Dearest confreres of the Camillian Province of Benin-Togo,
It is with great joy that I send you this message of congratulations, of communion and of encouragement for your future on the occasion of the celebration of the canonical move from being the Vice-Province of Benin-Togo to having the status of a ‘Province’. On this occasion the forty-fifth anniversary of the arrival of the Camillians in Benin will be celebrated, as well as the twentieth anniversary of the priestly ordination of the first Camillian of the new Province. In addition, there will be various ordinations of priests and deacons and various temporary and perpetual religious professions of a number of confreres. All of this is a reason for thanksgiving, praise and blessing to God, the author of all gifts and all good things of grace.
As you know, I wished to be present and to live this blessed time with all of you, but as the proverb says: ‘man proposes and God disposes’. Therefore, for reasons beyond my control (frail health) I will be absent with my body but I will be present with you spiritually and fraternally. The presence of the Vicar General, Father Laurent Zoungrana, will bear witness to the affection of all the members of the General Consulta towards you.
Thus, united in this with all the members of the General Consulta, I congratulate you on this very important stage of your lives, a point of arrival that is at the same time a point of departure, as you unanimously declared during your first Chapter of the Vice-Province of 9 March 2017. You expressed your wish to move to having the status of a Province. This point of arrival invites you to look at the past with great gratitude for the grafting of the charism of St. Camillus in your Vice-Province, which is now a Province.
In 1971, thanks to an invitation extended by the Bishop of Lokossa, Msgr. Christophe Adimou, the Camillians of the Province of France settled for the first time in Dogbo for a few years before coming together in Davougon. But it was above all with the arrival of the religious of the Province of Sicily and Naples in Yévié, forty-five years ago and more precisely on 4 March 1973, that the charism of St. Camillus began to put down roots and to acquire a colouring of an African character, especially with the arrival of the first local Camillians, three of whom (Fr. Raoul Ayiou, Fr. Marius Yabi and Fr. Hubert Goudjinou) are celebrating the fiftieth anniversaries of their ordination as priests. In the month of June 2018, during the last meeting of the major Superiors of the Order in Taiwan, Father Guy-Gervais communicated that the ‘Vice-Province has 72 religious who are priests, 7 religious who are brothers, 7 temporary professed, 5 novices, 13 postulants and 11 aspirants’. You have also experienced a growth in the number of your communities (11 communities and a residence), in your work, and in your presence in various countries and continents of the world, without omitting to mention the fact that the Lay Camillian Family is flourishing in your new Province.
The missionary strength that your Fathers handed down to you remains alive and productive, dynamic and exemplary, and it characterises you at a deep level. All of this is a reason for giving thanks to the Lord who works together with generous and courageous men. And this is an opportunity to render homage to all those who left their countries and gave themselves body and soul for the birth and strengthening of the presence of the Camillians in your vast Province. Allow me to recall here the missionaries who arrived forty-five years ago, Fr. Luigi Cisternino and Fr. Vincenzo Di Blasi, who from up above in heaven are praying for us, and Br. Antonino Pintabona, who at the present time offers his service in Cremona (Italy)
In the person of dear Father Mauriello Rosario, the Provincial Superior of the Province of Sicily and Naples, I greet and thank the whole of the Mother Province and in particular all the Provincial Superiors and all the missionaries from Europe and from Canada, all of whom have worked with great dedication and wisdom in the construction of the Province of Benin-Togo which today is our pride. One may say that the Mother Province, with a feeling of prophetic maternity, began to generate the new Province with the arrival of the first missionaries.
During the course of your history, dear confreres of this new Camillian Province, you have experienced great joy but also suffering. The beauty of the multiculturalism that is specific to your Province, with its riches, is like a rose that also has thorns. As you know, thorns do not diminish the beauty and the scent of a rose. You are, therefore, a fine Province that needs to be beautified continuously through dialogue, respect and mutual understanding, fraternal love and courageous service for the sick and the poor.
Therefore, I want to renew my strong invitation to unity, as I did in my message after my fraternal visit which took place on 10-14 December 2014. In that context I observed: ‘We have the duty through our religious profession to be experts in unity and fraternity. Unity does not mean uniformity, nor does it mean only tolerance. It means, rather, true search for the other, with respect and mutual listening…Our ideas can be different, but our hearts should not draw distant from each other…I encourage you…to work so that between you grow opportunities for fraternity and friendship…Work to strengthen your fraternity, your unity, your mutual trust, and your mutual love. See yourselves as brothers to one another! Remember what is written in the Gospel according to St. John about the death of Jesus: ‘and not only for them, but also to bring together into one body all the scattered people of God’ (Jn 11:52). This will make you a great Province able to bear witness with generosity and efficacy to the merciful love of God for the world at the side of illness, the suffering and the poor’.
With all my heart I commend you constantly to consider the challenge of unity; in your diversity, build a union of hearts; avoid the injurious maladies of ethnocentrism (seeing one’s own culture as being superior to others); and consciously cultivate intercultural capacities by placing Jesus and his Gospel, the Camillian charism and Camillian spirituality, in pride of place. Remember that we are first of all Camillians and then…Italians Brazilians, Beninese, Togolese, Filipinos, etc.
I do not want to obscure the joy of the celebration with this keenly-felt appeal of mine to unity, but I do want to be realistic and I invite you to look to the future with hope and with a concrete commitment to building a Province that is great not only in its structures but also through a deepening and strengthening of its religious values.
The move to having the status of a Province will be celebrated on the occasion of the celebration of the glorious Cross of Jesus and of Our Lady of Sorrows (14-15 September), feast days that are very dear to us and during which we like to renew our commitments. These feast days invite us to meditate on the love of God and thank Him for the gift of the redemption which His Son gave us, acquired at the price of his death on the cross. Our Lady of Sorrows united herself to the suffering of the Son and accompanied him on his redeeming mission. While we meditate on and celebrate these feast days, we also remember that Christ on the Cross was the great Comforter of St. Camillus during his difficult moments and that the Mother of the Redeemer has always accompanied our Order. Never forget to turn at every moment to Christ on the Cross and to his mother to ask them for graces for the needs of your Province and of each one of you, so that your lives and your ministries always conform to the will of God.
Dearest Father Guy-Gervais and confreres of the Province of Benin-Togo, while I congratulate you on these moments that you will experience, I wish you a fruitful move to being a Province with the blessing of St. Camillus our Father Founder and Protector. My special and fraternal congratulations go to all those who will live these days of celebration, those who are celebrating their twenty years of priesthood, and those who are celebrating their deaconates or ordinations as priests or their temporary or perpetual professions.
May the Virgin Mary, Our Lady ‘Health of the Sick’, who is also Our Lady of Sorrows, accompany you and protect you in your undertaking to be always faithful to He who loved us first and to be always worthy Ministers of the Sick!
I cordially greet all those who will take part in this solemn celebration; in particular I greet all my Camillian confreres who have come together from various countries of the world to support the confreres of the new, beautiful and young Province of Benin-Togo.
May God bless you and grant that the graces of these days bring forth in you abundant fruit!
Rome, 8 September 2018
Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Father Leocir PESSINI