AFRICA-MADAGASCARSomething new in formation
For the very first time in the
Africa-Madagascar Region, the two sub-regional formation committees met to
deliberate on the state of formation in the Region.
The meeting, which was long scheduled be held earlier, had witnessed several postponements for a number of unavoidable reasons. The month of December was finally agreed upon for the all-important meeting which brought together members from both the Francophone sub-region and the Anglophone sub-region: the co-host, Fr. Alphonse RAKOTONDROVELA, from the Delegation of Madagascar and the chairperson of the Formation Committee of the Francophone sub-region; Fr. Vincent UKOMA, Novice Master (Province of Cameroon); Fr. Joseph NDONG, Director of the prenovitiate and rector of the St. Augustine Institute of Philosophy and Theology (Delegation of Senegal); Fr. Faustin LITANDA, Director, prenovitiate in the Mission of Kenya and chairperson of the Formation Committee of the Anglophone sub-region; Fr. Paul SHOBANE, Psychologist and assessor, Province of Lesotho; Fr. Mbheki NGCOBO, Director of the prenovitiate, Province of Natal; and Fr. Emmanuel YOUNGTEN TEMSWANG, the AMR Executive Secretary who was there to moderate, translate and guide deliberations according to the expectations of the Regional Executive.
The meeting was held in the Administrative House of the Delegation of Madagascar in Antananarivo. The two-day meeting covered the general statistics of our various houses of formation and the general situation of formation in the Region. The committees are attempting to help the Executive of the Region organize an objective and purpose-driven Regional Conference next year in Nairobi, which will focus mainly on formation. They diagnosed the problems the Region is facing, with all their ramifications; particular emphasis was put on the challenges of collaboration and communication. The goal of all this is to promote a greater regional integration: exchange of personnel (formators) between our houses of formation; and an expanded exchange program for our scholastics in the Region. The committees also considered the possibility of a harmonized formation plan/program in order to ensure continuity in formation wherever an Oblate scholastic happens to be sent for studies or regency.
The meeting took place in a very fraternal atmosphere. All of the participants, most of whom met for the first time, learned a lot from the shared experiences. They stated that it was time well-spent, because it permitted each one to return home with first-hand information about the situations faced by other Units and the methods they use to tackle challenges. It also helped them to know the ideas other Oblates have on formation. It was a very fruitful meeting, at the end of which, concrete solutions were proposed for the Major Superiors of the Region for implementation. (Fr. Emmanuel Youngten Temswang)
Fr. Raymond Pierre NANI has been leading the Province of Cameroon for two years now. Passing through France, he took the occasion to thank the French Oblates for the missionary work they have accomplished and which helped the Gospel to take root in African soil. Here are some excerpts from a conversation with Brother Bertrand EVELIN for “Omi-France.”
Bertrand: What are some pastoral challenges in Cameroon?
Raymond Pierre: The big challenge now is what I call “chameleon” Christians, split between being Christians and following the traditional religion, in a sort of syncretism. That is a challenge! Today, most people have received the Good News. But do they show it? The Year of Faith was an opportunity to ask the question: am I happy to be a Christian? Will I show it by my actions, by my whole life? That is it, as far as Christian life is concerned.
As far as structures are concerned, the parishes are “African,” in the hands of Oblates or African diocesan priests. The problem is in taking responsibility! There are difficulties, but the people are generous and they are helping us.
Finally, there is a challenge with Pentecostal or evangelical churches. Many churches are starting up and, under the pressure of illness and unemployment, many Catholics are tempted to go there. One of the responses that the Catholic Church is trying to give is what are called the basic ecclesial communities where people can meet more frequently than the simple Sunday gathering, to get to know one another, to share, to communicate, to be of service to one another.
Bertrand: What are some beautiful expressions of Christianity in Cameroon? What expression of beauty does becoming Christian produce in the lives of the people?
Raymond Pierre: For many Cameroonians, being a Christian is, first of all, knowing Jesus. And despite our weaknesses and limitations, that brings joy for living: one can see beyond this life with great hope. This is seen when a Christian dies. The Christians come together, they pray, they sing, they dance, they entrust the dead to God. We immediately see the difference with the traditional religion where death is experienced more as a drama. When someone dies, people throw themselves down; they say they’re gone, it’s over; there is distress; there are tears; sometimes they hurt themselves! That means that they are terrified. That’s the first thing. Outsiders tell us: “You Christians, when we see how you handle your grief, it shows that there is an afterlife because there is joy!”
