“Why make videos at your age?” (PE nr. 1093 – 07/2018)

This question came top of the list of some of the suggestions made to me when I was asked to write an article in the Petit Echo to celebrate the 150th Anniversary of our foundation.  At my age, why do I spend most of the day with my eyes glued to my computer? Why, at my time of life, juggle all these photos, doing my best to get software programmes such as ‘Power Point’ and ‘Movie Maker’ to digest them?

According to the traditional formula of the death notices of confreres, I am 76 years of age of which 40 years of missionary life in Tanzania.  The question, “at your age?” should not imply that “it’s no longer an age for” or “you should not be embarking on such adventures when you are beginning to disintegrate.” Is it so extraordinary to be doing missionary promotion work in the final years of one’s life? Missionary today, missionary always, did we not learn that at the novitiate? Sometimes, I have the impression that some of our young confreres look on me as if I had escaped from Jurassic Park! Me, I am still young especially when I find myself in the middle of a pile of photos making a video that will allow us to relive the sagas of our young and old missionaries, past and present.

I believe that I caught the missionary vocation promotion bug from the very beginning of my White Fathers’ career. I love photography and I often strolled around the streets of Bruxelles with my camera in my pocket. To sleep well at night, before I go to bed, I slowly read some comic books. I also look at ‘You Tube’ regularly, my favourite films being Charlie Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy and of course a good western from time to time.

Lavigerie understood very well the importance of the written media and the power of photography for the future of the mission. In the bric-a-brac of the first caravans, he insisted that the confreres take with them those curious cameras of ancient times. They were funny black accordion-shaped boxes mounted on tripods and equipped with a black umbrella (watch out for sunlight). The idea was that if you want help from benefactors, send us pictures that tell us what you are doing. Let us interest the people of our own countries in our work in Africa. The maxim of our founder was followed. Deo Gratias.

If we want to recruit, let us show our apostolate through remarkable pictures. The young people of the time of our Founder were hooked thanks to the astounding snapshots (made with glass negatives) produced by these antiquated cameras. The photographs of our bearded confreres perched precariously on the back of a camel or a stubborn donkey were all the rage at the time. In my own case, it was a film in the style of BIZIMANA of the celebrated Fr. Roger De Vloo (+1993) which introduced me to the White Fathers.

In the 80s, I spent four years in Belgium doing missionary promotion work aimed at young people. At that time, it was still the era of the slide-show. We did not know anything about videos as a tool for promotion work. However, it would not be long before the age of the video arrived. I was 40 years old and I wandered all over the country with my projector and slide show. There were also photographic exhibitions based on the photos which appeared in our magazine Vivant Univers. During the summer holidays of 1988 about fifteen young people from my home parish came with me to Tanzania to spend a month in our missions. It was called Operation PETITS OUTILS or SMALL TOOLS and it was an unforgettable adventure. In brief, I did not wait for old age to arrive to launch myself into the adventurous world of modern media.

Verviers:1986 Missionary Exhibition for young people.

It was only when I returned from Tanzania in 2006 that I worked at a computer. I was appointed to Namur to look after our house at La Plante. A kindly confrere initiated me into the secrets of computing. One of my own brothers introduced me to the labyrinth of Powerpoint possibilities. For the rest, I just got on with it: it is by forging that one becomes a blacksmith. As La Plante was where the Photos-Service was located, it meant that the photographic archive of Vivant Univers/Vivant Afrique was easily available and all I had to do was to dip into it. Thanks to Gus Beeckmans for his incredible work of digitalising the archive and to Vincent de Decker (+1988) for his famous photographs.

Thanks to Powerpoint software programmes, I began by illustrating the psalms and parables as an aid to prayer.  I produced different presentations featuring our annual celebrations and various other occasions. For the 125th Anniversary of the Anti-Slavery Campaign of Cardinal Lavigerie, I produced a series of videos at the request of Richard Nyombi, some in English, some in French and even some in Swahili. I did the same thing for some Justice and Peace events. When discussions began around the subject of the 150th Anniversary of our foundation, the first digital versions of the very old films of Fr. De Vloo (Africa Films) became available. The idea then came to me to put all this to music and to produce cinema standard videos. It worked! Philippe Docq put them out on YOU TUBE. All that, at my age, for missionary promotion.

The years have passed like a gust of wind. At the end of my mandate in Namur, I was appointed to Bruxelles, rue de Linthout. It is from there that I am writing this article. From time to time, I go to Rome to give Dominic Arneault, our archivist, a helping hand. I work in the photo library surrounded by the most beautiful visual souvenirs of our Society, a real paradise! Our job is to digitalise all the old photos and bring them out from obscurity and put them at the disposition of all. It is a truly worthwhile programme for our 150th Anniversary.

Manu in his office

My work in the archives and the production of videos does not mean that I am a computer geek. For me, it leads me regularly to prayers of praise and meditation. What our ancestors (men and women), these pioneers of a heroic time accomplished still inspires me. Looking at these old films and these old photographs, I regularly think of them; the poor means at their disposal, their apostolic zeal, their love for the African people and their devotion to the most vulnerable. Pope Francis keeps reminding us, time and time again, of our duty to go to the margins of the world, leave our safe zone, and care for the poorest. There is nothing new under the sun! Our ancestors long before Francis followed this road to the peripheries.

