Fontem and the Focolare – the history

1964 – “Why has God abandoned us?” This was the cry of desperation of the Bangwa people who, because of a 90% infant mortality rate caused by sleeping sickness, were heading for extinction. The leaders of the Bangwa appealed to the local bishop, Bishop Peeters for the prayers of Christians to help them in their plight. When Bishop Peeters was in Rome for the Second Vatican Council he met Chiara Lubich and asked if she could offer any help.

February 1966 The first focolarini arrive in Fontem, including doctors and nurses. The first dispensary is opened in a wooden hut.

June 1966 Chiara visits Fontem to lay the foundation stone of the new hospital. She is welcomed by all the people, the majority of whom are followers of the traditional religion, with songs and dances, in thanksgiving to God for his response to their prayers.

January 1969 Chiara returns to open the first ward in the hospital. She expresses her recognition of the values she has found in the Bangwa people: ‘Never, in any other place, have I found such kindness, goodness, such profound human values, so much love and faith as here is Fontem.’ She also shares an intuition with the people: ‘Here a town will spring up. It will become known, not so much for its material wealth, but because here a light will shine which will be a fruit of fraternal love, kept burning amongst us in the name of God.’ It is from here that spirit of unity was to spread throughout the continent of Africa.

1992 Chiara founds a school of inculturation at Nairobi, based on the Focolare spirituality of unity, to give value to ‘seeds of the Word’ present in African cultures.

May 2000 Chiara goes once again to Fontem, which now has a school, a hospital specialising in tropical diseases and with an AIDs ward, a power station. New roads improve access to Fontem, which has now become an official district of Cameroon with eighty thousand inhabitants.   Chiara is invested with the title ‘Mafua Ndem’, Queen sent by God. She addresses the people, the majority of whom are not Christians: ‘Everyone is completely free to follow other faiths,’ but, she adds, with great conviction, ‘you are not free not to love, because religions, as a rule, require that.’ Chiara proposes ‘a strong and binding pact of mutual love,’ to all those present. This acts as a spark to set alight a new evangelisation whose first adherents are the leaders of the Bangwa and then the chiefs of other neighbouring tribes. The Fon pledges himself in front of Chiara to live the Gospel spirit of love and unity.