Community life in a COVID world (SOA Newsletter)

Community life in a COVID world

Francis Barnes, the First Assistant General of our Society, became a refugee in our community as he waited for the opportunity to travel back to Rome. He would have liked to go out to visit some of the Malls in Cebu, but this was not possible due to quarantine controls. Bonaventure Gubazire continued to finalise his Doctoral Dissertation, which he successfully completed in October 2020. He is now at home in Uganda with his family.

Boris Yabre, appointed here primarily for studies, continues to move toward completion of his studies and hopes to finish next year. Luisito Poe prepared his visa papers that will allow him to travel to Canada at the end of this year to follow a course. He is now anxiously waiting for approval of his visa. Sergio Villasefior, the bursar of the community, did his best to keep our cupboards full so we could enjoy good meals. He also worked hard in our vegetable garden. Paul Johnston worked on rearranging our library in preparation for the new academic year and getting himself reacquainted with the formation house and the beginning of a new academic year. John Gould, our Section Superior, kept things moving with the often-difficult administration of the Section. He was unable to travel to India as originally foreseen. Our students eventually went home for a holiday and returned to start the new academic year under not so normal circumstances. Currently, they are following on-line classes, which may or may not continue into the second semester of the academic year.

As a community, we prayed together and celebrated daily Mass together. We prayed in a particular way for the people around us who were suffering in one way or another from the COVID Pandemic. Some of us kept ourselves moving with evening walks around the village, while others moved their bodies playing table tennis.

A few evenings per week, we had recreation. We celebrated anniversaries and birthdays. In many ways, community life is what has helped us during this time of the pandemic.

These days, life around Cebu is returning to some sense of normal (or as some say … the new norm). Life is returning to the streets of Cebu. Some “jeepneys’, the local transportation, are being allowed to move once again, which will be a relief for the people. Most of the shopping malls are open, but with certain protocols, like face masks and face shields, in place. For our community, outside Masses with some of the congregations of sisters have restarted. We have also had some Masses to mark special occasions with a select group of friends.

COVID19 has changed our world! COVID19 has challenged us! However, COVID19 will not defeat us!

The SOA Circular Letter, published in November 2020, is available here: SOA News

An extended stay in the Philippines (SOA Newsletter)

An extended stay in the Philippines

On 25 February 2020, FR. FRANCIS BARNES, First Assistant General, arrived in the Philippines to visit the communities of Cebu and Malalag. Following this visit, he was foreseen travelling with John Gould, Superior of the Section of Asia, to India to visit the communities of Bangalore and Sollepuram. However, COVID19 had other ideas.

Like many other people, Francis found himself stranded in the Philippines, unable to travel to India or to travel back to Rome. In the Philippines, the Emergency Community Quarantine (better known elsewhere as a lockdown), shut everything down. Adjustments had to be made and Francis had to find ways of making the best of a difficult situation. He kept in contact with the other members of the General Council, who were in similar situations in different places in Africa, via video conferences. Even COVID19 could not stop the work of the General Council! While unable to go to any of the shopping malls, Francis had his daily walks within the Village of Sto. Nino, where we have our community, as well as the opportunity to experience the food of the Philippines. He gave some inputs to our students and joined our community for prayer as well as social activities and recreation. Francis was finally able to travel back to Rome on 14 August 2020. This extended visit was unexpected both for Francis and the community, but we hope he enjoyed his stay with us. We thank him for his presence in our community and for sharing some insights into the wider aspects of our Society. We thank him and all the members of our General Council for the work they do behind the scenes to ensure our Society runs as efficiently as possible even in the midst of difficult times. Francis is most welcome to return to the Philippines for a much longer (and more permanent) stay following his term as a member of the General Council.

The SOA Circular Letter, published in November 2020, is available here: SOA News

News from SOA (Editorial)

News from SOA (Newsletter Editorial - November 2020)

Unless you are living in a totally different world from the rest of humanity, the term COVID19 is well known. Along with other words like lockdown, quarantine, self-isolation, social distancing and others, which have become part of our day-to-day vocabulary, the COVID19 Pandemic defines much of what our world is experiencing these days. It is, as they say, the “talk of the town’. Face masks and shields are worn for protection and have become part-and-parcel of everyday life.

Our Society of Missionaries of Africa has not been immune and we have had to adjust to the changing and challenging landscape. How we interact with one another in community has been challenged. How we carry out our meetings at different levels of our Society has been challenged. Candidates, who completed their Spiritual Year, had to wait until they could gradually move to their places of Stage. Those who had completed Stage were delayed in returning home for their holidays before moving to their respective places for Theology studies. Ordinations that were planned months before had to be rescheduled with a reduced number of those who could attend. In general, our normal way of doing things has been challenged and adjustments needed to be made.

