The Diocese of Nouakchott covers the desert land of Mauretania. The local population is 99% Muslim, but there is a growing expatriate Christian community under the care of Bishop Martin Happe, a Missionary of Africa.
He wrote at the end of last year:
We in the Diocese of Nouakchott had the joy of living through a special moment of grace, culminating in a big feast: the golden jubilee of our Cathedral of Saint Joseph!
The visible sign of this grace are the two side aisles we have added to our cathedral, since it had become too small on Sundays, and also the new altar in Atar stone which I had the privilege of consecrating on Gaudete Sunday, 15 December, with two bishops, many visiting priests and numbers of faithful. Gaudete! an invitation to the whole Church, just few days before Christmas, to be joyful. We had the grace to live this joy and taste it in an extraordinary way last 14 and 15 December.
But let’s not forget one thing: each time the Lord gives a particular grace to a person, a community, a people … this grace is always bound up in a new mission! Both the Old and New Testaments are full of examples. So we must not forget that the enlarged and refurbished cathedral has as its vocation to be the place of where the Church of Nouakchott gathers together. I recalled in my homily that the Greek word for church ‘ecclesia’ means a people called together. Here in Nouakchott, we are called together every Sunday to receive once more our mission: to be witnesses to the Love of God for every person. For us, this means first and foremost the Mauritanians, the people who make us welcome and to whom the Lord has sent us.
Wherever we are, we can feel like a voice crying in the wilderness; people are indifferent to the Church, or downright hostile, the faults obscuring the graces for them. But whether our desert is in the sand or in the city, our mission is to be witnesses to the Love of God for every person; first and foremost to the people who welcome us into their lives as neighbours, work colleagues or family. To witness to the Love of God rather than seeking conversions.