Our forebears, Fathers, Brothers and Sisters did not have a smartphone to capture the news at a glance, as everyone does today. Luckily for us,  coming behind them, they left photos and films from the very first days of the mission: unique testimonies of their faith in Jesus Christ.

What I hope is that we do not allow these marvels of the Gospel to rot on the shelves of our archives. Now that the best of these films and photos have been digitised, I recommend that those in charge of our Formation Houses make use of them in order to show our young men what it was like to be a missionary way back then. All that needs to be done would be to show a little video, from time to time, just to illustrate a history lesson on our Missionary Society. Let us also profit from the occasion of the 150th Anniversary of our institute to share these media stories with our African friends. I am sure they would be enchanted, as they were at Ouagadougou for example, to see the magnificent film of Fr. De Vloo’s incredible report in 1956 on the consecration of Bishop Yougbaré, the first Bishop from Burkina Faso.

Happy Anniversary.

Manu Quertemont, M.Afr.

Father Alain Fontaine: A testimony (PE nr. 1093 – 2018/07)

Fr. Alain Fontaine is at present working as Provincial Secretary of PAO in Ouagadougou. This year, he celebrates 50 years of Missionary Oath (24/06/1967 – 25/0672017)

50 Years ago

50 years ago, on the 24th June 1967, the Feast of St. John the Baptist, I took my first Missionary Oath in the novitiate of Gap in France. Two further temporary commitments followed before I took my permanent Missionary Oath on Holy Thursday, 1972 in my native parish of Chaville.

All had begun in October 1964 when I entered the postulancy of the Missionaries of Africa in Mours. I had just finished my studies at the Ecole d’Optique de Paris (EOA) with a view to becoming an optician. However, I was already in contact with the Missionaries of Africa in Paris. Africa was calling me! I was encouraged to train for the priesthood but I preferred to begin my missionary life as a Brother in order to give myself some time to think about it. I had no experience of seminary life and I felt that I needed to learn more about what was involved. I also wanted to have an African immersion and know if I could live there as my health was never very strong.  

Alain Fontaine at the novitiate in Gap on the 11th September 1965

On the 11th September 1965, I took another leap when I entered the novitiate in Gap high up in the French Alps. It was a change of scenery in more ways than one; the place itself was completely different from any other place where I had lived and then there was the almost monastic atmosphere of the novitiate itself.  I stayed there for two years and it was a real spiritual experience.

Mission in San, Mali

However military service loomed, so I opted to do it as an overseas volunteer and planned to go to Mali for two years to work as a primary school teacher in the Diocese of San.  The climate and political situation at the time of Moussa Traoré’s coup d’état in 1968 was a seriously testing time for me. In fact, it was proposed that I continue my studies in Strasbourg instead.  I then returned to Mali, still as a Brother and taught for three years at Saint Paul’s Junior Seminary in San Diocese.

In France towards priesthood

It was during this time in Mali that, in consultation with my Spiritual Director, I decided to resume my studies with a view to becoming a priest. I felt ready. It was also a delicate time for the Church in France, as, after Vatican II, many priests were leaving the ordained ministry. My superiors, at the time, proposed that I prepare for the priesthood by studying at CERM (Centre d’Études et de Recherches Missionnaires). This centre was one of the first missionary consortia which came into being as a result of the Council. The Centre accepted students from the Paris Foreign Missions, Salesians, Montfort Fathers, Spiritans, and the SMA Fathers and some other groups. I was the first White Father to prepare for the priesthood in this Institute.

We followed courses at the Institute Catholique de Paris, the Seminary of the Paris Foreign Missions on rue de Bac and the Major Seminary of St-Sulpice d’Issy les Moulineaux. After three years of intensive study, I was ordained deacon in June 1977 at Boulogne Billancourt by Bishop Jacques Delarue, the first Bishop of Nanterre. He proposed that I receive a double incardination on this occasion to show that it was my home Church that was sending me on mission. A year later, in the Church where I was baptized, confirmed and took my Missionary Oath, I was ordained priest on the 28th May 1978.

Return to Mali

 

After ordination, I returned to the Diocese of San in Mali to work in the parish of Mandiakuy. I learnt Bomu and got acquainted with pastoral work. It was at this moment that the Équipes Notre Dame, a movement promoting family spirituality was started. The movement soon extended to many dioceses in Mali including Segou, Bamako and Kayes.

After this initial pastoral experience, I was asked to return to the Junior Seminary of St. Paul to take charge and to facilitate handing it over to the local clergy. I stayed there for five years.

Toulouse

In 1988, the French Province appointed me to Toulouse in the south of France for missionary promotion work. I did not know this big city and began by getting lost. One night, I spent many hours looking for the house. I worked for five years at the service of the Pontifical Mission Societies and got to know the pastoral situation of the Church in the south of France.

