AFRICA-MADAGASCARA ministry with the deaf
Fr. Charles PHOOFOLO exercises a very specialized ministry in Lesotho: he carries the Good News to persons who are hearing impaired or deaf.
My involvement with sign language and the deaf community was made possible by the encouragement of the former provincial of Lesotho, who is now Bishop of Leribe, Augustinus Tumaole BANE. He obliged me to study sign language, despite my desire to study Braille during my year of regency. I had wished to go for Braille because I had a visually impaired friend from home, who had made me aware of needs and challenges faced by people with disabilities, particularly those with visual impairment. However, I eventually found myself in the midst of the deaf community to learn sign language at St. Paul School for the Deaf.
My first encounter with sign language and the signing community was also an occasion for me to marvel at the wonders of God. At first I thought that sign language was too difficult and I was even doubtful whether it was really a language in the strict sense of the word. It was only later that I noticed that the difference between a spoken language and a signed language is that the former is verbal-audible and the latter is visual-gestural. Whatever else constitutes a language is almost the same. I also discovered that there are almost as many sign languages as there are spoken languages. There is no single international sign language.
Towards the end of February 2006, I started my interaction with deaf children. This was also an occasion for me to learn their language. It was emotionally taxing at the beginning, because the students seemed to have had a lot to tell me, but I could not understand them, due to my sign language illiteracy. They would also become exasperated due to my failure to understand them. However, this situation pushed me to learn the language faster. After eight months, I became involved with sign language interpretation, which was to continue even after my return to the Oblate Scholasticate (Roma). I interpreted in various settings and occasions, including Church services, funerals, marriages, workshops, meetings, health services, public gatherings, interviews, police hearings and many more.
There were very few sign language interpreters at that time. My sign language literacy took me into the S.L interpreting service, despite my low level of competence. In addition to that, my proximity to people with disabilities qualified me to participate in two important studies conducted in Lesotho in the field of disability. The first focused on the living conditions of people with disabilities in general, while the second was about people with disabilities and HIV or AIDS.
My work as a pastor and sign language interpreter at Mt. Royal High School began in February last year. I interpreted for two deaf students who were in their final year of Junior Certificate. This was the big challenge for me because I had had no experience with educational sign language. In spite of my distress, the final results came promising. One of my deaf students managed to get a good second class pass, while the other one did not make it. However, we hope the best for him this year.
Apart from that, in line with the resolutions of the 2009 Vatican International Conference on deaf people in the life of the Church, we have established a Deaf Apostolate Team. We wish to destroy that wall of silence which exists between the deaf community and the hearing community which Pope Benedict XVI talked about. St. Eugene would insist “...in their own language.”
Catechetical instructions were given in sign language for a group of deaf students who received the sacraments of Christian initiation this year during Easter celebrations. Finally, from these humble beginnings, we hope for great endings, because nothing is impossible for God.
The Natal Province, on 26-27 June, convened
for the Provincial's Assembly which saw all the Oblates of the province and
those of the Mission of Zimbabwe come together to reflect on the province’s
missions, its challenges and its future. The province's need to return to its
roots, the spirit, and the charism of the Congregation occupied the debates.
The Assembly centered on the theme: “Ready to sacrifice goods, talents, ease
even their lives”.
The Provincial, Fr. Vusi MAZUBIKO, in his opening remarks said that as Oblates, if we want a guideline, a quick one, on how to live an authentic life as religious, as Oblates of Mary Immaculate, we have the preface of our book of life. The Constitutions and Rules should be our reference point, because in those few lines there is the summary of the kind of person the Oblate is called to be: “Men filled with zeal, ready to sacrifice goods, talents, ease, self, even their life, for the love of Jesus Christ, the service of the Church and the sanctification of their brethren”.
Fr. Vuzi further stated that we cannot make any impact in our societies filled with crime, injustices, discrimination, diseases,...if we ourselves are not deeply rooted in Christ who is justice himself, who welcomes everyone, irrespective of his country of origin, sex, tribal affiliation, or social status; who himself fought against diseases, both spiritually and physically; who bridged the gap that was created by an unjust system of his epoch between the rich and the poor. This same Jesus, before he does anything, he goes into deep communion with his Father: his life, while on earth was totally synchronized with his Father. We must be men of virtues, deeply spiritual in order to understand and to respond adequately to the challenges of our societies. He went on to say that if all South Africans and the world were able to change and crush apartheid, it is also possible for us, as Oblates today, called from many places in the world, to change ourselves and the atrocities of our societies, the deplorable situations that both the Church in South Africa and Zimbabwe are faced with.
