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Marist Bulletin - Number 170

 

Brother Paul-André Lavoie
26.11.2004

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Each week a jury formed from representatives of the editorial staffs of Le Soleil and of Radio-Canada choose a person who has contributed greatly to society and dedicate a page in the magazine to this person. On the 10th October 2004, Le Soleil reserved a page for Brother Paul-André Lavoie - Missionary for a day, Missionary for always. We talked to him about his life.


Brother Paul-André, you are a Marist Brother. How did your vocation begin?
I was born in a Christian family and the good example of my parents helped me a great deal in the choice of my vocation.
I went to a Marist Brothers school. Their devotion, their way of treating young people, their competence as educators and the way in which they spoke to us about the Blessed Virgin impressed me greatly. Despite the small hits I received on my fingers from a ruler, I felt called to follow them and I said yes, without thinking twice. This was a definitive yes that was a great surprise to my mother. The determining factor for me was the witness of the brothers.

Is it true that when you told your mother that you wanted to be a Marist Brother, she told you Before thinking of being a Marist Brother, you are going to start first of all by obeying your mother!?
That is indeed true. My mother was a woman who was both loving and authoritative. The Director of the Marists had to come to the house to convince my mother that I was serious.

Many years have passed since your first choice. On looking back, what do you feel?
I have always nurtured a deep admiration for my religious family and I have never been embarrassed to say so and to let those around me know this. I owe this family everything, as it was they who made me who I am. I have had the good fortune of visiting several countries where the brothers work and I have returned enthused and amazed. Everywhere was the same family spirit, welcoming, simple, devoted, zeal for the teaching and Christian education of the young.
Several times, people have asked me: Why arent you a priest? I would answer with a hint of humour: Could God have been mistaken by calling me to the Marist Brothers? Sixty years of happiness… in the choice that I have never regretted. That does not mean that there have not been difficult or touchy moments. Life does not go along smoothly all the time in radiant sunshine! But, here again, as Joan of Arc said: God has made this way for me. The secret is to go forward despite the storms and the clouds, for, I have often realised: Every cloud has a silver lining. Every day, at Mass, during the consecration, I ask God that I may be able to follow him today under the benevolent protection of Marcellin Champagnat.

You were born at Baie-Saint-Paul in Quebec, but, if we look at your information sheet, havent you mainly lived outside of Canada?
I was twenty-nine years old when I left for Makoua, in the Congo, a French-speaking mission that had been founded by the Province of Lévis. Our small team of brothers worked very hard to found the Collège Champagnat. There were plenty of difficulties. At Congo Brazza, my first mission, there was never any lack of projects. But, one day, the communists took control and everything was turned over. They took control of the college and the missionary teachers could only do as the bishop did: leave. In such circumstances, the Gospel teaches us to go elsewhere! You sow, you are servants… All of our team had given witness to their faith and done their best in founding this Collège Champagnat. The work we had started passed into other hands. You do not need to take offence. Gods views are Gods and they are unfathomable!

And after this first experience?
This was the exodus to Cameroon where Archbishop Jean Zoa, Archbishop of Yaoundé, received us with open arms! I was posted with Brothers André Côté, Charles Tardiff and Firmin Aubut. We rolled up our sleeves and started work in clearing the large piece of land in the equatorial forest. I was the first to give the example, armed with a machete. I worked with students who found this work extremely arduous and they would say to me: We will never see this college! And I would respond: If you do not see it, your children will see it one day and benefit from it! Lately, I returned to Cameroon to celebrate the forty-year anniversary of Collège Stoll with the local population. And the former students from this time were very proud to remind me of this old memory!
I believe I gave my best in Cameroon both in Collège Stoll and in Collège Bullier.

You founded a movement in Cameroon. What was this about?
I wanted to share my faith with the young people of Cameroon through the movement Youth of the World, which I founded in 1972. This foundation was something extraordinary, for it was an ambitious project. This movement, throughout its existence, has brought together several thousands of young people, boys and girls. I would say to them during a meeting: If I have come here, with you, to witness to my faith, why wouldnt you be capable of doing the same thing? In a few years, you will have children, and you will have to share your faith… Why not start this evangelisation amongst yourselves? I was present during the 25th anniversary of the foundation. And my great consolation was to note that hundreds of vocations to the priesthood, religious life and committed laity came from these groups of Youth of the World.

In 1990 you returned to Quebec, but only for two years, for in 1992 you went to Kenya. Was this due to homesickness for Africa?
In 1990, I promoted missionary work in the schools and colleges of Quebec and, in 1992, I left for Kenya, to MIC. I spent four beautiful years in this truly international Marist environment. I took charge of the library, and then I was asked to be Superior of the community of about fifteen brothers who were formators who had come from different countries. This was a happy experience because my confreres were very charitable in bearing with my English that was a bit peculiar but slowly progressing…I thank sincerely Brother Luis Sobrado, Rector, for having always encouraged me, and Brother Eugène Kabanguka, his successor.
I left Kenya for France with a happy heart.

