5 - 26August
It was yet another journey which the Societies of White Fathers and White Sisters have proposed to the European Youth. After Tanzania, Burkina Faso, Mali and Ghana, this time it was Niger. 8 young people from France, Italy and Poland voluntereed for this journey which aim was not just a mere tourism but a discovery of realities in which live people of one the poorest countries in the world where islam plays a vital role and where there is a tiny yet very dynamic Christian minority. Certainly the period of 3 weeks was not enough to grasp and understand everything yet it was long enough to feel a bit the specific atmosphere of that vast country.
After a meeting of 3 days which took place in a hospitable community of White Fathers in Mours the group accompanied by Fr.Jacek took off from the Charles de Gaulle Airport on the 5th of August in the direction of Niamey
The capital of Niger was the first point of the journey. During 3 days we spent there, we could experience the reality of a quickly developing African metropoly.
An introduction to the still short history of Catholic Church in Niger was offered us by the Archbishop of Niamey: Michel Cartateguy. Some more information precisely with a White Fathers focus we could get from our confrere: Fr.Joseph Frigola who has been living for 23 years in Niger. A testimony given by the Petites Soeurs de Jésus who are present in Niger since the years 50 of the previous century completed a picture of what the Church in a muslim society is. A visit to a splendid mosque in Niamey was an encounter par excellence with the religion which is practising by 98% of population of Niger.
After this short stay in Niamey the group was divided in 2 small teams which were welcomed by our 2 communities within the country: in Birnin Konni (460 km from Niamey) and Zinder (937km from the capital). To get to those destinations we used the local bus transport which provided us with some flavour of adventure. At both places we felt welcomed and awaited. In Zinder as in Konni the local youth was accompanying the young Europeans from the morning till the evening. The city of Zinder could attract a visitor with many signs of its rich history - palace of sultan, slave market, traditional quartiers with little houses built in banco. Birnin Konni is a town with a future - being situated at the border with Nigeria the city became a big commercial carrefour. But once you leave the noisy streets of the city you will find yourself in a peaceful rural atmosphere. Our youth could profit from the proximity of this rural milieu and like that discover the reality of life in a village.
Yet the most profitable and most enriching were not the sight-seeing tours but the encounters with local population both Christian and Muslim. Organized meeting with the group of youth or sponataneous visits in the families were the wonderful opportunities to exchange views, news and opinions on different matters. Quite striking for our youth from Europe was the fact that the issue of religion was always at stake - a clear sign that God and spiritual values, contrary to our European reality have an important place in the African one. A picnic and a soirée dansante were the nice moments when the youth from Niger and Europe could tighten their links of friendship which certainly in most cases will continue thanks to the modern means communication (each young Nigerien has his or her personal mobile phone....).
While evaluating this short journey in Niger each of its participants stressed that this experience would certainly have an impact on their future life. Each one of them expressed a wish to go back again to Africa - a good sign for Niger, a country which is not really a holiday destination...
Hereby on behalf of all who took part in that journey I would like to say a big "merci!" to all the White Fathers communities in Niger who accomodated us and were ready to share with us their daily missionary life.
A big "merci"also to Sr.Cécile and Fr.Jean who engaged themselves wholeheartedly in before the journey part of preparation. And at last a big MERCI to the youth who answered our proposal, for their courage, openness and readiness to live fully that missionary experience.
Jack Wroblewski, M.Afr.
Accompagnateur of the group.Text & photos : Jack Wroblewski,
also: Niger : Missionary Journey in Niger A journal in five stages by Alfonso
Bartolotta August 2008