Within our own little corner of our Society, we have not escaped the bite of COVID19. Confreres and candidates were stranded in places, unable to move due to travel restrictions and the closing down of International air travel. Ordinations were postponed. In India, ways and means had to be found to get our students back to our formation centre in Bangalore to start the new academic year. Our students at Suvidya college in India and the University of San Carlos in the Philippines currently follow courses via the Internet. Our communities both in the Philippines and in India have undergone different versions of lockdowns and quarantines and it has not ended.

The reality is, COVID19 is in our midst and it does not look like it will disappear anytime soon. It is something we have to learn to live with, which has wide-ranging effects from economics to the way we relate with one another through social distancing. The positive news is that many people are working hard to bring this pandemic under control.

There is no denying that our world is changing and we, as individuals and as a Society, need to change with it. We need to do whatever we can to protect ourselves, our communities, and the people around us. However, life must continue. We must face the challenges ahead of us with hope both as individuals and as a Society.

‘I have hope in the peoples’ of the world who ‘are going to take lessons from this crisis to re-evaluate their lives. We’re going to come out better. Fewer of us, of course, many are still sick and it’s hard. But I have faith, we’re going to come out better,’ (Pope Francis – March 25, 2020)

The SOA circular letter, published in November 2020, is available here: SOA News

Our “aspirancy” experience

Our “aspirancy” experience

We are nineteen Aspirants in the 2019-20 batch at SOLA, Sollepuram, India. We come from eight states in India and from different cultural backgrounds; yet, we live as brothers of the same family. Here we learn that the Missionaries of Africa live in international and intercultural communities. We learn a lot from each other and believe that our life in SOLA foreshadows such a community life. Listening patiently to our brothers, sharing our time and talents, working, playing and praying together are a few of the experiences, among many others, that we have seen and learned.

Our life at SOLA is centered on prayer and we spend considerable time in prayer. We have learned many prayers in English and we have been introduced to both personal and community prayers. We are initiated to pray through meditation, spiritual reading, and the examination of conscience. The quiet and calm atmosphere creates an environment that helps us to pray well. On different occasions, we join the parish community for prayers, during which we pray together with the local church. Through prayer, we are beginning to understand our Lord better, as well as His invitation for us.

A lot of time is devoted to English, and we are improving in speaking, reading and writing English. Various activities, such as loud reading, essay writing, daily homework, public speaking and quiz competitions are incorporated into our program to improve our English. Regular class tests help us to revise the materials we have covered and to evaluate our progress. All these activities are helping us to build confidence as well as to gain the necessary skills in the English language.

God will not forget anyone, even if a mother forgets her nursing child. In SOLA, we are very well cared for with the fathers of our community never showing any partiality to anyone. They treat each one of us equally, as their younger brothers. We are being shaped like pots shaped by a potter. We are happy and enjoying our stay here at Sollepuram.

On the behalf of all our brothers, we humbly ask you to remember us in your prayers so that one day we will also work in the vineyard of the Lord through the special vocation as missionaries.

By: Chilka Pawan Kumar & Anand Munda – Cebu

From SOA Newsletter – January 2020

Reflection on 3 years of formation…

Reflection on three years of formation

As the psalmist says, “…behold how good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in harmony…” (Psalm 133:1).

When anyone asks what I like in the Missionaries of Africa in my three years of formation in SOLA Study House, the first answer will be community life and the second will be the formators, who helped me to understand the depth and width of my vocation.

Though our community is mainly focused on studies in Philosophy, our formators have moulded a timetable giving equal importance to the essential aspects of formation like prayer, pastoral ministry, studies, community living and other important areas in the life of a candidate, which help the candidate make an integrated development in his personal life and his vocation journey.

Each vocation is unique, and each congregation has a unique charism, but I have always felt that call to be a Missionary of Africa is much more unique than others and a vocation that presents many challenges from the very beginning of our formation programme.

Over the past three years, I have learned that I am chiefly responsible for my own formation and nobody is forcing me to be like anyone else. There is freedom for each candidate to refine their unique personalities within the missionary vocation that each one has received. Through my years of formation, 1 have been helped to improve my level of confidence in various areas like studies, personal responsibility, inter-cultural / inter-national community living and so on.

