Barely two weeks ago, I came back from a trip, which brought me to Niger and Burkina Faso. Over the course of four weeks, I was able to visit nine communities in the company of Luc Kola, Provincial of PAO. I really appreciated the fact that that the members of the Provincial team are on the road a lot and that there is no shortage of work. In fact and as in other places as well, the distances in our mega-provinces are enormous. At the end of my stay, I got the chance to share my thoughts with all the members of the Provincial team on this rapid overview of the eastern part of the Province. The first words I addressed to them were, “Getting a puncture is not an option!”
What I simply wanted to convey with these few words was that we needed them and that we greatly appreciated their work. It was also evident that they had a heavy assignment and that they should take care of themselves. It is vital that they know when to give themselves a break, take some time to recharge their batteries and, in a very concrete way, allow themselves some self-love.
As we read in Leviticus 19, 18 and in Matthew 19, 19, which echoes the text of Leviticus, love of self is likened to love of one’s neighbour, “you shall love your neighbour as yourself.” So, in paraphrasing this famous verse, I would say, “Take care of your neighbour by taking care of yourself.” And who is my neighbour? The parable of the Good Samaritan comes to mind straight away but in this edition of the Petit Echo of May 2018, we insist that among all our neighbours, we need to pay particular attention to our young confreres.
How do we do that? Jean Lamonde and Olivier Soma reply to this question by giving a number of examples based on their own personal experiences. Both of them remind us of the importance of a warm welcome when a new confrere arrives on post. We need to take the time to listen to him, to share, to communicate, in short, to encourage each other and to give the newcomer the space to find his wings but also to provide a safe place to land, where it is good to return at mealtimes, at times of common prayer and at the end of the day knowing that he will be able to chat in community and not find himself alone in his room.
To sum up, this means being happy in our missionary life. During my time of studies in India, I had the opportunity to explore this subject of the joy of living. A joy of living that implies being honest with oneself and having a sense of well-being. From these studies, I remember an article in a book written by two Salesians of Don Bosco, Frs. Jose Parappully and Joe Mannath : “Religious and Priestly Formation and Emotional Health”. They mention three essential elements that everybody should pay attention to if they are to maintain a level of satisfaction in their life no matter what age they are is or what position they hold. These three elements are to have relationships, to be autonomous and to be skilled or creative.
The first point reminds us of the importance of communication, to express oneself, to listen. Regarding communication, there is no doubt that learning a language plays an important role. This relational aspect can also be understood as something spiritual as it touches on our relationship with God. As for autonomy, it is not a matter of doing what I want on impulse but, while remaining anchored in my missionary ideal, I have the opportunity to take decisions, to be able to choose, to be able to plan, with others for example, the pastoral programme for the month. When it comes to competence, it is obvious that our many years of study have filled us plenty of different kinds of knowledge, but it is important to develop the ability to communicate this knowledge and to put it into practice when the opportunity presents itself. Supporting our young confreres, therefore, involves, among other things, making sure that there is a framework in which these three elements can be nourished.
There is no doubt that by offering young confreres responsibilities, challenges and trust while remaining supportive, will offer them a favourable environment for their well-being. Certainly, pastoral challenges will not be lacking. Freddy Kyombo shares this with us in his article in this edition. He speaks of the need to allow ourselves be questioned over the proliferation of independent churches, while recognising the vitality that is there in our own parishes.
Of course, it is important that we all look in the same direction, that is to say, to have Christ at heart, to listen to him and to discern collectively the planning of our pastoral commitments. In brief, as the 2016 Capitular Acts state, “Each member of the community should try to be an example to the others by a personal and community-oriented spiritual life in view of mutual enrichment” (p.44). Luc Kola expresses it very well, “no prayer, no accompaniment, smash into the wall.” Yes, the missionary is above all a man of prayer.
We have many examples of this enrichment in the lives of numerous confreres who gave their all for the mission. One example is that of our first Ugandan Brother, Leon Lwanga, whose life is briefly sketched in this issue. It is a story that should inspire us. May the same zeal that dwelt in Brother Leon, a zeal that was communicated to him by Bishop Livinhac, take hold of us and make us eager to discover Christ more and more so that we can be his witnesses.
Punctures along the way are not an option. Therefore let us allow this zeal, this fire of the Holy Spirit grab hold of us. Then, united with this same Spirit, we may in our communities of three go forward on the road of Christ’s mission with the confidence of being well-equipped with four wheel drive and good tyres!
Safe Journey To All!