Since 5 years, I am in mission in the parish of Saint Therese of the child Jesus-Dyou, Diocese of Sikasso in Mali, in the West African province (PAO), that is to say since my priestly ordination. The Diocese of Sikasso comprises of 8 parishes with 25 diocesan priests, of which only one is animated by the missionaries of Africa since its foundation on January 14, 1953. Only two male congregations exist in this diocese: the Salesians of Don Bosco with their training center and two communities of missionaries of Africa, namely the Senoufo Center and our parish community. Our presence brings a little diversity in the diocesan configuration and in its pastoral approach.
Simplicity in contact: in order to really be «all to all», the investment in learning the local language has made me very effective in pastoral work. I can freely preach, advise, make free pastoral visits and stay in their homes without seeking comfort. All these attitudes are a great testimony that evangelise our interlocutors. Touring our 23 villages in rotation allows us to get in touch with the reality lived in all the communities. Every Sunday evening we share in our joys and frustrations of the mission, while encouraging each other. It is a moment of mutual relaxation and enrichment around a fraternal drink. As for Monday evening, the day of our rest, we have a Mass during which we share our spiritual experiences listening to one another. It is an activity that allows me to present to the Lord the whole parish community with its joys and pains.
I dream of a specifically missionary parish where we firmly commit ourselves in :
- catechesis to deepen the faith of our Christians who let themselves be easily tossed by the routine of life provided they have a satisfaction. There is a lot of duplicity in most of them, which explains the lack of commitment of some … I firmly believe that if they were seriously following the catechesis and had a life of prayer, they could understand what is meant by taking up one’s cross. It is said that «Even a rose is in the middle of the thorns». It is challenging to live the Christian faith in a strong Muslim environment without fear or compromise in front of the difficulties encountered.
- Literacy: most of our Christians are illiterate, and there is an urgent need to teach them to read and write so that they can learn more about the Scriptures through personal reading, greater involvement in community activities. Sometimes there is no one who can read in certain communities and it is up to the priest or stagiaire to prepare or do everything … If the faithful learn to read and write, they can manage their activities without much frustration … and this will make everyone happier in the mission.
- Training in self-reliance activities for the real liberation of the human person, ie training them and educating them to be financially independent so as to participate in the functioning of the parish. Most Christians think and believe that the Church is there to distribute money to them, that the Church is rich and does not expect anything from them. We work hard to give them a true image of the Church knowing that they themselves are part of it, and thus gradually free them from the spirit of begging.
- Awareness-raising activities on Justice and Peace: we live in mining areas. There are many traditional mining sites in our territory and this attracts everyone. The most painful thing is that there are many miners and young people from all over the sub-region looking for easy money. However, this is a myth, because only a handful manage to get away with it positively. Through awareness-raising evenings we want to help these people understand the dangers they face when working without any warranty or protection. My dream coincides with that of Pope Francis as expressed in his encyclical «Laudato Si»: everyone must have the concern to keep and safeguard our common home.
My biggest observation is that I have been lucky until now to find myself in a community made up of 3 confreres «semper tres», and stagiaires whom we help in their discernment of their missionary vocation. As in every missionary community, we have established a community project that helps us to live specifically our ideal and to insert ourselves into our environment of first evangelization (with many influences of traditional religion and Islam …) as someone liked to say: in Mali, there are 85% Muslims, 15% Christians and 100% animists. This still explains the strong social pressure of traditional African religion. Nevertheless, there is a real religious tolerance in my mission area and we religious leaders often meet formally and informally, encouraging us to preach peace, tolerance and forgiveness. The heart of man being unpredictable, we remain cautious in our manner of speaking and doing.
This pastoral care excites me greatly and gives me joy whenever I meet a certain receptivity on the part of certain people; when I think of Jesus, St. Paul, Lavigerie and many other apostles who have encountered difficulties in their mission but have held fast through faith, their unfailing trust in God and the consolation found in their mission. Yes, this mission is worth living!
Joseph Kamwanga, M.Afr.
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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The Missionaries of Africa arrived in Atakpamé, Togo on Wednesday 9th May 2012 to set up their first mission in this West African country. The principal aim of the foundation in Togo was to get to know and accordingly accompany better the Missionary of Africa aspirants who were applying to join us. Up to that time, vocation directors were coming from Ouagadougou, even Bobo-Dioulasso in neighbouring Burkina Faso, for more or less regular visits. It was a huge investment in time and trouble for the vocations man concerned, and it involved a serious financial outlay on the part of the Province. However, the investment and effort have been worthwhile because we can now count six Missionaries of Africa from Togo. Two more will be ordained this year in September 2017 bringing the total to eight. We chose the Diocese of Atakpamé as most of the aspirants come from there.
