«An extraordinary story, a divine one, which you know well. So many years of faithfulness and commitment from many of you that made that seed grow –sown first in Cameroon. From that seed pieces of humanity renewed by love have blossomed, striving towards the realization of God’s project for the whole large African continent, and beyond». These are some excerpts from the message sent by Maria Voce (Emmaus), the President of the Focolare Movement, to the members of the movement in Africa, who are celebrating this year the 50th anniversary of the arrival of the Charism of unityin their continent.
There were 2000 persons gathered close to Fontem on the 9th February, at Shisong, in the Bamenda Region (North-West of Cameroon) the same place that welcomed the first focolarini who reached on the 12thFebruary 1963. There were all those who consider themselves as “Chiara’s children”. They had celebrated the Cry Die (the end of mourning) for the founder of the Focolare in January 2009, in that same place. With that event Chiara was solemnly counted among the ancestors, and therefore worthy to be remembered and invoked, because “her ideal of solidarity, spirituality, sharing, and love cannot die”. There were also those who in these years have taken part in the “New Evangelization” action, an integral project started in 2000 by Chiara and the Fon (King) of Fontem, who was the first one to take the commitment, in front of his people, to living the spirit of love and unity that comes from the Gospel. It’s the Fon himself who later on got the other chiefs and noblemen involved.
Last Saturday’s event at Shisong started with the Time Out for peace, and continued with the ‘Jubilee celebration prayer’, asking God to strengthen their Faith in Him, keeping in mind the ‘pioneers’ of this adventure (Chiara Lubich, Bishop Julius Peeters and the Fon Defang); to know how to start again with humility to love every neighbour, to walk towards universal fraternity, to increase the fire of charity in every community, in order to be apostles of Jesus’ Testament “That all may be one” (Jn 17,21). Two of the first focolarini who gave so much of themselves in Africa, Bruna Tomasi and Lucio Dal Soglio, were present through their messages. The reading of their letters and those of others among the protagonists of the beginnings of the focolare (Rosa Calò, Rita Azarian) introduced the documentary: “Focolare, 50 years in Africa”, retracing this journey, interwoven with the experience of Piero Pasolini and Marilen Holzhauser. For the occasion, a special issue of the African edition of New City was entirely dedicated to cover this topic. Since the beginning, the Word of God was not merely an object of contemplation, but was instead immediately translated into real choices, in daily life. When the different communities were born, that special atmosphere of family was experienced, a spirit in which it was possible to share even one’s needs.
Then many actions were initiated in the continent, including social programmes, schools, and health centres: from the College in Fontem, to nursery schools, primary schools and tuitions programs in Cameroon, Nigeria, Tanzania, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Kenya; a hospital in Fontem, medical centres in Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo and Ivory Coast; actions against malnutrition; carpentry workshops for the youth in South Africa, Cameroon, Ivory Coast and Kenya; an agricultural project in Nigeria. From the beginning of the ’70s, many African youth discovered “Chiara’s way” and therefore a new lifestyle. Like her, Anne Nyimi Pemba (Congo) and Venant Mbonimpaye (Burundi) left everything to follow Jesus, embarking themselves on this new way of consecrated life in Africa. They were among the first ones, like Teresina Tumhiriwe, from Uganda, Benedict Menjo and Dominic Nyuyilim from Cameroon. Dominic was present at the Shisong celebration, sharing his own experience. Many have followed them in their footsteps.
Mafua Christina, Queen of the Bangwa, and Prof. Martin Nkafu, born in Fontem and lecturer of Philosophy and traditional cultures at the Pontifical Lateran University, were also present. They shared their personal experiences, followed with a array by the new generations – children, teenagers and youth– that showed how much today’s experience is in continuity with the Ideal of brotherhood that took roots 50 years ago.
“A people born from the Gospel, capable of witnessing of being family beyond their belonging to different tribes, ethnic groups and peoples,” Maria Voce wrote in her message, with the wish of restarting together from this milestone –that will last for the whole year, with a celebration in Kenya at the Mariapolis Piero on the 19th May, during the Pan-African congress of the Volunteers of God, and other events in various African countries.