After so many years working in the missions, France must have been a good opportunity to have a rest.
I spent four years in Paris. A change of continent and a change of scenery: the community at rue Dareau welcomed me and gave me the chance to participate in missionary animation. An association had just been founded called DIAM for Délégués des Instituts en Animation Missionnaire (Delegates of Institutes in Missionary Animation). I was invited into this movement to animate the Mission in parishes with different existing groups of young people and older ones. It was a marvellous experience. In May and June, we had groups from 8000 to 12000 young people who came to Lisieux. We met with them in different places in the city to speak to them about mission and how our missionary life had influenced us. It was a great joy for me to participate in this activity. Every time I have asked a favour from Saint Therese, it has been granted to me, even when the circumstances have been extremely difficult. I have always had great confidence in her. I love her simplicity, her confidence in God, her way of thinking of God as a Father who loves us tenderly and who is always close to us. Here I would have so much to say!

After the time in Paris, there was the return to Canada. This was a physical return because your spirit and heart are always with those in need.
On my return to Canada, I discovered that CSI was working in accord with the universal mission of the Church. I thought that I could offer some service by participating in this work.
The forty years that I lived abroad were full of experiences, of discoveries, of contacts and gave me the chance to give witness to my faith and my enthusiasm for life. I was offered the position of Director General of Collaboration Santé Internationale (Working Together Internationally for Health). I willingly accepted this challenge because I think it is always necessary to dare to undertake thinks, to show courage in everything and not to wait until you have all the requirements you think are necessary… to act. Its necessary to count on God, on Champagnat, and to feel at ease because the Lord is always with us. He told us: I am always with you until the end of time. With a little bit of faith, everything is easy. God shows us the way!

How have you taken on this new activity?
You can understand that, after forty years absence from the country, I quickly realised that several important changes had taken place: social and company laws, computers, photocopiers, electronic mail and all the rest! All these novelties really impressed me! But, I charged on, I learnt, I managed and, today, I am happy that I did so.
Each week, I send e-mails and receive them from Malawi, from the Dominican Republic, from Peru, from Togo, from India, from the Philippines, from Colombia, from Paraguay, etc. This helps me to live in connection with the whole world, and to bring to my prayers the worries of my brothers and sisters who are suffering and in need of so much. To go from one discovery to another, always amazed at the gifts that God has given us, gifts that we must use to the full in the service of others, even if they are on the other side of the world! To recognise also that we have capabilities, not to be drawn into pride but to use them to bear fruit and move forward. These are the sentiments that pushed me to start working with CSI. At seventy-five years of age, it is marvellous to be able to still give voluntary service. You have to know how to allow others to benefit from our previous experiences.

You have spoken to us about CSI. Can you tell us briefly what it looks after?
Thanks to the devotion of Father Célestin Marcotte, Capuchin, Collaboration Santé Internationale (CSI) was born in a church basement thirty-six years ago. Today, CSI provides material aid to some eighty-five countries. We send hospital equipment that is still in good working order but which, for various reasons, is considered obsolete in Canada. Technology evolves so quickly that material is always being renewed so as to be at the cutting edge of excellence in the area of health. Throughout the years, CSI has formed close relationships with several companies, some of which are pharmaceutical, and distributes also medicines and other products in under-developed countries.
Each month, CSI sends from four to six containers, as well as hundreds of packages, to various regions of the world. The organisation responds, to the best of its ability and with the limits of its resources, to the immense needs made known by its spokespeople in the countries that it serves.
CSI participates in projects concerning primary education, promotion of womens issues and the training of mangers of health care establishments and dispensaries.
At its head office, situated in Quebec, there are more than fifty volunteers and twelve paid workers who keep busy by sorting, filing, cleaning, repairing when possible, in order to respond to the requests of our missionaries and partners.
We are privileged to be able to help our missionaries by providing them with equipment and material goods that allow them to ease the misery of people and to share a message of hope with those around them.

How do you live out this challenge: working at CSI?
At the start, I had to adapt very quickly. I set myself some very clear objectives:
- not to lose confidence in He who was acting through me;
- to remain myself;
- to benefit from my experience in developing countries;
- to rely on the team already on site;
- to maintain unity between all the team members;
- to welcome everyone in a gentle and kind manner.
Every day, I have had the good fortune to be able to recharge my batteries in the community of Château-Richer and to enjoy the privilege, in a time when priests are rare, to participate in the Eucharist. I start my day enthusiastically and do my thirty-five hours each week. I am called to do a lot of things in public, which, of course, I would not do if I were hidden in a pustina.

Brother Paul-André, at this time, I cannot help thinking of Father Champagnat when he suggested to the Superiors to keep the young brothers always busy. You, at seventy-five years of age, are no longer perhaps part of this group.
You have to build on your happiness every day! Joy, confidence and love are the best compost for growing and keeping away from mediocrity. True humility is the humus where the other virtues take root. But this word can sometimes be used as a cover for cold or fearful attitudes, as an excuse for cowardice and even as a disguise for subtle pride.
I want to conclude here by saying that I live this challenge in the joy, the transparency and the freedom of a volunteer! It is possible, at seventy-five years of age, to live serenely in an environment of people of all ages! I can witness to that!

Brother Paul-André, we would like to thank you for continuing to add so many years to your life, but above all for so much life to your years.

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