However, we did not wish to be occupied exclusively with our young aspirants and their spiritual accompaniment. We also wanted to understand their mentality better, to know their background, to understand theChurch milieu and if possible to be of service to local Church. We did not want just to take from the local Church but also to give it something tangible such as our Missionary Charism. That is why, when negotiating with Bishop Nicodème Barrigah, Bishop of Atakpamé, we asked him to give us a parish. In our opinion, the parish is the best way to slot into an environment, to become familiar with it and to understand the mentality of the people. It means learning the language and the ways and customs of the local population. It also gave us the opportunity to work with the local clergy and to exercise our missionary charism. Bishop Barrigah allocated us a sector by the name of Talo-Novissi located in the suburbs of Atakpamé. There was no parish but a Christian community had been in existence for eleven years already. On the 30th August 2013, Talo-Novissi was granted the status of a Parish under the patronage of Our Lady of Africa.
As it was a new foundation, there were many things to be done. We did not have a house so we had to build one. We lived in rented accommodation some kilometres from the parish for four years. The only building on the compound was a small chapel without doors or windows, which doubled up as an office for the primary school during the week. We responded to this important need, which we had not foreseen, by building a primary school complete with six classrooms and a kindergarten similar to the one from https://teddykids.nl/ but with two classrooms. Now, we are building the Parish Church.
As important as these material cares may have been, we did not allow them to distract us from the main aim of our Mission. We wanted to construct a community that was both Christian and missionary. We did not come to Togo to construct no matter how essential that was but to build Christian communities, which would be the leaven in the dough of this community, which is under the strong influence of traditional religion especially Voodoo not to mention the harassment of new religious movements.
A few months after our arrival and despite the building work already under way, we got down to learning the local language, Éwé, which was an absolute necessity for parish work. We also got actively involved in Small Christian Communities, which gave us the opportunity each week to give some light on the Gospels and Christian living. Unfortunately, many Christians consider SCC as just another extra activity alongside other movements and associations already in place. Recently, the number of participants at the weekly meetings has increased thanks to a better awareness of the importance of the SCC.
In our Sunday homilies, we do not forget the missionary dimension of the Gospel and its necessity for an authentic Church of Christ. We reorganised the catechumenate in such a way to be able to follow the progress of each one more easily. We try to infuse a truly Christian spirit and a missionary and Christian conviction into our catechumens, youth, children and adults.
A special characteristic of our parish, in our Diocese, indeed in the Church in Togo as a whole, is the existence of all sorts of lay Associations known here as “Congregations” (such as St. Rita, Our Lady of Perpetual Succour, St. Anthony of Padua etc). Each one has its own specificity and their principal activities are special prayers such as Triduums, Novenas etc. It is a pastoral activity totally new to us and we really have not yet got our heads around it particularly as their meetings are not like others but are in fact prayer meetings that take place between four or five in the morning!
We pay particular attention to young people in order to give them a solid Christian formation. However, they move around a lot because their studies take them outside the parish and it is not easy to keep track of them for any length of time. Thanks to our parish insertion, we are able to participate at pastoral, diocesan, and deanery meetings, which give us the opportunity to establish good relationships with the local clergy. It also means that we can share with them our different missionary experiences and our points of view on certain pastoral questions. We get the impression that they appreciate our presence and pastoral contribution.
We are dreaming, as soon as our building cares have diminished, of showing more clearly our specific missionary speciality. We want to found “outstations” that are known as “secondary stations” here. We would like very much that our pastoral activities and our different commitments go beyond the structure of our actual Parish. In the meantime, we have no regrets at all in choosing the Parish as the point of entry for our new mission!
In the name of the community of Talo.
Theo Caerts, M.Afr.
Once some friends came to visit me and, though I had given them directions as to how to get to our house, they thought they knew better. So, when they arrived in our section of the town they asked the way to the local parish house. However, to their great surprise they did not find me there. The parish priest explained that I was living in our formation house and not at the parish. He then asked a young man to bring them to the right place. This simple incident shows how many people associate the missionary (priest, religious brother and sister) with a parish set up. Most of us have had to answer the question: “what parish are you working in?” And if we are not working in a parish, it can be difficult to explain what exactly our ministry is. It is true that the missionary ministry is not limited to a parish context but the parish is a fundamental locus for missionary activities. It is a focal point for the life of a Christian community. Meaningful Christian living cannot be divorced from a parish community.