Rural Radio in San

Between the end of my stint promoting missions and my return to Mali, I was asked to do some training in media, specifically the setting up of a rural radio station in San Diocese. For a whole year, I learnt about computers, information technology and just how to go about getting a radio station started.  It was a completely new domain for me and I threw myself into it enthusiastically. I worked on this project for six years. It was the first private Catholic radio station in Mali. Three of us were involved; Fr. Alexis Dembélé, the Director, a layman who trained at the Centre for Research and Education in Communication in Lyon and myself who had trained in Paris. It was not very easy in the beginning but we did eventually reach our cruising speed and Radio Parana is still going strong and in 2019 will celebrate its 25th birthday.

In 2000, I was granted some sabbatical time out, which I intended to organise as I pleased. However, I was asked to immerse myself in Ignatian Spirituality at a centre in Paris so as to be able to organise retreats and to spiritually accompany people. From there, I was sent to Jerusalem to be a spiritual director at a retreat for French speaking African priests.

Alain Fontaine taking his Missionary Oath

Centre Foi et Rencontre at Bamako

Then I was asked to move to the Archdiocese of Bamako to collaborate with Josef Stamer at setting up the Centre Foi et Rencontre and IFIC. I worked for 10 years on this project, bringing my expertise in IT and the logistics of planning training courses at the Centre. I also helped with the launching of IFIC. It required a huge effort of communication as we looked for ways to inform all the French speaking Bishops of Africa. During this period also, I served as Provincial Secretary of Mali and participated, at the same time, in the whole process that eventually led to the creation of the Province of the PAO for Francophone West Africa.

Burkina

In 2011, I was asked to replace Pierre Bènè as Provincial Secretary of PAO based in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. This is where I find myself today and I am already in my 7th years at the service of the Province.

What can I say about these 50 years of missionary service, in Mali, France and Burkina Faso (40 years in Mali and 7 in Burkina)? First of all, I would to like express my sincere appreciation. I consider myself very lucky. All the appointments I received, some of which I did not expect at all, have greatly enriched me.

Really the Society took care of me and despite a path that some will call “a bit of a mix and match”, I was advised with great skill and offered what I could do. I was trusted and I am very grateful to all my superiors. Maybe I could have done more but they knew how to take me as I am with the abilities that were mine, without pushing me too much. I do not have in my C.V any grandiose constructions, top jobs, great responsibilities… I’ve always preferred – and I think it suits me better – less senior positions where I can work more effectively. I never asked for a specific appointment. I preferred to let the Spirit call me and lead me where he believed I would be best able to serve the Mission but not in a passive compliant way.  

My missionary journey, first as a brother and then as a priest, did not represent any promotion whatsoever for me. It was the mission that mattered and the call to give the best service I could, so that the Good News would find its way to the peoples of Africa there where I was to be sent.  That is why my first Missionary Oath in 1967, 50 years ago, really corresponded to the yes I wanted to say to the Lord for his Mission in Africa. What followed was a vocation that developed in my response to the various calls I heard and that had been verified by those who accompanied me. At the end of these fifty years I say a sincere thank you to all those who supported me in one way or another, to all those with whom I shared missionary work, those who supported me despite all my shortcomings, in community life and to all those who became my brothers in this wonderful family that is the Missionaries of Africa.  To the Lord Jesus, always my companion on the road, to his Mother who looked after me so well, I express my sincere gratitude.

Alain Fontaine, M.Afr.

“Some found my precautions too harsh …” (PE nr. 1093 – 2018/07)

Our Society is working very hard to make our places of mission as safe as possible for the most vulnerable especially children. Reading over some texts of our Founder, we can discover that this work has its roots in the actions and determination of our Founder. (1) In the domain of preventing sexual abuses, Cardinal Lavigerie was probably ahead of his time. (2) In a letter, dated the 30th October 1883, to Father Bridoux, Vicar General of the Society of the Missionaries of Africa, Cardinal Lavigerie reminds him that, in the matter of prevention,

Continue reading ““Some found my precautions too harsh …” (PE nr. 1093 – 2018/07)”

Looking towards my future (PE nr. 1093 – 2018/07)

In 2015, I swapped the school activity that occupied me from morning to night with a much more flexible responsibility at the Centre for Arabic Dialectal Studies. Then, I was offered an opportunity to take part in the Transition Session for Missionaries of Africa and Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Africa in Rome due to begin in September 2016. I immediately accepted feeling a bit confused that after 3/4 of a century of life, I still had a lot to learn! Indeed it was to be a turning point. It was a new experience as I found myself with a group of MSOLA whom I had known way back in my early years of training. We were all of the same generation. While in a school one does not feel old because one group of young people is replaced by another every year but now I expressed the surprise I felt at the time, “But I am the same age as my mother!”  It provoked me into looking at my future. It was a new experience for me to stand before my ‘future’ when I thought I had gained a lot of ‘experience’ in life. As St. Paul says: “I continue my pursuit towards the goal…in Christ Jesus” (Phil 3, 14). So I was happy with this time of reviewing, prayer, reflection and sharing, especially working in small groups where there was a richness of diversity among the M.Afr and MSOLA participants. In this we perceived the wonders of God and His discreet but active presence in our hearts according to the different missions and circumstances of life, all done in an atmosphere of peace, rest and leisure with the help of our experienced guides.

