The St. Bernadette community is one of the two Missionary of Africa communities in Lubumbashi, in the Upper Katanga Province of the DRC. We are situated in a part of the Archdiocese of Lubumbashi where the work of the Missionaries of Africa has shined for the past forty years. Now, our community looks after two parishes, St Bernadette is where we live and St. John the Baptist Parish is about three kilometres away. Our community is composed of four confreres and three stagiaires from six different nationalities. What a witness to internationality and interculturality!
The rule of three:
The General Chapter of 2016, remaining faithful to the instructions of our Founder as well as to our Constitutions and Laws, strongly reiterated the importance of the rule of three. In passing, I admit that community life was one of the motivations that pushed me to become a Missionary of Africa. During my seven years at St. Bernadette’s, our community has always been composed of three confreres and two stagiaires. Certainly, it would be presumptuous to speak of a perfect community but every member does his best to build up unity, fraternal charity and a climate of understanding. The fact that we come from different countries is a witness in itself to the population often torn by tribal hatreds. Interculturality is therefore a given and it is for us a great richness. When there are internal and external tensions, which are common to all communities, there is always a solution through frank exchanges and mutual understanding. These days we are going through a period of political crises in our country and this has resulted in attacks on our parishes on two occasions. These unfortunate events were for us an occasion to support and encourage one another.
Welcoming new confreres
Welcoming new confreres and/or stagiaires has become a tradition over the past few years. Since my arrival, seven years ago, the community has welcomed at least one new confrere and one stagiaire each year. Of course, we have also said good-bye to as many in this same period. As our community and apostolic life is built up around a community project, it goes without saying that each time somebody new arrives, the community project undergoes some revision so that the newcomer can feel at ease. This gives him a chance to express what he would like to do and allows him to feel he has become an integral part of our community. I reckon that this warm welcome extended to confreres and stagiaires explains their good quality integration and evolution not only in the community but also in the parish apostolate. They are assigned to community apostolic tasks that fit their aptitudes, which in turn, also favours mutual confidence and co-responsibility.
Moments of community sharing which imply frankness, attentive listening, respect and acceptance of the other, means that we do not live beside one another but with one another building up a strong esprit de corps. When a new confrere or stagiaire arrives, we organise a meeting where we present ourselves to each other taking into account our origins, our family backgrounds, our tastes, our vocation and missionary journey. This gives us a chance to get to know one another better. We also organise Bible sharing once a week. We share the fruits of our prayer at the time of our monthly recollection, and at our weekly council meetings that we take in turns to lead, we share about our apostolic activities. Neither do we neglect the spontaneous sharing at mealtimes, community evenings and even during our birthday celebrations.
Concerning our apostolic life, our community has had the enriching tradition of serving many parishes. At one moment, we were involved in three parishes, now it is down to two. It needed a very good pastoral organisation, which could also be attributed to the fact that our community has always respected the rule of three despite the personnel crises that our Society is experiencing these last few years. Three parishes meant three Parish Priests, which meant at least three confreres in community. I appreciate especially the spirit of collaboration that animates us because as far as we could we tried to help one another and to be aware of the realities of the other parishes through our work and by swopping experiences. This also opened up a very wide range of apostolic activities for our stagiaires.
As I prepare to leave Lubumbashi, I can say, with pride, that my experience of community life at St. Bernadette’s has been an enriching and fulfilling time for me. It will always remain graven in my memory. Becoming Parish Priest a year after my ordination, with no experience, I reckon that it was the good experiences of community life, which lightened the load of a job that would have been otherwise too heavy. Thanks to this welcoming and praying community, the fruits of my seven years of missionary life in Lubumbashi are palpable and I have faith that they will stay with me. As our Master, Jesus himself said in his priestly prayer, “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain…” (Jn 15, 16). This is my prayer as well.