The Vincentian Family is on the move in Africa and Madagascar. In 2009, we were making plans.
What follows is an excerpt from “Collaboration in the Vincentian Family: Needs, Expectations, Models,”
A paper presented by Michael Ngoka, C.M., at the Session for the Leaders and Advisors of the Vincentian Family on Systemic Change, Yaoundé, Cameroun, 19-25 July, 2009. The Family has been growing! Lots has changed. Dear brothers and sisters, read Michael’s reflections that follow, read or download his full address here and tell us your stories of change and growth!
Genuine collaboration is not possible without proper formation. We cannot collaborate with people we do not know well. We need to first understand each other and learn the ropes working together. Formation includes the need for a change of heart; the need to recognize the gifts and talents of others in promoting the reign of God; the need for contact and identifying other members of the Family who work in our locality for a particular purpose, and the need to learn and share each other’s stories. Formation in the Vincentian Family enables us to be open and humble. It enables us to be sensitive to others. It helps us to do it “our” way and not “my” way. It leads us to come to terms with the history of each of the branches and the common strings that bind us together.
In Africa, generally, the founding and establishment of the branches of the Family was done separately. Usually, the CM arrives first and later the DC accompanies them or vice-versa. The SSVP is found in almost every part of Africa and its follower-ship is large, but they have tended to operate in isolation. Because they are into practical charity of disbursing funds, food, drugs, clothing, shelter; indeed the basic human needs, their membership and patronage continue to double. Since most people in Africa live below poverty level and need these basic human needs, the SSVP is therefore the desired group in the church in Africa. It is about the most popular ecclesiastical single group in Africa. The AIC, AMM and the JMV are still “strange” and not popularly known in most part of Africa and Madagascar.
Whereas it would be easy to get the permission of the Bishops in Africa to establish the CM, DC and even much easier, the SSVP; it is still very difficult to establish the AIC, AMM and JMV in most part of Africa. Therefore, except the natural ties that usually exist between the DC and the CM wherever they are, the various branches of the VF have tended to live in isolation for many decades and even centuries in Africa and Madagascar. Formation for collaboration must therefore involve the local bishops and some diocesan parish priests who sometimes (perhaps without proper knowledge) block the spread of most of our family members.
Where the AIC, JMV, AMM, etc, are established in Africa, the list of new members is usually filled up on the first day because most people think that it is another way of making money and finding their economic feet. The number continues to reduce as formation begins and the idea of sacrificing and volunteering comes to the focus. The same also applies to some of the candidates that come to join the CM and the DC. Sound formation is the answer. It is the responsibility of the leaders and advisors of the Vincentian Family to continue to push for formation and animation.
There is also the difficulty of communication among the VF members in Africa. Africa is blessed with so many beautiful languages and accents, but this also creates a difficulty of sharing our stories properly and being understood. An African must first think, understand and speak in English or French or Portuguese about African problem before a solution could be found. We cannot speak African languages and understand each other. We must speak any of the European languages to be heard. Unfortunately, there is a significant percentage of Africans who do not speak or understand any of the European languages and to them we speak through translators. But how nice it would have been if all of us in this hall spoke and understood only one language? It would reduce the pains and cost of communication and make our gathering here easier and of course more fruitful. At a recent international gathering, one participant declared: “I have made many friends here but I cannot keep them due to language limitations”.
Language is not the only problem in communication. The modern world is filled with new technologies and better means of communicating. For example, we now have GSM, e-mail, Internet, text messages, skype, i-pod, youtube, etc. Many of these are still out of reach for most Africans whereas they are taken for granted elsewhere. To come to this gathering, several instructions and information were sent out to all the participants by e-mail, but only a few were able to receive them and responded timely. Internet access is still very much limited in most part of Africa and the regular postal delivery service is near impossible. Modern means of communication are still seen as luxury where as elsewhere they are necessary.
The impact of colonialism on the African continent is of no small measure. Africa lives, moves and operates according to the European colonial divides of the continent. Consciously or unconsciously it emerges or forces itself out in politics, in thought-pattern, in socials and religion including Christianity. The colonial ideologies of the English and the French, the Spaniard and the Portuguese are seemingly the foundation stones in the construction of most African countries. More or less, an African has been educated to think European. Therefore, our leaders and advisors in Africa ought to see how to get over some colonial and geopolitical leanings; and thus see how the Vincentian Family collaboration can truly be rooted or related in an authentic African life, expression and context.
Colonialism is not the only problem in Africa. We are so blessed with the richness and beauty of tribes and cultures, which complement and enrich our vitality. But in this too lies one of our greatest challenges. We are easily distracted by our tribal linings. We are often seduced by the attraction to protect out tribal interests more than we do for the overall interests of the poor. In fact in some cases we are too tribally sensitive. Collaboration cannot thrive in an environment of strong tribal sentiments and divisions. Whereas collaboration should take into consideration our vast cultural and tribal richness, leaders and advisors in Africa need to be sensitive to the feelings and sentiments of everyone by making sure that each person and tribe is as important as the other.
Despite the huge amount of money spent in combating poverty and diseases in Africa and Madagascar, our people are still very poor, uneducated, malnourished, sick, hungry, thirsty, unemployed and oppressed. Infant and maternal mortality rate is still high. Corruption, sit-tight governments, nepotism and the contextualization of unjust systems are still prevalent. Despite the efforts to combat the spread of HIV-AIDS and malaria, their spreads continue at alarming rate. There are new forms of poverty and the number of poor people at our doors increases every day.
All these show that the fight against the evil of poverty cannot be done by a single individual or organization. We need the hands and support of each other to bring about a systemic change in Africa. Collaboration is most urgent in the Vincentian Family if we are to remain relevant in the life of the poor. We cannot do it alone. How often do all the branches of the Family meet in your country? What do you discuss?
Is there any ongoing joint project in your country where every branch plays a significant role? How much of collaboration is going on in your country? A question for the CM and DC: Is it possible to open a mission house within and outside of our countries whose members are not only confreres and/or sisters but also single and married men and women from members of other branches of the Family? Can we develop a Vincentian justice and peace network in our countries and on continental level, so as to mobilize our energies on specific issues and action on behalf of social justice? The poor in Africa desperately need justice. They need strong voices to fight for justice.
Thinking about collaboration for the Vincentian Family in Africa, I am struck by the reality that more than 90% of participants here are sons and daughters of Africa. This is very encouraging. It makes a difference when Africans tell their stories themselves. Our stories are vast, our needs enormous. Yet in the midst of the many troubling political and economic uncertainties in Africa, our hope lies in the power and peace of the gospel of Christ, to heal the hurts and radiate joy to the suffering African communities.
What is happening with the Vincentian Family in Africa? In addition to the reports that come from the Vincentian Family Office, we would love to hear from individual brothers and sisters. Click here to submit material.