Koza: Thank you and Goodbye
By: Pedro Morelos Peñaranda, CICM
Concluding Pedro Peñaranda’s reflections on his trial period as a CICM seminarian in Cameroon
Disciples of the Man from Nazareth
There are only three Filipinos in North Cameroon- all of them CICM missionaries. The people call us Nasara meaning white, a term applied to all non blacks. At first I found it impolite of them to call names till I discovered Nasara originally meant disciple of the man from Nazareth. In Maroua, however, the seat of the diocese and a commercial district with rather large Moslem population, we were tagged Chinois.
Prayer at Sunset
I was in charge of religion classes in the Lycee or late high school and early college. Students walk 5-8 kilometers to and from school under the heat of the sun. I made the rounds of our smallest and farthest communities and involved myself in the liturgical life of the parish. I would compose common prayers in French which are then translated by a student into the Mafa dialect. Family prayers are recited at each home before the principal meal of the day that is, at six o’ clock in the evening at sunset. The majority of Mafa homes cannot afford an oil lamp. Normally they light a fire using the dried stalks of millet outside their round clay houses during moonless nights. Or else they go to bed as soon as night falls.
Equation of Symbols
At Christmas our celebration among a predominantly animist and Moslem population was very meaningful. For the first time we had Vigil Mass complete with a live and dramatized nativity scene. Afterwards there was popular dancing to the music of their traditional tambours around a giant bonfire. Happy coincidence: Christmas falls at the same time as their grand annual harvest festivities. I was just one step further for me to do a little inculturation or dynamic equation of the symbol of faith. The people subsist on millet which gives them life, is a gift from God.
Twelve Women Mourners
For Holy week I stayed for the triduum in the mountain part of our mission. On Holy Thursday we again had an all night prayer vigil by rotation of groups. We had to sleep outside the chapel under the moon. On Good Friday, afternoon we made the way of the cross across the mountain, a good three kilometer walk. We had a big cross adorned with thorns. Based on the Mafa funeral liturgy, however, the cross was surrounded by twelve women representing mourners. For someone like me accustomed to the different liturgical tradition, it seemed funny at first, but it was, all the same, very touching.
On Easter Sunday we welcome 140 new Christians. They were adults because here infant baptism is rare.
My Second, My Real, Novitiate
In Koza, I found myself in my second perhaps, even my real novitiate. Here my heart heard loud and clear call to live in solidarity with the poverty of the people other than my own.
In Koza I felt humbled by the pre-dominance and pride of an animist and Moslem population. But this led me to discover the frontier of the Church; there to declare the testimony of my faith and my vocation as a CICM missionary.
Folks Images and Local Wisdom
My work with the catechist, most of whom were unlettered, taught me the value of inculturation. A missionary is called to integrate himself more and more into the milieu where he works. We have no valid excuse for a less demanding approach because of the example of God himself who took flesh and who lived among His people.
With regards to the explanation of the gospel, I have noticed that the catechist (precisely) because they cannot read and have no theological formation) manage to reach and move their audience more through folk images and tales, proverbs and comparisons which they draw from the concrete, sometimes banal realities of their everyday life. Was this not the method Jesus himself often used?
Re-Evaluation of Symbol
My Koza experience makes me wary of using universal symbols of black and white, the light and darkness to represent life and death, virtue and sin. I wonder whether we should not be doing radical re-evaluation of our theological symbols in favor of the black race, given the fact that biblical images were created in a non-black world. For instance how can a black person be at ease with himself when, with the psalmist, he prays: “wash me and I shall be whiter than snow!”?
Worth in Gold
In mission such as Koza you realize how your community becomes really your family. The smallest details of everyday life are worth their weight in gold in interpersonal relations.
I was Trembling but...
There is nothing I have experienced in Koza that I had ever asked for because I didn’t even dream of Africa at all. Everything that I imagined about it frightened me. I kept joking about it. I kept smiling because deep within me I was trembling. But I prayed for the courage to accept reality. And behold, even that courage to accept has been grace upon grace. That is why today my heart gives thanks to my God and sings out: “Thank you my brothers and sisters in Koza! Sun, wind, dust, water, rocks millet, sauce, drums cows... I have eaten, drunk, felt, heard touched and breathed you. You have become part of me now, I have become part of you”