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14/9/2011 - Togo - Testimony of a Missionary Community

(ANS – Cinkassé) – In view of the 142nd Missionary Expedition, Fr Antonio Gutierrez, a Salesian missionary at Cinkassé, traces his last six years and reflects on the  community which accompanies him  and the availability which missionary life requires: in particular, the  importance of learning and of adapting to the culture in which one is working.

Fr Gutierrez starts from the conviction: “we are a community of four who work and  pray for the people of Cinkassé; it is God who gives us the opportunity to live this time and to experience things we would never have imagined.

We are four Salesians. Valerio Zudaire, 80 years of age, a great dreamer, able to say the right word at the right time  and it is he who looks after the oratory and the Salesian Family, celebrates Masses, hears confessions, takes communion to the sick, organises camps, sport and is ready for the unexpected.

John is a recently ordained priest  from Colombia. He is responsible for youth ministry in the  parish, is the bursar and principal of the school; he teaches and leads youth events, shows films in the village on Wednesday afternoon, is involved in all sorts of activities in Masses  at all times of the day, in catechism and preparation for confirmation and sees that the school always runs well.

A year ago a young Togolese Magliore Kpanouque arrived. He has completed his studies of philosophy and is waiting to begin theology next year. He is doing his practical training in the school where he gives a good number of lessons, catechism, and looks after the altar servers, the childrens’ groups and goes with Fr Zudaire when he goes to the villages to say Mass.

Then there is me,  says Fr Gutierrez. As parish priest I follow the activities of the parish, organise catechesis, the sacraments, ministry, various groups, development work in the villages and the building. I have begun holding meetings with the young people and the adult to get to know their situation.

I am making an effort to learn the local language but I haven’t succeeded in speaking it fluently. I say Mass and the prayers, I can read and make myself understood but I don’t know it as well as I would like. Perhaps this is a good lesson for when we have to start something somewhere else: devote time at the beginning to learning otherwise you don’t. ‘A key opens a door, a word open a heart’.

One very positive thing is accompanying young couples, and they now give a good example. In his pastoral visit the Bishop said he wanted to use this model throughout the diocese. Building wells has brought great benefits to the people, as has the literacy programme, tree planting and fertilisation. The Sisters of the Adoration are in our parish and are helping the women to read and write, set up minicredit systems and other  activities.

Everything is being done with the desire to serve these people, to be useful to them to be an evangelising presence.”

Published 14/09/2011

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