The joy of meeting and praying together among brothers
The presence of Christians in Niger is visible through charitable works that support the poorest in society and contribute to the development of the population. Our churches and houses are also well known to all due to the fact that we are a minority. So, in order to witness and live our faith in Jesus Christ, our pastoral activities remain focussed on the encounter with others and on the dialogue with them.
The fact that we are few in number helps us to come closer to each other in order to pool our prophetic efforts. Thus, the pastors’ association, composed of the 6 churches present in Konni, organises monthly meetings between pastors to keep us united.
This year, the invitation to the week of prayer for Christian unity was well received by the pastors of the other Christian churches. In order to have two full weeks of intense prayer for Christian unity, we started the prayer on Sunday 16 January at the Evangelical Church of Niger in Konni and on Sunday 23 January at the Catholic Church. We can only have a good number of faithful on Sundays.
The main message of these meetings was to renew ourselves in brotherly love, strengthen our unity and pray for the visible unity of the Church. We lit candles as a symbol of our hope in God.
Together we can be a shining witness that leads others to know and love Christ. The joy of being together in prayer was immense. We felt comforted and renewed in our fellowship and unity. This is how the desire to organise regular ecumenical prayers was born.
The Visit of Pope Francis to Iraq (Video of the Conference)
Its Significance for Religious Relations
Main lecturer: Cardinal Michael L. Fitzgerald, M.Afr.
Here is the recording of the web conference organised by Georgetown University and PISAI on Thursday, May 6th, 2021, where both our confreres Michael Cardinal Fitzgerald and Father Diego Sarriò intervened.
Ecumenical and interreligious dialogue around Kampala
Kampala is the centre of the key aspects of life of Uganda as a nation: political, economic, education, health, not to forget religion. Its population is the most religiously diversified compared to any other part of Uganda. Headquarters of the Catholic Church, the Church of Uganda, the Orthodox Church and Islam are all here. Most of the Pentecostal Churches have their main Churches here. The two national ecumenical and interreligious councils — Uganda Joint Christian Council (UJCC) and Interreligious Council of Uganda (IRCU) have their headquarters here.
The population of Kampala is, therefore, naturally multi-faith and is destined to remain so in the future. Interreligious and ecumenical interactions and living are part and parcel of the life of the people in most of its parts, residential and non-residential alike. One can say that in Kampala, what unites people of different faiths is stronger than what would divide and oppose them to each other.
All political parties in this country have their headquarters located here in Kampala and seek to brand themselves with an inclusive religious mark both in their leadership and membership. In the same vein, Kampala being the seat of Buganda Kingdom, the ecumenicalinterreligious spirit is more pronounced in its population than elsewhere. The Kabaka is king for all irrespective of their religious affiliations and most of the activities initiated and promoted by the Kingdom are inclusive.
Inter-faith marriages are one of the pastoral challenges which | believe is more acute in Kampala than in any other part of the country. A number of couples, married in the church or not, live in this situation and there is a great need of an adapted ecumenical-interreligious catechesis and pastoral guidelines on this particular issue.
In Kampala, ecumenical and interreligious solidarity is most practiced in face of adversities and sufferings: poverty in the growing number of slums, crimes and injustices not to forget death which occurs more often in the city than in villages. One of those adversities occurred recently when one of the Protestant Churches in Kampala was broken down by people claiming to own the land on which it was built. The solidarity which was shown on that occasion from all people irrespective of their faiths was a loud prophetic voice which reminded us of the importance and key role of religion in our society.
On the official side of ecumenical and interreligious dialogue, the interventions of the two national ecumenical and interreligious councils mentioned above are most effective in Kampala than elsewhere in the country. Their interventions, often on issues of justice and peace, for example, concerning violation of human rights, governance and democracy, etc., become the talk of the day around the city.
Finally, it has to be observed that although “what unites people of different faiths in Kampala is stronger than what would divide and oppose them to each other”, there is also fear — founded or unfounded — in some of the religious leaders and lay faithful of different faith-communities towards each other. It is also sad to note that there has been some relaxation in the recent past in some of the common ecumenical activities, for example, the annual week of prayer for Christian Unity. Could COVID-19 pandemic be a God-sent reminder of the necessity of strengthening our ecumenical and interreligious peaceful co-existence and collaboration? In fact, residents of Kampala have been more affected by the pandemic than those of other parts of the country.
Ecumenical Dialogue of Action:
Promoting peace and Caring for the common home, our planet
Andreas Göpfert helped us reflect on how dialogue, including ecumenical dialogue, can be a catalyst for peace and social cohesion. During the private audience with the M.Afr. and MSOLA on the occasion of the 150th celebrations, Pope Francis encouraged the missionaries of the Lavigerie family to be bridge builders in order to create peace and inspire hope.
