Together with the prophet Daniel we say: ‘We thank you, Lord, with all our heart’ (Ps 138,1a). A giving of thanks because the mustard seed has become a large tree and the birds of the sky take shelter in its shade (Mk 4:30-32). When the wish to go to Africa was born in the minds in the promoters of the missionary ideal – Father Fulvio Barca, Father Antonio Busiello and Father Vincenzo Di Blasi – it was a simple adventure of the spirit. It appeared that this was a dream that could not come true and yet through Monsignor Adimou the Spirit of God brought forth the request to ask the sons of St. Camillus to exercise their ministry to the benefit of the poorest and most abandoned populations of the country: the people on Lake Nokouè called the Toffinous.
Thus it was that on 4 March 1973, with the sending out of the three Italian Camillian missionaries Father Gino Cisternino, Father Vincenzo Di Blasi and Brother Antonio Pintabona, that dream became a reality. The adventure of the Spirit began and the religious of the Province of Sicily and Naples reached Benin, the red land…the huts of mud and straw…heat, a great deal of heat, men celebrating in the shade of trees drinking palm wine. Women and children in the roads with large baskets on their heads selling bananas and manioc.
To the eyes of the religious there appeared not a face of Africa made up of magic sunsets and rare animals but the brutal fascination of life in the ‘brousse’ (the savannah of Benin); Fon, an evocative Atlantic dialect; and a hostile territory: a tongue of land, just 200 kilometres in size, that runs from the Atlantic to the hinterland for 800 kilometres.(1) Gradually the Spirit of the Lord built and shaped with rhythms and the seasons its wonders, and with the arrival of new forces – Father Antonio Busiello, Doctor Stefano Ezio, Nunziatina Romanò and Don Paolo Urso, today the bishop emeritus of the diocese of Ragusa – they began in the heart of Benin, in the savannah of west Africa, a health-care institution that now offers every kind of support to the inhabitants of the region of Zinvié and its neighbouring areas: the ‘La Croix’ Hospital. This was a project founded by Father Antonio Busiello in 1976, the father who was commonly called ‘wild antenna’. The hospital sprung up in the thick forest of Benin at that time with an H structure: four blocks that were all the same with the same elevation and arranged so as to have a central corridor which acted as a spine, with the blocks positioned at a distance so as to create two large gardens. The hospital was inaugurated on 5 May 1980 and prior to that date new help had arrived: Father Paolo Calderaro, for two years; Father Fulvio Barca, a commuter between Africa and Italy; and Father Francesco Mazzarella, a pillar of the mission.
After a great many adversities and impediments, the construction began of the house of formation of Ségbanou, the nearest town to the Saint Gall major seminary of Ouidah. “Opening a house of formation”, said the then Provincial Superior, Father Francesco Mazzarella, on the day of the inauguration, “means thinking of the future of man and offering him hope, laying the bases for a new school of charity for the world of health”.
The first fruits of this initiative arrived on 19 September 1999 with Father Raoul Ayiou, Father Marius Yabi and Father Huber Goudjinou. Since then this mission, which appeared something that could not be achieved, has become an immense tree and the words of St. Camillus about that little plant today are a reality where young people are committed, ever more strongly, to carrying forward the work of those intrepid missionaries. Forty-five years have gone by since that distant yet close 4 March 1973 and that small group of religious has become so large. Together let us raise up our thanks.
Thanks go to the first intrepid missionaries who, animated by the spirit of charity, gave the finest years of their religious and priestly lives to a land which grips you by the soul because that wonderful red land makes you feel as though it were yours and belongs to you, remains inside you, overwhelming you like an impetuous river full of water.
Thanks go to the religious of the Vice-Province for the great feelings that they have and the enthusiasm about ‘being missionaries’ following the example of the Founders. Thanks for the smiles that you give and as I always say: “you are the people of joy and a grateful memory’.
But above all else my thanks go to the power of the Holy Spirit who with inexpressible rumblings always creates all things anew and is preparing the hearts of each one of us, both of the Mother Province and of the Vice-Province, for the great celebrations of the move to becoming the Province of Benin-Togo.
With feelings of great joy and certain hope, I invoke the Holy Spirit on the whole of the land of Africa, hoping after these forty-five years of life for a long and perennial liturgy of praise. I embrace you fraternally and I ask for your blessing and prayer.
The Provincial Superior
Father Rosario Mauriello