Yaoundé, Cameroon. Wikimedia Commons

Bali, Pascal, Mirelle… A Daily Miracle

February 13-14, 2004, in Yaoundé: fifty of us got together. “The step we have to take now is to begin seeing ourselves as fathers and mothers to each other.”
Ambrogio Amati

In Cameroon, too, CL is something unexpected, something that reaches you from outside and provokes you; something you would never want to stop getting to know better. In 2005, we will celebrate the 15th anniversary of our Presence here.

The Movement has spread here most of all in the capital Yaoundé (the French-speaking area), where Fr Maurizio Bezzi and Fr Marco Pagani, missionaries of the Milan Missionary Institute (PIME) are working, and in Kumbo (in the English-speaking area), where the Capuchin priests, Fr Giuseppe Panzeri and Fr Luca Piantanida, are working.

From Friday the 13th to Sunday the 15th of February, the Annual Spiritual Exercises of the Fraternity were held in Yaoundé. Fifty people from all over the country gathered at the Convent of the Discalced Carmelites, near the Catholic University of Central Africa, along with Fr Antonio Gamba, from the Studium Christi Fraternity in Milan, and some Italian friends of his. The theme of the Retreat was the re-proposal of the Spiritual Exercises held in Rimini in May 2003: “Event of Freedom.”

Acknowledgment of Unity
The atmosphere as we began was one of bewilderment and tiredness (some of us had been traveling since 3 am so as to reach the place at 8 pm), but this soon gave way to joy and to the miracle of acknowledging our unity once more. The nature of CL in Cameroon is the same as that lived and encountered in Italy and in the rest of the world: the same need for fullness and for meaning that constitutes every man and therefore demands to be met, acknowledged and embraced.

For Antonio, Maurizio, Giuseppe and Luca, these are days of simple sharing, of intense fraternity, before each one goes back to his own duties (and Marco will shortly return to join Maurizio after a period of absence). We are able to love because we are loved.

It is a life made up of encounters and faces, like that of Bali Désiré, whose story, reported in Traces in March 2003 and taken up by Fr Carrón at the 2003 Retreat, is already well-known: a life on the street, in and out of prison, in bleakest despair; then, a face, a friendly smile, an outstretched hand that grasps his, which finally opens up and lets itself be loved. This is an experience common to many at the Edimar Center at the Central Station of Yaoundé. It’s a miracle that has become the norm, of full and possible happiness, now. Now Bali works with ten other educators in the Center and welcomes other enfants de la route (street children) as they arrive. “They come in droves,” says Fr Maurizio, “but there’s a shower and a smile for them all; and the chance to start again,” like for that boy from the north, who ran away from his father who would chain him up to the bed to make him learn the Koran. There is an intensity of affections and needs, the evidence that something powerful and unexpected is at work there.

No Discussions
Apart from the educators, there are volunteers working in the Center who teach French to prepare the boys following school courses for their leaving certificate. “This year, the first two will get their certificates. It’s been a success,” Mirelle says–a joy. All this in the contradictory setting of this African country, despite the fragile energies of these people who have given birth to this daily miracle.

The testimonies at the Retreat are striking. The change is already at work. Mirelle is there with her husband. The time she spent in Italy last year has changed her. “The step we have to take now is to begin seeing ourselves as fathers and mothers to each other.” Richard, who has joined the Fraternity of St Joseph, is a farmer. His face radiates joy and decision in following the path he has chosen. He is a rock. Bali has now found in the Movement the family he has been seeking for too long. Pascal, a Spanish literature teacher, is revolutionizing the school where he teaches. Living in search of a “patron” and for “protection,” at times in exchange for sexual favors, is being replaced by the experience of gratuitousness.

Maurizio tells us, “All kinds of people from various religious movements come to work with us as volunteers.” We don’t get involved in discussions. In this regard, we note the reception given by the Italian Ambassador, Faustino Troni on Sunday, February 15th for the Italian missionaries in Cameroon, with some embassy personnel belonging to the Focolare Movement. Another example is the friendship and esteem shown by the new Apostolic Nuncio in Cameroon, Archbishop Antonio Eliseo Ariotti.
A particular testimony is given by an Italian couple belonging to the Neocatechumenal Movement, Francesco and Francesca, who, in the spirit of their movement, left everything to come to Yaoundé with their four children, even without a job at first, to witness that it is possible to live the marriage vocation in those conditions.

Fr Maurizio says, “The challenge now is to live the Movement in the difficult environments of work and school.” One thing is clear to everyone: nothing is as it was before.