A visit to the Italian SMA group in Angola
The SMA has just under 1,000 members, of which we Italians are about 40. Despite our small number we are to be found in six African countries and the island of Guadalupe. My visit to Angola was to strengthen the ‘family’ ties among us, to see the situation our five Italian SMA priests and to share information and ideas for the future strategic choices of the Province.
I arrived in Luanda on 21 January 2010 to meet with our priests there: Fathers Renzo Adorni, Luigino Frattin, Angelo Besenzoni, Walter Maccali and Ceferino Cainelli. We all know each other well down the years. It was a joy to meet friends and brothers. Of the 30kg in my luggage, apart from the specific things that had been requested, there were good Italian salami and a few bottles of grappa.
Experience has taught me that during such visits it is important to stay with every confrere in his place of work and spend time to speak individually with them. But this time, I had to stay in Kikolo, except for 3 days when I went with Fr Walter to visit his new parish in Nambuangongo, 200 kms north of Luanda.
Working with the most abandoned
Driven by the inspiration of our founder Bishop de Brésillac “to go to the most abandoned people” we Italian SMAs chose to begin mission work in Angola. Circumstances have brought us to the outskirts of Luanda, to the Kikolo district. This area is part of the ‘belt’ around Luanda in a semicircle from north to south: a collection of neighbourhoods that ‘grew up’ as hundreds of thousands of people fled the countryside for the city during the Angolan civil war.
More than half of Luanda’s estimated population of five million live in this ‘belt’. As in most major African cities, this suburb has significant social and economic difficulties. Kikolo lacks roads, sewers, clean drinking water, electricity, schools, hospitals and other health services. The population is a mix of people from all over the country. They are mostly young and almost all speak Portuguese.
The new communities
Frs Renzo, Luigino, Angelo and Ceferino live together in the Good Shepherd Parish in Kikolo. Also there is Fr Mario Cherchi, a ‘Fidei Donum’ priest from Sardinia. Soon, Fr Mario will move to a new parish in the neighbourhood. Fr Luigino is the veteran. He arrived when there was only a chapel here. He is also the Vicar General of the Diocese. But he is also an expert in cement, iron and construction projects. In ten years many Christian communities were born. Today they form three separate parishes with twelve chapels and many basic Christian communities. This urban ministry, for some, is more important than evangelisation in rural areas.
This ministry needs a lot of creativity, organizational skills and demands a lot of patience. The statistics are huge: hundreds of catechumens, thousands of school children in the parish, around 400 catechists and pastoral assistants. Yet practising Catholics represent about 3% of the population! Fr Angelo told me: “even if our chapels are full, we are still small in number. This morning I went to the market on foot, of the thousands who saw me only two people recognized me as “Father” and greeted me. If the objective of the SMA is to bring the gospel to the most neglected, Kikolo is the perfect place to do it.”
Fr Renzo Adorni spoke to me about the diocesan seminarians and how he is encouraging our parishioners to take care of the seminary needs. He feels a certain satisfaction and pride that, with God’s blessings and the commitment of the faithful in recent years, a local clergy is being born. The diocese has a Bishop and 18 priests, all either religious or missionaries. In April the first diocesan priest will be ordained. There are eight other seminarians studying theology. Our SMA confreres are very aware of the SMA charism to train the youth and develop a local clergy.
Where is your brother?
Our confreres try to make ‘neighbours’ of the most disadvantaged, especially in a spiritual sense. I was very impressed by the decision of Fr Walter, which the rest of the SMA group agreed with, to live in the parish of Nambuangongo. This village parish was ‘closed’ for 50 years after two wars: one against the Portuguese from 1960 to 1974 and the second between UNITA and the MPLA from 1976 to 2002.
I stayed with Walter in his very simple house. An annex serves as a hall and church. There is neither electricity nor drinking water, no telephone network, no mobile phones. To get there from Caxito you must travel 150 Kms, over trails, streams and cross rivers. But Walter is happy to live there sharing the simple life of the farmers, who for many years saw no priest. He spends a lot of time visiting the sick, especially the elderly, who are often stay shut away in their rooms without treatment. A Benin proverb says: “it’s the legs that create friendship.” I believe it from the days I spent with Fr Walter at Nambuangongo.
What particularly struck me during this visit? I arrived at Kikolo on 21 January and the day before it had rained. Although I was accustomed to see the unpleasant effects of rain on the outskirts of African cities, in Kikolo for the first time in many years in Africa, I experienced a real sense of deprivation, finding myself immersed in mud, dirt and garbage. And I admired the adaptability of Angelo, Ceferino, Luigino and Renzo who continue to visit this area.
I also saw what Fr Ceferino is doing with the youth. He has managed to engage with and motivate a good number of them who, in turn, will be animators themselves. They have started writing and producing a beautifully illustrated journal entitled ‘Aldeia Juvenil’, Youth Village, with very interesting articles written by them. Hoping to get an interview, they organized a feast for the boys with Alice Berenguel, one of the most famous Angolan TV presenters. The mission courtyard was full with thousands of boys. The most interesting thing is that Ceferino has managed to bring both rural and urban youths together. This work is developing well. There are also many street children living in Kikolo. Ceferino has plans to launch a craft workshop where they will learn welding, carpentry and electrical works.
I was very impressed by the lifestyle of our SMA family; certainly we can still improve, but they are faithful to community prayer, friendship and brotherhood. Each SMA priest takes responsibility, on a weekly basis, to cook for the community. In this area I enjoyed their creativity and expertise!
Who will come to give a hand?
I extend a sincere thanks to all those who have worked and are working in Kikolo and the many people who support them. The work achieved over ten years is impressive. It will continue to be so, as there still remains a lot to be done. The needs are immense and the environment is favourable: there are people, many young people, full of energy available and eager to know the gospel. One must learn Portuguese to be able to work here. Our Italian SMA’s are hoping to get African or Indian SMA’s to join them. There is a great need for people who are interested and willing to work fulltime here. Integrating pastoral work and human development in Kikolo would be a beneficial experience for families and laity. Priests are willing to collaborate and share their life with them. Who will give a helping hand?
Fr Toni Porcellato SMA, Vice Provincial, SMA Feriole