Missionaries of Africa
by Richard K. Baawobr, M.Afr. 1st Assistant Général
"25 Years: Missionaries of Africa in Poland"
(25 Lat Misjionarzy Afryki w Polsce)
"25 Years: Missionaries of Africa in Poland" that is how the Silver Jubilee of our presence in Poland was announced on the invitation card, the posters, the calendar, the pen and even on the cake that was cut and shared on the 1st May 2010, the day of the Thanksgiving Mass.
The 1st May - the beginning of a long weekend in Poland - was the date the confreres had chosen to mark this important date in their history. Parents, relatives, friends and former students travelled from near and far in order to take part in the celebration. Of the confreres who had worked in Poland in the past, only Fr. Gaby VERNACK could actually come in person and join in the celebration. Since the others, for valid reasons, could not be present, they were remembered with gratitude. The European Provincial Council led by Fr. Detlet BARSTCH, travelled to Lublin to hold their meeting there so that they could also grace the celebration with the presence of other Missionaries of Africa working in Europe. An invitation was also extended to the General Council and I was able to take part and share in their joy.
The Thanksgiving Eucharist took place in the Parish Church of Natalin (in the outskirts of Lublin) where our community is located. All regretted that two significant figures of the Polish foundation - Archbishop Emeritus Boleslaw PYLAK and Fr. Herman Cornelissen, MAfr - both took ill just a few days before the feast and could not therefore attend. Archbishop Boleslaw PYLAK was the one who had welcomed Herman and the first team of confreres to Poland.
We all gave thanks for the historic moment of their encounter and prayed that the Lord would give them the strength they needed to continue being his exemplary trusted servants. Thank God, the cook, Lucyna Kolodynska, and her husband, Adam Kolodynski, who have been serving the community for 25 years, were up and about, still working with commitment. They have witnessed the comings and goings of confreres and candidates in the first house and now in the current one.
Although the main language of the Eucharist was Polish, songs, prayers and other interventions could be heard in various African and European languages. This corresponded to the universal nature of the Church and the international and interracial character of the Missionaries of Africa and what we have brought to the Church of Poland. This dimension did not go unnoticed in the homily of Bishop Jozef ZYCINSKI, who officiated.
Since 1985, the house in Natalin has welcomed 87 candidates of whom 14 are today fully-fledged MAfr. Seventeen confreres have served or are still serving in Poland and all have invested a lot of time and energy into learning the language and culture or looking for more effective ways of promoting MAfr vocations there.
Today, the Lublin community is composed of Frs. Jacek WROBLEWSKI, Delegate Superior of Poland, Herman CORNELISSEN, Antoni MARKOWSKI, Otto KATTO and Adam CYTRYNOWSKI. They all share in the work of Vocation Promotion and accompanying the two candidates who have begun their formation with us. They count on the support of confreres who come on home leave. During these days, Dariusz ZIELINSKI had just arrived from Tizi Ouzou (Algeria) and even before seeing his parents, he was taken up in the preparations for the celebrations. Deacon Marcin PERFIOWSKI, who has just finished his theological studies and is awaiting priestly ordination, also arrived early enough from NAIROBI (Kenya) to give a much needed hand.
After the Jubilee celebrations, the parents and relatives of confreres and candidates stayed back another day for their Annual Meeting.
Some Challenges for the Future
As in all Provinces and Sectors of the Society, our future in Poland is in the hands of the young men that we succeed in helping to respond to the call of Christ to become Missionaries to Africa and to the African world. Twenty-five years ago, there was a lot of hope of attracting young men and women to join the Lavigerie Family of Missionaries.
Today, the situation has changed, not only for us but, apparently, for other Religious Congregations that have communities in Poland and even for the dioceses. Families are now smaller than in the past and a life commitment as a missionary priest, Brother or Sister is no longer as attractive as it might have been in the past. Coupled with this situation is also the fact that other values, such as personal emancipation and dreams, are taking the upper hand, thus blurring the youngsters' inner voice calling to a life of self-gift in sometimes difficult and unknown circumstances in Africa. Will new promotion techniques have the answer? We cannot tell, but they are always worth trying.
According to the experience of confreres, there is still great interest in mission in Poland, but there is often the need to clarify what type of mission people are interested in. Some Congregations are preaching a mission ad intra and thus confusing those who would like to hear and experience more the type of mission ad extra that we propose. In spite of this, it may be worthwhile to promote short-term lay missionary experiences in Africa for young men and/or women from Poland, in communities willing to welcome them. Most of these youngsters, upon return, maintain good contacts with the Missionaries and could be valuable activists for further Missionary and Vocation Promotion.
The European Provincial reminded the youngest Sector of the Province that it was also expected to work towards self-sufficiency. This will be a major challenge to take up. With only one community, whose main activities are Vocation Promotion and Initial Formation, the expenses are understandably higher than the income raised by the same people and thus they have to be covered through the Society's principle of sharing in solidarity.
According to confreres, their personal participation in most of the activities already cuts down the cost in some areas. The Polish financial support network through the families of our confreres, benefactors, former students and friends, the publications, etc., has to be enlarged so that more and more people can participate in the cost of Vocation Promotion, Initial Formation and also in the living expenses of the mission in Africa. During these Silver Jubilee celebrations, funds were raised to offer support to two projects in Africa. Hopefully, increasingly, such actions can be taken in the future.
Let's not forget Our Sisters!
The Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Africa's Lublin community discreetly graced the feast of their brothers through the various services they offered and the gifts they also brought to them. They also welcomed the MAfr Provincial Council of Europe for a Eucharistic celebration and a meal, offering the same treatment to me later on. The community of 2 Sisters and 3 postulants collaborate in various ways with the confreres during the Missionary Vocation Promotion events. In 2011, the MSOLA will celebrate 20 years' presence in Poland.
They currently have 3 postulants and soon will have a novice. Among the MSOLA, there are 5 professed Sisters from Poland. They also face the same challenges as their brothers; perhaps with the added challenge that it is always difficult for women's religious vocations to be valued in contemporary society.
Let Us Celebrate!
Having participated by now in two different celebrations in Poland, I get the feeling that they know how to celebrate and that they take the time needed for it. Parents and relatives travelled from as far as 550 km by road to join in the celebration and to meet others whose sons are on mission in Africa. You could feel the joy of being together and the support they offer each other and their sons. This, together with the youthfulness of the confreres from Poland is what they are bringing to the Church in Africa that will, for many more years to come, enjoy celebrating Life and sharing it with the rest of the Universal Church.
As a good old Briton of Irish descent taught me whenever we enjoyed a good meal he had prepared together with his wife, we can pray, "Lord, we thank you for what we have had! If there were more, we would have been glad; but as the times are rather hard, we thank for what we have had. AMEN."
These 25 years have not been a smooth ride, but something has happened and could still happen through our presence in Poland. As expressed through the words of the outgoing Superior General and his Council, written on the flyleaf of the African Bible that was offered to the confreres together with a bookstand from Tunisia, our prayer is that the Word of God may continue to take root in the lives of our confreres and the people they encounter. This is so that young women and men may join us in proclaiming the Good News by word, but especially by deed, through the way we encounter those different from us in faith and culture. Where there is life there is hope! It is up to us not to quench the smouldering wick, (Cf. Mt. 12:20) but rather to keep it alive and fan it into burning brighter!
Richard K. Baawobr, M.Afr.
1st Assistant Général
Crédit photos Antoni Markowski et Gabby Vernack