AFRICA-MADAGASCARFeeding the hungry on Christmas
Since 2002, the Siloam center, run by the COMI (Oblate Cooperators of Mary Immaculate), has treated thousands of sick and malnourished persons. The COMI (a Secular Institute founded in Italy by Fr. Gaetano LIUZZO) live the charism of St. Eugene de Mazenod. In their annual New Year message to their friends, they tell of how they celebrated Christmas 2014.
How was Christmas in Kinshasa? We heard the fireworks and the music, but the Christmas we want to tell about is quite different.
For us, it begins at least a month before, because it requires an organization worthy of a big family composed mainly of children, and gifts for children, you know, must be chosen according to the age, size, etc. It’s also important to understand, as happens in every family (we hope!), how much disposable income there is, so that all may be treated with the same love, and this means also looking for stores where you can save money. So, after a bit of research and excursions, our home was filled with bags of rice, sugar, salt, milk, canned tomatoes, drums of oil, clothes. And then began the preparing of gift packets. Preparing so many bags is nice; you also feel that you are actually doing something and you put so much love into it. Of course, after yet another bag, when between the rice and the sugar, you feel you are becoming prey to the ants (they also have a right to survive!), the excitement decreases a bit, but the meaning of the gift increases. Inevitably, despite all precautions, even a small percentage of the salt ends up on our clothes or on the floor. The advantage is that the salt acts as a counterpoint to the sugar and neutralizes for a while the silent but patient advance of the ants.
Once the gift packets are finished, we have to load them into the jeep; there’s nothing unusual about that except that those who need to go to Siloam have to sit, not only between but also on top of the packages. It’s funny until the first hole, and since 70% of the street leading into town is filled with holes, you can imagine how one feels at the end of the journey. Traffic is chaotic in the last days leading up to Christmas, but we waited until 24 December to deliver the packages to avoid their being consumed too soon. We accomplished our first task: buying the chickens. Then it was interesting to meet our friends, children and adults, a bit bruised, a bit recovered, but all quite happy. Except for one man, an elderly person with TB, whom we have included in the nutrition program: after taking his package, he asked, “and the beans?”…much to our dismay because we did not have any. We thought we had done enough already; compared to last year, we had increased the amount of food, but instead, we realized there is never enough for those in need. The adults also received a “pagne” – a piece of cloth – for making a shirt or a skirt, while each little girl received a little dress and every little boy, a little suit with shorts and tee shirt.
Returning home, despite the traffic jams and the rather fierce heat that day, we felt tired but also a bit happy: only a bit, because to be truly happy you should not need to distribute food packets for Christmas. Everyone should have enough to eat every day. But for now, that is still a utopia, which moves us to try even harder to do our part, as much as possible, without presuming to solve the great problems of our brothers and sisters. We can only share with them our certainty that Jesus is incarnate today in every creature, and that this is the reason why we stay with them.
In March 2013, the Natal Province of South Africa sent Oblate Brother Andile DLADLA to continue his formation and studies in Cameroun. In a recent edition of his home province’s newsletter, OMI Natal Update, he tells of his experience of formation in a different language and culture. The following is an excerpt from his report:
Being outside the country and in a different scholasticate is an enriching opportunity. It widens one’s horizon and it gives the opportunity to understand better the lives of our Oblate brothers working in other parts of Africa. I have had an opportunity to travel from the Central Region to the extreme north region of Cameroun, and I have observed the differences in culture and language.
The intimate bond that exists among the Oblates involved in different missions is touching, and equally inspiring. The Oblates of Cameroun are involved not simply in parish pastoral work, but in other endeavors as well: a hen-house project; a woodworking project, which produces a lot of furniture for the Oblate houses and private individuals; the raising of pigs, goats, cows and other animals at different Oblate houses (at one house, Garoua, they own two springboks!); guest/retreat houses directed by Oblates; prison ministry; health and healing ministry (a few Oblate Brothers are qualified nurses).
Another element touched me and reminded me of the importance of the words of the former Superior General, Fr. Fernand JETTÉ, when he stated that “any Oblate unit (province, delegation or mission) that does not have Brothers is not complete, and is in danger of dying.” There is a great respect and encouragement of the Brothers’ vocation in the province of Cameroun. A good number of Brothers work as qualified nurses; they are Superiors of communities, members of the provincial council, and so forth. This experience, as a Brother candidate, inspires me a lot and is also encouraging. The Brothers are also involved in parish pastoral work, and one runs the prison ministry.
The time spent here thus far has been enriching and challenging, and it has also been worthwhile. Adjusting to different systems of initial Oblate formation, and also the academic formation, are not easy. However, the Will of God will never lead us to where His grace cannot keep us. It is by praying for, and strengthening one another, that all becomes possible.
The Yves Plumey Scholasticate
essentially serves young scholastic brothers and Brothers in first formation. All
of these young Oblates are sent there by different provinces for their
philosophy and theology studies. One could say without error that they have
their studies as their mission.
Nevertheless, daily life at the scholasticate is not limited solely to studies. There is another dimension, namely, the resourcefulness the scholasticate is trying to teach the future young missionaries. It concerns our small production units, namely: gardening and the raising of pigs and broiler chickens. Small groups are assigned to each area. Usually, after morning Mass and after the afternoon classes, everyone tries to visit his workplace, either to feed the animal, clean the pens and coops, or water the gardens. These production units make a significant contribution to the house, for they make it possible for us to consume only locally produced foods.
Traditionally, five months into the school year, teams are changed so as to permit each one to learn about a different field. It is, therefore, a very worthwhile initiative in the formation missionaries who will be called to take charge, without waiting for manna to fall from the heavens, as in the days of the Israelites in the wilderness. (Scholastic Brother Etienne OMDEL)