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Marist Bulletin - Number 279

 

Mission Ad Gentes - Back from Davao, ready for Cambodia - Interview with Bro Francis Attah
18/01/2007

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Br. Francis Attah has just returned from Davao, Philippines after participating in the program organized by the General Council for the first batch of Missionary ad Gentes. He is spending some weeks in his Ghana before joining his new mission in Cambodia, South Asia.

Francis, you have just spent five months in Davao. What were the main elements of this preparation for mission?
I will stress two of them: first of all, Davao was a time for discernment. Mission ad Gentes requires some particular qualities and dispositions; we needed time to realise, with our leading team, if God is really calling us to it.
Secondly, Davao was a time to be acquainted with the Asian reality, so great and complex: culture, religion, history… and the role of the Catholic Church. This was not done only by talks and reading but through challenging experiences of immersion.

I guess community life in Davao has been also a great challenge
We were 17 Brothers coming from different nations, various backgrounds, with differences of age and language. We managed to create community around the main ideal that called us together. The idea of combining the activities of the main group with the formation of small groups, where we were able to share our life and our prayer in a deeper way, was helpful.

Was it difficult for you, as African, to find yourself in a Philippine context?
Not really. I felt quite at home from the beginning. Both Ghana and Philippines are developing countries, with similar social and structural problems. The tropical climate is comparable to the one of my country. The things I found quite different were the food, the language, the culture.

You spoke of immersion into the Philippine reality. Can you explain how was it done?
The insertion was done with an apostolic purpose. No doubt all the experiences we had in this line helped us a lot to get acquainted to the Philippine reality. My own personal involvement was:
- I went to a prison each Saturday during two months. I was visiting the inmates and listening to them.
- I spent one week with the Marist Missionary Sisters, living with them and accompanying them in their different ministries. This gave me the chance to give some lessons at the University and to know closely the world of the prostitutes, whom the Sisters visited at night.
- Other experiences were the visit one of the local hospitals and to be in contact with the sick people there, and to know closely the work going on with street children.
- I spent also a week with the indigenous people, called Blaan, who live in a remote and isolated area. I was living with them. The main problem was communication: no one of them understands English! However with time and effort we managed to communicate.

When you went to Davao you were convinced that your future mission would be Algeria. Now the plans have changed…
Yes, to go to Davao meant to enter into a discernment process: Do I have the qualities for mission ad gentes? Is it in Algeria that I can fulfil them in the best way? Little by little, with the help of the leading team, things become clearer. The average age of the Brothers proposed to work in Asia was relatively high; hence I was encouraged to consider working in Asia since I am younger. On the other hand, the Brothers noticed my capability to work and interact with Asians, my interest in learning the local language, Taghalo, and to communicate with people… Finally they proposed me to go to Cambodia. I will be there by the middle of February.

Not an easy change…
Yes, no so easy. I was in Algeria for more than a month. I felt somehow committed to the Brothers there, I knew the bishop of Oran was waiting for me… Cambodia came as a surprise. But, anyway, I am happy and ready for it. I am not going alone: two other Brothers from the group will come with me: Bro Brain from Australia and Bro Bernhard from Germany. I am the youngest.

Is there already a Marist presence in Cambodia? What will be your mission there?
The Church in Cambodia has been struggling to survive for 400 years. There are educational needs and urgency for pastoral work. I feel really attracted, I guess I can be more useful there than in Algeria. Presently there are 2 Marist Brothers in Phnom Penh, the capital, caring for handicapped children. Their experience will be of help for us. As soon as we arrive, our first objective is to learn the local language, the Khmer, one of the more difficult Asian languages; then we shall start looking for places where we can exercise our ministry.

Hopes and fears facing your new mission?
I am full of hopes: to learn quickly the local language, to be able to understand people and to be in dialogue with other religions, especially the predominant Buddhism. Concerning our community I hope that we will be able to create harmony, to bear witness to our brotherhood, and to identify what will be our mission there. Fears? Just one. I heard that the country is full of land-mines from the time of the Khmer Revolution. I wish not to step on one of them. I trust in the Lord and the protection of our dear Mum Mary.

Your message for the Brothers of our District of West Africa?
I heard some Brothers who regret my departure. I think that our District is being built with the sacrifice of so many Brothers. At the same time our District should be able to make its own contribution to the Marist Mission, especially to this project Ad Gentes. Anyway, I continue to be a member of the District!

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