'The Virgin in Prayer' by Artist Giovanni Battista Salvi da Sassoferrato via Wikimedia Commons

Mission in Africa: Teaching to Teach

The presence of the priests of the Fraternity of St Charles Borromeo, in Nairobi since 1997: the building of a church, a kindergarten and a new house for African missionaries.
Giuliano Imbasciati

Africa is a complex world, never the same. The countries are all quite different from each other, and there are broad differences within every country.

To be a missionary in Africa means to understand these differences and, successively, to learn to accept them. Often many tribes live in close contact with one another, and the differences between them are much more marked than those between people of different European countries–for example, between an Italian and a German or between a Spaniard and a Frenchman. Often differences of culture and of class live together and, at first glance, offend the eyes and seem scandalous.

When the Fraternity of St Charles reached Nairobi (Kenya), the first thing it had to do was to understand all the differences present and learn to live with them.

Kahawa Sukari is the zone of Nairobi where the priests of the Fraternity live. It is a vast piece of land reclaimed from the Savanna and which is now a residential area for about 20,000 people. Part of this population are state employees, who are quite well off; another part is made up of poor people who inhabit a series of slums which were built little by little over the past few years. In the Swahili language, which is very blunt, the place is called Matopeni, “the muddy area,” because of the mire that surrounds everything, from wood to stone, during the rainy season.

From Wood to Stone
At the center of this zone is the parish dedicated to St Joseph, entrusted since 1997 to the Fraternity of St Charles. When they arrived, Fr Alfonso Poppi, Fr Valerio Valeri and Fr Roberto Amoruso found only a small chapel, made of wood and roofed with corrugated iron, built by some generous parishioners. Today, there is a stone church with a high bell tower that dominates the whole zone. This new building can accommodate more than 1,000 people. The parish community, which shares the area with more than a dozen other Christian confessions, is divided into fourteen small groups. Each of these meets once a week to pray together and study the catechism. The bonds of friendship born within these small communities are a great help in living the Church as a family. On Sunday, the Sunday School collects together over 200 children. Some of the parents get them involved in singing and creative activities on the theme of the Sunday Liturgy. The basement of the new church is the operative center for social project activities, which since the year 2000 has been trying to answer the more serious social needs of the inhabitants of the area: young people with little schooling and no jobs, women abandoned by their husbands and with a flock of children to rear, AIDS patients. What often dominates is a lack of meaning with which to tackle these difficult situations. So education is the keyword.

The first thing the population asked the three priests sent to Kahawa by Fr Massimo Camisasca was to build a kindergarten. This school, dedicated to the memory of Emanuela Mazzola, an architecture student from Bresso, near Milan, who died young, this year begins its fourth year of activity. It is well known throughout Kenya for its particular educative method. Fr Alfonso tells us, “At the last parents’ meeting, a Protestant lady confessed to having spied from her window for months on the work of the teachers during the games in the yard. ‘I have to admit that I sent my daughter to this school because I had never seen such delicacy before!’ Others told us how surprised they were that their children want to go to school even when they are ill.”

All this was possible thanks to the precious work of Simona, a teacher from the “Carovana,” a school in Modena (Italy), who has gone to Kahawa several times for periods of training. The most exacting work over the past three years has been the education of the teachers. “Making them realize the total and objective acceptance that every child deserves has borne fruit in their personal lives and in many sectors of parish life,” Fr Alfonso tells us. “The novelty that happened in their lives can now go on, thanks to the School of Community in which all the teachers eventually became freely involved.”

... and a future school
So the secret of the kindergarten of Kahawa Sukari is to educate, to welcome the one in front of you in a greater friendship.

The most recent fruit of the presence in Kahawa Sukari is the birth of a group of parents who wanted to establish a foundation to work in the education sector. What the parishioners want is to build a primary school. They are studying the feasibility of buying and running a primary school in the area. Even in the Kenyan universities, they are teaching an integrated pedagogical method, but in reality the value of a child is determined exclusively by his scholastic results.

Fr Alfonso goes on, “After a series of seminars on The Risk of Education, these friends asked us to begin the School of Community. The first project is what they themselves called ‘project zero’: you cannot educate unless you yourself are educated. These people, despite their mature years, are like children for us, born unexpectedly and accepted joyfully. The name ‘Friendship Foundation’ is emblematic: the friendship that was born amongst them is the reflection of the friendship lived in the house of the St Charles Fraternity and that of the Memores Domini, also present in Nairobi.”

The Fraternity of St Charles will open their new house for missionaries at Kahawa in September. There, they will be able to accommodate young men who want to take the road to the priesthood.

New Deacons and Priests
This past June 19th, in the Basilica of St Mary Major in Rome, Cardinal Giacomo Biffi ordained five young priests for the Fraternity of St Charles Borromeo: Andrea Barbero (appointed to Prague), Massimiliano Boiardi (collaborator of the Secretary General of the Fraternity), Giuliano Imbasciati (appointed to Nairobi), Emanuele Luisi (appointed to the new House in Frosinone, Italy), and Emmanuele Silanos (Secretary to the Superior General).

During the same celebration, eight new deacons were also ordained. They are: Agapitus Angii, the first African member to be ordained, appointed to Kahawa Sukari, Nairobi; Gabriele Azzalin, appointed to Novosibirsk (Siberia); Alessandro Caprioli, who will go to study the Hungarian language in Budapest; Raffaele Cossa, appointed to work in the Parish of Santa Giulia in Turin; Ettore Ferrario, appointed to Asunción (Paraguay); Matteo Invernizzi, Assistant Rector in the Formation House in Rome; Luis Miguel Hernández, appointed to Alverca (Lisbon); and Jacques du Plouy, who will return to Montréal (Canada).

From the Homily of Cardinal Giacomo Biffi
“God is greater than our heart” (1Jn 3:20), which before the evil that triumphs and the overflowing insipience of men is often discouraged and at times even feels its faith in the cause of the Gospel shaking.

God revives us by showing that He is always able to work His marvels, like the undoubted one of raising up Christians still able to dedicate their only lives to the close following of the Lord Jesus.…

Today, God is calling each one of you personally so that you become collaborators in this encounter. Today, He takes you up full time to work untiringly to bring men to their only Savior. Today, He takes you so that you become effective instruments of Christ’s presence amongst your brothers. However, at the center of the initiative of love by which men are saved stands the Cross. “The Son of Man must suffer much” (Lk 9:22), we heard in the Gospel. If this is the way traveled by the Redeemer, then the same road is assigned to His followers: “If someone wants to come after me, let him take up his cross and follow me” (Lk 9:23).… There will be no need for you to go looking for the crosses; be content with those that sooner or later will come along to mark your daily solicitude. But you must not be afraid. The whole Church will be with you always, as it is with you this evening, with its motherly affection. This evening, the Church is with you in the moved attention of those who surround you; it is with you in the consecratory prayer of the bishop; it is with you in the intercession of the saints. With you is the Virgin Mary, who keeps you company and guides you in your irrevocable choice. This evening, the Mother of God gives you the essential program of your priesthood, pointing to the Lord Jesus and repeating to you the words she pronounced at Cana in Galilee, “Always do what He will tell you” (cf. Jn 2:5).