Integrity of creation: Missionaries of Africa’s contribution (PE nr. 1087 – 2018/01)

Considering the current ecological crisis, the 2016 Chapter was concerned about the question of Integrity of Creation and called for a fervent devotion to eco-spirituality – “With the help of Church documents on eco-spirituality such as Laudato Si’ and available resource materials of the Society, we recommend that recollections and sessions be organized at Provincial and Sector levels” (CA, 1.3.). The Chapter requested that communities be ‘good examples of environmental protection’. Let us be a “Green Church”. It exhorted us to bring issues of JPIC to the awareness of political authorities and local government and to nominate in each community a missionary who will follow up on those issues. It recommended that the JPIC programme should be strengthened in Formation Houses. The MAfr should exhort local people to protest against ‘the illegal and immoral exploitation of minerals and its consequences such as the destruction of the soil, water reserves, nature…’

During my research, I have realised that the M.Afr are doing great work in favour of Integrity of Creation, but there are only a very limited number of papers and publications about their commitments in this domain. According to some witnesses, most of the M.Afr who worked since 1970, 1980 and 1990 in Burkina Faso were committed to the fight against the desertification by planting trees and setting lines of stones on fields to prevent soil erosion.

Fr. Martin Terrible was well known as a pioneer of ecology in “Haute Volta” for his great interest in the vegetation of the country and the protection of nature. In 1971, he organised a “Tree week” in Ouagadougou in order to make the local people aware of the problem of deforestation and to replant trees such as ‘Acacia Albida’. He was not only a missionary but an innovator in ecology and agriculture. He organised sessions, published documents and an annual yearbook, which gave famers practical advice about the work to be done each month’. He spent his missionary life promoting the respect for nature and sensitizing people to the problems of soil and forest destruction. Fr. Maurice Oudet helps famers to overcome the problems of drought and to improve their agricultural productivity by using techniques such as lines of stones and ‘Zai’. He works together with rice farmers and milk producers. (PE n°1062; n°1042). Br. Michel Dubois worked in the Archdiocese of Bukavu in DRC. In the 1990s (PE n°1062) he started the project called “Reforestation of Ibanda and arresting goats”. He wrote that ‘the work consisted of using twine to make sure the alignments were correct, finding top soil and putting local fertiliser on it and planting small plants from the seedbeds’. He asked for volunteers from the University of Bukavu. With the permission from the authorities of the city, they rounded up the animals that were running free in the city to prevent them from destroying the plants. ‘After the work, we formed a circle and had a moment of meditation or prayer inspired by the Bible or the Qur’an’. Their efforts of planting varieties of trees and flowers gradually changed the environment in the urban areas. The Archbishop supported the initiative and extended it to other parishes outside Bukavu.

Fr. Otto Mayer who was at Ruzizi in the DRC also had an ecological concern as his personal duty. He said that ‘When I collect the plastic wrappings or papers from in front of our house, passers-by consider me mentally ill or a little bit deranged. Children make fun of me…Yet, people who throw away phone cards, bags, plastic bottles, paper hankies are not mocked at all’. He urged people to do likewise in front of their houses and that will make a difference. He tried to motivate the teachers in the schools, and young candidates. He gave talks on ecology. As a bursar, he used to supply his community with fresh eggs bought locally and at a good price, instead of buying sardines for breakfast and later having empty tins that are not biodegradable. The result was zero pollution, he confirmed that ‘Buy locally and consume local products is a must, ecologically speaking’ (PE n°1071).

Fr. Jean-Luc Gouiller, in Zambia since 1966, was involved in rural ministry trying to educate young people on ecological issues. His care for creation pushed him to action as he said – ‘I have always turned my hand to gardening, planting fruit trees, having demonstration plots. On Chipata private radio stations, he used to speak about the environmental changes which he has seen occurring in Zambia since his first arrival (PE n°1029).

In PE n°1062, Fr. Venerato Babaine in Zambia gave reasons why, as missionaries, we should be concerned about ecology. He tries to implement his theories through pastoral action: ‘While I continued to be involved in awareness for environmental concerns, I also worked with Local Government to promote waste management and conservation of natural resources like wetlands, waste mining lands, natural forests, and water-catchment areas. Evident in my priestly ministry, are homilies, catechesis and retreats or workshop based on ecology’. Fr. Babaine encourages his confreres in their commitments to ecological concerns (PE n°1071).
For instance, in my community in Merrivale, South Africa, we have an ecological friendly compound where some recycled items are kept in huge labelled drop-off bins. Those items include mainly paper and plastic materials, pens, glasses and bottles, steel and aluminium cans, clothes, sandals and shoes found at the store, computers, electronics, cell phones and printer cartridges, voltage light bulbs. Food scraps and biodegradable stuffs are likewise recycled in composting for gardening needs. Once we have gathered enough materials we contact the nearest municipality recycling centre to collect them…

These are only few examples. However, there is still very few articles or publications on the work done in the past by the M.Afr and their actual contribution to environmental care.

Some suggestions

I suggest that our spirituality should evolve more in eco-spirituality by deliberately including ecological concerns in our recollections, retreats and workshops, homilies, prayers and catechism. In other words, we are called to become “green people” who are concerned with environmental protection, in such a way that our spirituality exemplifies a friendly relationship with nature and a thoughtfulness with regard to ecological issues. Our spiritual convictions can especially challenge some political systems which lack respect for life and the environment.

Pastorally, we need to become ecological minded pastors capable of sensitizing people and educating them through awareness programs against environmental abuse, soil and air pollution. Our pastoral activities must aim at promoting human integral development.

These are a few initiatives and suggestions and we appeal to every person of good will to put into practice the safeguarding of the environment on a daily basis.

Amorain K. Wayikpo, M.Afr.

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