New Comboni Lay Missionary Prepares for a Journey of Faith

by: Ellen Baverman
This article first appeared in Comboni Missions Magazine Spring 2020.

Rossie Patlan was intent on serving her community, even as a child. At a young age, she joined the priests and nuns in her parish in Los Angeles, California, to attend to the sick, visit the homebound, and minister to those in the community. As an altar server, she felt that it was her job to give more of herself to the Church.

These first steps were the making of a vibrant missionary heart. Today, at thirty-one, Rossie continues to give herself to the Church. She has decided to serve as a Comboni Lay Missionary in Brazil beginning this spring. After years of smaller “yesses,” Rossie knew her calling and her happiness were tied to a missionary life.

Rossie grew up in a bilingual household with Mexican-American parents. She learned to love her Catholic faith from her close-knit family. Her faith grew and became so dear to her, that she could not keep it to herself. In her twenties, Rossie had a total conversion. She surrendered everything to God. She began doing mission work and youth ministry all over California, Nevada, Oregon, and the surrounding areas. She and her team would visit churches and build programs for the youth and other young adult ministries.

Despite all her work, Rossie still felt a gentle pull on her heart. “Even with all of this, I still wanted something else, something even more,” she explained.

At this time, she turned to her family and her trusted friend, Comboni Missionary Father Gerardo de Tomasi, who suggested the Comboni Lay Missionary program to Rossie.

“I was scared because this was such a big step,” she said. “But, for some reason, I felt really at peace with the Comboni Missionaries.” She explained that she was, “so comfortable with these priests because they had helped me through difficult times already.”

When it came time to interview for this Missionary role, Rossie had a strong sense of inner peace. She already felt like she belonged.

Rossie hopes to soon depart for her three years of missionary service in Piquia, Brazil, after three and a half months of preparation, retreats, and relationship building with other missionaries.

Although she had the option to serve in a Spanish-speaking country, where she would have been linguistically at home, Rossie chose Brazil. She wanted the opportunity to learn the Portuguese language. “I chose to go to Brazil because I think this is a beautiful part of the mission, to learn from the people.”

Paul Wheeler, director of the Comboni Lay Missionary program for the North American Province, has a lot of confidence in his latest recruit. “Rossie is a deeply spiritual Catholic who has been a great addition to our work in Illinois and California,” he says. “Her leadership qualities and her experience in youth ministry, elder care, and parish work will be great assets as she joins the Comboni pastoral team in the town of Piquia, in Maranhao State.”

Rossie remains excited and ready to learn from the community she will be serving. Despite the fear of embarking on a new mission, she feels open and willing to go wherever God calls her. She explains that, “Being a missionary, so far, has taught me to be positive and look for beauty in the difficulty.”

And there have been many difficulties already. One of the challenges of answering God’s call, is choosing it over time with family and loved ones. Rossie’s family went through immense despair when she told them of her plan to go to Brazil. But, even when her parents were “scared and worried and crying all the time,” Rossie knew they would come to understand the sacrifice God was asking them all to make.

After time and many prayers, they did come around. Her family knew it was the right choice for Rossie’s servant heart. While sad to let her go, they embraced God’s call too.

Without question, there is hardship and fear when leaving everything familiar behind. “There is always fear,” Rossie explains.

“It never goes away, it is part of being human. Fears are always there—of not being able to communicate, not being accepted, of not being good enough . . . it does mess with me. But, the motivation the Holy Spirit provides is so much greater,” she says.

“Maybe, I will have something little to offer.”

Are You Called to Be a Lay Missionary?

The process of becoming a Comboni Lay Missionary involves an applications, admissions, and discernment process, followed by three and a half months of training in the Chicago area. We want our formation in Chicago to be fun and active, and we include our laypeople as partners in the process. Once your training is complete, we have many international locations in Africa and Central and South America that are interested in receiving our laypeople, where they may end up working in a broad range of ministries: church work, outreach and evangelization, health or medical services, project management, education and teaching, refugee ministries, or peace and justice work. For more information, check out our website at laymission-comboni.org, or contact director Paul Wheeler, at clmp-paul@sbcglobal.net.

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