Raphael at the Scholasticate residence in San Antonio

In his studies Bro. Rafael says he has become especially drawn to a legendary Oblate missionary – Bl. Joseph Gerard, OMI. At the request of the Oblate founder, St. Eugene de Mazenod, Bl. Joseph left France at age 22 to become a missionary in southern Africa. Over the next 61 years he would never see his native country again.

“Saint Eugene calls us to go out and serve, to be missionaries,” said Bro. Rafael. “That is what I want to do, whether it is back home serving in Zambia or in a far-off place like Brazil or the Philippines.”

And wherever Bro. Rafael’s Oblate journey takes him, he will always be providing people with easy access to a priest.