The growing mission of Zimbabwe was also a
cause to celebrate. The Mission Superior, Fr. Sipho KUNENE, helped the Oblates
to a better understanding of the rapid growth the Mission is experiencing. He compared
it to the growth of the Delegation of Zambia. Soon, the Mission will be 30
years of age, and according to the growth chart, the pace of its development is
fast and encouraging.
The Assembly was blessed with the presence of the Superior General, Fr. Louis LOUGEN, whose simplicity and deep sense of listening throughout the event struck those present. They marveled at the depth of his reflection and his overview of the Oblate situation in the world. He touched many by the quality of his presence and his gestures: “He is indeed a father!” exclaimed some Oblates.
The Archbishop of Durban, Francis Cardinal
Napier, graciously honored the Assembly with his presence; he didn't miss the
opportunity to say his gratitude to and also to praise the Oblates of the
Province for the wonderful collaboration he enjoys and for the quality of their
The closing Mass was included the conferral of a Honorary Oblate on one of the champions of the Oblates’ causes in the Natal Province. A deeply spiritual and insightful man, a father of a family, a retired business man and a very dedicated and practicing Christian convert, Mr. Ken Klark, HOMI. (Emmanuel YOUNGTEN TEMSWANG, Executive Secretary, AMR)
Fr. David MUÑOZ, of the Mediterranean Province, writes in www.nosotrosomi.org: in the first half of the month of July, I had occasion to make a quick immersion into the Sahara Oblate Mission. Accompanied by a couple, Beatriz and Paco, (she, a PhD in anthropology and he, a doctorate in art history specializing in Islamic art) and hosted by the Oblates of the mission Mario LEÓN and Valerio EKO, I lived this wonderful experience. One thing that touched me deeply was the experience lived by Beatriz and Paco. It was the first time lay persons close to the Oblates visited the mission. The experience was very rewarding for us, both the Oblates and them. In her blog, Beatriz writes:
When in July there suddenly came an invitation to visit the mission which Oblate religious have been caring for in the desert since 1954, we were unaware of the reality that awaited us.
The wind, the
sand and the desert wilderness have molded a difficult situation since the
Moroccan occupation of 1975 that left the Saharans and the missionaries in a
After arriving at the airport with David (an Oblate missionary from the district of Aluche [Spain]) the first hours in the mission become a reality check. A dinner hosted by the two Oblates who are there, Mario and Valerio, presented us with a good picture of what we would find from that moment on, since there were present several Saharan friends of the community: expatriate Spanish fishermen, members of MINURSO (International Mission of the United Nations for the Referendum in Western Sahara) and the Custodian of Assets of the House of Spain -- each with their opinion, their interpretation and their religion ... all together.
Mario and Valerio were eager for us to acquire, in the two weeks we were going to stay there, as complete a picture as possible of the situation in the Sahara since the occupation: families separated, the impossibility to travel freely abroad, repression, an overwhelming military presence, control of movement, constant surveillance of the church building, the dire situation in prisons and the presence, already a majority, of settlers from northern Morocco, so as to intervene with their vote in a possible referendum, which in reality is ever more remote.
But there were
also the landscapes, the dunes, the warmth and hospitality of the Saharan
people, their customs and traditions, their religion. During the days we were
there, we were able to live Ramadan, assisting at the the breaking of the fast
with several families and participating as observers in the Friday prayers.
The Oblates currently take care of two churches in the former Spanish territory: one in Laayoune and one in the ancient city of Villa Cisneros, now Dakhla. Recently they recovered the chapel located in the port of Laayoune which took care of expatriate fishermen during the Spanish era.
The situation of the Church is complicated: they cannot preach, cannot channel humanitarian aid, cannot baptize... any activity can become grounds for expulsion. So what do they do, the only two Catholic missionaries permitted in the entire Western Sahara? Nothing less than being a Christian presence and witnesses to the suffering of a people, helping them and supporting them day by day, caring for anyone who comes to the door of the church, including the Moroccan population, celebrating Mass for MINURSO workers and all those Christians (evangelicals, Lutherans, Anglicans and Catholics) who are in the region for work purposes.
The church of
Dakhla (a 6 hour drive from Laayoune) has a special situation since the person
responsible for its custody and maintenance is Mohamed Fadel Semlali, better
known as Bu, a Muslim Saharan who also chairs the Dakhla Association of the Disabled,
with which the Church collaborates in the formation of the Saharan staff
serving disabled children in the area, mostly Moroccans.