A missionary vocation is a gift from God, and He forms each one accordingly. Through our formators, I have been helped and guided to deepen my understanding of what God wants of me.
Regular meetings with my Spiritual Companion helped me to evaluate myself from different perspectives. Our monthly recollections and annual retreat have been times for reflection and renewal. When linked with Ignatian spirituality, monthly encounters with the rector and gentle corrections from the members of staff, I have grown to be a better person.

Attending the African mass in the first Sunday of every month, which is something I cherish, when combined with quiz competitions and inputs about Africa and our Society have helped me to know more about Africa and its people. Through all of this, I have come to a deeper awareness of Africa and its people and now have African friends in Bangalore.

My different, weekend pastoral ministries have helped me to better understand the realities of life being faced by people around us, as well as deepening my understanding of what it means to be a servant of God. I felt challenged by these experiences and was gradually able to enter the life of those to whom I was sent. It was a great lesson.

Learning French has been one of the great difficulties I have had. Learning a new language is not, for me, an easy thing to do, but with the constant support of the formation team and our confreres who know French it has given me the courage to move forward.

Team life is also an activity to be appreciated and has helped me in many ways both as an individual and on my vocation journey.

Following in the footsteps of Cardinal Lavigerie in the African world is a unique and challenging call. My experiences in formation in SOLA Study House have been positive and reassuring. I feel I have been well-formed to face the challenges as I move forward. I have been very happy to have been part of a community knitted with love and focused on Christ and I thank all my formators and others who have helped me to be where I am today.

Lithin Varghese
Third-Year Candidate
SOLA Study House – Bangalore

From SOA Newsletter – January 2020

Life in the spiritual year

Life in the spiritual year (Kasama)

When I was in the Philippines preparing to go to Africa, I had no doubt that my Spiritual Year would be a good year. It truly was quite an unforgettable moment in my life. When I arrived in Zambia in September 2018, I was so happy. The place was so beautiful and the people so friendly. I realized, after interacting with them, that their cultures and traditions are not very different when compared to my own: friendly people, respectful of elders, the style of singing and dancing, the love for celebrations and, most importantly, the strong faith of the people towards God. For me, given all the facts it was really a fruitful year.

In my community, I was lucky to live with people from ten different nationalities. I learned many things from them: their cultures, traditions, countries and many such things. In the beginning, I had to make a lot of adjustments. There were times when I found myself quarreling, shouting, throwing heavy words and being misunderstood by them. There, we realized we have to love and to help each other as brothers. I could say that because of them I developed a good backbone, a person ready to be sent anywhere and ready to be part of the mission of Christ in Africa. The formators also contributed greatly for my growth. I was grateful to have them, especially my Spiritual Companion. They challenged me gently on my weaknesses and the things that I needed to change about my behavior. I am happy that I managed at least to face them and am so thankful to my formators for my growth.

The sessions we had, the pastoral assignment every weekend, the immersion experience and the daily routine helped me tremendously. The sessions helped me to know more about myself, our founder, our Society, the Church, etc. My pastoral assignments helped me to have direct contact with the people outside our compound and reminded me that I am a Missionary of Africa. My immersion experience was my opportunity to actualize and concretize all I learned from the sessions. I was able to work with people coming from different religions with whom we made a good community, bearing the goal of the well-being of the people of God. I also loved our daily routine, full of reflections about myself and my relationship with God, His plan for me and who I am for Him. During our retreats, recollections and reflections, my heart discovered that God loves me so much without any conditions and has great plans for me.

My spiritual year was full of God’s grace. I feel so lucky and thankful to God for giving me such an experience. I had a good community and excellent formators. I met very friendly and generous people. I experienced unforgettable moments: the official Entry into the Society, the Reception of the Gandourah, Burnous and the Rosary, the Retreat of Election, the Declaration of Intent and the Reception of the Ministry of Reader. All these wonderful moments were the graces of God for me and expressed His love for me. Everything I have is a result of His Grace and I am forever thankful to Him.

At the end of our Spiritual Year, when I left the Spiritual Formation Centre in Kasama I told myself that, “I miss this place, the silence and my brothers”. Indeed, it is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I remember Fr. Paul Johnston, my rector in the First Phase saying, “95% of formation is from within and only 5% is contributed by formators”. I now see this is true.

My Spiritual Year experience in Kasama was a very special year for me. It changed my views on life, enlightened me more about God, gave me right direction on the life that I decided to live to and enlightened me more about our Founder and our Society. Moreover, I learned so many practical things. For me I can express my Spiritual Year experience in these words: It was very fruitful, full of growth about myself and full of God’s grace.

