It is in Saint Joseph’s Parish, in Howick, that 5 students of Merrivale became Missionaries of Africa by pronouncing their solemn missionary oath in the presence of Fr. Francis Barnes, first assistant of the superior general.
They are from left to right:
- Bimal Lakra, from India
- Habtamu Aloto, from Ethiopia
- Guélord Mahongole, from DR Congo
- Alain Sossou, from Ivory Coast
- Joseph Zunguluka, from DR Congo
On the same day, they were ordained deacons from the hands of our confrere Jan De Groef, bishop of Bethlehem (South Africa).
Following the photos, you will find the text of the homily pronounced by Francis Barnes on that occasion.
I would like to address these few words to you Bimal, Guelord, Joseph, Habtamu and Alain. Through the oath you have taken today you have consecrated yourselves until death to the Church’s mission in Africa and you have promised fidelity and obedience to the apostolic life as well as swearing to observe celibacy for the sake of the kingdom.
Wow! That is quite something and in today’s world you would have to either be out of your mind or be truly of a sound and discerned mind to add your signature to such a document. I presume that you are all truly of sound mind. The oath we take does not mention poverty or simple lifestyle as we call it – for it is supposed to be part of our specific identity. We are not religious and so we don’t take vows and yet the oath is surely just as binding. I would dare to say that in today’s world such an oath is more than controversial even counter-cultural. Celibacy in today’s world where everything is hypersexualised is surely counter cultural and so often can become for many a source of great tension and stress or, worse still scandal. What about obedience then in a hedonistic world where we want to celebrate the freedom to do, to say and be whatever we want? And fidelity? Yes, it takes courage and hard work to be faithful to the promises we make and we know just how easy it is to stray from the path we have desired and chosen. Then there is simple lifestyle though not mentioned in the oath we take it as expected of us. Yet so many of us will be tempted along the way by the lure of money and be caught up in our desire for more comfort and ease in our ministry. Yes, the oath is definitely counter cultural but then so is discipleship as it always has been.
Are we worthy of such a calling, are we capable of such a calling? – most likely not and yet despite our own frailty and powerlessness, the love of God is able to break forth into our lives with its transforming power. Hopefully, today you are the ones who choose not to walk the path of power but the path of powerlessness, who choose not the road of success but the road of servanthood. With the grace of God, you will choose willingly not to walk the wide road of praise and popularity but the narrow one of giving oneself so that others might have life in abundance. Know that it will mean often accepting to walk into darkness, to take risks, to walk into the unknown and to accept all the suffering that such a choice entails.
Yes, you and I, today’s disciples know we are fragile human beings; we don’t have all the answers and yet hopefully we allow ourselves to become instruments in the hand of God; hopefully like children we will have a spirit of sheer receptivity, utter dependence and a radical reliance that does not come from ourselves but from the spirit of Jesus.
Therefore, deep down we know that:
- if we were to live in imitation of Jesus
- if we dared move beyond our self-concern
- if we truly desire to reach out in compassion to all our brothers and sisters no matter whom they are
- if we were so counter cultural that we no longer thirsted for status, power or possessions
then we would indeed transform this little Society of ours and even the world and the parish communities where we serve.
The world doesn’t need more dogmas and creeds– the world needs maybe just a handful of brave disciples who would be as salt and light- who by the authenticity of their commitment and generosity would be a spectacular sign of the transforming power of the gospel, the transforming power of love.
Fidelity in the final analysis is all about walking the road we have chosen with the Lord, it is our life poured out so that others might have life and it is about struggling if we have to until the very end.
So with you I praise the Lord for this wonderful missionary vocation that is yours. I praise the Lord for the beautiful gift of yourselves to our Society and to Africa. And we praise the Lord for your families and friends who have and are very much part of this wonderful calling that is yours.
Francis Barnes M.Afr.