Melika in the Raspail garden of Tunis

I seized the moment of grace when it presented itself!  What could I wish for now? Now, the Lord has offered me this year (2017) to live near my older sisters and to know them better. Their smile, their patience, their fidelity to prayer, their love of Africa, their missionary zeal… and their joy… in a setting that seems austere to me after a life of activity and relationships.

Melika with Massika (training of an instructor at the Centre for Arabic Dialectal Studies).

At the Centre where I am now, my activities are more adapted to my strengths. I still feel ‘in transition.’ But I recognise the need to persevere. I do a little mental exercise: I try to project myself into the future and ask myself:  What do I need to change? What help should I look for?

What is life like in this new nursing home environment?  What qualities does this new “novitiate” demand of me? I am no longer living in the framework of a classic community; my daily life is now shared with laypeople. At first, it is good to keep in contact with the world, discover the ‘peripheries’ nearby. Yes, discovering a new field of apostolate can motivate me, but I still need to prepare myself for it.  Will there be others in the same situation ready to share our difficulties and doubts? Not all nursing homes are the same. Adaptation is necessary. What is the Lord asking me in this situation? By faith, we know He is there! But a great deal of spiritual help is needed to accept daily life and its annoyances, to maintain the availability, the generosity and the good mood! A lot will depend on how I coped with the previous stages of my life.

In this situation where initiatives and strengths are limited (?) ; it is necessary to remain positive. Certainly, many things are organized for the enjoyment of life. However, we can find ourselves in a situation where we feel humiliated, forgotten, neglected; it is a time of diminution. I would appreciate any help in recalling God’s gifts and graces, to see in them a call to go beyond myself, to follow Christ and to nurture my desire to meet Him. (A neighbour of mine has replaced the word ‘death’  in the “Hail Mary” with “pray for us now and at the time of the meeting” pointing upwards and not downwards)! Small things that can help me live. I hope to find a way that will keep me open to the world, to prevent myself from falling asleep too much, to retain a healthy curiosity about things that can make me feel alive: biblical reflection, high-quality reading, to be aware of the evolution of the world and, if the faculties allow it, to benefit from the progress and the contributions of technology (Internet, why not…).  No matter what hare-brained ideas I may have, I know that from the time of Abraham, it is God who provides! So, basically it’s trust! As Article 22 of our Constitutions says:

“In Christ, to begin again each day, to persevere in difficult situations, accept sufferings, departures, diminutions, everything becomes a source of Life.”

And let us not forget the joys and happiness of so many decades. May God be blessed!

Sr. Marie (Melika), msola

A Pilgrimage to Dury, France, birthplace of Simeon Lourdel (PE nr. 1093 – 2018/07)

A number of Ugandan, Congolese and Rwandan exiles in London have come together to form a group of disciples of Simèon Lourdel and Amans Delmas. They call themselves ‘The Mapeera Lourdel and Uganda Martyrs Dury Pilgrims Europe’. They began meeting a little over a year ago. Today, they number about 40 people, meeting regularly and praying together. Their aim is: to make known the story of the Martyrs of Uganda, to promote the beatification of Simèon Lourdel, to build a family spirit among themselves, and to offer support to the retired missionaries in Europe who gave their lives to bring the Gospel to their people in Uganda and other African countries.

For them, Simèon and Amans stayed with the martyrs and encouraged them in their time of trial. They then stayed on in the mission and died in Uganda. They did not suffer the same fate as the 43 martyrs, but they gave their lives for the Gospel and they should share the same glory.

Church of Dury (France)

This year they organised a second pilgrimage to Dury, the birthplace of their beloved Simèon Lourdel. Due to circumstances and to the difficulty of obtaining visas for those with Ugandan passports, four of the intending pilgrims could not join the group. We set out as a group of 8: 7 with their cases cramped into the Ford Zephyr which usually serves as a night taxi in London, and one who went ahead of us in the overnight coach service from Victoria. The group comprised of Mr Ricardo Mulinda and his three children, Edward who very generously drove the car, Simon and me. It was a much easier journey than those first missionaries made on the trails of Uganda 140 or so years ago, but it was still a cramped experience with 7 people in the car with their luggage on their knees!

Ricardo had organised the pilgrimage in advance, contacting and booking rooms for us in the Maison Saint Vaast, the diocesan guest house in Arras. He arranged for us to be met by Sr. Therese Broutin, Coordinator of the Missionary Commission for the Diocese, with Mr Marc Campbell, the Mayor of Dury and Abbé Jean-Claude Facon, the parish priest. When we arrived there, we were met by Sr. Therese and her friend with a “nice cup of tea” as only the French can make! After allowing us time to deposit our luggage in our rooms and take a short rest after the journey, Sr. Therese guided us on foot to the magnificent Cathedral of Arras. She had very kindly arranged for two of the Cathedral volunteer guides to show us the delights of the cathedral and tell us its history.