The promotion of integral ecology and care for our common home can be a great opening for ecumenical dialogue. Venerato Babaine shared with the participants his experiences working in this area in Zambia. He sees ecological principles and practices as an inevitable door for ecumenism and missionary activity. Referring back to Laudato Si’, we can see that there is a clear interconnectedness between the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor. Christians of all denominations should work together to safeguard our common home and in doing so promote human dignity and social justice.
What is the contribution of the Orthodox Church to ecology? Frans Bouwen informed us that the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomaios, was one of the first in the Christian world to highlight the spiritual dimension of the current ecological crisis. In fact, the roots of this crisis are spiritual and ethical: self-sufficiency, selfishness, consumerism, destruction of nature, etc. Orthodoxy promotes an ‘ecclesiology as ecology’ and proposes an ascetic ethos as an antidote to modern consumerism and a Eucharistic vision of thanksgiving as a life attitude which respects the integrity of creation.
Serge Traore explained to us how the upcoming Synod on the Amazon (6-27 October 2019) will provide new pathways for the Church and for an integral ecology. Its aim is to fashion the Church with an Amazonian face. At the same time, this synod offers the Church an opportunity to reflect on the interconnectedness of its mission, especially in relation to its JPIC-ED dimensions. There will be many possibilities for ecumenical activity in favour of the preservation of the ecosystem and social justice issues. We also see a shift toward a ‘South-South’ cooperation at the ecclesiological and theological levels. What could the Church (and missionaries) in Africa learn from the experience of the Church of the Amazon?
Sr. Sheila Kinsey, FCJM, concluded our series of conferences with a presentation entitled: ‘Laudato Si’ and Ecumenical Dialogue: a call for prophetic engagement’. She reminded us that Pope Francis calls all religious to be prophets of hope, full of passion and open to new opportunities: www.sowinghopefortheplanet.org The current social crisis demands a personal and community-level ecological conversion. She gave us an overview of how to use the UISG website ‘Sowing Hope for the Planet’ and told us of an initiative to create ‘tents of martyrs’ during the upcoming Synod on the Amazon to honour all those who have given their lives for the protection of God’s creation.
After all these informative presentations, giving us an excellent panorama of the Church’s vision and commitment to ecumenism and what we Missionaries of Africa are doing to integrate it into our various apostolic activities, the workshop participants split up into small groups to generate some concrete recommendations to help ensure this dimension of the Church’s mission is fully integrated into the life of our Society.
Bernhard Udelhoven explored the topic: ‘Where contagious faith empowers the poor: Pentecostal challenges and lessons for the Catholic Church’. He underlined how the new Pentecostal churches in Zambia have managed to empower people, especially the poor. They offer responses to the needs of the local people who in general desire to conquer evil powers such as witchcraft and social misery. We Catholics are invited to go and encounter these churches and learn why they are able to attract so many followers.
Paul Reilly provided a presentation on ‘Ecumenical Dialogue in Ethiopia: Particularity, Stakes, and Challenges’ highlighting the ecumenical work of the M.Afr. among the Orthodox in Ethiopia. Since the arrival of the first confreres in 1967, ecumenism has been a way of life in Ethiopia. Despite the evident challenges of being Latin rite missionaries working in oriental rite dioceses, as well as historical tensions between Catholics and Orthodox, our confreres do their best to adapt to this ecumenical reality with patience and humility.
How do we M.Afr. and how do our local churches receive these official texts? Andreas also helped us to reflect on how we can integrate ecumenical dialogue into our different missionary activities today. What are the different types of dialogue?
This is the continuation of the report – as well as the texts of the conferences, often in their original language – of the workshop held at the end of March at the Generalate on “Ecumenical Dialogue, a call for prophetic commitment”. The first part of the report was published on April 14. Enjoy your reading.
Ecumenism in the world
Frans Bouwen provided the workshop participants with a brief reminder of the official documents of the Catholic Church regarding ecumenism. These are: Unitatis Redintegratio (1964) [Decree on Ecumenism from Vatican II]; Ut Unum Sint (1995) [John Paul II]; and the Directory for the application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism (1993). In fact, there is no such thing as ‘Catholic Ecumenism’, but rather ecumenism tout court. The Church already now experiences a ‘real although imperfect communion’. How can we help it grow towards its fullness?
What is the ecumenical commitment of Pope Francis? This topic was covered by Andreas Göpfert and highlighted the five dimensions of ecumenism: 1) ecumenism of encounter; 2) practical ecumenism (ecumenical dialogue in action / ecumenical diakonia); 3) theological ecumenical dialogue; 4) prayer for Christian unity; 5) ecumenism of blood (of martyrdom). Pope Francis says that we are all called to be ecumenical Christians. We are pilgrims ‘en marche’ towards the promised land which is visible unity. Are we M.Afr. committed to walking along this route of ecumenism ‘en marche’?
