“We will never stop praising the work of catechists in Africa“, writes SMA Father Basil Soyoye, from Nigeria, regarding the ‘Memory of Catholic Africa’ project which he launched in Benin last year. “When we celebrate the different anniversaries of the evangelization of Africa we must not forget that the first missionaries did not speak our national languages and that it was the catechists who acted as mediators between them and the local population. If evangelization has been successful in West Africa, it is because there were dedicated catechists there. They were not always accepted by the followers of indigenous religions. Some of them lost their lives because of this opposition“.
Fr Basil was speaking to FIDES about the need to collect and preserve the memories of the life of the African Church. The missionaries kept daily diaries (coutumiers) documenting everything they did each day. Many of these coutumiers are now in their General or Provincial Houses in Europe and the Americas. These handwritten accounts of the work of the foreign missionaries must be enhanced by records of those ‘indigenous missionaries’ – the early men and women catechists who, though often illiterate, learnt to recite the questions and answers of the ‘penny’ catechism, prayers such as the Our Father, Ave Maria, Glory be… etc – and then, in turn taught them to the people in the many villages accompanying the priest as he travelled through his parish, often hundreds of square miles.
Fr Basil served in Egypt, Benin, Nigeria and, most recently, was the Director of the SMA African Museum in Lyon, France. Now, back in Benin – at the SMA International Spiritual Year Centre – he has launched a project to provide an archive “collecting, through video-interviews, stories of the African faith, written or oral information on monuments, religious institutes, significant events of the Catholic Church in Africa.”
Read the full FIDES article here.