Pilgrims at the Baptismal Font of Dury Church

Upon our return to the Maison Saint Vaast, we were happy to find Fr. Bernard Lefebvre M.Afr waiting for us. He had been informed of our pilgrimage by none-other than Richard Nyombi in Uganda. I could not help but think how different the times are. When Simèon Lourdel arrived in Uganda, it took months to pass any communication between him and Cardinal Lavigerie in Algiers. Today, our pilgrimage from London to Arras is assisted by Richard Nyombi sitting in an office in Kampala and communicating with a third person in Paris!

On Saturday morning, Sr. Therese continued her ministry of missionary welcome by guiding us around the “Grandes Places” of Arras. After lunch, she accompanied us on our visit to the Bishop of Arras, Mgr. Jean-Paul Jaeger, who very kindly accepted to receive us.

The Bishop was most grateful to Ricardo and his group of pilgrims for their visit and for opening his eyes to the life of one of the sons of the Diocese of Arras and to the contribution he had made to the spread of the Gospel in Uganda. He was happy to hear of the efforts of the Church in Uganda to have this son of Arras beatified. Ricardo was able to present the Bishop with a letter from the Archbishop of Kampala in which he explained how the Church in Uganda finds it important that this first missionary should be beatified. He expressed his own desire to visit Arras and more particularly the birthplace of Simèon Lourdel. Bishop Jaeger would be more than happy to receive him. He hopes this would be the beginning of a new friendship between the two churches.

With that visit over, we then had the pleasure of meeting the Mayor of Dury who had come, with his wife and a friend, to collect our group of pilgrims and drive us out to Dury. How astonished I was to meet this couple, Mr and Mrs Campbell, keen friends of Scotland who drive around the country lanes of Dury in a Jaguar car with a Saltire (Scottish national flag) on the lid of the boot!! They are also now the friends of the Pilgrims of Dury, London. They gave us a very warm welcome.

They drove us back to Dury and straight to the cemetery where many of the family of Simeon Lourdel, including his parents, are buried. Our group was happy to take some time and pray there for this family who gave their son to the Mission. Over the road from the Village cemetery is a cemetery of war graves from the World War 1. Here more than 300 Canadian soldiers are buried. We spent some time visiting their graves before moving on to the farm-house home of the Lourdel Family.

There we found a group of people waiting to welcome us, including two grandnieces of Simeon Lourdel who had come to meet us from their village some 30 kms away. There were also other members of the family who had come as well as the present owners of the house and farm. It was a joy to be welcomed in this way and to meet these good people who were ready to accommodate our return to the source of our faith.

Next we moved on to the school in which Simeon Lourdel received his primary education for 6 years. The benches and the décor of the classrooms may have changed, but the building is just the same. There are some interesting pictures on the walls taken at the time Lourdel was a pupil there.

At the Lourdel Farm, family members and Pilgrims in front of the house

The time had now arrived for the Sunday Eucharist, celebrated in this village church on Saturday evening. The Parish Priest, Fr. Jean-Claude Facon, coming straight from his third wedding that day, welcomed us with open arms. Bernard Lefebvre presided over the celebration and spoke about Simeon Lourdel and all that has flowed out of his gift of himself in Uganda and other countries of East Africa.

Many people came to the Evening Mass to welcome our group of Pilgrims. After the celebration, we returned to the school yard where the Mayor served us sandwiches and drinks. It was a very pleasant evening, meeting the family members and friends of the proposed “Blessed” Lourdel. These, in their turn, are happy that their Ancestor in the Faith should be still remembered and honoured. They too are encouraged in their faith by the witness of this group of Ugandan exiles who came all the way from London to seek out the birthplace of their relative.

This is surely a pilgrimage that will be repeated.

Terry Madden, M.Afr.

The support of young confreres (PE nr. 1093 – 2018/07)

I have just been reading a number of articles in the Petit Echo of May 2018 (P.E. 05) on the ‘support of young confreres.’  This is a subject that touches me a lot as for my last 21 years in Zambia, I have lived in community with young confreres (stagiaires as well). Sometimes, I found myself with only young confreres or to put it the other way around I was the only ‘old man’ in the community. At the outset, I can say that I always felt comfortable with them, perhaps because I was on an equal footing with them. For me, they were adults like me and I expected them to behave like adults. This does not mean that I didn’t have (or have) anything to say to them. This is, precisely, what pushes me to sit in front of my computer and to write something on this theme of “supporting young confreres.” I am not posing as a specialist in this domain but I would like to address myself to them on one or two points that worried me a little when I was living with them.

If, when I was leaving Zambia in May 2015, these young confreres had asked me what advice or what words would I like to bequeath them, I would have said the following two things:

  • First thing: Read, read, read
  • Second thing: Ask, ask, and ask questions

You do not read enough! I do not see you reading. It is reading that will keep you attentive. The most helpful moment in my missionary life was the half-hour or hour reading at the end of the day. The topics I read about were not always high-brow. Maybe it was because that I was hard of hearing which forced me and still forces me to read. However, it is exactly that need to create a space for silence so that one can pick up, through reading, what the noisiness of the day prevents us from hearing.   

