Looking back at my experiences over the past 10 years in formation, I could say it has been very intriguing with lots of challenges and joy; experiences of which the beginning was adorned with a feeling of fear of the unknown that left me pondering on the uncertainties that were forthcoming. To this, I shall be reflecting on some of the positive and negative events that enriched my experiences during these past 10 years.
For that to be accomplished, I will organize my reflection based on the two systems (English and French) of formation that I have passed through.
a) English System: Pre-Philosophy and Philosophy
This was not my first time in a formation house, since I was opportune to pursue my secondary education in a minor seminary for a period of 6 years. This rigorous/ inspirational formation instilled in me a certain way of life. It was a preparation for the future.
My first two months during my postulancy was really challenging due to the fact that, it was my first time in an international / intercultural community. Meeting people from diverse countries and cultures opened my mind to realising the differences and richness in the continent of Africa.
Though our seminary views/image were different due to the fact that I was in the minor seminary which orientates a student towards a particular way of life, for example, a seminarian must not drink beer in a bar or public places, etc., thus seeing my colleagues from other nationalities and some parts of Nigeria doing the exact opposite of the image given to me in the minor seminary left me perplexed.
Astonishingly, when some of these experiences were shared during a meal with our formator, he was impressed and encouraged the spirit, as being a good missionary spirit: openness to learning new things. For him, that would facilitate relationships and easy contact with the local people.
Here, I was captured in a dilemma! Ordinarily, even though this attitude was normal, but from the diocesan persp ective , it is no t fully recommended for seminarians and even priests, known to be special people.
Who is right and who is wrong? How can I go beyond this cultural conflict/ diversity within me? (Here, reinforced a strong discernment). Even though some of the attitudes were questionable, they left me open- minded towards seeing the progress my colleagues were making in reaching out to others in an open and sane relationship. I might have been scandalised at first, slowly I got to see that they are not bad or different from me, rather our foundations were different and it is only in harmonizing our differences that we can learn from each other. Realising this, I questioned my minor seminary formation and tried to understand clearly and better what was implied by my formators.
Then, I began asking myself: “what exactly is intriguing about the lifestyle of the M.Afr as compared to my prior concept of a seminary life”? The first things that struck my mind were: OPENNESS TO DIVERSITY AND COMMUNITY LIFE. I realized that I was able to relate with my formators and colleagues freely, despite our different vision of the ethical world. We ate and exchanged pleasantries together. We also had the decorum to express our feelings. Most of the points concerning community life, spiritual etc. were brought to community meetings to be deliberated and resolved together, etc. As a matter of fact, this provided a better sense to my engagement in missionary life. It was evident that I was not simply following some laid down rules, but principles that everybody is engaged to scrutinize when necessary so as to adapt and to translate into reality.
As fruit of this gospel way of life, we can emphasise more on the accent put on auto-formation by the formators. The Formators counted more on the sense of judgement and maturity of the students. Hence, I felt more conscientious of my actions and its consequences. Above all, in this system, I was impressed to hear that most students freely decide on their own to quit this way of life for one reason or the other. I believe, it is a benefit of making the students to understand when possible, the life and principles they are proposed to follow, than forcing them to swallow ignorantly, formative principles. These are the aspects that I find slightly different from the French system. This development has been one of the major impacts that the initial formation has had on me. Because, it helps strengthen what I recognized as the main pillar of the initial formation: “the Human Development”. This I recognized because, first and foremost in life, one struggles to understand oneself, followed by one’s surroundings. When the human aspect is not stable, it is difficult to appreciate the intellectual, spiritual and apostolic aspects in formation. But as one slowly comprehends the realities around oneself, so he begins to appreciate the beauty and joy of living in communion with others.
b) French System: Novitiate and Theology
My experiences in pre-First Phase and first Phase nearly made me commit the fallacy of hasty generalization. My arrival in French system, most especially at the level of the novitiate and theology houses I went through, made me imagine that M.Afr. Formation system varies from one region to another, because each system seems to have a certain tradition and culture. The French system, precisely, the novitiate and theology houses, respectively, brought me closer, in most aspects, to the image and style of life of my diocesan minor seminary, illustrated above. Unlike my experiences of the English system earlier highlighted, the French system on the other hand seems to focalize more on theoretical and abstract dimensions in formation, with less accent on concrete aspect. For instance, creating enough time to formulate a fabulous “theme of the year”, with sensational sub-titles, decorated with impressive words that will entice whosoever would read it, seems to be of greater importance than realising concretely, even half of the project at the end of the year. Even, this cut across the academic programme. There is a multiplication of courses with a similar object of thought which oblige students, instead of personal research and practical work; they rather stay every day in classroom listening to different professors on different courses repeating similar concepts. Simply, consciously or unconsciously, accent in daily engagement is apparently laid mostly on sumptuous imaginations with abundant of seducing speeches and arguments than concrete facts. My intention here is far from giving a detail of formation programme which is not the aim of this sharing.
Nevertheless, I esteem necessary to glimpse through some of the core aspect of each system, so as to underline its impact. Contrary to the houses of formation in the English system that I have passed through, in the French system there is less engagement of students in their formation house on deliberation and decision making on matters concerning community life, spiritual etc. Consequently, there appears to be less sense of commitment, creativity and initiative, as students are more or less fenced in the laid down principles or what is defined by the formators.
In a nutshell, the whole experience of the two systems has been so interesting, as most of the challenges I met along the way appeared to be a stepping stone for a better self- awareness. My contact with diverse realities has improved in me the spirit of openness: self-openness and openness to external world. It enables me to make a proper auto-assessment and of my surrounding, in order to sunder out what is essential for my missionary growth.
Gabriel Udoh Ime, M.Afr
(Kinshasa, D.R. Congo)
(taken from the Ghana-Nigeria Link of March 2018)