Summer 2014 will remain memorable in my life as I had the opportunity to go to Africa for the first time in my life, to Tanzania (East Africa). It was not my first contact with ‘’African culture” (so to speak…). In the past, in Europe, I had studied with many African confreres (I met some of them again there, 10 years later !), and presently in Asia, we collaborate with African confreres working in Taiwan and The Philippines. In Europe also, the Africans are well present in our churches; last Christmas, in Brussels, I participated to a beautiful mass animated by two choirs of Cameroun !
25 five confreres from the Congregation of the Holy Spirit gathered for one month in Tanzania for a course on spiritan spirituality.
I went to Tanzania with my confrere Trinh to take part to a one month study of Spiritan Spirituality with 25 confreres all involved in the training of seminarians, mainly in Tanzania and Kenya, but also in Uganda, Mozambique, India, and Vietnam ! Tanzania is a dynamic country. The political stability allows for economic growth. The infrastructure is being built, business is growing. Even if so many people still don’t profit from the development, the future is promising. The confreres in Bagamoyo (one hour from Dar Es Salam, the capital) have built a big hotel where they offer accommodation for local and foreign tourists, and a nice place for groups organizing parties or seminars. The beach, fifty meters from the hotel, is gorgeous ! The place is used as a vocational school for 30 students learning hotel management for two years.
We Spiritans are often proud of our simplicity and hospitality. It comes from our missionary experience. We cannot do mission if we don’t learn what it means to be welcomed to a new place. Learning from the hospitality of other people, we try ourselves to be hospitable to others. In Tanzania also, we were very touched by the way the local confreres welcomed everybody. Immediately we felt at home. In our group, the spirit was very nice. We were only 25 participants, so it was easy to get to know each other.
We belong to the same family. It is always good to meet and share experiences about the mission.
For four weeks, from Monday to Friday, we had four sessions a day ; in the morning, two sessions of inputs and in the afternoon, two sharing sessions, first in small groups and then the whole assembly. About Claude Francis Poullart des Places, our first founder, we learned that he was a man full of life, very gifted, but that he went also through several crises when confronted with his attraction to fame or later when he was deeply committed to poor people, from over responsibility. Claude Francis Poullart des Places questions us: ”And you, what kind of crises do you face? Where does it come from? From superficiality or from activism? What kind of tools do you use to overcome it?” Poullart des Places shows us that conversion does not occur if we don’t have a strong relationship with God, a real spirit of service to the poor and a collaborative ministry, searching for help and counsel in whatever we do.
About Libermann, our second founder, we learn to look for the signs of the times. Nothing is written ahead of time. The missionary is constantly open to new calls, unexpected ones. The quality of his missionary work comes from his own sanctity as well as his deep respect for the people he is sent to. He needs to be a servant not a master. Doing our Spiritan course in Tanzania, we had a privileged place to look back at one hundred years of Spiritan presence in East Africa. The first missionaries, like us today, had their own shortcomings; they were generous people but at times, for lack of wisdom or for self-interest, made mistakes and were not always faithful to the values of the Gospel. We too, one hundred years later, have to question ourselves. What are the problems that ourselves and our students face in today’s world? Why are we afraid to go to the poorest missions? Why do we have difficulty in staying in a country for a long period, learning to love the people we are sent to? How do we live the vows of poverty, chastity, obedience? What is the quality of our community life? Are we living side by side, or do we have quality time together for prayer, pastoral work, etc.?
The first missionaries came to Bagamoyo one hundred years ago, they came across a terrible situation: the slavery. From the 15th to the 19th century, one million and a half people were enslaved and transited through Bagamoyo. The missionaries tried rescued some of them...
Our confrere from the generalate in Rome gave us some input regarding formation. He encouraged us to have a program for each step of the formation, so that progressively our students learn about the history and spirituality of the congregation as well as the present challenges that we are facing in our modern world. Formation takes time; it is a grace of God and it implies serious commitment of our students but it requires also skills from the formators. In Bagamoyo, we found out that many books and articles relating to Spiritan formation are now available online, especially on Duquesne University’s site (http://digital.library.duq.edu/cdm-spiritan/ ). We have no excuse for not consulting it and improving our self-knowledge with the treasures of our own congregation, so as to transmit to the new generations of Spiritans.
The course was also oriented to a reflection on our commitment to the poor (what we call ‘Justice and Peace’). We live in a world in which the gap between rich and poor is growing everywhere. As Spiritans, we need to give priority to the poor in our missions. It is not natural, not easy. We have so many commitments that are valuable but we don’t always give priority to the poor. One way to encourage being close to them is to allow our students to spend time in poor areas during their formation. That is what we do in Vietnam during one month of pastoral exposure in Summer. Closeness to the poor should also be experienced during the two years of pastoral stage. Some Spiritans are very much involved in social and educational work, but for most of us, we need to make more effort to give priority to the poor, living with them, sharing their joys and difficulties, discovering with them new ways to improve their situation.
The beautiful scenery of Bagamoyo beach is nice, but there are still many poor people who struggle everyday to get enough food for their family.Poverty is still very much present here.
I was excited to come to Africa for the first time, and I am grateful to all those who contributed to the success of the course in Bagamoyo, but I am even more enthusiastic by the fact that in September, our first Vietnamese student will go to do a two years pastoral insertion in Uganda. Even if the link between Africa and Asia is stronger than before, these two continents still don’t know each other very well and trust is difficult to build when the other remains unknown. This is the responsibility of the missionaries to build bridges between people. We started to do mission in Asia only 40 years ago. Presently, most of our missionaries in Asia are Africans. I hope that the future will foster relationships between African and Asian missionaries, as in the past the work of the missionaries fostered the link between Europe and the other continents.
Fr.Trinh and Fr.Sylvanus, two missionaries that symbolize the call for Africans and Asians to learn to collaborate together.
Africa, a beautiful place with wonderful people; hopefully I will have opportunity to go there again... Who knows?