Tag Archives: Missionaries of Africa

5 December: Keeping up appearances.

Off-duty peacock, almost invisible.

A dozen old boys from a small boarding school were meeting up over a Zoom link; a very flexible agenda led to discussion of clothes. Nobody seemed to agree with Erasmus’s adage, ‘Clothes make the man’.

The school was run by the Missionaries of Africa who have an unusual official habit, based on XIX Century North African menswear. No doubt that would be interpreted as ‘cultural appropriation’ in some quarters today, but it was intended to show respect for the local people and distance the society from the colonial power. This is from a 1960’s school photograph.


(Source: The Pelicans)

The principle of dressing like ordinary local people means the members of the society often do not wear clerical black, and the habit is now worn just for special occasions. (It takes a lot of washing and ironing.)

As for us former students, Mike, who lent this photo, newly retired from his service as a head teacher, paid a visit to his local charity shop to hand over all his formal suits, which he would never wear again. Freedom! Another told how he and his colleagues abandoned their ties after a high-up from head office gave some in-service training, tie-less. Yet another’s suits hung unworn since retirement, except for weddings and funerals; a fourth having lost weight, gave away all his old clothes to encourage himself not to put the pounds back on.

The suits and ties did not ‘make’ the men, rather they seemed to circumscribe them, to identify them as respectable workers who kept their hands clean. I found that being prepared to get dirty hands – gardening, fixing a puncture, measuring and sawing wood – was a good way to get alongside the excluded boys and girls I taught. A jacket and tie would have been a barrier day to day, but they came out for end-of-year presentations, our one formal event. And the Lord Mayor always wore his chain to give out the certificates; a visible acknowledgement of the work the young people had done over the year.

Clothes, whether splendid and luxurious or drab and plain, do not make the man. As Doctor Johnson once remarked, in answer to the arguments urged by Puritans, Quakers, etc. against showy decorations of the human figure: “Oh, let us not be found, when our Master calls us, ripping the lace off our waistcoats, but the spirit of contention from our souls and tongues! … Alas! Sir, a man who cannot get to heaven in a green coat will not find his way thither the sooner in a grey one.’

From “Life of Johnson, Volume 3 1776-1780” by James Boswell, via KIndle.

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4 December: The Longest Advent.

Today’s post and tomorrow’s are in part about the Missionaries of Africa. Archbishop Arthur Hughes M Afr, who died in 1949, encouraged the Catholic feminists of Saint Joan’s Alliance. This paragraph is from a talk he gave them during one of his visits home from Egypt during the 1940s. He sees devotion to Mary as totally compatible with feminism, and feminism as an essential part of our Catholic faith. But how much progress has there been in the last 70-odd years?

‘Advent is associated with ideas of worthiness and readiness, and during ‘the longest Advent’ feminists should think things out and read and meditate so that they could speak with ever more conviction.

Full equality, liberty and emancipation is the completion of the Christian ideal.

Our Lord by allowing devotion to Our Lady to become an integral part of our Catholic Faith paved the way for feminism – when he came to earth practically everything had still to be done towards the emancipation of women, not only equality had to be achieved, but something more, therefore external marks of respect towards women should be maintained and expected.

Your crusade is associated with the longest Advent. Pray and work with greater courage! ‘

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21 July: Dancing in the aisles.

African music on the march at the St Maurice Pilgrimage, Switzerland.

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.

Psalm 149.3

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19 June: Today this is my vocation VI: A missionary Life Coach

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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.’

Relais MAGHREB 35/ 2020 / P9-11 

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9 March, Gates II: Kampala’s Gate of Heaven, 1934.

Yersinia pestis, the plague bacteria

We have been living with the covid pandemic for more than a year but treatments are on the horizon. In 1934, before antibiotics were set to work in medicine, the Pneumonic Plague was ravaging Uganda. This appeal by Fr Arthur Hughes, M.Afr appeared in The Tablet, 10 February 1934.

By miracles of temporal healing Our Lord frequently awakened yearnings for eternal remedies: is it, then, surprising that our hospital should be for many the anteroom to the Baptistery and the Gate of Heaven? Generously sacrificing many other cherished projects, the mission has concentrated on the establishment of a very satisfactory and properly equipped hospital, where in circumstances of hygienic perfection and comfort pagans and Muslims, as well as our own Christians, receive medical attention and the services of trained nurses … the hospital is absolutely necessary to the spiritual welfare of the mission. Were we deprived of it, we would risk losing many souls as well as many lives … 

I write this in the room occupied by Father Wolters, who, only last September, returned from administering the Sacraments to five plague-stricken members of the same family, and died of the plague within two days*…Yet our own hospital can neither be recognized nor maintained without the permanent services of a doctor. At present the sisters urgently need £120 per annum for this purpose. So far an Indian doctor comes regularly, although he has not yet been paid … here is a necessity real, urgent, concerning the glory of God, the salvation of souls, the preservation of life, the care and comfort of suffering being very dear to us in the heart of Christ. Dare we hope? 

Illness was certainly the Gate of Heaven for Fr Wolters, though he received no miracle cure from his plague. But Fr Hughes was thinking more of patients and relatives who would hear the Gospel, in perhaps a new way, when faced with serious illness or potentially dangerous surgery. It can concentrate the mind if you know you might not wake up from the anaesthetic: Prepare to meet thy God! A motto good for any and every day, but a crisis can indeed concentrate the mind.

