On November 30, 2014, Pope Francis inaugurated the Year of Consecrated Life, which ended on February 2, 2016, date of the World Consecrated Life Day launched in 1997 by Pope John Paul II. The Canadian office of Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) then decided to write a book to honour 13 sisters scattered around the globe: God’s Initiative – Stories of Exceptional Sisters. This book echoes another one, in honour of priests, which was also published by ACN in 2008, with the title of Heroic Priests.1
This shows the admiration that ACN has towards consecrated persons. On February 3rd, in the parish of Christ-Roi de Passy in Senegal, an event took place to celebrate the work accomplished by all the consecrated people of the Kaolack diocese. Story by Robert Lalonde, special collaboration for ACN-Canada.
A celebration of the encounter
Upon my arrival at the centre of the village where the festivities were about to begin, I knew right away that I was about to experience a special day: a celebration of the encounter. This special celebration, as suggested by Pope Francis in this year’s homily devoted to the World Day for Consecrated Life, embodies this “Encounter with the Lord who is the Source”.
The women and children dressed up in the African way sway to the rhythm of the tam-tams, while next to them, men strut, dressed in their traditional Serer costumes. Father Quentin Coly, the parish priest, accompanies them, dancing with such vitality that one would think he was a young seminarian. I see how close the parishioners are to the people who serve them and how grateful they are to them.
Members of various religious communities arrive on the other side of the road; they start hopping up and down as soon as they get out of their vehicles. The Carmes Déchaux Brothers, with whom I live, the Filles du Christ-Roi, the Missionaries of Charity, the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, the Sisters of Providence and many others join us one by one.
When Mgr. Martin Tine arrives, people gather around their leader to form a festive procession which stretches over a distance of about 500 metres and leads us to a church where the bishop presides over a mass worthy of big occasions. In so doing, the parishioners celebrate according to the Serer tradition, to the great pleasure of the bishop riding in a cart pulled by a horse.
Amazed at such enthusiasm, I zigzag through this parade like a child who doesn’t want to miss anything. I grab my multifunction camera, sometimes to capture striking images, sometimes to record the rhythms that fascinate the Westerner that I am.
A plethora of charismas
While inside the church, the choir settles while waiting for the right moment to begin the opening chant, the faithful and consecrated people mingle in front of the church, exchanging hugs and handshakes. Meanwhile, a dozen priests gather around the bishop to continue the religious procession all the way to the altar.
The ceremony is interwoven with liturgical chants, all very touching, giving the word celebration its full meaning. It’s incredible how these songs have a way of carving out a space within us to reach the divine. It’s not naively that ACN supported a training project in liturgical chants for the youth of the Diocese of Kaolack last December.
After the Eucharist, the facilitator will present a brief history of each of the communities which will help to better understand their charisma. These presentations are a reminder that this celebration of the encounter makes it possible to ask for, according to the Pope’s wishes, “the grace to rediscover the living Lord, in the believing people and to encounter the charisma received with this day’s grace.” Throughout these presentations, everyone has a radiant smile that demonstrates the pride of their belonging and the solemnity of this event.
This day, first and foremost placed under the sign of Thanksgiving, led Mgr. Martin to say, “How beautiful and right it is to thank the Lord for the great gift of the consecrated life which nourishes and enriches the Church through the multiplicity of charismas and the devotion of so many lives totally given to the Lord and the brothers.”
Later, he concluded his homily by speaking of this day as being one of “the memory of the gift of self” where each person becomes consecrated in his/her own way, in a concrete way: “Putting Jesus in the midst of his people means having a contemplative heart, able to discern how God walks in the streets of our cities, towns, villages and neighbourhoods. Putting Jesus in the midst of his people means taking charge and wanting to help our brothers and sisters to carry the cross.”
How could this solemn ceremony have ended differently than the way in which it began, that is by songs, dances and a typically Senegalese meal.
A celebration of encounter which never ends!
- To obtain one of these books, please contact Sédrick or Adelmira,
at 1-800-585-6333 or at 514-932-0552, at extensions 227 and 222, respectively.