Ask… Ask questions… I believe that I can count on the fingers of one hand the times when a young confrere consulted me on this or that question. And yet, there were plenty of opportunities to ask questions. Is it a question of shyness? I do not think so. I do not believe either that the so-called ‘generation gap’ is to blame. Asking questions is simply a matter of wisdom. There are many proverbs supporting this viewpoint. In Zambia, one proverb says,“ Before fording a river ask somebody who knows (is it safe?)” or “he who asks questions will not let himself be poisoned by mushrooms!”

Finally, an old French expression comes to mind that says, “A word to the wise is enough”!

Jean-Pierre Sauge, M.Afr.

Missionary ideal: continuity or rupture? (PE nr. 1093 – 2018/07)

With this month of July, we are beginning the second half of our last preparatory year celebrating our 150th Anniversary. The chosen theme invites us “to look to the future with hope.” In the different Provinces and Sections, the Coordinating committees are working feverishly to make this year a year of renewal that is as much spiritual and structural as missionary. July is also the month when we publish the latest list of appointments, which reminds us of our initial commitment, our availability and our generosity at the service of the Mission.

It is in the light of these elements that I would like to introduce this issue of the Petit Echo, based on questions that guided the reflection and sharing of our confreres 50 years ago on the occasion of the celebration of the centenary of our foundation: “How do you assess the evolution of the Society? In your opinion, is there continuity or rupture in the way we are living our missionary ideal?  What are your hopes and fears for the future?” These questions invite us to reflect on how our Founder’s insights are being incarnated, inculturated and updated over the years.

The 1968 questions are still relevant today. We can make them our own. How many times have I heard confreres say: “I do not recognize the Society which I signed up for”?

Two themes from the leadership training programme, Faith and Praxis, the International Leadership Development Programme, which the General Council followed in 2017 and 2018 along with leaders from eight other congregations, have inspired my approach to this question. The aim of the programme was: “To stimulate and facilitate members of General Councils to work better in their actual environment, in a faith approach, as a team and with their congregation during the time of their mandate at the service of the integral development of the members and the Society.” The first theme dealt with the Aspiration of the Founder and the second theme was entitled From the Source to the Ocean.

The exploration of our Founder’s deepest wish (aspiration) was represented as a spring that develops into a river and flows towards the ocean. This allowed me a better understanding of the evolution of our Missionary Society. More than 150 years ago, Charles Lavigerie, then Bishop of Nancy, had a profound experience of God that transformed his life in a radical way. We can locate this experience on the occasion of his pilgrimage to the tomb of St. Martin of Tours whom he thought of as the consummate pastor, monk and missionary. One night he had a dream: in a faraway and unknown country, he had a vision of brown and black people coming to him. At around the same time, he was informed of the death of Bishop Louis Pavy, (+1866), the Bishop of Algiers, and the proposal of  Marshal MacMahon, the Governor General of Algeria, that he take up the vacant episcopal seat of Algiers. Bishop Pavy, whose motto was “I will not die, I will live,” had once told Lavigerie when showing him an image of his motto “It is up to you to bear witness in all places for the need (of people) to abandon Islam for the law of the Lord.” Putting all these experiences together: the motto of Bishop Pavy, St Martin de Tours, the complete image of a missionary; brown and black people in an unknown and distant country, Lavigerie understood God’s call in a way that was to transform his life into an intense aspiration. The session helped us to experience this founding experience as a river which carries our Charism.

The image of the river indicates a direction and carries in itself the idea of growth. Like the river that flows from the spring to the ocean, taking different forms according to the geography of the place, adapting to different obstacles in its path, our Society and the Charism that it carries has passed through diverse experiences since leaving its source which is the intuition of our Founder that is, at the same time, in constant relationship with its present environment. The Society continues its journey in the perspective of the purpose that the Lord inspired in our Founder.  Whoever says purpose says direction, aim, and pathway. Focusing on purpose takes us out of the world of limited meaning and into the world that gives us a sense of orientation. I use this idea of orientation to support the idea of purpose and aim. When we talk about the meaning of a word, it is determined within a linguistic game. A word has meaning when it tends towards other words to limit itself and distinguish itself from them. Orientation, however, leads to transcendence, to a horizon. Orientation means making a movement towards a goal, for a purpose. This movement is first and foremost spiritual. The world of meaning is the world of immanence that locks us into everyday life and crisis management. The risk we run as a Missionary Society is that of locking ourselves into a world of meaning that does not propel us towards a purpose, or a horizon, but makes us go around in circles focussing on our  problems and concerns about personnel, finances, integrity and forgetting what we were founded for: the Mission.

Our deepest aspiration today as a Missionary Society expresses its hope in the theme of this preparatory jubilee year and is a creative interpretation of the deepest wish of our Founder. It orients us towards a purpose which is a source of energy for the Society and for each of its members.  The General Council, during the leadership course, has, in one exercise, represented the evolution of our Missionary Society through two images. The first is a boat sailing down a river, often deep, sometimes shallow, flowing towards the ocean. On the boat, the passengers change often as there are those who embark and those who disembark. On the 2nd February 1869 three men put on the white habit for the first time. They were Frs. Charmetant, Deguerry and Bouland and all were French. However, soon afterwards, others came to join them. A German, in the person of Bro. Hieronymous (Karl Baumeister) had already received the white habit from the hands of the Cardinal himself on the 16th May 1870. Then it was the turn of Belgium represented by Fr. Camille Van der Straeten in 1879 followed by a Dutchman in 1880. The first from the American continent was a Canadian who joined in 1886. Then, people came from Africa and from Asia (Indians and the Philippines). Today we are contemplating the possibility of promoting the mission and missionary vocations in Vietnam. And why not, if that is what Lord is expecting of us. At the pastoral level, there are new initiatives in PEP and AMS which correspond to our charism. Certainly the Society has changed its face but it still depends on its source.