Prof. Gioacchino Campese, CS gave a talk entitled ‘Together Towards Life: Reflections on the Ecumenical Mission’. He presented the document ‘Together towards life. Mission and evangelism in changing landscapes’ (TTL) which was drafted by the Commission on World Mission and Evangelism (CWME of the WCC), approved by the WCC Central Committee in 2012 and presented officially in 2013 during the Busan (Korea) WCC assembly. This document reminds us that mission is a vocation from God’s spirit who works for a world where the fullness of life is available to all and that ‘catholicity’ is a quality that describes true ecumenism and not just a term which defines a particular Christian denomination.
Leo Laurence focused on the Common Commemoration of the Reformation (2017) between Catholics and Lutherans as a point of no return towards Christian unity. Being a Christian today means being ecumenical and celebrating unity in diversity. Are we prepared to question our own prejudices?
Frans Bouwen offered the participants a ‘Panorama of the Eastern and Oriental Churches’ which highlighted the important distinction between ‘diversity’, which allows for a deeper understanding and a fuller expression and celebration of the faith in Christ, and ‘division’, which contradicts the essence and mission of the Church. Both played an important role in the origin and history of the Eastern and Oriental Churches. The differences are not only liturgical, but also in the way they received and lived out the Gospel in their particular contexts. For those who would like to work for inculturation, it is good to know their history.
There are different ways of presenting the ecumenical movement. Should it be represented by the “delta” rather than by the “river”? In his presentation, Andreas Göpfert took up some thoughts of Pastor Jane Stranz.
From 28th March to 4th April, a workshop on Ecumenical Dialogue was organised in Rome by Andreas Göpfert, coordinator of JPIC-ED. The participants to the workshop were:
Richard Nnyombi, JPIC-ED coordinator for the sector Uganda (EAP)
Frans Bouwen, JPIC-ED coordinator for the sector Jerusalem (EPO)
Paul Relly, JPIC-ED for the sector Ethiopia (EPO)
Babaine Venerato, Provincial delegate for the sector Zambia (SAP)
Bernhard Udelhoven, from Fenza (SAP)
Maria Joseph Leo Laurence, in formation at St. Anselme (Rome)
Ignatius Anipu, assistant in charge of ED (Generalate Rome)
Martin Grenier, assistant in charge of JPIC (Generalate Rome)
Andreas Göpfert, coordinator of JPIC-ED
Beginning of the session
After the introductory prayer led by Martin Grenier (assistant general in charge of JPIC), the first day of our workshop was officially opened by Ignatius Anipu (assistant general in charge of Encounter and Dialogue – Ecumenism). In his opening speech, Ignatius invited the participants and all the missionaries of Africa to be active actors of ecumenism in their missionary activities. Linking the present workshop to the 150 years of the foundation of the society, Ignatius pointed out the fact that ecumenism has always been part of our charism since the lifetime of our founder Lavigerie.
Andreas Göpfert, coordinator of JPIC-ED, presented the timetable of the session and the methodology which is based on SEE, JUDGE and ACT. He explained the workshop objective ‘Undertake a process which aims to deepen our ecumenical orientation and to integrate it into our missionary commitments for the care for our common home, peace, and social cohesion’. He insisted on the interconnectedness of all those topics.
"SEE": Ecumenical commitment of M.Afr – past and present
Frans Bouwen started off a series of presentations regarding the M.Afr and its ecumenical commitment past and present with his talk on St. Anne’s in Jerusalem as the first concrete M.Afr. commitment to ecumenism. This presentation helped the participants situate themselves into the historical context of Cardinal Lavigerie and the ecumenical activities of the Society in the Middle East and with the Eastern Churches.
A second presentation, given by Richard Nnyombi, focused on the evangelization of Uganda and helped the participants see that the first confreres who arrived in central Africa did so in a context of inter-religious dialogue and competition among different Christian churches. Despite conflicts which took place between Catholics and Protestants, there have been as well fruitful examples of collaboration as well as the poignant example of ‘ecumenism of blood’ as both Catholics and Anglicans martyrs were united in suffering for their faith in Christ.
Ignatius Anipu offered the participants an overview of how the most recent General Chapters of the M.Afr. treated the subject of ecumenism. All were interested to learn that much more has been said about our M.Afr. commitment to ecumenism in the chapters than we previously thought. This gave rise to the question: do we take the content of our chapters seriously?
Andreas Göpfert, JPIC-ED Coordinator of the Society, provided a summary of the ecumenical activities in which our confreres are involved throughout the world. He urged us all to consider how we can integrate an ecumenical dimension into each one of our M.Afr. apostolates.
