I get angry when confreres seem to insinuate that parish life in predominantly non-Christian countries would be truncated, diminished, or even non-existent. In Ghardaïa, Algeria, we live as the very first parishes of the Acts of the Apostles, or as the “seven ordinary parishes” of the Book of Revelation. Our parish resembles those of the missionaries of Africa of the Maghreb Province and some parishes in Mali and Niger. But why should not the parish of Ghardaïa look like all the other parishes held by communities of missionaries of Africa? Even if there are some differences…
A parish experiences the mystery of Christ in its holy assemblies, especially those of Sundays, in its religious and spiritual life, in the formation and accompaniment of the laity for the mission of the gradual transformation of our world into the Kingdom of Heaven; in short, from the perspective of «Justice and Peace», dialogue and listening to the world in search of the absolute. Formerly we were taught that there is a «holy assembly» since Abel, the righteous: «Ecclesia ab Abele». This means that where there is “wounded innocence” (oppression, slavery, injustice, etc.), the «Church» is already there: the assembly of those who follow the Lamb. A parish like ours has only to join the many «Abels in tears, blood and sweat» to become more and more «Church», with the guests of the public squares and crossroads.
Many of the faithful in our parish live their sacramental and spiritual life within their own religious and missionary community. In our parish, it is the communities of missionaries of Africa and the Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Africa (White Fathers and White Sisters). The Bishop, usually a White Father since Cardinal Lavigerie, joins our Eucharistic communities and participates in community offices. On Friday, holiday in Algeria, we celebrate the Eucharist partially in Arabic. Several Christian migrants, who are free on that day, attend the celebration. Sometimes, we have to find another time of the day to organize a linguistically and sacramentally adapted office for those who come late.
On the one hand, the parish is comprised of a diversity of Christians living in a territory of a dozen square kilometers around the cathedral. These include the Bishop, the white fathers with the stagiaires, sometimes African students of the Algerian universities, the White Sisters and the laity who are often engaged by the French Delegation of Catholic Cooperation and African Christian migrants from the surroundings.
On the other hand, the parish is also constituted of the moving diaspora of Noumérate (25 km), Metlili (35 km), Mansoura (70 km), Zelfana km), Oued Nichou (25 km), Berriane (45 km), Wadi Sudan (55 km), Djelfa (300 km) where we wish to establish the chaplaincy and a place of worship for Christian students; finally, Laghouat (195 km), where there is a pied-à-terre of the diocese and where nothing prevents the holding of Christian offices monthly, cautiously taking into account the clandestinity of African migrants.
The parish is not only a community around a holy water font. It is a community of communities, animated by the desire to slowly but surely transform the life of the non-Christian world around it in a world ruled by the Beatitudes in view of the Kingdom of Heaven, the reign of justice and peace.
The parish of Ghardaïa is taken care of by a number of collaborators of the administration of the diocese (including the Bishop), who invests in all parishes and religious and missionary communities of the great diocese of Southern Algeria, Laghouat-Ghardaïa, often without ordained ministers. One could think that the administrative staff of the diocesan offices are not directly or tangibly concerned with the great mission of the Church to transform this world into the Kingdom of heaven; but what would I do myself in the pastoral work for Christian migrants, the work of raising awareness and empowerment of African migrants without the discrete and unnoticed work of all those collaborators who are close to the Bishop? In fact, they carry the heat and the weight of the day. They are also actively involved in the cultural work, one of the diocesan’s priority options within the framework of the CCDS (Cultural and Documentary Center of Sahara), in school tutoring and even, as part of the coordination of initiatives, to actions in favor of African migrants.
The Ghardaïa parish includes Christian African migrants, individuals and small groups. The number of people who live far from worship places fluctuates. My great regret is that our structures of traditional missionary work prevent us from being fully in the sacramental and spiritual service of these lay missionaries (African migrants on the ground, missionaries in spite of themselves) who are the first evangelizers of the world of migrants and of the workers in the greater part of southern Algeria. The strength of White Father parishes has always been the transformation of the laity into dynamic evangelizing communities: communities that make a difference, wherever they are, and recruit by their attraction.
Johan Miltenburg, M.Afr.
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