The second image that the General Council chose is that of a map of Africa full of human faces expressing different sentiments and emotions. These brown and black faces are the ones who called the Cardinal to their service. It reminds us that Africa remains our starting point from which we radiate our charism. Didn’t Lavigerie himself say that Africa is the constant object of our thoughts, our commitment and our prayers? The map is coloured in the colours of the five continents, symbolising openness and responsiveness to the signs of the times. To look to the future with hope is to remain connected to the source in creative fidelity and to believe in Him who calls, sends and gives the means to accomplish the mission.

Didier Sawadogo
Assistant General

Editor’s Word (PE nr. 1093 – 2018/07)

This n° 7 edition of the Petit Echo deals with a mosaic of subjects which, each in its own way, reflects the reality of our Mission. There is more than one way of doing things well. However in everything we must, “Always be ready to give an account of the hope that is within you” as St. Peter exhorts us (1 Pt. 3, 15).

As we continue with the celebrations for the 150th Anniversary of our foundation, life goes on! The General Council has officially appointed a number of young confreres to their first mission post. Other confreres are changing posts or continuing to work where they are to provide the best possible service to the Society.

We are always pleased that confreres take the time to share stories with us about confreres who have marked their passage through life in a particular way. It is a way of praising God by revealing what He has achieved through the life of somebody with whom we have rubbed shoulders and whose work of service we have witnessed.

Safe journey

Freddy Kyombo

Erwin Echtner (1940 – 2017) (PE nr. 1092 – 2018/06)

Erwin was born on the 22nd March 1940 at Gross-Leschienen in the Diocese of Ermsland in what was then eastern Prussia. His family name, at the time, was Koschewski. His father was killed during the 2nd World War. In 1945, his mother fled with her four children towards the west and after a long journey they arrived in Hechthausen in the north of Germany. In 1947, Erwin began primary school. His mother married again with Franz Echtner, who adopted the four children and they took his family name. In 1952, the family moved to Krefeld on the banks of the Rhine. Erwin finished his primary schooling there in 1955.

Erwin began his commercial studies, which he successfully finished in 1958. He got a job but he felt called by God to go on the missions. According to the reference from his employer, Erwin was described as a conscientious collaborator, easy to get on with, punctual, and respectful of his co-workers.

Erwin entered the White Fathers at Langenfeld on the 1st June 1959 to begin his postulancy. In 1960, we find him at the novitiate in Hörstel. He took his 1st Missionary Oath there on the 4th February 1962 when he was just a month shy of his 22nd birthday. From February 1962 to March 1965, he continued his training at the Brothers’ Formation Centre in Marienthal, Luxembourg.

In November 1965, Bro. Echtner left for Kipalapala in the Diocese of Tabora, Tanzania. He only studied Kiswahili for a short time before going to work at the printing press nearby. On the 1st February 1967, he was appointed as editor and manager of the Catholic newspaper, KIONGOZI. He took his Perpetual Missionary Oath in Kipalapala on the 24th February 1968. He moved to the Social Training Centre in Nyegezi near Mwanza in July 1969 before returning to the printing press in Kipalapala later the same year. He also spent some time in the procure of Dar-es-Salaam from 1971.

After many years of service in Tanzania, Erwin began to look for other horizons. His first wish was to study for the priesthood and after a long period of reflection on all sides, he began studies for the priesthood in London in January 1974. However, already by the end of the 1st term,  Erwin had to face up to the fact reluctantly that this orientation was not for him. So he had to abandon his idea of becoming a priest.

In 1976, we find Erwin in Germany as bursar of the community in Trier. His training in book-keeping and accounts meant that he felt more at ease and he was able to render a great service to the community. In 1977, he was appointed to the Afrikanum in Cologne. Here he found his true vocation and for the next 33 years he was a committed worker in the area of receiving refugee children and young people from Africa. He had his own personal experience as a refugee and he could empathise with the children coming from Angola, the Congo, Ethiopia and Somalia. These countries were experiencing constant revolts, wars and revolutions. The revolutionary leaders were putting hundreds of children on planes for Germany hoping that they would receive a good education and be able afterwards to serve their liberated countries.

