Testimonies by living witnesses of the local Church in Africa:
Stephen Kilama, a former child soldier, today deacon (waiting for being ordained a priest)
Stephen Kilama was just 16 when, on 11 May 2003, the rebels of the Lord’s Resistance Army raided the minor seminary in the archdiocese of Gulu in northern Uganda and abducted him along with 40 other seminarians. They dragged the youngsters off into the bush, to train them there as child soldiers. But he at least had some luck in the midst of this misfortune, because things never reached the point where he himself was actually forced to kill. 12 of the young men are still missing today. Stephen was one of the lucky ones, for after a few weeks he was able to escape this hell. Today he is deacon and is waiting for his priestly ordination.
Quotation by Stephen:
"My faith has grown. I saw things that I thought I could never have beared to see. It would have been impossible, by human power alone, to have escaped all that. But God can work miracles. I was left with literally nothing but prayer. This was my only hope. But we could not pray together, and so I prayed alone. On each of the long treks on foot I prayed the Rosary, counting on my fingers, since I did not have any rosary beads. Prayer was all I had. There may be people who have not experienced God, but I experienced him".
Diocese of Maroua-Mokolo which is affected by Boko Haram: Bishop Bruno Ateba Edo
We want to pray! Especially prayer in community is a sign of hope. We trust in prayer. We pray because we need peace. And, despite the attacks, we will not stop gathering and asking God for this peace together!
Apostolic Vicariate of Gambella (extremely poor and underdeveloped area of primary evangelisation)
The not yet evangelized people in the villages say: "When the Catholic Church comes, everything becomes fertile. Where the Church is, there is water. The government gives us bad water, but the Church brings good water. We love your God, please come to us, too!”
Central African Republic
Fr. Aurelio Gazzera, parish priest of St. Michel, Bozoum
- "If I can give some food to someone who is hungry, then that is already something. But if I can give him the true Food, namely Christ, then I am giving him everything."
- "Even if they kill me, I will not die".
- Father Aurelio went out many times, unarmed, to meet the heavily armed bandits and succeeded in persuading them to leave the people in peace. Quotation: "My only weapon was prayer.“
RECONCILIATION with Muslims:
In his efforts to bring peace, Fr. Aurelio was slapped in the face by the rebels, and his car was shot up, and on one occasion an overheated Muslim mob very nearly lynched him. While stones rained down on his car and furious individuals threatened him with guns, Father Aurelio quietly prayed the Rosary.
Immediately after this incident, he set out, together with a handful of volunteers from the parish, to bring water, rice and medicines – provided at his own expense – to the Muslims, who had retreated together in a dense crowd for safety, for fear of reprisals. But above all he wanted to bring them consolation, as he said later, adding, "They were the same people who had threatened me and smashed the windows of my car with stones. But now they were nothing but frightened children, women and men, who were also in need."
He even succeeed in persuading the people of his parish get involved in active deeds of charity towards the Muslims. Initially, he ventured only cautiously to ask the people to bring money and food to the church in order to help the Muslims. "I did not press this point too hard, because I know that the wounds are still very much open. Many people have lost family members, others had relatives who were tortured; some were robbed, and all of them were forced to spend weeks far away from home – and all this because of the overwhelmingly Muslim Seleka rebels and some local Muslims." But in the end Father Aurelio was overwhelmed by their generosity. "Normally, with the collection for the poor which we hold once a month, the people give a little bit of food for the orphans and a little bit of money, between 15 and 20 Euros. But that Sunday my Christians really touched me. They brought a great quantity of foodstuffs with them and contributed more than 70 Euros!" That is a lot of money in such a bitterly poor country. And he adds, visibly moved, "The people were willing to give much more for their enemies of yesterday than they normally give for their own brothers and sisters, the poor people of the parish."
"As priest and missionary, what can I do in this situation? What can the Church do? We can do so much, really so much! It is now more necessary than ever to rebuild the hearts and the conscience of the people. Houses were destroyed, hundreds of thousands of people have fled, the destitution is inconceivable. However, the most important work is to comfort, to encourage and to promote awareness of the mistakes, the evil and the sin."