In short, it was a journey that taught us to pray as we heard the call to prayer of the muezzin, to share with those who are the most forgotten by the international community, to hear their silent cry, silenced for nearly 40 years, to pay attention to the rage that is growing in the younger generations and to see a church, committed and open, that has sealed an alliance with the Saharan people that has lasted 60 years.
Sunday, August 11, profession day in Senegal, four young Oblates gave their
lives to the Lord and to the Church through the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. It
is a growing family whose vitality is expressed by this gift of four young men
to freely and consciously begin an adventure full of questions and surprises.
Being missionaries today sounds like a challenge that much of society does not
understand. But at the same time, it is a stimulating challenge that opens life
to the gift of self and the encounter with others. Simon Pierre BADJI, Paul
Sombel FAYE, Pascal FAYE and Paul Marie MANDIKA have said “yes”. After about 10
years of formation, here they are, ready for this final commitment in the Congregation
of the Oblates of the Delegation of Senegal and Guinea Bissau. We posed some
questions to our young men to have them express the meaning of the day.
What does this day of your perpetual profession mean to you?
Pascal: This is the culmination of a journey and a new phase that prepares us for moments that still require our complete availability in the diaconate and the priesthood. After about ten years of progress, we realized that we could take this step, knowingly and in good conscience. To make perpetual vows really means to make a wager with the Lord, to rely more on his fidelity than on our own, because He has chosen us for a very specific project and we agree to say to him: “Present, I am willing to follow you for life and put you at the center of my life, my projects and my desires.” We are aware of our typically human fragility, but we are confident of his love and kindness toward us.
But why “missionaries?”
Paul Marie: I met the Oblates in my village at the bottom of the Casamance, the famous region of South Senegal, which has been seeking peace for the past 30 years. I was struck by their work, by their way of encountering the people and responding to individual needs. I felt that this was going to be my way too. I think the missionary vocation remains an important, current reality, getting close to men and women today, especially young people, to share their lives and worries, simply to share the Gospel and its message of freedom and joy. I came to realize this during my year of regency in Mary Immaculate Parish in Parcelles Assainies, a vast suburb of Dakar. The people really need to be listened to, to be welcomed; that is the great need of our time. In relation to a society that seems to rely on communication, the people are more alone; the most serious social problems and difficulties are increasing day by day. Being a missionary like Eugene so as to know how to be close to each person and be a witness of the power of the Gospel.
How did you prepare for such an important day?
Paul Sombel: Pascal reminded us just now that we have been preparing for 10 years and that’s true. The Foyer, the prenovitiate, novitiate, scholasticate, and pastoral regency were milestones over the years and now we are in the “final sprint”; perpetual profession will lead to Orders and the first obedience. Last month we followed a special formation course that enabled us consider our progress and review the major themes of our spirituality. In addition, we were able to review the entire history of our Congregation since its foundation, all of which helped us to discover that we are heirs to an extraordinary story that will soon be two hundred years old. Whoever speaks of heirs also speaks of continuers; in fact, today we feel that we are continuers of this story in the life of our Delegation and our Church, but also ready to go “to the ends of the world.” It was interesting to discover once more the spirituality of Eugene de Mazenod, our Founder, a man who encountered Christ and who never let go. Eugene was certainly not an easy man, with his character as impetuous as the “mistral”, but he put his life and creativity to the service of the Gospel and his Congregation, which he wanted to be mainly engaged in the proclamation of “who Christ is.”
A final word about this day?
Simon Pierre: I want to express my joy and the joy of the whole group. We have experienced intense moments of communion and sharing between us and our team of formators. And today, by our profession, we have made a final choice, a choice that needs to be renewed every day in the service of God and our brothers. We are now fully Oblates and are therefore engaged in the mission of Christ, an ever current and always necessary mission. Some elements of this celebration marked us, for example, when our mothers gave us the lit candle in remembrance of our Baptism, to signify that religious profession is the fulfillment of Baptism. I think that all those present at the ceremony were able to understand that these young men who profess chastity, poverty and obedience are not making a mistake, but are fully aware of what they have given up because they have found a greater treasure.
The Oblate House Community in Kimberley has gone through many changes in personnel in recent times, and it
has evolved into a community where we can reach out and offer support and
supply to different pastoral needs. For example there is an increasing demand
for the hospital ministry and while it is not officially ours, we as a
community have been providing compassionate support.