There is also the experience of skilled, loving nursing care which, of course, can also be administered by Muslim, Hindu or Atheist. Where charity and love prevail, there God is ever found, as we will sing in person or in our hearts, on Maundy Thursday. Let us pray for those who have been putting their lives and well-being at risk in caring for others, and for those who cannot obtain life-saving medicines or vaccines.

The Missionaries of Africa still work in Uganda. You can support them this Lent by sending completed cheques, postal orders and gift aid forms to the following address: The Superior Missionaries of Africa 15 Corfton Road London W5 2HP …

* One of the patients was sick in his face. Fr Wolters came home, sorted his affairs, and prepared himself for death.

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20 February: My back tooth


Photo by Jan Spierings, the Pelicans

Rugby was always a penitential activity for me! However, Fr Bobby Gilmore is a Columban missionary, ordained in 1963. His story ‘My Back Tooth’ goes back to his boyhood experience of being bullied on the rugby field. Follow the link to read the whole article in ‘Far East’ magazine for December 2020, pp16-17.

What really surprised me was the acceptance of the physical aspects of the game, the tolerance and the camaraderie during and after the game.

If our coach was aware of over aggressive physical play, he immediately took the player aside and privately cautioned him without a put down or embarrassment … However, that does not mean that it did not happen when unobserved …

Fr Gilmore refers to bullied people becoming ‘prisoners of anguish’ well after they lose contact with the bully; I felt it to be an appropriate reflection for Lent because we should be looking out and speaking out when we see bullying.
The work of missionaries is often described as the Church’s good news story. Learn more about what the Columban missionary family is doing to create a better world for those on the margins. Subscribe to the Far East by calling the Columban Mission Office on 01564 772 096 with your credit or debit card details, or email your subscription request to fareast@columbans.co.uk .

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12 October, Going Viral XLVI: in Tafa, Nigeria.

Fr Virgilius Kawama


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.

Fr. Virgilius Kawama MAfr is originally from Zambia. He has published a book ‘A Pastoral Approach to Our Modern Pandemics: HIV Aids and Covid 19.

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11 June: Corpus Christi, Eucharistic Fasting.

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Mrs Turnstone and I grabbed a cup of tea and a quick bite after getting up late one Sunday morning, then off to Mass. I could not help but remember a passage from Father Gerard Rathe’s Mud and Mosaics, an account of his ‘missionary journey’ through Africa in 1960. Here he has just arrived in what is now Mali.

We drove through the city gate  [of Mopti] and round to the river. On the steps of what looked like a large warehouse we saw Monsignor Landru, the Prefect Apostolic,+ a lively, clean shaven little man, who took us into the house where we enjoyed a glass of cold water before saying Mass.

I wonder if the Holy Father ever thought of the tremendous refreshment he would be giving priests like ourselves, when he said: “Water does not break the Eucharistic Fast”.*

You have to go to the tropics, anyway, to appreciate cold water. Leo, our photographer, preferred beer, and we left him perspiring and content in a deck chair as we went to the church. We were on a tiny Christian island in a sea of Islam and I offered my Mass for this handful of missionaries and for the conversion of the Dogon people on whom they pin their hopes.

We are blessed to live in less rule-bound times, when we can more easily respond to the Lord’s invitation to take and eat.

+ A priest who leads  the church in a territory that is not yet big enough to be a diocese.                         * Pius XII had relaxed the rules on fasting to allow Catholics to take liquids up to an hour before receiving Communion, though solid food was still prohibited from midnight

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Remembering The Algerian Martyrs.

Bishop Claude Rault M Afr was bishop of the Sahara before retiring. He knew most of the Algerian Martyrs whom we have reflected on before. Their feast day was May 8th, and Bishop Claude preached this homily in Paris. What do you think makes someone a saint?

Here are Vincent Somboro’s reflections on Christian Mission in Algeria today. And here the reflections of Blessed Pierre Claverie, one of the martyrs.

beatification

A banner of the blessed martyrs at the beatification ceremony in Algeria.

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5 April, Palm Sunday

Today we’d put out the flags, as Caernarfon did to welcome us (and thousands more tourists) a few years ago. 2,000 years ago it was palms and cloaks that were actively waved – not just left out in all weathers – as Jesus came to town. But by the following Friday nobody would have wanted the Romans to see the national flags and emblems on their buildings. Jesus had become dangerous to know.

The Plantagenet Kings whose castle commands this view would have looked askance at the scene, and their spies would have filled the castle governor’s ear with more or less factual accounts of the latest prince to arise to rally the Welsh. Pilate would have heard about Jesus before Palm Sunday but the parade of the King of the Jews did not lead to his immediate arrest. Pilate thought he could contain this uprising before it got very far.

By Friday festival fever was worrying a hypersensitive elite who valued the shaky Pax Romana as it applied in Judea, offering them status and privilege and allowing the Temple worship to continue according to the Law. Verses from the Psalms and the Prophets that challenged the idea of sacrifice were dismissed in their turn by the priests of the Temple.

For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.

Ps 51: 16-17

 

Jesus’s heart was broken, his body too, though not his spirit. His death completed his lifelong passion. It is all of a piece, as the Pieta tells us – the baby we saw Mary cuddling at Christmas is the One she cradles briefly before his burial. (Take a look at St Thomas’s Lady altar.) But today, knowing he is riding into difficult times, he is the King the crowd were waiting for.

Image from Missionaries of Africa
Strasbourg Cathedral

So let’s put out the flags in our hearts, and wave our palms for our King!

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