"This type of crisis is an appeal that affects us deeply and that encourages us to follow the example set by Jesus, His Gospel and His life more closely. He is the one who gives strength and courage. He opens up the paths of light and hope."
Beautiful Thank you for construction aid (restoration and enlargement of the parish church in Bozoum 40.000 Euro):
"Our church is finished, and it looks beautiful! We want to thank everyone who has contributed to this marvellous event! Every little gesture of generosity, however large or small, and whether by our benefactors abroad or our own Catholic faithful here in Bozoum, is now a part of this house of God for ever.
We were only able to complete this work thanks to the help of so many kind people all over the world. These months during which we worked on the building were a beautiful time, but it was still more beautiful, on the day of the consecration, to witness the joy and pride of the faithful in their beautiful new church. We wanted this to be a beautiful church, because beauty speaks of God. We thank God, and all our benefactors!"
Fr. Guy-Charly Mamoundayen, parish priest of Saint Michel in Bangui
"It was a very lively, dynamic parish. Nine hundred parishioners, we had seven prayer groups, kindergarten, primary school, college. Muslims also attended our school. There was no distinction of religion; there was harmony.
One day, I left for a meeting, and thirty minutes later, next to the church some Muslims began to kill. They grabbed everything; they killed a lot of people. Our catechist, his wife and children were slaughtered. Murderers knew them from before. Then, they returned. This time to burn houses. To burn the school, that had formed them. To burn the church. To burn all what have remained there.
We lost everything. But we did not lose Christ. The wooden cross was burnt but the tabernacle was not touched by the fire. Christ has been preserved. And for me, this is the great miracle that took place. It is the center of my life, of my faith.
This is our hope. I thank the Lord and I believe that a day will come when everything will be rebuilt."
Sister Mary Colum Tarawali MC, Clarissan Missionary Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, Lunsar
"When I was a child sister Mary Colum was the first person that has come to our house. She named me after her. After that time I used to call myself "sister". Even in the house, they use to call me a “sister”.
I like the sacrifice that the sisters do. They sacrifice themselves a lot for the people. They work at schools, with different people, with the children, the sick people. I said: I want to become a sister.
Aaaa, the prayer life! Although it was not easy. I did not just accept it like that. At the beginning it was very difficult for me. Because the charism of the sisters is based on Jesus Christ in Blessed Sacrament. They do adoration every day. We go to the chapel, we kneel down in front of the Blessed Sacrament. Sometimes we don’t know what we are doing. Just staying in front of the Blessed Sacrament, looking, when you are tired you sit down. But later I come to like that.
And now I feel blessed, yes, that God really called me to be a sister. I am not regretting it at all.
When the sisters came to this part of the country, at that time, in 1960, the girls were not allowed to go to school. They said: school is for men, not for girls. The sisters were so upset. They said: no, it’s not possible. What will be the future of this place if the girls or women are not allowed to go to school or they are not allowed to learn something on their own, that would benefit them tomorrow? So the sisters tried. It was not easy for them. They walked from house to house, they talked to the parents. That It is very important, we want that your children will go to school, you will see the benefit, this place will develop.
In Sierra Leone mostly we work in schools, all for girls and women. In all the schools are more than 3 thousand girls. In vocational school the women learn different things. They learn sawing, to make cloths, they do cosmetology, business, administration, they have computer classes and they do also catering, they learn how to cook, prepare different type of dishes. We work in the parish, we give catechesis, we have a retreat house, we have a clinic, we have also outstations where we use to go. The local vocations are growing in our congregation. We need a help of the Universal Church to help the people here in Sierra Leone. We really need your help."
Testimony of Sylvie, who converted from Islam to Christianity. Today she is a catechist of adults and mother of a family
"I was born into a Muslim family; both my mother and father were very devout Muslims.I was educated in the faith of Islam, which was also the foundation of our family. I was an active member of the Association of Muslim pupils in our secondary school.
