This post links to the Missio website, and tells how Missio (formerly APF) supported a seminary on the front line of a civil war in Cameroon.
In 2020, you reached out to seminarians at St Thomas Aquinas Major Seminary in Bambui, where armed conflict continues to rage between the military and the rebel ‘Amba Boys’.
The Rector, Fr Ignatius, shared with us:
‘In 2020, the armed conflict did not disturb us much, except for the times when the gun battles were on the highway that runs right in front of the Seminary. At such times, all the members of the community stayed in the backyard, using the buildings as cover’.
An all-female cultural dance troupe, comprising female students from Annunciation Secondary School, Nkwo, Nike, in Enugu State, Nigeria, dances to traditional Igbo music during the interhouse sporting competition held Feb. 26, 2019. (Wikimedia Commons/Arch-Angel Raphael the Artist, CC-BY-SA 4.0)
Sister Mary Morajeyo Okewola writes about dance from Nigeria for the National Catholic Reporter. An interesting reflection with a sting in the last paragraph for well-meaning missionaries.
As an African, dance is as much a part of my life as eating, drinking and working, but it is also an important part of our worship, following the guidance of the Bible where it is frequently referenced, particularly in the Old Testament. There dance is a form of worship — as a recognition of love and praise of God. It, along with other spiritual exercises, were believed to be accepted by God as satisfactory veneration.
A few years ago the Missionaries of Africa came to help celebrate the centenary of our parish school. Every parishioner I spoke to at the time was struck by the reverence shown by the African Missionary students as they danced the book of the Gospels to the lectern to the sound of drums. Other Masses that I have attended with African music and dance were also accessibly prayerful. So I was disappointed to read some of what Sister Freda Ehimuan describes in this article; a mismatch between Christian faith and practice in Africa. She reports that:
For the African, worship is the expression of feelings (negative and positive) toward the Divine, in different ways and through various media. Since worship is the expression of feelings, songs, dance, drums and incantations are significant to African worship. Physical expression is important in African worship; even if the person remains motionless, they may be crying, or making sounds from their throat. Without these expressions, Africans think that their worship is not deep enough and that it lacks the ability to reach God. They go through the rubrics of worship without experiencing an internal impact.
She describes one mismatch below:
A bishop has been speaking against dancing in the church for many years. One day he got a donation from some organization to build a pastoral center. He was so full of joy that right there on the altar he began to sing and dance. All the parishioners were so surprised that they spontaneously danced with him. Of course, he stopped when he realized what he was doing! When some Africans — who feel that they are civilized and too dignified to dance in worship — are shaken by incidents or experiences, their true nature comes out. Physical expression is their natural way of expressing faith whether they deny it or not.
I urge you to reflect on the article in the light of the recent posts about reforming the liturgy. Not just to ‘tut, tut’ at the missionaries whose predecessors had insufficient understanding of African cultures: they laid the foundations people like Sister Freda can build on today. But also to wonder what a truly local expression of faith would look like in your home town. What would you like to see happening in our celebrations? Read all of Sister Freda’s article here. (from Global Sisters Report, National Catholic Reporter, 12 July 2021.)
Let them praise his name in the dance: let them sing praises unto him with the timbrel and harp.
José Maria Cantal Rivas is a Missionary of Africa working in Algeria. During a sabbatical year he took a qualification as a Life Coach and is putting it to good use among young people. It is not his task to preach with the immediate intention of ‘Christianising’ his students, but to be a witness to Christ’s empowering love among them. Fr José Maria sees his work as a form of inculturalisation – getting alongside the people he is sent to bring the Good News to. He tells about his experiences in the article from which this post is extracted; the link below is to the French language original. How can we be Christ for young people in our own community?
‘My “students” come to realise that very often it is they themselves who are the chief obstacles and brakes impeding their own happiness. They have mentally forbidden themselves the right to imagine that their daily life could be different.
‘Many people seem to think that happiness will arrive one day in the post, in just one delivery, and when the parcel is opened, they will find happiness, all “ready to wear”. Very few are aware that to be happy, like body building, needs time to be given up to it; needs perseverance and discipline, as well as clear priorities and passion. There’s no other way!
The course is given in French and Arabic. Wherever possible I try to use examples, videos, personalities, literature from their Arab-Muslim culture: firstly to avoid any suspicion of proselytism, but above all to confirm that what I propose is practicable and compatible with their culture.
A short presentation by the Algerian women’s Paralympic basketball team, even if the sound quality is poor, has more impact that an excellent video from a similar team from a northen country!
Africa in general is changing and it seems to me that it’s good to know how Africans themselves, with their rich culture, face up to changes such as the spectacular rise in the numbers of women at university and in the world of work; the influence of the internet, demographic changes, new forms of social organisation, spiritual longings divorced from religion, urbanisation and so on.’
Here in Tafa in Northern Nigeria people are farmers and many took time to even accept that the pandemic exists, never mind how dangerous it is for humanity. This is because very few of them have access to TV, they cannot read, write or speak English.
