Spain: Marist School of Villalba - Opening the "Year Montagne"
Feast of All Saints
1805: Marcellin Champagnat entered the seminary in Verrières
1968: first Marist foundation in Paraguay
I want to start with the quotation from Pope Paul VI in Kampala, ‘ You may and you must have African Christianity.’ Maybe today we can say the same about Religious life in Africa. Martin Oreilly who has written extensively about the challenges of Religious life in Africa said that, ‘ Religious life is a historical response to a situation born in history.’ I feel comfortable with this definition. It reminds me of Saint Marcellin Champagnat, the Marist Brothers Founder. The French Revolution had left many young people ignorance of religion. Also the corporal punishments teachers inflicted on children made him leave school for a while. Of course the nicknaming a catechumen by a priest made the boy for first communion a social reject. The stated events were interpreted as the call from God which could be addressed by only Brothers, hence he often said, ‘ We need Brothers!’ Ignorance is a pandemic disease in Africa today. However, Brotherhood is less understood by many who matter and the laity in places where l have worked for the past 19 years as a religious have a vague idea of our life. The Missionaries of Africa who evangelized half Malawi came with Brothers. From that time Brotherhood was taken as a priestly right hand in running the mission compound. Brothers were seen as experts in the garden or fields, carpentry and garage, roads and bridges. With time l see that there are few who opt for brotherhood now. Priesthood has taken over. As a young man l used to admire the Carmelite Brothers in my parish. Now all go for priesthood. When l get home people ask me when l will become a priest. It seems they are fed up at seeing me a brother even at fifty. When l told then that Br. Patrick who is over eighty is also a Brother, they feel more confused.
I concur with Bishop Patrick Kalilombe that Religious life is a life of radical prophetic witness and the means are the services we do out of love for Jesus and neighbour. More and more l see that we should see ourselves as concerned with liberation of those on the margins, the poor, the abandoned by everybody, the destitutes who have filled our urban centres and rural areas. This takes me back to the idea of Champagant. His idea was to work in the rural village step. Africa today is known of people running away from the rural areas. Life in the rural areas is not attractive. Benezet Bujo, was right when he said, Religious will do well to go to the rural areas and make life there more attractive and this will reduce youth exodus to the metropolitan where they are overcrowded in untold miseries. If religious can make rural areas habitable with their skills, e.g. building, carpentry, plumbing, tailoring, handicraft, music, trades, computer, painting, mechanics, animal and crop husbandry skills, school. Majority of the young people these days in Africa come from single families or they are total orphans. The pandemic of refugees is also growing steadily everywhere in the continent. When a person is empowered with a skill now in Africa, that fellow has worth that only death take from him or her. In this way we will include even the school dropouts in our work with the young people. If liberation was central in the manifesto of Jesus, it will have to be so for us in Africa. I have noted with great concern that a few of us come from middle class families and sometimes we are the only most educated members of the family. Our hearts burn with compassion when we see the untold miseries. I said to myself, ‘ Can our ministry of liberation reach also these people?’
I think more and more our approach will have to be empowering people. We have to teach our people how to fish but we should run away from the temptation of fishing for them. Education is still a hot cake among our people. I feel pity when l see outstanding Brothers leave because the destitute conditions of their people touch them with great compassion. Lately when l went home l noticed that other religious members are busy helping their aged parents. Few countries in Africa have social welfare privileges. Old people stay in the homes with their children or grandchildren. We will have to put our God given talents and interests at the service of the Reign of God. In this l feel we shall do well to equip our Brothers with skills which will make their mission more effective. Once our mission is centred on promotion of human dignity not as NGOs but people on fire like Jesus. In this we shall be visible and relevant . It is this that will make our less known vocation known. I bet that this way can draw many more apostles to our ranks. Yes, prayer will have to be at the very heart of our life. At the mean time we are doing a good service in the area of education but the rich have the monopoly in most of our good schools. If we do not read the signs of the times properly we shall end up promoting the gap between the rich and the poor with no hope of minimizing it through our education approach. Let us allow the poor too chance to excel in whatever skills we can impart on them. In this way we shall be the light, the salt and leaven among our people.
When we become agricultural experts, we shall help peasants with skills to improve their own lives. Yes we can influence their prices of their products as Bujo said in competitive markets and defend their rights. Refugees and HIV AIDs has brought miseries to the continent and we cannot remain indifferent to our miserable brothers and sisters. Let love of Jesus and neighbour provoke us and make us people with full of compassion. In this way we shall help to make good Christians and good citizens. We shall not neglect any one in our education approach.
Brother Simeon Banda, Marist Brother.