A Surprise Feast
Father Bunagan was ordained in 2005. Resources in the Diocese of Inongo Democratic Republic of Congo, where he is assigned, are very scarce.
We often write articles regarding our missionary engagements. Many times these are stories about the sick, dying and poor people we’ve encountered. We need to share those stories in order to illustrate the serious needs we face. There are many sad stories in our mission countries, but there are also stories of hope. And sometimes we can be surprised by the real, influential people who are the ‘hidden’ actors in the mission. I want to tell you about a good, exciting and inspiring experience I had in the mission.
As a young, newly ordained and energetic missionary priest, I was assigned to one of our parishes in the Democratic Republic of Congo, namely Marie-Reine in Kutu, Lac Mai-Ndombe, in the Diocese of Inongo. It’s a parish located nearly 500 kms northeast of Kinshasa. It was our pioneering Belgian confreres who started this mission in the equatorial forest of Congo. The majority of the people here are members of the Bantu tribe, about 45,000 according to the most recent statistics. They speak local dialects called kisakata, kiwarya, kisengele and lontomba. The communal languages are Lingala and French.
The Surprise News
During the third week of February 2007 we received a surprise message from the provincial secretary informing us that one of our confreres, Deacon Francis Mfesao CICM, a missionary in Hong Kong at the time, would be ordained priest three weeks later in our parish! Upon hearing this unexpected news, some questions troubled me: How would we prepare? Who could possibly help us? Was it possible to be ready at such short notice?
One week later there was more surprising news, from the Diocese of Inongo: two diocesan deacons, Jacques Mbonenklime and Celestin Mbuyulu, would be ordained along with our confrere Francis. Knowing our limitations and the short timeframe to work with, my other Filipino confrere and I first called on the pastoral members to arrange a meeting.
At this initial meeting, the team members were also stunned at the news. They immediately anticipated the worries and difficulties. To ease their anxieties, we began with some brainstorming. The Congolese people love open discussion and ‘town hall’ type meetings. With our limited time, we needed concrete plans to come out of this meeting. We needed to decide how to prepare and organize before, during and after the ordination of the three new priests. We talked a lot about how to turn this ‘impossible feast’ into a possible one. The first proposal was to divide the work among committees. We agreed and formed seven in all. Since I love to eat and drink, and have a well-rounded stomach, they assigned me as a member of the food committee! I worked together with a Sister and an active lay woman, Ms Melanie Nzali.
The following day, we called on our parish council members to reinforce our teams. We asked them to brainstorm and give suggestions as well. They added some wonderful ideas which included involving the Basic Christian Communities. They also suggested asking for donations from Christians living in the 41 villages of the parish. We agreed! So, each of the leaders of the communities disseminated the news and responsibilities in their corresponding areas. Through this method, we were given the assurance that all our parishioners, even those living in the most remote peripheries, would ultimately have the chance to participate. And, indeed, this method was very effective.
The bell rang at 5:00am sharp. Ordination day arrived before we knew it and everybody was in a hurry for the Mass. By 8:00am Bishop Philippe Nkiere Kena CICM of Inongo, the diocesan priests, some CICM confreres, choir members and acolytes were ready to start the procession. Because we had foreseen that our church would be too small to accommodate all the visitors, we proposed that the ordination be held outside. It was the only way to accommodate such a crowd and it worked very well. There were parishioners and visitors from far and wide!
The parishioners, even those from far-flung areas, really worked hard and made generous contributions during the preparation. We had committees for things such as decorations, the choir, liturgy, food, welcoming, and so on, and they all worked diligently to help make this a remarkable occasion.
The untiring efforts and dedication of one parishioner, Ms Mélanie Nzali, really struck me. Ms Nzali is a very enthusiastic member of our pastoral team. She runs a parish organization called BIBA TO (Bilenge Basi Tosalisana) that helps educate young women, with special attention to those not attending school. The young women are taught how to sew, cook and do household chores. Recently, Ms Nzali also started another program called ‘Lamuka’ (Wake up) to educate illiterate women. She easily solicited women from both programs to lend their support and their helping hands toward our event. The women spent days and nights preparing the food and washing the dishes. Ms Nzali worked many days and nights herself during the preparation and, in fact, spent a couple of sleepless nights on it as well.
Yet after all of the tiring preparations and sleepless nights, I noticed that the women still could tell good stories, crack jokes and share their sweet smiles. Truly, all of the volunteers from the various organizations provided the necessary ingredients for our success.
During the reception, the volunteers were particularly glad to hear the visitors’ appreciation of their food. One woman approached and told me how proud and grateful she was to hear the compliments. This made me realize that the hidden actors in the event really got to enjoy themselves too. To know that they were part of the success of such an important day in the lives of these new priests and in the life of their church made the generous workers the happiest people of the day.
Although the people of God had nothing to contribute financially or materially, they gave in so many other ways. They shared in our efforts and they gave their time and talent. These are meaningful ways to express one’s contributions. It confirms the saying, ‘It is only when you share your whole self that you really give’. I’ve come to trust that there are always hidden actors who will surely help us in the mission. As long as we have the hands and hearts of the people, we’ll be able to work together and achieve surprising results! When Jesus showed God’s generosity in his multiplication of the loaves he convinced us his followers to bring out and share our ‘hidden food’. Amazingly the people present were able to afterwards gather still another twelve baskets full of bread.
Truly, just like Jesus with the Jews that day, the unknown missionaries of Kutu made this, our ordination feast, a surprise one!
This article first appeared in Missionhurst, the magazine of the CICMs in the USA, www.missionhurst.org , in October-November 2007 and is reprinted with permission.
You may write the author at: CICMs, PO Box 1323, 1000 MANILA or email him email@example.com