Prison Ministry is also being developed and an Oblate in this community is the prison chaplain. He and his pastoral team are responding creatively to the Gospel imperative to care for those in [rison. He also serves as chaplain to the Sodality of the Legion of Mary
Among our community, only one is a parish priest, serving a number of ecclesial communities around Kimberley and Richie. He and the community help out where there is a need, especially with Sunday Masses, funerals and marriages. (http://omi-bfn.blogspot.com)
For the past two years, the Oblates of Zambia, a Delegation of the U.S. Province, have been discerning a call to establish a mission in a neighboring country, Malawi. The Delegation Superior, Fr. Freeborn KIBOMBWE, tells of a recent visit to Malawi.
The second week
of February, 2013, saw the four of us, Frs. Godfrey SEKULA, Vincent SAKALA,
Valentine KALUMBA and I leave for Malawi to visit with the Most Rev. Rémi Ste-Marie,
the Archbishop of Lilongwe Archdiocese.
Two years ago while on vocation promotion in Malawi with Bro. George MANDONA and a prenovice from Malawi, the Archbishop invited the Oblates from Zambia to set up a mission in his Archdiocese. Since then there has been communication back and forth through emails and regular mail. At different sessions of our Delegation Council we have discussed this issue at length, as well as with the U.S. Province Administration. At different Delegation Assemblies, I have given reports on this possibility. In short, this proposition is still being studied at the Delegation and Province levels, as well as the General Administration level.
Our task of visiting Malawi was to find out exactly where the Archbishop intends to locate Oblates if this vision is realized. The mission church is just across the Mwami border between Zambia and Malawi (East of Zambia). The area is an outstation of the main parish of St. Guilleme. It has a number of schools for boys and girls with a number of activities. The outstation is called Kamangilira with about nine other churches that make up Kamangilira Zone. Kamangilira has a big church built by the people through self-sustainability and a parish hall with some offices. But most importantly, the people are jovial and full of life. We were well received by the Village Headman – Kamangilira, despite his not being Catholic. We were shown around the property and he even offered more land for farming activities.
Kamangilira Mission Zone alone has a total of 21, 000 Catholics. It’s a rural population and most people are fulltime farmers; most of the food they grow is for both consumption and commercial use. It’s good to note that the faith of the people is impressive and they are also warm hearted and very devoted to the Church.
The locals speak the Chichewa language which is spoken in Zambia too. The mission is about 16 km from the main road (Malawi to Zambia), about 30 km from the Mwami border and about 600 from Lusaka (our Center House). The roads are passable throughout the year and all the stations are reachable. Generally the Church is very active and dynamic in Malawi, very inculturated with a strong sense of self-reliance. The bishop made mention of the fact that he does not sponsor any of the parishes in his diocese. We commit this discernment to the most Holy Trinity and Mary Immaculate, our Mother.
for perpetual vows for the candidates of the francophone African sub-region
took place this year in Dakar, Senegal, from 12 July until 10 August; of the
expected candidates, only the four from the host country were there. But that
did not impede proceeding as planned. The animators were Frs. Jean ROSSINA from
the Madagascar delegation; Joseph NDONG from the Senegal-Guinea Bissau
delegation; Charles EKO from the Cameroun province; and Bruno FAVERO, superior
of the Senegal-Guinea Bissau delegation.
Each speaker was animator for a week; consequently, because of his schedule of activities in his Unit, Fr. Rossina took the first week and addressed the young men on the theme: “Conversion (according to the last General Chapter) and the Year of Faith.” During this week dedicated to personal reflection, it was a question also of profoundly sharing about one’s own Oblate essence.
Fr. Joseph animated the second week which took place at La Somone, in a house at the seashore. The theme focused on “The experience of Eugene de Mazenod.” The goal was to look once more at the main events and directions of his life.
For the third
week, the group returned to Dakar and was directed by Fr. Charles on the theme,
“Oblate spirituality and charism.” The focus of the theme was to help the young
men come into contact with the constitutive elements of the Oblate spirituality
An excursion to the island of Ngro let them appreciate the wonders of nature and the joys of tourism.
Each week ended with an evaluation and especially taking turns reading the journal they were keeping.
During the fourth week, the young men were on retreat at the Benedictine monastery at Keur Moussa. It was animated by Fr. Bruno on the theme: “The experience of God that Eugene had in his vocation, as foundation of my oblation.”
The highlight was on Sunday, 11 August, with the celebration of perpetual profession at the Mary Immaculate parish in Parcelles Assainies. (Charles EKO in www.omicameroun.com)