509 - March 2011
February 7th, 2011 - March 6th, 2011



CONGO: Facing future challenges

During their reflection days after their annual retreat in January, the Oblates from the Province of Congo looked at the challenges that the new provincial administration will need to face after it is named by the Superior General in Council in 2011. The provincial secretary, Fr. Jean-Claude KIANGA sent this report. 

There were 54 of us present on January 14. Fathers Alfons KEUTER, Constant KIENGE-KIENGE and Edy MABILA had joined us the previous evening. Together, we began our “reflection days” after the retreat. 

During his homily at the morning Mass, Fr. Jean-Baptiste MALENGE put the liturgical texts of the day into our context: if the paralytic mentioned in the Gospel was the Oblate Province of Congo, for whom should he ask the Lord’s healing? And what if we were the four persons carrying the paralytic? Doesn’t the number four represent the four corners or the four national languages of the Democratic Republic of Congo, so that the Lord is inviting us to His service, no matter what our origins? 

On this opening day of our “reflection days,” the Provincial Superior, Macaire MANIMBA, had the task of putting things into context. He evaluated his second term at the helm of the province since 2008. 

He noted that the times have been hard, referring in particular to the global financial crisis. The challenge has been to know how to rely first of all on oneself, on the work of each one and the sharing of goods, in accordance with our religious identity. 

Considering the specific goals and strategies adopted by the Council, the evaluation focused on the primacy of spirituality and concern about the quality of life in our local communities. The provincial also examined our commitments in the mission of the Church and the evangelization of the poor. 

Receiving the greatest amount of attention was the area of economics and finances. The province is still too dependent on outside sources. The situation requires a change, through good management and improved productivity. Unfortunately, difficulties have occurred, with the collapse of our supply centers in Kinshasa and Kikwit. Fortunately, with the help of the General Administration, a new financial system has been implemented. 

The provincial also indicated the ways planned or completed by his administration to free ourselves from economic and financial dependence. The decision taken in 2004 and implemented in 2006 has borne much fruit. 

Some projects have also been started for the future. But until 2016, the province will have debts to pay, before being able to realize a real, relative financial autonomy. 

Filled with hope and audacity, we will need to effect a real change of mentalities and behavior. The provincial pointed out many unfinished tasks which are challenges for one and all. At the root, there is our relationship to money and the common good. The difficulties vis-à-vis our sharing and the common good also require us to reflect upon the relationship between our vow of poverty and our way of responding to the numerous requests from the poor and from our families. Finally, it is a question of our vow of obedience which calls upon each of us to be accountable in the way we manage material goods.

CAMEROON: The barefoot missionary
“One particular example that can encourage you to strive for holiness of life is that of Father Simon Mpeke, known as Baba Simon.” These are the words of Pope Benedict XVI during his first pilgrimage to Africa in 2009; he spoke of the “barefoot missionary” in the Basilica of Mary, Queen of Apostles, in Yaoundé, in March of that year.

Servant of God, Baba Simon (1906-1975) was among the first eight Cameroonians to be ordained priests; he was ordained on December 8, 1935 for the Vicariate of Douala. He passed the first years of his priesthood ministering in the parishes of Ngovayang and New Bell - Douala. At age 55, Baba Simon went to Northern Cameroon, as a Fidei Donum priest from the Diocese of Douala. He was received by the Oblate Bishop, Yves PLUMEY. 

“I came here to the Oblate Fathers of Mary Immaculate to work with them for the conversion of my brothers from Northern Cameroon…,” Baba Simon wrote about his mission. The northern part of Cameroon was considered a region firmly closed to the Good News, due to the domination of Islam. Evangelization in the region is one of the most beautiful pages of Oblate history. The Oblates arrived there in 1946. 

In addition to his holy life, Baba Simon practiced an evangelization that was Cameroonian. He approached the people and learned that they were “most holy.” His biggest discovery was their belief in the One God. “I thought I was dreaming. Everything is done with the same actions, the same words that are recorded in the Bible in the Law of Moses. They worship the God of the Patriarchs,” he wrote, referring to the religious practices of the montagnards. He worked among the “Kirdi” people. The term “Kirdi” is used by the Muslim invaders of Northern Cameroon to describe the local people who refuse to accept Islam. Its sense is pejorative, meaning literally “infidel dog.” It was originally assumed that the “Kirdi” practiced a primitive polytheism. It was momentous for Baba Simon to discover their belief in the One God. “They just need the message of Christ,” said the Servant of God.

Baba Simon founded the mission of Tokombere at “Kudumbar,” a word the means “battleground.” Today, there is a mission (houses for the priests and religious women, a hospital, a Catholic school, a library and a Catholic youth center) where there was once fighting between warring inhabitants of the surrounding mountains.

