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Marist Bulletin - Number 262

 

From Ghana to Algeria passing through the Philippines - Interview with Bro. Francis Attah
14/09/2006

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Francis Amoako Attah was the second person from Ghana to become a Marist Brother and the first to be sent to Mission Ad Gentes, to Algeria. Francis is now 48 years old and is participating in the programme organised by the General Council for the first Mission Ad Gentes group.
This interview is taken from the July edition of the Bulletin of the District of West Africa.

Francis, tell us about your Marist life
I took my first vows in 1988. Immediately after my scholasticate I was appointed Director of postulants for 3 years. Then I worked for a year in the Juniorate of Nigeria. After my final profession in 1994, I was sent to Ireland for Development Studies and then to Manchester where I completed my master degree in Human Resources Development. In 1997 I was sent to MIC, Nairobi, as teacher and also caring for the catering of this big house; I was there for 7 years. In 2004 I came back to the District and I was asked to be in the Formation Team at the Novitiate.

And one day you got a very special phone call
Yes, Brother Luis, Vicar General, phoned to me. He said they were looking for an African Brother to join the community in Algeria, and my name was first on the list. He gave me a week to reflect upon this proposal. I was both surprised and delighted. I had not asked to go to Mission ad Gentes; my Superiors were asking for my availability. I reflected and prayed over. I knew there have been martyrs in that country. I was wondering why me? I looked at myself and I saw my unworthiness but I believe in an honest God, a God who has been preparing me for this mission through my previous experiences. Finally there was a new phone call and I said, ‘Fiat’.

You are just coming from Algeria where you have had your first contact with this country
It was important for me to have this experience before going to Davao for the formation program. I was with the Brothers in Algeria for 35 days, a short visit, but good and very enriching for me.

A cultural shock for a sub-Saharan Brother in an Islamic country?
Sure, it was. Algeria has 33,5 million people and 98% of them are Moslems. The Catholic population, mostly expatriates, is a bit more than 3,000. All is marked by Moslem culture. There were eye openers everywhere: only men serving in the airplane; almost exclusively men on the streets. Women are supposed to remain in the house… Food is also quite different. Fortunately I have lived in different countries and I easily get used to it. People eat a lot of vegetables, salads, fish and bread: too light a food for a Ghanaian!

Tell us about the Brothers in Algeria
There is a small community in Mostaganem, 356 km from the capital, Algiers. The population is about 130,000. Most of the people are living of agriculture and fishing. The Marist community started in June 2004. Presently there are only two Brothers, Xema Rius, Spaniard, and Arturo Chávez, Mexican. The third member of the community, Alex Gómez, also from Spain, is studying Arabic in Beirut. Bro Jean Reboul, from France, has been replacing him for a while. Brothers live in a two-storey house, which includes a study room and a computer room for students.

What is the Brothers’ mission in an Islamic country?
I can summarize it in two words: WITNESS and PRESENCE. Brothers bear witness of their brotherhood among them and to people. I noticed how the neighbours appreciate and trust the Brothers. Even Moslem children of the surrounding area come to visit the Brothers. The Brothers have given part of the building to open a dispensary. In the community there are no employees; Brothers care for all the house chores. We are a presence of the Catholic Church in the country, a small presence but meaningful and important. The Community Project states: To share the life and mission of the Church in Oran; to inculturate ourselves in the Algerian reality by getting close to the Algerian people; to welcome and accompany Algerian children and young people, particularly those who are poor. This ideal of witness, presence and service expresses itself in a more concrete ways: Bro Xema teaches Spanish, cares for the sub-Saharan students in town, and works in the Office for Religious, in the Pastoral Council and in the Episcopal Council. Brother Arturo teaches everything related to computers. Bro Jean was a French teacher.

What is the Christian population of Mostanagem?
There is not a single Catholic Algerian in town. The only Christians are the Marist Brothers and a small group of Sub-Saharan university students, very much in relation with the Brothers. It is mostly for them that we have the study room and the computers. The Brothers care for their formation and their Christian growth. When I was there I was invited to give a talk, in French!, to them. Some young Moslems come also to benefit from the study facilities.

So no Catholic priests in the area?
Not in Mostaganem. We have a chapel in the house, with the Blessed Sacrament. A priest comes once a week to celebrate the mass. On Sundays the Brothers go to Oran, 90 km away, where the Bishop is, and join a larger Catholic community. In the country there are just 3 dioceses: Algiers, Oran and Constantine. Most of the churches were closed down during the time of revolution. But the Basilica of Our Lady of Africa in Algiers has been respected. It is a place of worship that is even visited by Moslems. The memory of Bro Henri Vergès and other martyrs is very much alive. In the Basilica there is a plaque recalling the memory of these martyrs.

What about religious men and women?
There are different Congregations in Algeria: Missionaries of Africa, Sisters of our Lady of Africa, Franciscans… The Sisters of Charity of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta have opened a kindergarten much appreciated by the local population… The fact that there are few religious develops a great collaboration and support among them: they are all like a great family and they know one another.

Any project for the future of the Brothers in Algeria?
There is a plan to open a second community in the country. It will be in Oran. This will be possible because, besides myself, some other Brothers will go to Algeria: Michael Sexton, presently working at the Novitiate in Sri Lanka, 2 French Brothers, and Alex, as soon as he completes his Arabic studies in Lebanon.

Are you happy to join the Marist Mission ad Gentes Project?
I am really enthusiastic about this program, ready to take full advantage of it. I go with open mind and heart and readiness to learn. I am aware that things will not be easy; I will have to face many challenges, think for example of the languages, I have to be fluent in both French and Arabic. This mission will require sacrifice. But I trust in the “honest” God and in the prayers of the Brothers.

Any dream for our future there?
Just two wishes: the first one: let us go to the roots of our mission and take our catechetical work seriously. The second one: let us be children of the house, as Champagnat wanted, not kings in our palace; this means caring for so many details and things to be done in our communities with the joyful contribution of all the Brothers, to turn them into real families.

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