The Africa Region: A New Beginning
The Africa Region: A New Beginning
The Africa Region: A New Beginning
by John Sivalon

The announcement of the formation of the new Africa Region has brought some interesting observations from various corners. One person confidently proclaimed, "that's nothing new, we had that twenty-five years ago when I went to Africa." Another close friend said, "this is nothing but the Sivalonization of Africa -he did it to Tanzania, now he wants to do it to all of Africa." (Feel free to replace "it" with whatever you feel proper.) One of the more intelligent members paraphrased a political leader, "members of a new region sleep much sounder in their beds the less they know about how decisions or sausages are made for them." Finally, some members are planning to celebrate the ending of two regions.

Personally, while not wanting to appear as a cheerleader, I would like to emphasize and celebrate the "newness" of this new Africa Region. I believe that we are becoming something new in many ways. It is not a replication of what existed twenty-five years ago. If it was, we wouldn't have had to ask the Vatican for permission nor would we have been granted permission "ad experimentum." If it was simply a return to the past, there would be no need to change the Society's Constitution when and if it is evaluated as successful.

Secondly, the newness is not limited to the governing structures of which we have spoken so often. In fact, that newness of administrative structures is based upon a much more basic and essential newness.

Thirdly, the newness is not the abandonment of what made us the regions of Tanzania and Kenya. Rather, it is a strong affirmation of our past and present work. We are not changing because something was wrong. We are changing because Maryknollers, who came to Africa before us, did and are doing something right. As a result, Maryknoll in Africa has changed, the Church in Africa has changed, and Africa itself has changed.

When we first came to Africa, we were concentrated in two small areas. The Missionaries of Africa had preceded us in Proclaiming the Word in those areas, but the Church was still very much in its infancy. Through God's grace and the hard work of Maryknollers and their Tanzanian collaborators, the Church has grown and grown quite rapidly. All observers would have to say that the Church in Musoma and Shinyanga is sufficiently well established to insure its existence into the fairly distant future. Admittedly, there are still needs and many of our people will remain to cooperate with the Local Church in responding to those needs. On the other hand, this development has allowed us in the past and allows us now to look beyond the borders of these two areas of work. We originally looked to Kenya, but even there we are ready to evaluate our initial commitments and to be open to responding to new challenges.

While primary evangelization remains the ground of whom we are, we have been fortunate that so many Africans have been open to receiving the grace of faith. At the same time, by being m Africa, we have been confronted by tremendous human catastrophes of suffering and pain. In the new Africa, political, moral, social and economic decay have become the standard voicing in ever louder cries the need for the Gospel - the Gospel of Hope, the Gospel of Justice, the Gospel of Salvation. We know we can't do everything nor respond to every challenge, but we do know that we can do something. By collaborating with local churches and others, by challenging local churches and others, by facilitating local churches and others, and even by ourselves we can be more in the new Africa.

This is the newness of which I speak. It is a newness which allows us to look afresh at Africa and at ourselves.It is a newness which allows us to look afresh at the people and Church of Africa with their varied needs and to look at ourselves and how we participate in God's mission. We are now people living and working in Mozambique, Kenya, Tanzania, Sudan and Ethiopia. In a short time, we will have at least one person in Namibia and requests have come from Maryknollers to work in Egypt as a part of the Africa Region.

Besides geographical locations, we have a variety of apostolates: people are proclaiming the Gospel in almost first time situations, we have people involved as missionaries in traditional parish situations, there are people in specialized apostolates - working with the sick, working with refugees, working in slums, working in social communications, working in training programs, and teaching at universities. There are also many retired members who remain active in an array of apostolates. This is the variety and freshness that we have become.

The new Africa Region can only further help us to expand our horizons as we look to share our unique Maryknoll perspective on spirituality - finding God by going out to the other and struggling with our being strangers in the home of the other, We launch our new region with an all Africa retreat and assembly from May 10 to May 23, 1999, in Arusha. For the first time in many years, nearly sixty Maryknoll Society members will come together at one time to pray for one another, to dream with one another, to enjoy one another and to plan with one another. The Canossian Spiritual Center in Arusha offers a facility which can accommodate all of us together comfortably.

Arusha, however, is also symbolically important. We are not just the Tanzania and Kenya regions coming together. It is my belief that as the two come together something bigger is unfolding. Thus, we shouldn't just think about Makoko or Nairobi as places where we can meet because that is where we have traditionally met. Our new home is Africa. Part of that new home is where we have been and what we have done, but another part of that new home is yet to be discovered.

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