This Servant of God’s life is an example of love for God, expressed in ceaseless and fervent prayer and love for the people. The life of this missionary in Cameroon is an example of radical poverty.

The process of beatification of Servant of God, Baba Simon, began at the diocesan level in 2000 and closed with the submission to Rome of the dossier of about 800 pages in 2003. At the request of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, in August 2010, an additional investigation began. The Episcopal Delegate for this phase of the proceedings is an Oblate, Fr. Christophe ZIELENDA. (From www.oblaci.pl)

LESOTHO: Preparing another missionary project
The Oblates of Lesotho already have a mission in Botswana, which, so far, is operating in the Diocese of Gaborone. Now, from the same country of Botswana, we have received a request to send more Oblate missionaries, this time from the Catholic Vicariate of Francistown.

When describing the acute shortage of priests in his diocese, Bishop Frank Nubuasah, SVD, states, “At present, I have two parishes without priests and am forced to act as the parish priest of the two parishes which are three hundred (300) kilometers apart. I would be grateful if you could come to my assistance”.

The Provincial Council is positive about the request of Bishop Nubuasah and we are planning to send some Oblates to his diocese in a few months time. The event marks the expansion of the Oblate Mission in Botswana; and our Generalate welcomes the good news! (Maoblata, January 2011)

CAMEROON: Evangelizing the Pygmies
Forty-one years ago, four Oblates from Poland arrived in Cameroon to open one of the most beautiful chapters in the history of the evangelization of that country. Initially, their activities focused on the northern section of Cameroon, but over time, it reached the southeastern border of the country. Today, in the diocese of Yokadouma (East Cameroon), the shepherd is Bishop Eugene JURETZKO, also known as the “Bishop of the Pygmies.” His diocese is the size of Belgium and there are twelve parishes, four of them in the hands of the Oblates.

In villages of this area, some of the houses scattered along the road resemble a pile of hanging leaves; the better houses are made of clay. This road crosses the second “green lung” of our planet – the tropical forest of Equatorial Africa. But as the forest is beginning to disappear, so too is its real ruler, the Pygmy. They call themselves “Baka” (sitting on a branch) because they are like birds sitting on a branch, ready for flight at any moment. They lead a nomadic lifestyle, living on what they can find and hunting in the woods. They have few possessions. 

Salapoumbe is a typical Pygmy village where the pastor is Fr. Grzegorz JAGOWDZIK. Many of the parishioners have settled permanently in the village because of the opportunity to earn some money. The forest is no longer theirs. These virgin forests are being destroyed by logging activities, by the arrival of palm oil plantations and national parks for safaris. The Baka cannot hunt there as they did for centuries. Therefore, they are forced to find a new way of life wherein they are deprived of their tradition. They are regarded by neighboring tribes as subhuman and they become victims of a new type of racism. They find work in factories and fields for little remuneration, sometimes just a bottle of alcohol. Practices such as prostitution and polygamy, alien to their culture, are beginning to spread. Increasing numbers of Pygmies are infected by the diseases of alcoholism, HIV and AIDS. 

Fortunately, the Baka are not left to fend for themselves. “For decades, the Catholic Church has helped them,” states Fr. Janusz MILANOWSKI, a missionary from Yokadouma. “The work is difficult because of the instability of the Pygmies … They often disappear for a time as they go into the wilderness for a few weeks to collect wild mango. For these people, the forest is still their greatest treasure.”

It is not surprising that few people want to work among the Pygmies. Sometimes one sees well-equipped charitable centers and hospitals that are empty because it is impossible to find people willing to work there. Life is difficult in the middle of a tropical forest which is difficult to reach, where there is no water, no electricity, no mobile phone network, no Internet. 

In Salpoumbe, there is a hospital run by the Sisters of the Presentation of the Virgin. Pygmies come there from the forests, not only in Cameroon but also the Central African Republic and Gabon. 

The Baka Pygmies believe in one God. What they need is the liberating message of Christ the Savior who can free them from their sense of inferiority and the threats of aggressive civilization. The Oblates, together with their evangelical colleagues, care not only about the salvation of those who have not known Christ, but also about their social equality, as our Constitution 8 reminds us: Awareness of our own shortcomings humbles us, yet God’s power makes us confident as we strive to bring all people – especially the poor – to full consciousness of their dignity as human beings and as sons and daughters of God. (Jacek ZIOMEK in www.oblaci.pl)

SENEGAL: “Today, we are making history….”
December 12, 2010, is a day to write with golden letters in the history of the diocese of Ziguinchor. The founding of a shrine, the beginning of a diocesan pilgrimage, and the welcoming of a precious and beautiful statue of the Virgin Mary gave this day a truly historic character.