“Living Together” … This was the theme proposed by Algeria to all the countries of the world, through the UN, to celebrate May 16 each year. Thus, already the day before, on May 15, a rich debate took place on the Algerian radio and television on this theme with notably the participation of Mgr. Henri Teissier and other personalities of the country. The next day, a beautiful fresco was inaugurated at St. Augustine House, where precisely a group of people is called to share their daily life as ordinarily as possible “day after day”. But these are the people who already carry the weight of age, who have had, most of them, quite important responsibilities. Today, they are forced to get help from others. But they also have the task of making themselves ‘bearable’ to each other. Algerian and foreign friends are there, close to them to facilitate their task. We all know similar situations in our families, with our parents and relatives.
All of this echoes the meaning of the afternoon conference of May 16, at the Diocesan House, where a large audience of about 200 people, Muslims, Christians and freethinkers exchanged on this topic of “Living together”. A very nice introduction presented by some members of the Muslim brotherhood, named “Tarique des Alouines”, then by Mgr. Teissier and many other speakers who came spontaneously from the room, facilitated the depth and richness of the exchanges. With each example cited, it follows that if we would like to advance on the road to peace, it is essential to respect one another, whether one is a Muslim, a Christian or a free-thinker. Thinking about the future beatification of the 19 martyrs of the years 1990 – 2000, we note that the life of each martyr was precisely a testimony of simple life, true and engaged in the “coming and going” of every day. By putting yourself in tune with the “ordinary” we realize “the extraordinary”! That is to say: love each other!
Having been all my life in touch with the disabled, migrants, refugees, “people unlike everyone else”, I could feel, how hard it is to be accepted in the difference and to feel different.That’s why a day on the theme “Living together” is important. Building “bridges” between different opinions and different religions is important, I would say an obligation for everyone. This day of May 16 reminded us all of this.
« The ftour »
(Ftour or Iftar (Arabic: إفطار ʾifṭār ‘break fast’) is the evening meal with which Muslims end their daily Ramadan fast at sunset. Muslims break their fast at the time of the call to prayer for the evening prayer. This is their second meal of the day; the daily fast during Ramadan begins immediately after the pre-dawn meal of Suhur and continues during the daylight hours, ending with sunset with the evening meal of Iftar. (Wikipedia)
It is in the sense of this text above that we were able to live in the “Sources” (a district of Algiers), a week later, May 25, a convivial meal of Ramadan where were present not less than 75 people, mostly Muslims, but with the presence of some Christians and in the house of a Christian.
The beginning of the Ramadan meal invariably begins with the wish “Ghafrou Baadakoum” (forgive one another). The meal was followed by a beautiful evening of poetic songs that touched our hearts. We really parted in a deep atmosphere of peace and well being. But other similar signs could be observed during this holy month. Despite all the painful and sometimes brutal repressions at the borders of sub-Saharan migrants, positive moments have been experienced in several places. Every evening, when I went to the bus station of Algiers, migrants were welcomed with “open arms” at the table of the “ftour” before accompanying them to the bus for a voluntary return to their country of origin. It was really touching. Moreover these moments of conviviality towards those who had nothing to eat were repeated for many in the city and in the country. . We saw them share at the El Harrach railway station. Then in the street of Didouche Mourad in Algiers. There a table of more than a hundred meters was erected so that all those who wanted to sit there could have a meal, including women.
Yes, we can say that this year, the time of Ramadan was also a grace filled time of meeting each other, putting into practice the beautiful theme of May 16: “Living Together”.
Algiers June 15 2018 1st day Aïd Seghir Jan Heuft, M.Afr.
Very soon our Muslim brothers and sisters will celebrate ‘Id al-Fitr to mark the end of the month of Ramadan.
A visit of courtesy to the neighbouring family, a cordial greeting, a message of blessing send by SMS, wishes expressed via WhatsApp, a phone call, and where it is possible, a presence in the ceremony, are so many concrete gestures by whom we can express our open-mindedness, respect, goodwill and benevolence, and wish deeply a good feast day to our brothers and sisters in the Muslim faith.
The message of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue for the feast of ‘Id al-Fitr invites us all to “establish a solid foundation for peaceful relations, moving from competition and confrontation to an effective cooperation for the common good. This particularly assist those most in need, and allows us to offer a credible witness to the Almighty’s love for the whole of humanity… So that we may further peaceful and fraternal relations, let us work together and honour each another. In this way we will give glory to the Almighty and promote harmony in society, which is becoming increasingly multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-cultural.”
Let us live our solidarity through our prayer and through our personal effort to build peaceful and fraternal relations!
May the merciful and loving God grant us Peace in our daily life!