Greetings from Korhogo in Ivory Coast. I was in Tanzania in June and July to take part in the first session of the new program called ICOF (Inter-Congregational Ongoing Formation) initiated by four congregations; Missionaries of Africa (M.Afr), Congregation of the Holy Spirit (C.S.Sp.), Society of African Missions (SMA) and Missionaries Sisters of Our Lady of Africa (MSOLA). We were thirteen participants from six different congregations and from nine different countries.
The session took place in the Spiritan Hotel called Stella Maris in Bagamoyo situated 75Km from Dar-es-salaam. Bagamoyo is the ground where the first missionaries landed from Zanzibar. Thus it was a nice place for renewal and reflection on our vocation. This two-month renewal program is entitled “Joy – Filled Gospel Service.”
Different modules were given aiming at a holistic formation as an individual, consecrated person and pastoral agent. It covered the four aspects of our lives; human, spiritual, pastoral and intellectual. Openness among the participants facilitated group sharing, meditation, spiritual direction and time of integration aiming at discovery our life-giving spirit under the motto: rooted in Christ we rediscover ourselves for the joyful witness of the Gospel.
The session helped me to remember the call of Christ in today’s situations and to try to respond to the voice of the Lord joyfully. My vocation is no longer a “work” but a “service” with the Lord. Many modules helped us to increase our awareness related to our strengths and weakness. So often, we try to avoid talking about our weaknesses. We put them in the breath case though they influence our everyday lives. Opening that breath case helps to understand its elements in order to transform them into life-giving contents. Weaknesses are not sins but part of us and can bring growth since “there is a crack in everything”. We need those cracks so as to bring light in our inner closed house. This awareness increases self-responsibilities in acquiring good and healthy relationships.
The session empowered me also as pastoral agent working in a globalised world. It empowered me with new skills in leadership and better management in pastoral counselling. The proclamation of the Gospel has to take into consideration today’s world challenges such as ecology, economy, finances, justice and peace. The session updated me in some important current theologies and documents of the Church. It has been a very enriching experience. It has also increased my self-awareness and improved my relationship with Jesus Christ together with my brothers and sisters. This session has given me hope for a better and joyful ministry. It came to be a graceful opportunity for taking care of myself. Indeed, how can I care for others if I don’t care for myself? Adding to it, as Pope Francis says, an evangeliser has to be aware that he always needs to be evangelised and to be converted.
I felt that something has improved in my life because of this session. Whatever we do or say in our ministries, let us be Christ centred in giving joy to the world while, at the same time, witnessing the Gospel. Thus, in our mission, let us have courage to stop a bit, taking a break, leaving our great apostolates for a while so as to listen to our inner-self. I am grateful to my province PAO for giving me that chance of being among the first beneficiaries of that beautiful experience. Rooted, we bloom! ICOF ARTICLE
Alfred Weyirane Awogya, M.Afr, was also a participant at the session. He is sending his own experience an a few pictures:
During the two months’ renewal journey, we had lots of facilitated sharing in small teams acquiring new skills and getting updates and refreshers on various subjects such as: emotional intelligence and resilience, dangers of various addictions, challenges of faith in contemporary Africa, financial administration and management, gender issues, pastoral counselling skills, justice and peace and Christian responsibility, scripture and mission, graceful transitions in life, interreligious dialogue, leadership and management, trauma awareness, bereavement, stress management and inner child work. The focus was not on academic excellence by any means but geared towards helping us to get in touch with our inner self more deeply together with the world surrounding us. The aim was also to rediscover the fire of our faith and vocation and to continue to bear joyful witness of the Gospel in our missionary assignments. We were also blessed with a serene moment of eight days retreat preached by Bishop Emeritus of Soddo (Ethiopia), Rodrigo Mejía, SJ, on Evangelii Gaudium: the Joy of the Gospel.
In all I would say the program was very relaxing. Besides the inputs and group work, we also had ample time to explore the beautiful coastland of Bagamoyo, and for many participants, learn how to swim. Enjoying sea food and coconut was all part of the renewal! We also had a day of picnic/visit to the historic sites of Bagamoyo, a town founded at the end of the 18th century. It was the original capital of German East Africa and was one of the most important trading ports along the East African coast.
The closing Mass/celebration was very colourful. We were blessed to have a representative from the Tanzanian Episcopal Conference and other priests and sisters. We also had two special guests from Rome, Fr Francis Rozario, a member of the General Council of the SMA who is at the same time the Secretary of the ICOF steering committee in Rome and Fr Joseph Shio, CSSP, also a member of the Spiritan General Council. Fr Rozario presided over the liturgy while Fr Shio preached urging us to celebrate the renewal we ourselves have undergone with our brothers and sisters. In his own words, to “change their water into wine” and not the vice versa, meaning to be instruments and signs of joy and happiness in the lives of the people we minister to. Fr Rozario reiterated the vision and dream for founding ICOF. He presented each participant with a certificate of attendance and congratulated us for being the pioneers to put into flesh the dream of the joint General Councils. He expressed their intention to continue this program annually. You will not regret enrolling for the next Joy-Filled Gospel Service!
During the same closing Eucharistic celebration, representing the whole group, I presented a palm seedling, a symbol of our journey of renewal and explained its significance. After Mass, all the participants, the animators and invited quests had the joyful pleasure to plant the palm seedling in the beautiful lawn grounds of Stella Maris Hotel where we stayed during the program. I am happy and grateful to have had the privilege to go through this journey of renewal. Indeed, the seed has been sown and it has sprouted; we pray that we may continue to blossom where we are planted in joyful witness to the Good News of Christ.
By Alfred Awogya, M.Afr, Namushakende in Zambia.