06/18/2013, 00.00
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From mission territory to a territory of missionaries: India goes to Africa

by Piero Gheddo
Even if persecuted, the Church in India continues to grow: more than 2500 priests and 6 thousand nuns are abroad. The experience of Fr. Sleeva, a PIME Indian missionary in Cameroon since 2009. Comparing the two different civilizations the need to export the Indian model of the family to Africa emerges, because "there is a lot of love here, but little opportunity to express it."

Yaoundé (AsiaNews) - A fact that gives hope. The young churches of the missionary territories are sending missionary priests and nuns and other countries. The Church in India is one of the best examples. Often persecuted, never closed, it has more than 2,500 priests and 6,000 nuns serving abroad, especially in the Middle East, Asia-Oceania and Africa. PIME has been present in India since 1855 and founded 12 dioceses there, but only opened its first seminary in 1991, it now has four in three Indian states with about 110 students, 16 of them students of theology. There are  44 Indian priests in PIME, a score of them in seminaries in India and a score on a mission, two of whom are in Cameroon.

Father Palli Sleevaiah (known to friends as "Sleeva") has been a priest since 2008, and after studying French in Paris, has been in the parish of Our Lady of Lourdes in Ntem-a-si on the far outskirts of the capital Yaounde since 2009, as vice parish priest to Father Fabio Bianchi. I went to Ntem-a-si in 2009 when Father Fabio when began the building of the great church, now almost finished. The neighborhood of small houses and shacks is inhabited by immigrants from the countryside and neighboring countries, often at war or under the heel of a dictatorship. Cameroon, is one of the few African countries that has always enjoyed internal peace, attracts many refugees. I asked Father Sleeva if he is happy in his mission.

"When I arrived in Yaounde, me several members of the congregation were at the airport waiting for and then I was welcomed and helped by them all. The people are friendly, the African is expansive and I immediately felt comfortable. There are two of us PIME Indian priests in Cameroon. Me in Yaounde and Ambati in Kusserì, on the border with Chad. I have not yet learned the local language, Ewondo, because almost everyone understands French and several English too. I'm in charge of youth and I'm starting an oratory on parish lands. I also go to public schools to speak to young people, there are no religion lessons, but we priests are allowed to speak, we just come to an agreement with the principal, there are many young people who are very happy. In our parish lay people are very active in the field of charity and pastoral activities, even if they still have the problem of making their daily bread and butter, but they give some of their time to the Church. They see that the parish is the only body that lives with them and helps them in every way. The State is absent in these slums, we are always here and this creates friendship, solidarity, community, mutual help even among Catholics".

I ask father Sleeva what has struck him most in his short experience of Africa. He answers: "The difficulties young people have to overcome to grow, to study, in the world of work, culture and relationships in the sense that they have a very poor experience of family life. In our parish Our Lady of Lourdes is a very poor parish of people struggling just to survive. They live together for a very short period of time.  The fathers eat out when they can,  the mothers also work hard or are willing to do almost any job just to bring home something. Children grow up on the street. I always urge them to spend time together at least on feast days, but it is not easy for parents to follow their children. There is love, of course, but little opportunity to express it. I see the big difference with the situation in India. "

Indian  society - continues the priest - "is more stable politically and economically, there is greater security in general. Besides, in India we have a strong sense of family and for about the past twenty years there has been a strong growth in our economy and improved standard of living generally. There are still many grave injustices but gradually wellbeing is spreading. The family is still a strong unit for us, in Africa, at least among our poor, I fear we will lose the young people and I think this can be explained by the fact that in India we entered the modern world with the English colonization in the mid-1800s, in Africa over half a century later. India was a united country under England, Africa was divided into many nations. In India there has been a gradual shift from the pre-colonial era to the modern world, Indian society, which already had a long history behind it, has adapted, changed cultures and also the Hindu religion had its reformers. Africa has not had enough time for this process to take place. The modern world has invested it like an earthquake and a tsunami, overturning everything, from family to society, from economics to politics and religion.".

Father Sleeva is happy to be a missionary in Africa and says: "My parents would have preferred me to be a diocesan priest, however the people of my village is glad that someone from Velasapalli is working in Africa. I write to them that our village is known also in Cameroon and Africa. And I add that as we have received the faith from the Italian missionaries, so it is right that an Indian brings Jesus to Africans. The nice thing I have seen here in Africa is that young people are strong and brave. They have to face a lot of difficulties, but never get discouraged, they recover easily, I'm not pessimistic, they engage in work, in school, in society. Despite the situations they are experiencing, they have an admirable vital charge. I increasingly understand how much Christianity, which is the religion of hope, suits Africans. My brethren who are in Africa for decades confirm that if the Catholic Church had the strength and means to reach all, the journey of  Jesus Christ into the heart of black Africa would be much more rapid, because it is inevitable. I thank the Lord that I am a missionary in Africa and also my parents, through my letters, are beginning to be proud of me. "


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