It all began with the burning and persuasive desire of the late Msgr. Maixent Coly, bishop of the diocese, when, in 2000, the first diocesan shrine dedicated to Our Lady of Peace at Temento became the shrine of the recently erected diocese of Kolda. Ten years later, while carefully retaining the beautiful experience of the interdiocesan pilgrimage to Temento on the third Sunday of Lent, the diocese of Ziguinchor wanted to find a site to build its own shrine and to begin its own diocesan pilgrimage.

Meanwhile, the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, having been invited in 1999 by Bishop Coly to take care of the shrine and the mission of Temento, arrived also at Elinkine in the diocese of Ziguinchor. They did not come alone; a large statue of the Virgin Mary, the gift of a Presentation of Mary community in France, came with them. From then on, all the ingredients were there for the realization of the dream of Bishop Coly who unexpectedly died on August 24, 2010, carried off by illness.

This long introduction was necessary in order to understand what happened at Elinkine this past December 12. With the support of Bishop François Jacolin, the bishop of Mende, who was visiting the diocese, a large group of pilgrims came together to welcome the Virgin Mary, in numbers far beyond the timid expectations of the organizers. Local and regional administrative officials, Muslim and Christian friends from other churches, priests and religious, the faithful and the curious: they all came together for this gathering at the feet of Mary.

When the bishop unveiled the statue, there was a spontaneous ovation that greeted the Mother of God and sincere emotion poured forth from all those present. The shrine which had just been founded was called Our Lady of the Mission. Why Our Lady of the Mission?

The authenticity of the Church’s mission never ceases to be highlighted by Pope Benedict XVI, and through our pastoral programs in which witness and mission are keywords for discovering and living. The mission is not finished; rather, it seems to be just beginning. The new evangelization is a specific need for today, both in the countries with an ancient Christian tradition but where the faith seems to be disappearing, as well as in our countries where one needs to establish the Gospel better and to discover even more our own way of incarnating it. With Mary, we want to breathe new life into our way of evangelizing. She is the one who knows how to be both mother and model for those who follow the Lord. A missionary Church which knows how to give witness to its faith; which knows how to be open to dialogue without surrendering the essence of the faith; a diocese which knows how to assume its mission of being, in the midst of the people and of society, the artisan of a new world through the strength of the Gospel. Mission, evangelization, with the courage and the simplicity of Mary.

In his homily, the bishop explained why and how Mary is a missionary, by going over the various phases of her life and her faith. Mary never ceases to show herself as authentically missionary by participating in an extraordinary way in the realization of the Father’s plan and the mission of her Son, Jesus. Father Paul Abel Mamba, the Apostolic Administrator of the diocese of Ziguinchor, exclaimed, during his comments that “today, we are making history in our diocese.”

A dream realized; a presence, that of Mary, which materializes and becomes a place of grace and blessing: that’s December 12, 2010, a day that will mark the future of an entire people. (Bruno FAVERO)

CAMEROON: A visit by bandits
Fr. Charles EKO tells of a visit by bandits at the new Oblate mission in Douala.

We are gradually regaining our confidence and especially our former energy after the robbery of which we were the victims on the night of Friday, February 11, 2011. Indeed, that day, after celebrating the Eucharist, I went to join Fr. Peter OSEKWUTE in the living room to share a meal and take a moment to chat. It was 19:30 and the catechumens were in the Church for their lessons. At around 20:30, when I left Fr. Peter to do some work in my office, the robbers took advantage of the departure of the catechumens to attack us in the rectory. Armed with guns, they held us down and after tying us up, they went to ransack our rooms, my office and the storeroom. They got away with our laptop computers, the digital camera that allowed us to share with our confreres and friends photos of the new Oblate mission, the sound equipment from the church, a television, our watches, small suitcases and some money.

As brave Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, we kept our smiles and especially our calm, something which surprised many of the people who came to commiserate with us. It is good to point out that attacks on rectories are commonplace in the archdiocese of Douala and any kind of security measure does not help much in the face of these rascals who always come heavily armed and ready to confront any resistance.

In fact, we are in a new mission where everything is yet to be done. They rectory is a delayed construction site and open on all sides. But slowly the faithful strive to complete the work; we live there and we give witness to a lifestyle that attracts the admiration of all those who pass by.

After this “welcoming experience,” we continued our activities, but we must admit that all of our efforts for progress have been wiped out; Fr. Peter and the youth had organized a prayer chain in the families. This activity had brought in a rather significant sum that allowed us to equip the parish with the sound system which has been carried off by the robbers. Now we are celebrating in a church with more than 300 people and without a sound system; that’s not easy. Slowly, we are encouraging our faithful to continue the work that has begun; they are more discouraged than we are. So goes the life of pioneers! (Charles Eko)

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