“For Fontem, 2018 was a difficult year,” explains Margaret Long, “because the conflict that is still ongoing in the northwest and southwest regions of the country shows no signs of calming. Many residents have been forced to leave their houses and take shelter in the forest or in nearby cities. The college has been closed for some time, and the hospital is running on a skeleton staff.
“Ever since we focolarini left Fontem last October – a difficult decision, but taken together, we were certain it was the right thing to do – many others left as well, especially families who wanted to give their own children the chance to go to school, which was no longer possible in the little town.
“Unfortunately we can’t say when life will be able to get back to the way it was. We are in daily contact with those who have stayed: Aracelis Nkeza and Mbe Tasong Charles are carrying on the life of the Focolare community there.
“As far as the hospital is concerned,” continues Etienne Kenfack, “the current level of danger does not allow us to guarantee the security and protection of those who work there. We therefore turned to the health authorities to try to understand how to proceed.
“Based on their advice, we communicated the situation with employees and concluded our working relationship according to the legal norms there in Cameroon. Those who chose to continue working did so freely under their own personal responsibility. This is why the hospital continues to maintain a minimal level of service for the population.”
To the question of what the future holds for the little town, Margaret responds that everyone greatly hopes that people can begin again and life can return to normal.
“The closeness of many people around the world who are praying or write to us gives us a lot of strength.”
Doubts may arise as to whether the conflict, other than destroying human lives, material goods and even dreams, is compromising Fontem’s mission as Chiara Lubich saw it — to be a beacon of unity and intercultural dialogue for the African continent.
Etienne explains that since the early 1960s Chiara compared the little town to a light that originated from the reciprocal love lived by everyone. “Today, 50 years later, it seems that this love and solidarity between everyone has grown. You could even say that the more precarious and dangerous the situation becomes, the more it increases.”
Margaret adds that many things have changed in Africa since the beginnings. “In those days the spirituality of unity had only reached Fontem, while today it is in every country on the continent. There is the little town of Man (Mariapolis Vittoria) on the Ivory Coast, which gives witness to intercultural dialogue, and there is also Mariapolis Piero in Kenya, which is a training center for all of Africa in the spirituality of unity. In addition, many focolarini who were at Fontem have now gone to support other focolares on the continent.
Despite continual challenges, the uncertainties of each day, and not knowing how it will all end, we are sure that God’s plan for Fontem has not been interrupted. As Pope Francis says, we are only at the beginning, and the Holy Spirit, who renews all things, will surely also remake Fontem.