Eventually more awareness campaigns were made through radio and in collaboration with the local religious and community leaders. Even so, it was very difficult for people to understand the reason for the closure of interstate borders, shopping malls, cinemas, restaurants, airports, schools and offices, cancelling games and vacations, no big gatherings, and closing of the places of worship, and even where people were allowed to go, there were temperature checks and obligatory use of hand sanitizers. Covid-19 changed the whole atmosphere in our social, economical and religious daily life, provoking anxiety and panic. People were worried as to how they would cope with a disease with no cure. Being a new virus, no one is sure of his or her immunity. Nobody anticipated such an infectious disease nor the deaths which seemed to go on and on. The situation in our markets, parks, institutions and social gatherings caused fear and anxiety. However, people were made to understand how we are to behave even though many things about the pandemic are beyond our control, how long it will last is uncertain, and how other peoples’ behaviour cannot be predicted. God alone knows our communities’ future. Thank God some people are washing hands, covering their mouths etc. Both Church and Government are caring for Covid-19 affected families in different ways. They have shown true love and respect for the poor, the vulnerable and the sick by distributing food items to cushion their hardships following lockdown. The foodstuffs such as rice, grains, yam, vegetable oil, beans, semolina are being distributed. Our own parish is providing facemasks, buckets for hand washing water, sanitizers, temperature checking machines, and first aid boxes. These efforts are going a long way to helping people to cope with the Covid-19 situation. We are doing what we can and for the rest we are in the hands of God.
Wesley now appeals to the Natural Law, beloved of Catholic moral theology, as opposed to human law.
The grand plea is, “They are authorized by law.” But can law, human law, change the nature of things? Can it turn darkness into light, or evil into good? By no means. Notwithstanding ten thousand laws, right is right, and wrong is wrong still. There must still remain an essential difference between justice and injustice, cruelty and mercy. So that I still ask, Who can reconcile this treatment of the Negroes, first and last, with either mercy or justice?
Where is the justice of inflicting the severest evils on those that have done us no wrong? of depriving those that never injured us in word or deed, of every comfort of life? of tearing them from their native country, and depriving them of liberty itself, to which an Angolan has the same natural right as an Englishman, and on which he sets as high a value? Yea, where is the justice of taking away the lives of innocent, inoffensive men; murdering thousands of them in their own land, by the hands of their own countrymen; many thousands, year after year, on shipboard, and then casting them like dung into the sea; and tens of thousands in that cruel slavery to which they are so unjustly reduced?
But waving, for the present, all other considerations, I strike at the root of this complicated villainy; I absolutely deny all slave-holding to be consistent with any degree of natural justice.
The first sentence of today’s extract from Wesley’s thoughts upon slavery suggests strongly that the white men of the day who accepted and promoted slavery were not to be trusted to give an accurate and honest account of the lives of he West Africans they abducted into slavery. The remainder of the extract makes clear why these writers were not to be trusted.
We have now seen what kind of country it is from which the Negroes are brought; and what sort of men (even white men being the judges) they were in their own country. Inquire we, Thirdly, In what manner are they generally procured, carried to, and treated in, America.
First. In what manner are they procured? Part of them by fraud. Captains of ships, from time to time, have invited Negroes to come on board, and then carried them away. But far more have been procured by force. The Christians, landing upon their coasts, seized as many as they found, men, women, and children, and transported them to America. It was about 1551 that the English began trading to Guinea; at first, for gold and elephants’ teeth; but soon after, for men. In 1556, Sir John Hawkins sailed with two ships to Cape Verd, where he sent eighty men on shore to catch Negroes. But the natives flying, they fell farther down, and there set the men on shore, “to burn their towns and take the inhabitants.” But they met with such resistance, that they had seven men killed, and took but ten Negroes. So they went still farther down, till, having taken enough, they proceeded to the West Indies and sold them.
In the mid 18th Century M Allanson was already urging a considerable abatement in the perception that Europeans held of Africans.
It was of these parts of Guinea that Monsieur Allanson, correspondent of the Royal Academy of Sciences at Paris, from 1749 to 1753, gives the following account, both as to the country and people: — “Which way soever I turned my eyes, I beheld a perfect image of pure nature: An agreeable solitude, bounded on every side by a charming landscape; the rural situation of cottages in the midst of trees; the ease and quietness of the Negroes, reclined under the shade of the spreading foliage, with the simplicity of their dress and manners: The whole revived in my mind the idea of our first parents, and I seemed to contemplate the world in its primitive state. They are, generally speaking, very good-natured, sociable, and obliging. I was not a little pleased with my very first reception; and it fully convinced me, that there ought to be a considerable abatement made in the accounts we have of the savage character of the Africans.” He adds: “It is amazing that an illiterate people should reason so pertinently concerning the heavenly bodies. There is no doubt, but that, with proper instruments, they would become excellent astronomers.”
The inhabitants of the Grain and Ivory Coast are represented by those that deal with them, as sensible, courteous, and the fairest traders on the coasts of Guinea. They rarely drink to excess; if any do, they are severely punished by the King’s order. They are seldom troubled with war: If a difference happen between two nations, they commonly end the dispute amicably.
Some of the Language in Wesley’s thoughts upon slavery would be considered offensive today, but it is clearly not intended to be so. After all, the pamphlet was arguing for the essential equality of humankind and the abolition of slavery. In this section the notion that the slaves were taken from miserable poverty in West Africa is completely demolished on eyewitness testimony.
That part of Africa whence the Negroes are brought, commonly known by the name of Guinea, extends along the coast, in the whole, between three and four thousand miles. From the river Senegal to … Congo and Angola.
Concerning the Senegal coast, Monsieur Brue, who lived there sixteen years, after describing its fruitfulness near the sea, says, “The farther you go from the sea, the more fruitful and well-improved is the country, abounding in pulse, Indian corn, and various fruits. Here are vast meadows, which feed large herds of great and small cattle; and the villages, which lie thick, show the country is well peopled.” And again: “I was surprised to see the land so well cultivated: Scarce a spot lay unimproved; the low lands, divided by small canals, were all sowed with rice; the higher grounds were planted with Indian corn, and peas of different sorts. Their beef is excellent; poultry plenty, and very cheap, as are all the necessaries of life.”
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.