Andy Deala from the Philippines

Kasama Spiritual Year -archive photo

From SOA Newsletter – January 2020

Closing the Jubilee Year in Cebu

Closing celebration of the 150th anniversary in Cebu

On December 8, 2019 we joyfully celebrated in our Community House the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary and the closure of 150th anniversary of the foundation of the Missionaries of Africa.

Very early in the morning, a group of the friends of the Missionaries of Africa generously came to decorate the place where the Holy Mass was to take place. They also brought us some gifts and a gigantic cake prepared specifically for the occasion.

The choir was composed of Missionaries of Africa candidates and a group of the Friends of the Missionaries of Africa in the Philippines (FROMAP). Our talented candidates (Richard, Roberto, Mark, Vincent and Christian) did a tremendous work in preparing for the occasion.

The main celebrant was our confrere Fr. Mike (Michel) Agoh, who currently serves in the Parish of Malalag-Diocese of Digos. The co-celebrants were Frs. Bonaventure Gubazire, Boris Yabre, Luisito Poe, and an SDV Filipino priest, Fr. Gilberto, who served for a long time in Chad. Our stagiaire, Andy Deala, was also present.

During his homily Fr. Mike called upon the faithful to take Mother Mary as their model in matters of faith. Mary trusted in God and humbled herself to allow God to use her as an instrument of love for humanity. Those present were heartily touched to see a black man fluently speaking their local language – Cebuano.

The attendance was higher than expected. Among them were the parents of our confrere from Cebu, Clayb Caputolan, who is currently serving in Ethiopia.

Since our chapel is too small, we used our dining and sitting rooms for the occasion. The alleys of the house were also filled with well-wishers. Could the presence of a good number of friends suggest that our missionary presence and charism are well appreciated in this region? Many people say they feel at home in our communities both here in Cebu and in Malalag.

Could perhaps the fact of living in intercultural communities in itself be an apostolate?

After the celebration of the Eucharist, a catering group had already skilfully set tables, well decorated in white and blue to represent Marian colours. As it is a custom here, several lechon (whole roasted pigs) were served. The meat lovers among us rejoiced to the maximum.

The delicious meal was followed by entertainment. The lay Collaborators of the Missionaries of Africa and former Scholars of the Missionaries of Africa presented beautiful and artistic sketches. In the end, we all joined in the dance.

It was, indeed, a day marked by a joyful and blissful celebration. We give thanks to God who inspired our founder, Charles Cardinal Lavigerie, to dream of such a wonderful family of the Missionaries of Africa, a family elected to bear fruit and become a witness to God’s love and compassion in Africa and beyond.

May Mother Mary, Our Lady of Africa, continue to intercede for us!

From the SOA Newsletter – January 2020

Closing the Jubilee Year in Bangalore

SOLA STUDY HOUSE - BANGALORE: CLOSURE OF JUBILEE ANNIVERSARY

On 7th of December, along with about 250 people from various religious communities and our friends, the two communities in India celebrated the closing of the 150th anniversary of our Society’s foundation at SOLA Study House in Bangalore.

In preparation for the event, the students worked hard at preparing paintings, artwork, banners and posters focussing on Africa and our Society and placed these around our compound. This presented a festive atmosphere in which the celebration took place.

The programme started with a Mass of thanksgiving, with Fr. Praween D’Souza, OFM, as the main celebrant, who was joined by the confreres of both houses. In the name of our two communities, Fr. Paul Johnston, rector of SOLA Study House, welcomed our guests before inviting Fr. Praween to lead us in prayer. In his homily, Fr. Praween emphasized the great missionary zeal of our founder Cardinal Charles Lavigerie and how his words encouraged the early missionaries to speak of Christ and to live like Christ, in the midst of life-threatening conditions.

During the offertory, several symbolic items were presented, including a unique picture of Cardinal Lavigerie painted by Lithin Varghese, one of our third-year students, who used only coffee powder. It was well appreciated by everyone. Music for the Mass was provided by our own SOLA Study House students and the African community in Bangalore when they arrived.

Following the Mass, the festive meal took place during which everyone was delighted and contented by a spicy-Indian buffet. When all were satisfied, our cultural soirée started with presentations from the African community of Bangalore and an Indian component, including presentations from both our communities. While some adjustments needed to be made, not even the light drizzle dampened the spirit of the evening.

The celebration was an important moment where, in the presence of our friends, we gave thanks to God for his abundant blessings and his constant protection on our Society for the past 150 years.

It was a remarkable and wonderful way to bring to a close our 150th Anniversary.

Albin Joseph – Third Year Student – Bangalore

(From SOA Newsletter – January 2020)