Fr David Raju joined the Redemptorist pre-noviciate of the Bangalore Province, India, in 1971 soon after finishing his high school studies. He was only 17 years old at that time and could hardly speak or even write the English language. In a way, his journey started 1971 when he became a Redemptorist trainee. He made his first profession on 31st may 1976 and proceeded to the major seminary. In the major seminary of the Redemptorist they had an integrated course of studies. It was not like today where theology is separate from theology. Rather, it was a 6 year course of both subjects together.
After four years, Fr Raju and his companions were sent for one year of pastoral experience. During that one year they worked in Redemptorist parishes, stayed in villages and survived on whatever people gave them to eat. That experience gave them an opportunity to know the real life of people – their joys, sorrows hardships and struggles. All this experience in the parish among the people in villages was suppose to help one in their priestly ministry and preaching.
In 1982, on the 24th of June, Fr Raju was ordained a priest. Soon after the ordination he worked in the provincial archive for three months. After that he was sent back to his own region for about three months. The custom in India up to this day is that after the ordination one has to have one year of pastoral experience. For him, that year meant the senior priests in preaching missions in his own language which is Telugu.
In January 1983, Fr David Raju returned to the seminary to start a pastoral year of studies together with nine others. All nine of them together, so close in a small house and close to the parish, was a wonderful experience, it was beautiful.
The first four months were totally dedicated to writing sermons on various themes. Topics were given to them so that they could write their sermons. After four months a senior priest took one or two of them to the city parishes to preach missions in English. They had one mandatory week of visiting the homes of the parishioners and another of week of preaching. At the end of the mission they returned to their base for evaluation.
From November 1983, Fr Raju began to work in his own language. He worked in various capacities as vocations director, postulant director and helping in the parish as well as preaching mission until 1990. In 1990, he was made parish priest. He describes that as a difficult time because a very serious cyclone struck the area that he worked causing serious damage to the poor people and their homes. During his three years turn of being a parish priest, he was involved in the parish work, celebration of the sacraments and construction of homes for people. In 1993, Fr Raju felt tired that that he asked to be relieved as parish priest. He had had too much riding a motorcycle in the scotching heat and appropriating the heart rending emotional stories of people robbed of their homes also trying with little resources to give them a life.
In 1994. Fr Raju was transferred into another house where life was much quieter. It was a fairly new parish which had been started in 1990. When he went to this place, Redemptorist yet not yet built a presbytery. Thus, one of them stayed in the main church and another one stayed in the sacristy (a small little room). They did not have even the basic facilities such as a proper bathroom and good toilet. They had no proper kitchen but improvised for that. Fr Raju remembers that every evening he would set up a bad in the church and in the morning take it away before mass.
In spite all this, it was a very exciting time for him to be so intimately close with the people, especially the poorest of the poor. While he was still there they began constructing a priest’s home. A companion of his was in charge of the construction. However, because of Fr Raju’s experience they worked together to complete the construction. The house was competed in February 1995. They moved into the house and after only one month Fr Raju was moved!!
His provincial asked him to go to Kenya to join the mission there. Therefore, he went to Kenya in October 1995. He worked in Kenya from 1995 to 2000. He worked in Kenya for five years. When he first arrived, Redemptorists had only one house two hundred kilometres from the capital city Nirobi in a place called Iruma. He learnt a little bit of Kimeru, the local language. He was able to celebrate all the sacraments in that language. He also did a course in Kiswahili which is the national language of Kenya. Fr David Raju would later become instrumental in extending the priest’s house. He was also instrumental in purchasing land in Karen, Nirobi city, for the extension of their future ministry. This is where the Redemptorist seminarians now reside. What happened is that, after consultations with the community, prior to our provincial visit, they talked about the possibility of purchasing this piece of land and the provincial approved the plan. It turned out to be the best choice as Hekima college is just 6 kilometres away and other colleges are in the vicinity.
In 2000, Fr Raju was asked to go to Zimbabwe to accompany Kenyan students in their philosophical studies as well as to help Fr Ronald J. McAinsh in the formation programme. On his arrival he wanted to learn Shona straightway but was discouraged when then nun who was taking him for lessons shouted at him right on the first day. He consensequwntly decided not to go for any formal studies in Shona. Rather, he took the missal to his room and read it several times. He then went to Benjamin, Raymond and William and asked them to help him in his pronunciations. They corrected him and by the fifth day he was able to celebrated mass in the Shona language.
From 2000 to 2004 in June. Fr Raju worked in the parishes of Tafara and Mabvuku. He was also involved with the students. He also preached retreats to various priests and nuns. This was an exciting experience, one of his very happy experiences. People in both Tafara and Mabvuku always received him with open arms not only in the parish churches but also in their own homes. He felt at home.
When Fr Raju arrived at Alphonsus formation House there were very few students. After his arrival he saw the figure rise up to 40. He found the spirit of community, the spirit of regular prayer was very good. For him, the students were always coordinal and pleasant. He used to take colloquial for the younger group while Fr McAinsh used to look after the senior guys. Himslef and Fr McAinsh took turns to celebrate mass with the students. He says Sr Sheila was always wonderful. She was responsible for the shopping of the house. He recalls going out with her to shop looking for provisions and queuing up in various shops.
Fr Raju recalls that when he arrived builders were giving final touches to Our Lady’s building. However, when he came earlier for a pan-African meeting he did not have a room to stay but was able to put up in an improvised accommodation.
In the parish, Fr Raju used to visit the sick on Tuesdays and Fridays. These visits were most enriching for him personally. At that time, most of the sick people were HIV patients. However, they taught him to always have hope in life. They hardly grumbled or complained. They seemed to be cheerful even in the midst of their suffering. Fr Raju also interacted with various guilds in the parish. He loved the singing. He misses his ‘comic’ translator in Mabvuku, the late Mr Bouti.
In 2005, in October Fr Raju went to South Africa in Rustenburg and took charge of the novices of South Africa Zimbabwe and Kenya. Again, it was another very enriching experience for him. As the noviciate, they had a lot of shopping to do every week. His experience with the novices was pleasant. It was hard work as he had to single handedly take classes all week long. He made efforts to ensure regular observance including regular prayer, recollections, colloquials, picnics and so forth. He wanted the noviciate to be a time of learning, praying, socialising and feasting. He also had a little bit of parish work which I enjoyed.
Fr Raju returned to Zimbabwe in June 2007. Fr McAinsh asked him to go to Borrowdale to be with Fr William Guri and he was there for one full year. He was quiet active in all the three centres of St Gerard, Nazareth and Hatcliffe. He found that year a different experience because the parish itself is affluent. He was exposed to people of different backgrounds and cultures. He enjoyed The section masses in St Gerard as there was always food and chatting after mass. He always felt safe in Harare unlike in other countries. He could go out any time of the day without fear. He even went to the notorious Mbare but experienced no problem.
Fr Raju sums up his experience as follows: ‘From the bottom of my heart I am saying I enjoyed the people of Zimbabwe, the country, the city everything … I really enjoyed. It was all about the relationship with the people, their acceptance. I enjoyed the great cooperation.’