Secondly, there are the large Sunday gatherings. When you see people who go to church on Sunday, all cleaned up, leaving everything behind, on time, with parents who bring their children, the whole family, just to hear the Word of God and, after the Mass, who still have time to stay and share because it is the Lord’s day, this is something very positive! People come together and show their joy at belonging to the Church.
The same for the sick: most cannot go to the hospital. So there are prayers in the families. We pray for whoever is ill, for whoever is suffering. We know that our plea is in the hands of God, the God of that Jesus Christ who showed us that we can intercede for our brother who suffers. In many families, that too shows the joy of belonging to the Church.
And today, when there are births in a family, the parents present their children for baptism. And for baptism, you know, it’s party time! It is a joy for the whole family, for the neighbors. They also invite even the non-Christians because our child has become a child of God: he is entering into the Christian community. So here we see that it’s not a show: this is joy; this is a new life that the child is receiving, and we celebrate it!
These are some examples that show nevertheless that the proclamation of the Word of God bears fruit in our lives by the way we live.
Excerpts from the annual circular letter of Brother Hervé GIVELET who works with AIDS victims and prisoners in Chad.
It’s been a year since I sent you a circular letter; forgive me. This was a rather difficult year and I wondered if I could cope.
But let’s talk about our women who have AIDS. I almost lost Acheta in October; she lost weight and had diarrhea. She could no longer tolerate her medications, and yet it was the second time that our doctor, Jossi, a Dutch woman, had changed her treatment for the same reason. Doctor Jossi told me: “We will change it a third time but this is the last option. We have only three kinds of drugs; but if this doesn’t work, it’s over for her.” Now she was very weak and we took her to the hospital for infusions. After resting for 7 days without taking medication, she started on her last chance. I gave her plenty of food: fish, beans, boiled millet porridge with milk, fresh vegetables, and it seems to be working: she has gained weight and regained her strength, having tolerated her third medication. Jossi does not want to make any comments for a month, but I have hope.
And our poor Denise: to tell all her adventures would take too long, a seemingly insoluble problem. She broke a water pump; she set fire to a hut (the owner beat her till she was spitting blood but it’s going better now); at the market, she overturned the produce of her neighbor and it became unsaleable, etc. All because of her seizures that happen without warning: she is rejected by everyone, even by her uncle who had taken her into his property where I had built her a hut. He chased her out two months later; I was only able to recover the tin roof and the door and I rebuilt her a hut 300 metres from the bishop’s house where she feels safer and will do her business from home. Hopefully this time it will succeed!
I will close talking about the prison, which causes me a lot less hassle and money than my work with people with AIDS, the disabled and the poor in general.
I must first talk about my adventure with the escaped prisoner. Escapes are commonplace in the prison of Pala. Mine is an AIDS patient who, in addition spits and urinates blood. Jossi our doctor does not want to treat him without seeing him and she refuses to go to the prison. The warden asks me to drive him to our Centre because I know the place. My mistake was not to demand a guard, but sick as he was and especially, as it was in his interest to be treated, I try to drive him to “Cédiam” (our Diocesan Centre for AIDS), but while I am looking for Jossi, he escapes. The poor man was quickly spotted, followed and captured by the warden and an armed guard, eight days later. It is my nurse, Delysse, who will try to treat him in prison when he returns from N’Djamena.
My work at the prison is now mostly spiritual since we received help from the European Union. It is true that the nurse is conspicuous by his absence; fortunately Delysse will do his job. The condition of prisoners is much improved, but there is always the problem of overcrowding: there are currently 147; the record is 150. When I arrived in 2005 and for many years there were forty, the normal figure. For prayer on Sunday, I am alone except for Sister Marguerite who kindly assists me, a most appreciated help. I also like doing catechesis because I can interact with some of them more in depth. Otherwise, I mostly link with their families, either by calling or by going to see the family if they are in Pala. I continue to buy them cigarettes, pants and shirts but that does not go very far.
I cannot close without wishing you a Happy New Year; may it be for you a source of joy and self-knowledge that often makes us grow.