43 years have passed since Father Alejandro Canales, a Spanish Comboni missionary, arrived in Chad. But the desire to continue is still very strong. “We bear witness only if we are communities and not single individuals”.
The first group of Comboni missionaries arrived in Chad in 1977. In September 1978 I arrived with all the enthusiasm of my 30 years. My first destination was Doba, in the south of the country. Together with my three fellow Comboni missionaries, we lived a precious experience of communion. We shared the mission territory and began to know, listen, welcome and learn. Little by little, we got closer to the people and started making progress.
In 1979 the first civil war broke out. The rebel factions led by Hissène Habré conquered the capital, with the resulting collapse of all the institutions of the state. Armed groups, many from segments of the northern rebellion, began to compete for power. As missionaries, we were surprised by events. There were only 10 of us missionaries located in 3 communities. We met to see what to do. From there our life and work plan began. We shared our thoughts together and concluded that we had come to be with the people and had to stay with them despite an uncertain and dangerous future.
That uncertain situation, unfortunately, continues to this day marked by the killing of President Idriss Deby – in his sixth consecutive term – on 16 April last year, followed by the takeover by the military and the repression of popular protests. Meanwhile, clashes between the army and the militias of the Islamic fundamentalist movement Boko Haram continue on the border with Nigeria and other rebel formations are active on the border with Libya.
After Doba, I worked in other missions: for a short time in Moïssala; then in Deressia and Dono-Manga, in the diocese of Laï, also in southern Chad. Leaving one place to go to another is always a wrench and often leads to tears. Nevertheless, it also helps us discover that we are not alone, but that there is a Church that does mission with us. We are mere servants who serve with respect, affection and without attachment.
Each place, each period presented me with new challenges such as work in the fields of Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation, the family and dialogue with members of the African Traction Religion. Continuous work in the field of reconciliation. I consider it essential to be supported by the community, that small group of three or four missionaries who live together and who reflect and decide in the light of the Spirit how to do things so that they have depth and meaning. Taking care of interpersonal relationships in the community is very important; it helps to overcome difficulties. We can give witness only if we are communities and not single individuals.
In these 43 years, I have seen the Church in Chad grow. At first, we were all European missionaries. Then others came from Latin America and Asia, and over the past 30 years the number of Africans, including Chadians themselves, has greatly. Christian communities, dioceses and new parishes have also grown, and this is something wonderful.
My missionary life was turned upside down when in 2018 my provincial superior asked me to go to the novitiate in Sarh as a formator. I was taken by surprise, so I asked him for a couple of days to pray and discern, but I finally accepted, and here I am. We are accompanying 17 novices from Benin, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic, Chad and Togo. The novitiate is an important stage of discernment where one meets oneself and the Lord; where everyone, with the help of the Holy Spirit and the assistance placed at his service by the congregation, can freely choose to be a missionary disciple.
With my 74 years, it is very nice to learn from the enthusiasm and generosity of these young people. I receive a lot from them. My role is to accompany them with discretion. They will be missionaries “like mountain guides”. One day a Togolese confrere told me: “We are very happy that you are here with us as you are one of the first Comboni missionaries to come to Chad”. Words like these help me to carry out my service with greater dedication.
I often tell young people how the world that awaits them will be different from the one they have known up to now. Africa is changing and becoming more complicated and will not always be humanity’s spiritual reserve Here, too, materialism and all the other “isms” are creeping in and putting the Christian faith and way of life in check. Everything is starting to be questioned and they will have to be ready to reply. This is why I insist on the fact that they must get used to always putting themselves in the presence of the Lord, to learn to be contemplatives in the missionary life because this is what will sustain them in future.