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Living together the Marist Beginnings but in an African style


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04/05/2009: Mozambique


hspace=5As you can see, l was with Brother Mphatso. We had gone to welcome Br. Norbert from one of his goings and comings meeting. He made me laugh when he said we cannot narrate the beginnings of our life. Then we entered into a non prepared lecture.

When we talk about our beginnings, we remember Jena Baptiste Montagne who provoked our Founder to start our Marist life, a young man wrapped in total ignorance of religion. I was telling Mphatso to identify Montagne boys or girls at the school where he will be teaching and that is none rather than Mtendere Primary. I think it should be like our motto, especially here in Africa, “ Apostles of Jean Baptiste Montagnes!” In Kampala , Uganda, Pope Paul VI said , “ By now, you Africans are missionaries to yourselves. The church is of Christ is well and truly planted in this blessed soil!” Then l asked my brother to trace the coming of the Brothers in Malawi in 1946. They found many Jean Baptste Montagnes at Kasina, Mtendere, Likuni, Zomba, Chassa, St Johns and some of them have long stories to tell us about the super care and love they enjoyed from the holy men from Canada.

I am sure they had had their own Jean Claude Maisonneuves who trained them into best and superb teachers and evangelizers. Some of them also helped in preparing teachers in the infant Malawi before and after independence. On this Brother Fournier and Simon are the best examples. Of course simultaneous method was not common then in the British system of education as the De La Salle Brothers had done in France. The British believed in putting all in the same basket and promote only the genius.

Their house at Mtendere which by then was a bush with plenty of hyenas, was poor like the one the Founder bought from Jean Baptiste Bonner. I am sure the idea of cleaning and the repairing the small hut was not far from their minds as new comers. In the future we shall have to make that a small museum for the future generations.They did not think of making nails to provide a little income for the community as the pioneer brothers at La Valla but had a farm with many hectares, Felix Muwawa will tell you more on this and you can get more information at Chassa. As sons of Champagnat they were wearing distinct uniform to distinguish them from the lay faithful. We shall have to consider that ourselves as we are less known in the church that we call our mother.They had lay teachers and cooperated well with them. Their schools were the top quality and some of their former students hold outstanding positions. Just like in France, education in Malawi was low and few people could manage to pay school fees. They were making little sacrifices to make sure that all the destitutes were not denied education due to lack of money. This is a good example to emulate even by us who are now ministering in these schools. And like the school where Jean Marie Granjon was the headmaster after Jean Claude Maisonneuve had lost interest in the Brothers school and was becoming a scandal to the young brothers, he had pupils and some of them were the abandoned and orphans. Father Champagnat was allergic to those who caused scandal to the young ones.

Fraternal corrections are not strange to our educational pedagogy and let us not feel shy to use it when appropriate. I told Mphatoso that he too will have to take note of the orphans and abandoned in our schools together with the other brothers. These can be the Montagnes of Malawi and the whole of our Province and many parts of Africa. They ought to be the main focus of every Marist today. When we concentrate only on the knowledgeable ones, Montagnes will die in ignorance and we shall have failed Champagnat who was for the most destitute. Our Constitutions has volumes of insights of these destitutes and Brother Sean has quoted many in his circulars. Look in your classroom Mphatso at the first school primary school of our pioneer brothers. Our first recruited brother is Br. Patrick Bwana whom we can proudly applaud as the first Malawian Jean Marie Granjon. Paying attention to his story, will help to discover that he too was among the first black headmaster. He also assumed the role more than the one of Jean Marie Granjon, who was only a Director of the infant community, as he was at one time the Regional Superior of the then District of Malawi. Now that the Canadian Brothers have reached ripe age and the majority gone, are we not realizing the word of the holy Pope Paul VI. The continuity of the mission is in our hands. Like St. Paul, we can say we hold a treasure in earthen vessels, very fragile but God wants it that way. He who called us will always be with and so let not be afraid in doing his work with courge and dtermination. Going back to Champagnat who envisioned all the Dioceses to be in our design, we can say that, yes in being missionaries to Africa but we should also look beyond Africa and be ready to serve where the Spirit may lead us.. We have to bring News of great joy to all young people that Jesus is Lord for all. Isn’t our mission to make Jesus known and loved? When we are in funeral faces, we shall carry bad news to the young ones who are in despair and in confused state, sometimes without hope. Being more and more black brothers, we shall have to take inculturation seriously in our way of life. What had captured all of us was love of Jesus, let us not be afraid to share that love to our brothers and sisters especially those on the margins. Let us reach the rural villages the bell brother Lawrence and have a first hand experience of the suffering Montagnes and demonstrate to them the love of Jesus. As in the time of Champagnat, many who join us will be from those poor but faith filled families. Let us always applaud families who will generously denote their sons to join our force of being evangelizers of the youth but we should not close doors to those who are from well to do families. I repeat, inculturation of religious life will be a must and we have to start it now.

Of course let us not overlook means that can help us in self reliance. We cannot be Mendicants forever. Let us open our eyes widely to the gifts of some of our brothers and help them develop them to the full for our common mission. I wish you good lucky Mphatso and the others in your apostolate and happiness in your vocation. When we are happy in our vocation, others will certainly follow us. Yes, who in his right mind can join a group that is always sad. As alleluia people, let us bring the Good News to all with joy as the African martyrs, especially those canonized by Pope Paul VI in 1964 from Uganda in Rome. God bless.

Simeon Banda, fms, Matola

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