The story started in Beira, Mozambique, in 2012 with a meeting of the Vocation Directors. They were looking for ways of improving their relationship between the four Sectors of the SAP Province and the Formation Centre in Balaka, Malawi, where our candidates make their studies in philosophy.
The creation of a Pre-First Phase was then proposed to the Provincial Council and forwarded to the General Council in Rome. A green light was given to build a centre in Chipata situated in the Eastern Province of Zambia. The town is surrounded by hills and is about 20 kilometres from Malawi and less than 140 kilometres to the Mozambican border. Therefore, the three countries could easily get involved in following the progress of their respective students.
Father Jean-Luc Gouiller started looking for a piece of land and the ground work started in 2014. The buildings were completed in December 2015. We entered into the centre in the second week of January 2016 with an initial number of 18 students from Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia. They remained up to June 2016. The second academic year started on October 12, 2016. The Formation Centre currently has once more 18 students together with three staff members, namely Brother René Garand, Father Camille Konkobo and Father Timothée Bationo.
The SAP Pre-Formation Centre was officially blessed by Bishop George Lungu on November 18, 2016. Mass was presided by the Bishop outside the premises as the church building would have been too small to contain the crowd. The Bishop was pleased to see that the official opening was just two days away from the closure of the Year of Mercy. Consequently, the official opening of the Formation Centre coincided with the closure of the Year of Mercy at the diocesan level.
Various committees from Saint Athanasio Parish were established to take care of the catering, liturgy, security and reception. By 05:00, they were already setting up everything before the arrival of the Christians and the Bishop at 7:00. Some members of the Provincial Council were delayed a bit at the border with Malawi.
Leading the procession, Bishop George Lungu and Father Felix Phiri, the Provincial, cut the ribbon at the main gate of the centre to symbolise the official opening of the Formation Centre while the diocesan choir sang a Thanksgiving song. In a colourful procession, the Bishop blessed the chapel and other buildings. At Mass, the Bishop praised the work done by the missionaries in the past, what they are doing today and what is to come. He was grateful to the Society for building a Formation Centre in his diocese. He encouraged the Formation House to open its doors to people who would like to have retreats. The Formators are welcomed exercising their apostolate all around Chipata.
The Provincial blessed each student with a symbolic cross representing the beginning of their formation.
All the missionaries, Fathers and Sisters, came together to sing the Santa Maria song. Few speeches were conducted at the end of Mass including Father Gouiller, Father Felix Phiri, Father Timothée Bationo, the Bishop, the DCL President and a Government Official. Finally, the Master of Ceremony, Father Kamanga, invited everybody to share a meal. A final blessing came at the end of the day with the first rain of the farming season.
Members of staff at the formation house will ever remain grateful to the people who took part in the organisation and preparations of the official opening of the centre. We will always remember you in our prayers as we preach the Word of God.
Merry Christmas to you all and a Prosperous New Year in 2017.