Support for the Formation of 38 Carmelite Novices in Central African Republic and Cameroon
It was 50 years ago –1971 – that the first four Carmelite Fathers arrived from Italy in the Central African Republic. These courageous pioneers rolled up their sleeves and got to work in what is still today one of the poorest and least developed countries in the world, a country regularly plagued by violent unrest and armed conflict. One of these priests, Father Nicolò Ellena, continued to work in the missions there until the ripe old age of 90. He died in 2019, at the age of 96.
The eight Italian Carmelites, still working in Central Africa’s five mission stations belonging to the order, are delighted to see that an increasing number of young local African men are joining them. In fact, today the African members of the order now make up a majority. These young Central African men are looking to devote their lives to working toward a lasting peace for their country. But they have also understood that there can only be true peace in the world when God is finally enthroned in the hearts of all people.
Studies interrupted, but prayer communal life strengthened
In the work of formation, the friars in the Central African Republic work closely together with their Carmelite brothers in neighbouring Cameroon. Currently, there are 38 young men in formation, 23 of them in the Central African Republic and 15 in Cameroon who spend the stages of their training in the different centres and live in the local Carmelite monastery forming part of the community there. They follow their philosophy and theology studies at the University of Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic, and in Yaoundé, the capital of Cameroon.
This year, because of the coronavirus pandemic, their studies at these universities have been interrupted. However, Father Federico Trinchero, the provincial delegate of the order, reports that this circumstance has not impeded the ongoing formation of these young Carmelites. On the contrary, their prayer life has been intensified and their communal life strengthened. These Carmelites are already quite accustomed to dealing with emergency situations. For example, in 2013 at the height of the country’s last civil war, up to 10,000 refugees were camped out on the large grounds of the Bangui Carmel! The Carmelites were capable of taking the lockdown in stride! “It was only the silence that was somewhat unusual,“says Padre Federico. Under normal circumstances, the monastery is a place to which thousands of people turn to when they are in need and an important spiritual resource for the Catholic faithful. Moreover, there are usually countless children and young people constantly running around on the extensive monastery grounds; it is the perfect playground!
Life goes on in the monastery
Life is almost back to normal in the country now. And, thanks be to God, the pandemic has had far less of an impact in Africa than was initially feared. So the priestly ordination of Brother Armand was able to go ahead as planned in October 2020. In September of the same year, four new young men joined the novitiate and five others took their temporary vows.
On December 20, two young Carmelites were due to make their permanent profession in the oldest mission station established by the Carmelites in the Central African Republic located in Bozoom as part of the solemn preparations for the Jubilee Year. Sadly, though, the celebration was called off at the last minute because the security situation had dramatically worsened ahead of the parliamentary and presidential elections, and because armed militants had forced their way into the town on the very eve of the planned ceremonies. Many invited guests, some of whom were already on their way to Bozoum, were forced to abandon their plans and turn back. As for the two young men themselves, Brother Jeannot and Brother Martial, they were able to take their vows after all among a small group of their confreres in the Bangui Carmel. Although it was a real sacrifice for them not to be able to celebrate this big day with their families, friends and confreres from all over the country, it was nonetheless a day of great joy and rich graces.
A massive financial challenge
The formation of these 38 young Carmelites is a massive challenge for the order. Padre Federico puts all his trust in Divine Providence and in the excellent collaboration between all the teaching staff who are responsible for the spiritual, human and intellectual formation of the young men in their care. But needless to say, it is also a Herculean task financially.