Supported by Caritas and other NGOs helping refugees, Erwin gained the trust of the public service tasked with the reception of war refugees. These organisations granted him the guardianship of more than 800 children over the course of the years. The authorities gave him the responsibility of looking for places in boarding schools, register them firstly in language courses and then in schools. From time to time, Erwin even had to accommodate some children in the Afrikanum on a temporary basis. Many of these children kept in contact with Erwin after receiving vocational training or studies. For the children, he was “their father” and they were, for him, “his children.” Erwin gave a great example of charity. He showed that in a State with a well-developed social service, personal initiative was still necessary and has a place in this society. On the 26th September 2010, Erwin received the honorary prize of the city “committed to Cologne.” On the 17th July 2013, the Mayor of Cologne bestowed on him “Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany”

On the 31st of August 1990, Erwin suffered a heart attack which obliged him to reduce his activities on behalf of his “his children” many of whom had since become adults. In April 2011, he was diagnosed with cancer and he was appointed to the community at Trier where he died on the 6th October 2017. The funeral liturgy took place in the chapel of the Brothers of Charity followed by burial in our plot in the city cemetery of Trier.

Hans Vöcking, M.Afr.

 

Christian Schneider (1934 – 2017) (PE nr. 1092 – 2018/06)

Christian was born on the 24th July 1934 at Nesse in Upper Silesia and baptised on the following 13th August in the Church of St Jacques. He began primary school in 1941. After three years he wanted to go to a secondary school. However, as the war had just ended, Silesia was integrated into Poland and secondary school education was forbidden to German children.  This meant that Christian, at the age of 11 years, worked on the roads instead of continuing his education. In 1946, his parents and their five children took refuge in the West. They installed themselves first of all in Niedernstöcken, and then moved to Mandelsloh, both places located in Lower-Saxony. It was not until 1950 that the family moved to a permanent home in Eislingen in Baden-Wurttemberg. Despite all the coming and going and being educated in five different schools, Christian was to complete his education in the Hohenstaufen secondary school thanks to his strength of character more than anything else.

After obtaining his baccalaureat, Christian began training as a marketing person in an oil company which he finished brilliantly after three years. His father had died in a road accident in 1955 and Christian, at 21 years, had to take over as head of the family as he was the eldest child. A year later, Christian began to feel called to missionary life. His family was very supportive of his wish. Already in 1950, his father had contacted the White Fathers at Haigerloch as he was looking for a place in a secondary school for Christian. Christian renewed contact with the White Fathers at Haigerloch in July 1956 and asked for information on admission to the Society. In October of the same year, he arrived at Langenfeld to begin his postulancy. He entered the novitiate in Hörstel in August 1957. At the end of his novitiate, he took his first Temporary Oath on the 9th August 1959. He then went to the Brothers’ Training Centre in Mours, France until 1961.

He arrived at the language centre at Bukavu in the Congo in May 1963. He began working at the Institut Social Africain in 1964 as a teacher. Events in the Congo forced a return to Germany in 1967, but he was back again within a year. He continued teaching in Bukavu until 1970. Following independence in many countries and the fact that many senior civil servants from Europe left their posts without preparing people to take their place in the administration, the Society opened three social training centres in Africa; in Bukavu, (Congo), Upper Volta (Burkina Faso) and in Mwanza (Tanzania). On the 8th August 1965, Christian took his Permanent Missionary Oath in Murhesa near Bukavu.

After home leave in Germany in 1971, Christian returned to the Congo and worked in several building projects in Walungu, Kabare, Burhale, Ciherano and Walikale. He asked for exclaustration for three years in 1973 but remained in close contact with the confreres. He found work with the German Technical Cooperation Agency (GTZ) and worked for them in the Congo until 1976. The Agency wanted to extend his contract but Christian decided to re-join the Society, which he did in June 1976.

Christian then spent a year at the Ecole de Foi in Fribourg, Switzerland followed by the Session/Retreat in Jerusalem in October 1977. He then studied English in Dublin for six months. During this time, he was also asking himself some questions about becoming a priest. After consulting his superiors, he decided to remain a Brother. Moreover, he decided to return to Africa. In June 1978, he arrived in Tamale, Ghana and took on the job of bursar in the Major Seminary. At the beginnings of the 80s, doctors diagnosed heart problems. After treatment and rest, he was able to return to Africa but to Zambia this time with its gentler climate. In October 1984, he arrived in Kashikishi in the Diocese of Mansa to take charge of the building works. He had a bad fall of four metres that resulted in a complicated fracture of the knee, which meant an urgent return to Cologne for treatment. However, his Calvary was not yet over; in April 1989, he had to undergo another operation on his heart.

Nothing daunted, he returned to Zambia in February 1993. This time to Isoka in Mbala-Mpika Diocese. He was again supervising construction projects. In January 1995 at the age of 61, he accepted to go to Wukro in Ethiopia again to supervise a building project. He returned to Germany in May 1996 to take up a job in the bursar’s office in Frankfurt. However, in September 2000, he returned to Zambia for maintenance work in Kasamba and the novitiate in Kasama. In July 2002, he returned to Haigerloch where he worked as a carer in our retirement home there. In August 2009, he celebrated the Golden Jubilee of his oath. From his childhood years, Christian felt he was a foreigner in his own country and he suffered a lot because of this. These constant movements were part of his life and are signs that he was looking for a home which he finally found with the Father on the 9th August 2017 at the age of 83 in Balingen, Baden-Wurttemberg.

Hans Vöcking, M.Afr.