When I was old enough to marry I wanted to get married to a young Christian. I immediately encountered the fierce opposition of my father. His Muslim faith made it impossible for him to accept his daughter marrying a non-Muslim. My mother was more understanding. She could even see certain qualities in the Christians, such as charity, compassion, the absence of any malicious intention. In the face of my insistence, my father finally gave way. I went to live with this young Christian man, who unfortunately did not see the need to celebrate the sacrament of marriage immediately. In our life together I continued to follow my Muslim faith. I had a Christian neighbour, Rebecca, with whom I got on very well. Every Sunday she invited me to come to Mass and I didn’t see any reason not to respond to this invitation. During the ceremony in the church I was generally speaking somewhat inattentive and indifferent. Nonetheless, I was attracted by the cross that stood next to the altar. I had many questions in my heart about this – Is it really possible that men can be so cruel to the point of torturing and nailing a man on a wooden cross like this? Who was this man? Then the day came when I no longer felt like responding to Rebecca’s invitation.
One night I had a dream. Rebecca came to me and said, « Come with me, let’s go to the house of God ». I followed her. We came to an empty space, all lit up, in the middle of which there was a little house. When I entered this little house I found a man there, stretched out on a cross, bleeding and in agony. Then I woke up, quite overcome by this vision. For me there was no doubt that it was Jesus. But then after a little while I began to doubt and wondered, was it not all perhaps an illusion? And so I prayed, for the very first time, with my heart. « If it really is you, Jesus, who I saw like that, then I ask you to give me another sign in confirmation. »
A week after that I had another dream. I saw in front of me a woman, radiant and very beautiful. I knew in my heart that it was the Mother of Jesus, the one they call Mary. I rushed towards her and knelt in front of her to touch her feet. She was barefoot. Then I woke up again. And so I knew that everything they said about Jesus and his Mother was true. I began to believe. From that moment onwards I felt an irresistible desire to go to Mass. Then I wanted to be baptised. I signed up for religious instruction and followed it for three years. But when the moment came to be baptised, the priest told me that he couldn’t do so unless my marriage was celebrated sacramentally. My frustration was all the greater because the young Christian man with whom I was living refused to do so for the time being. That was a cause of great suffering for me, and little by little I began to resign myself and lose my enthusiasm. But then, seven or eight months after this, I had the same dream as I had had five years earlier. I saw the same lady, radiant and very beautiful. I rushed towards her to touch her bare feet with my hands. When I woke up I was troubled by the fact that this was the second time I had had this dream. I explained everything to a Christian friend, who told me that it was undoubtedly a reminder by the Mother of Jesus. And so I found the strength to say to the man I was living with, « If you don’t agree to our celebrating the sacrament of marriage so that I can be baptised, I will leave you. » He realised then that I meant what I was saying. We were able to celebrate our marriage and I was able to be baptised at the same time as our two children.
Today I am someone filled with joy at knowing Jesus. In my heart there is a great sense of peace, despite the trials and difficulties of life. I know that he is the truth. He makes me happy, even in my professional work as a nurse. I’ve learned to see him in the face of the sick people I care for.
I have known great trials in my life, but Christ has been my support. I have great confidence in him. After my baptism I experienced great persecution from within my own family. I met with, and I still meet with scorn, calumny and rejection from those around me. My brothers have broken off all relations with me. I understand them and I forgive them. One day I said to my father, « I am a Christian; you can accept it or not, it will not change anything in my decision about my life. But I still have the same love and the same respect for you. » I added, « I am the first baptised convert in our family, and nothing will ever change that back again. » He was very angry.
The years have gone by. Today we still exchange a few words when I visit my family for the weekend. I even read to him and explain the Sunday Gospel to him.
I am very often led to discuss my faith with Muslims. I feel this is like a mission for me today. Many of them say to me, « I know that the Catholic faith is the true one and the best one, but I am trapped in a family system and I cannot change my religion. »
Bishop Oliver Dashe Doeme of Maiduguri
The diocese of Maiduguri is in one of the areas most hard-hit by the violence of the terrorist group Boko Haram. Since 2009 no fewer than 100,000 people in the diocese have been forced from their homes by the violence and over 5,000 Catholics have been murdered, while numerous churches, schools and hospitals have been destroyed.
