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 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.