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|The Journey of my Vocation with the Friars|
My vocation journey in the Province of St. Francis of Africa Madagascar and Mauritius reflects a bit on the situation that was in the vice- Province and the challenges of the first missionaries who started the new project of the Order of Friars Minor in Africa.
The experience of the first friars - missionaries in Rwanda
The first friars arrived in Rwanda in 1983. The first friar that I met, at the beginning of 1984, was Fr. Vjeko Curic. At that time he was the vocation director. In 1985, when I was invited for the first live-in, I was met the other friars: Giacomo Bini, Anselmo Doglio ( Italy) and Raoul de Builsseret ( Belgium). They were the first friars to arrive in Rwanda in 1983.
I stayed with them for one month before starting my postulancy. I was impressed by their fraternal life and simple services which they performed in the fraternity, in the parish and outside the parish. They were living a simple life in the community, doing simple services among the people. Their life was very easy to understand for a person who had read the Gospel and simple for those who didn’t understand the Franciscan values.
They had a common ministry in the parish and different responsibilities among the poor and in the fraternity. They were very committed to different congregations in giving retreats, recollections or any other spiritual support. Their services revealed the Franciscan spirit of minority and religious vows, especially the vow of poverty and the value of fraternity.
Friar Giacomo Bini from Italy had become the friend of the poorest and unloved people. Friar Vjeko Curic had become the friend of the youth and children. Friar Raoul had become a pastor of the Christians in Kivumu Parish. And friar Anselmo had become a brother and a friend of flowers in the garden, a friend of the friars’ rabbits and chicken. Their life in the fraternity and in their different ministries was a sign of their nature as friars Minor and of the Franciscan spirituality. All of them were very happy to find themselves among the poorest. Fr Giacomo Bini was always very happy, full of joy coming back after visiting the poor, working with them in their gardens and sharing with them the little they had. I had never seen him so happy in another situation.
They first friars looked like other poor people: without shoes on their feet, sometimes wearing sandals, with simple clothes. There was no car in the fraternity. They were travelling by public means and they were happy to live such a life.
They shared with us aspirants that to be a friar minor means to be close to the poor. To be a friar minor for Friar Giacomo Bini meant to follow Jesus Christ who became poor and gave his whole life for our salvation and became a friend of sinners and those rejected by society. To be a friar minor also meant to him to live like the poor and stay with them giving them hope and showing them the way of peace and solidarity. It also means to be a brother to everybody without distinction such as tribe, race or ethnic background. At that time, to be a friar minor in Rwanda meant to dress like the poor, simple people, to eat simple food like them, having a simple house like them, avoiding domination over the poor by using the power of money.
Following the example of the first friars-missionaries, the young Brothers in initial formation were emphasizing fraternal life, unity and reconciliation. Our initial formation was based on different experiences, in the Parish, among the poor and among the handicapped people. During our formation was also living with the handicapped people. Simple life-style, manual work in the fraternity; Franciscan reflections on the life of Jesus Christ and the life of Saint Francis, reading the Gospel and praying were part of our holistic formation. A young man had to show his understanding of the Franciscan life through his experience of living it and through his attitude.
In Rwanda, as in other African countries, people were looking for ways of fighting poverty and ignorance. Consequently, the young people were joining different congregations with different motivations and for different reasons. The struggle for our first missionaries was to find good ways of forming the young people in Rwanda in such a situation. This is why in the first five years the academic education and profession was not emphasized very much. The whole attention was put on how to form a religious and a Franciscan Friar minor in Rwanda, so that he could be able to follow Jesus Christ in the spirit of Saint Francis, according to the Rwandan culture and in the actual situation that one was living.
There was a small problem. The first friars-missionaries were coming from different Franciscan traditions. Every one of them wanted to implant his tradition and Franciscan experience. It was not easy for the young men in formation to discern: what to choose from the different traditions and cultures. And none of the friars had any preparation for working in formation in a new context. They were not prepared, but they trusted in the work of the Holy Spirit, as some of them were saying.
Few of the friars-missionaries were able or willing to look into the future. The present time was enough for them. They were not thinking or asking what the future would be like. If any of the young friars in formation tried to think about the future, he was not understood. Simply, it was the Holy Spirit who could take care of the rest. Fortunately, the Holy Spirit has been with us and working with us for the last years.
Finally, with gratitude, I thank very much all friars who arrived to Rwanda at the beginning of the ‘ Africa Project’. They gave a good witness as friar minor and contributed very much to my Franciscan formation and to the mission that I carry out today. I thank Brother Giacomo Bini with whom I had the privilege to stay for fours years when I was aspirant, postulant and novice. Some missionaries who stayed in Rwanda were like prophets and as you know ‘true prophets are not well understood’. Thanks to all who contributed to the establishment of this Province of Saint Francis in Africa Madagascar and Mauritius. May the Lord bless you all!
Kizito Ngomanzungu - Parish priest of Kivumu Parish