Around the end of 2014 Bishop Oliver Dashe Doeme had a moving mystical experience. As he was praying the Rosary before the Blessed Sacrament in his chapel, he had a vision of Jesus, who did not speak but appeared to offer him a sword. He reached out to take it, and at the very moment when he grasped hold of it, it turned into a Rosary. Then Jesus repeated three times: "Boko Haram has disappeared". Recalling the experience afterwards, Bishop Dashe Doeme said, "It was clear to me that with the Rosary we could defeat Boko Haram." At first he was reluctant to tell anyone about his experience, but then he felt impelled to do so by the Holy Spirit. He spoke about it first of all to the priests of his diocese.
A few months later the situation did in fact improve. In the spring of 2015 a military unit of the Nigerian army, together with troops from Chad and Cameroon, succeeded in driving Boko Haram out of some of the towns and villages they had seized. Afterwards, some of the refugees were able to return to their homes.
Some killed witnesses of faith with close link to ACN
25th anniversary of killed catechists and their families (ACN helped to construct a chapel there in 2009)
The village of Nyapapa belongs to the parish of Guiua (Inhambane diocese). On 22 March 1992 during the civil war some 23 people were murdered here in bestial fashion. A group of catechists had been invited by the local priest to an ongoing training session in the pastoral centre. The course was to have lasted one year, and so the catechists had brought their families too. They came long distances; many had to travel 250 miles (400 km). It was a dangerous journey, for the civil war was still raging that had brought 16 years of immeasurable suffering to Mozambique and which was to end finally just a few months later. But their desire to serve the Church and their fellow people in this country was stronger than their fear and so the catechists set out with their wives and children. The first evening after their arrival they celebrated a joyful feast, for they had finally reached their destination. Their relief was great, but short lived, for that same night they were ambushed by a horde of rebels. Among these there were also child soldiers, urged on with alcohol and drugs and turned into pliable instruments trained to kill. An orgy of violence began. Two catechists were shot dead immediately.
Only shortly before, Sister Therese Balela of the Franciscan Sisters of Mary had plaited the hair of the little girls and then gone into the house, when the rebels arrived. Without thinking of herself, she tried to bring her fellow sisters to safety by barricading them into a room. Then she ran into the chapel to rescue the Most Blessed Sacrament. One of the attackers saw her through the window and shot at her; however the bullet missed the courageous nun.
The rebels began their grisly work outside, eventually separating the children from the adults. Some of the people were tortured. When the adults realised that they were going to die, they asked the soldiers to allow them to pray. At this they were murdered with knives and axes. Even little children were butchered bestially. Some of them survived, despite their terrible injuries but in all, 10 children and 13 adults were murdered. Many more would undoubtedly have died had the priest not succeeded in informing the bishop who called the army for help. Surprised by the government troops, the rebels fled, their bloody work unfinished. Otherwise there would most likely have been no survivors at all.
Today there is still a memorial behind the pastoral center, next to the graves of these martyrs. On a cross in front of their graves are inscribed the names of all the victims. The graves are simple, with a green wooden cross on each, bearing the name of the victim. Behind it a small thatched chapel has been built. Each month, on the 22nd of the month, Catholics from the entire region gather here and commemorate the dead with a Holy Mass. Likewise, each year in this special place, the catechists who have completed their training in the pastoral centre make their solemn promise, in the presence of the bishop, to serve the Church. The catechists who suffered martyrdom here are an example for them.
Arua: Sister Paula of Our Lady of Sorrows
In the garden of the Sisters of Perpetual Adoration of the Most Holy Trinity, not far from Arua, there is the grave of Sister Paula of Our Lady of Sorrows, who was shot dead by a soldier in 1980. She was just 31 years old and she died on a Friday at 3 p.m., just like Jesus whom she sought to imitate.
(ACN helped the sisters to construct the formation house and to establish a self-reliance poultry project)
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