The reception and interpretation of the missionary orientation of recent Chapters might have given the impression that parishes no longer have to play a central role in the pastoral activities of the Missionaries of Africa. Our last Chapter reminds us that the parish is not only a means of our collaboration with the local Church but that it is the place where we can put our charism into practice and make it visible and attractive. To reinforce our insertion in parish ministry, the Chapter gave some specific guidelines. A parish under the direction of a community of Missionaries of Africa should be characterised by its openness to primary evangelisation, interest in the formation of the laity, special attention to the existential peripheries, search for justice, peace and reconciliation, commitment to the integrity of creation (our common home), involvement in ecumenical relations and dialogue with Muslims and those of other religions.
The parish is not just a geographical entity or a canonical category but, above all, it is a human, social and ecclesial reality. It is a human community: the community of the Disciples of Christ and the People of God. The Parish is a pastoral tool for the spiritual and pastoral animation of God’s People. Each parish has its own specific characteristics, which need to be taken into account if it is to have a meaningful pastoral ministry. These elements can be influenced by its geographical location (urban or rural), the presence of believers of other religions among the local population… the stage of evangelisation as well as the pastoral orientations of the diocese. However, a healthy pastoral approach will certainly aim at improving the faith of the Christian community, bringing about better human relations among the different social and religious groups that compose the local population. This implies bringing the Gospel values into the lives of the human community.
Regarding its organisation, the different groups involved (age, gender, socio-professional, languages spoken …etc) have a role to play in the life of the parish. Inspired by the inclusive attitude of the Good Shepherd, the pastors welcome everybody in view of building up a fraternal human community: that of all the Children of God. Therefore, it becomes imperative that special attention has to be given to people or sections of the parish that present specific challenges. In this perspective, the passage in Luke’s Gospel regarding the disciples of Emmaus summarises the required pastoral attitude: Jesus joins the two disciples on their journey and to dispel their frustration he explains the Scriptures to them … this awakens the fire of faith and their hearts burn within them… in their turn they became messengers of the Good News of the Resurrection… the fire of faith spreads like wildfire.
Therefore, a pastoral approach, based on the experience of the disciples of Emmaus, involves taking people from their daily life experiences on a journey through the Scriptures to the joy and hope of the Resurrection, to an encounter with the Risen Christ. It means accompanying the community on its journey. The life of a parish can therefore be organised on four pillars: scriptures, prayer life, celebration of the sacraments and fraternal love, which should be visible among its members as well as those people living around them. Basic Christian Communities (BCC), (or Small Christian Communities), has championed this way of building the Christian experience based on these pillars. As grassroots structures in a parish, they have made the Christian faith lively and attractive. Therefore the Shepherd accompanies the Christians in their search for Christ in their daily lives and events.
A witnessing community of pastoral agents is a blessing for the running of a parish. Collaboration in teamwork, which has been a hallmark of our missionary approach, has led most of our communities to the elaboration of apostolic projects. The apostolic project outlines the aims, objectives and the means of achieving dynamic parish communities. If it is to be successful, there is a great need for good communications among the members of the community. An apostolic project has the advantage of being a reference point for the evaluation of the health of the parish. When a parish pastoral team has not been able to elaborate an apostolic project for the running of the parish, it will be very difficult for them to find out what has or has not worked, all the more so when it comes to deciding what needs to be corrected or given priority in future years. It gives a common vision to pastoral work in the parish. This approach is very important today because of the great mobility of confreres. A clear apostolic project makes things easy for a new pastoral team to take over the reins of a parish. Experience has shown that well planned and coordinated pastoral work (be it at the parish, deanery or diocesan levels) bears much fruit. It is a source of new missionary dynamism.
However, since pastoral work involves human lives, such a project needs to be flexible, taking into consideration the socio-political, economic and human circumstances of the particular situation. Pastors must therefore be familiar with reading the signs of the times. The parish pastoral council is an important instrument in this context. It is also a representative, consultative body that helps the pastors take the appropriate decisions for the animation of the community. It is of paramount importance that such a council is composed of people from different sectors and groups in the parish. As a pastoral council, it is meant to discern the appropriate ways of living the Christian faith in their particular or specific circumstances whilst providing evangelical solutions to the legitimate aspirations of the people. Such a council is a grace in the life of a parish.
To all intents and purposes, a parish should be a community of love and prayer that radiates the gospel values through its simple presence. The gospel should impact on the lives of the people. The pastor should work towards bringing the transformative power of the gospel into the lives of the people. In a world that is changing very rapidly there are new pastoral challenges that require a creative prophetic spirit in our ministry.