AFRICA/MOZAMBIQUE - "Antiquum ministerium" and the dream come true of the Uncanha Catechetical Center, the "citadel of catechists"

Saturday, 17 June 2023 catechism   catechists   local churches   evangelization   mission  

by Stefano Lodigiani

Tete (Agenzia Fides) - "In 2017, when I arrived in Uncanha, the dream of a formation center for catechists began to take shape, a 'Catequistado', which would include the whole family, and not just individual catechists, and thus offer a more complete and deeper formation, over a fairly long period of time. The model from which it was inspired was the formation center for catechists in Guiua".

Father Carlo Biella, missionary of the Consolata (IMC) since 1989, who lived in Mozambique for three periods of his life, tells Agenzia Fides: during his formation in 1992, before his priestly ordination in 1994; from 2000 to 2007 in Niassa; from 2015 to today, first in Niassa for two years and since 2017 in the diocese of Tete, to share the missionary commitment in the districts of Maravia and Zumbo, which the Consolata missionaries took charge of in 2013 , after 40 years during which a priest could only visit these communities once a year. Today, Father Biella is part of the team of formators of the Uncanha Catechetical Center, in the diocese of Tete, and therefore particularly appreciated the Apostolic Letter Antiquum ministerium.

Father Biella points out that since his arrival in Uncanha, the formation center for catechists was a recurring theme, both in pastoral meetings and in those of the missionary team, arousing the interest and contribution of all. At the time Father Franco Gioda was renovating the missionaries' house: the mission of Uncanha had in fact been founded in 1958 by missionaries from Burgos, but had been abandoned in 1971. In 2017, the Missionaries of the Consolata took charge of the pastoral care of the region, at the service of the Christian communities which had the three local parishes as a point of reference. The pastoral meetings made it possible to initiate dialogue and promote the growth of communities. And the need to ensure the formation of pastoral agents also emerged.

Since its first conception, it was agreed that the center should meet certain requirements deemed essential: it had to be "family-oriented", be active throughout the year and have an inter-parish dimension, including the possibility of modifying addresses or programs immediately to better adapt to the needs and emergencies that emerged during the project. We involved the 5 councils of the 5 regions that we accompanied", continues Father Biella, "by asking them if they agreed, if they felt the need, in what way they could collaborate, without neglecting the necessary identification of people available to be trained in this service. Our Formation Center was not intended solely and exclusively for catechists in the area, but was open to all those who had a pastoral responsibility and therefore needed to be accompanied in their journey of faith and in their formation".

"With the support of our Regional Superior, Father Diamantino Guapo Antunes, now Bishop of Tete, and of the diocese, and counting on the help of the communities and the animators, we managed to build five small houses to house the families of those who wanted to prepare for the service of catechist", remembers Father Biella. "After the five families were housed in the first ready-made houses, 11 other families arrived and built their own bamboo, straw and mud houses. In 2018, these families were accompanied in their formation journey by Father Gioda, deacon, now parish priest, myself and another missionary: we visited them regularly, also seeing to the replacement of formators when necessary. Thus began the adventure of the Uncanha Catechetical Center".

Father Biella dwells on the figure of Father Franco Gioda, who was the tireless and enthusiastic animator of all the pastoral and missionary activity in the region, where he arrived in 2013 with two other missionaries: the Tanzanian Father Giacinto and the Colombian Father Edoardo. In this context, the presence of catechists immediately appeared important, even necessary, because the missionaries had cultural, linguistic, health, adaptation limits..., and they also had to face the great distances which divided the numerous communities : in the territory of the three parishes, there were up to 140 communities to follow. "Undoubtedly - remarks the missionary of the Consolata - Father Gioda was a child of the Council, of that spirit which accompanied many missionaries in their work of evangelization,
strengthened by the awareness that the mission is a constitutive part of the Church and that it is entrusted to all the baptized".

Recognizing the fundamental contribution of catechists to the work of evangelization, Father Gioda had already begun to promote weeks of formation for catechists in 2015 and 2016. But his initiative, Father Biella recalls, had come up against two limits: the difficulty of organizing the weeks of training in all areas (there are 34 today) and approaching new people during the week, which led to changes in the program to facilitate their inclusion. This is how the idea of the Catechetical Center was born.

At the end of 2018, Father Gioda was transferred to Tete, to reopen the parish of St Paul and assume the task of missionary animator in the vast annexed area. Father Carlo Biella remained to lead the catechists in formation, assisted by 2 seminarians from the diocese, who always ensured the presence of seminarians or deacons or priests at the center. Today, there are 12 small lodgings built to accommodate the families of catechists, in addition to the missionary house, the formation room and the school, for first and second year children.

"During these six years, explains Father Biella, we have formed about fifty families. The team of formators is made up of a seminarian, a diocesan priest, two Missionaries of the Consolata and three Sisters of the Immaculate Conception of Lishinga, present in the mission since last year. The journey is based on four pillars: spirituality, formation, communion and mission. We start at 6:30 a.m., when the bell rings and we gather for the celebration of the Word or the celebration of Mass. The formation begins at 8:30 a.m. and includes in the second part of the morning, a biblical reflection on the Word of God heard in the morning and a sharing between those present.The afternoon is dedicated to activities of human promotion, such as the study of the Portuguese language. The day ends with the Rosary or Eucharistic adoration on Thursday".

Father Biella underlines the support given to the intense work of formation carried out by the Center by the Diocese which, during the last two years, has asked for it to be open to all the parishes of its territory. In the intentions of the bishop, there is also the opening of another catequistado, for the catechists of the Chinyungue-speaking parishes. "The Bishop - reports Father Biella - often comes to meet the catechists and formators, within the limits imposed on him by his many pastoral commitments. His presence is certain at the end of the year of formation, when during Mass he gives families the missionary mandate, which concerns the whole family, according to the rite prepared after the Antiquum Ministerium. The bishop expressly asks the catechists and their wives to make themselves available to the parish priests for the needs of evangelization. The sending is accompanied by the delivery of the crucifix, the Bible, the white tunic to lead the celebrations, while the wives receive the rosary. The atmosphere that reigns on this occasion is one of celebration and praise to the Lord by the whole community for the new catechists who come to enrich the ranks of workers in the Lord's vineyard". (Agenzia Fides, 17/6/2023)