La Salette in Angola
With the words, "Make this known to all my people," Mary showed her people the urgency of being reconciled with one's neighbor and with God, a "vertical and horizontal" reconciliation. Mary demonstrated this urgency through the tears shed for her people. She herself was a missionary of this reconciliation. She came from afar, from above, to meet two young shepherds in the mountains!
A bit of History
That is what the Swiss La Salette Missionaries did when they came to Angola, over sixty years ago, to share with us this reconciliation, which is first and foremost a Gospel message. This message motivated the lives and the commitment of this men who came from afar. La Salette has been present in Angola for 63 years, precisely since 1946, the hundredth anniversary of the Apparition. On their arrival, the missionaries did not know the people of the country, they knew nothing of their culture, and they did not know the language either, just a few snippets of Portuguese. So they had to deal with learning the local languages, especially Umbundu, the language of the majority of the Angolan population.
But the problem of languages was not going to stop them! We need only recall that the message itself was given in French and in dialect. If Mary's message could have been blocked by the language barrier, it would not be heard today in so many countries, it would have fallen to the ground and become like smoke on the horizon. Here are the names of the first Swiss missionaries in Angola: Emílio Truffer, Rafael Meichtry, Eduardo Jud, João Baptista Damann, Otmar Schweizer, Justo Villiger, João Meier and Roberto Harder. We owe them all our gratitude, and they deserve our unending respect. Today there are only four Swiss priests in Angola: Luis Keller, Francisco Eggs, Viktor Andereggen and José Oehri. These four are not part of the original group.
The Work of the Missionaries
The Missionaries carried out the enormous task of translating books in the fields of theology and spirituality, liturgy and vocation ministry, as well as prayer books. Frs. Joaquim Hatewa, M.S. and Roberto Harder, M.S. (Swiss) played an important role in the founding of the "Sisters of St. Catharine." The presence of the Sisters of Our Lady of La Salette on Angolan soil is due is large part to Fr. Joaquim Hatewa, M.S., an Angolan. The publication of the CD, "Vozes da Reconciliação," which means "Voices of Reconciliation," is the brain-child of Fr. Adriano Elias, M.S. and which is therefore part of the apostolic work of our missionaries. Fr. Adriano is even now recording the second edition.
The Great Challenge
Reconciliation remains a great challenge for Angola. Even though the civil war is over, the country is still deeply scarred by a past that cannot be very easily forgotten. It was an Angolan war, but it was highly influenced by forces outside the country. Friend fought against friend, brother fought against brother, family against the same family. The wounds of war remain open; much more time will be needed before they are healed; hearts are still estranged. The war of arms and bombs may be over, but the war of cultural, tribal and ethnic prejudice continues. Reconciliation in Angola is "urgent with a great urgency." Spurred on by their charism, the La Salette Missionaries dedicate themselves without ceasing to reconciling wounded and resentful hearts. The war has left in its wake many persons who died, often in cruel ways. Some have lost father, mother, brothers and sisters, cousins, nieces and nephews, etc. In certain cases we know who killed whom. The tendency is to want to avenge the atrocities committed. The La Salette Missionaries are opening paths of reconciliation at a time when Angola is preparing for September's legislative elections. And this is a call to work seriously to free ourselves from the situations dating as far back as 1992.
The Growth of La Salette Missionaries in Angola
Just as the seed fallen on the ground must die in order to bear fruit, the Missionaries opened seminaries for the training of Angolan La Salette Missionaries. This openness led to the growth of numerous religious and priestly vocations, both for La Salette and for the diocese.
Today, La Salette in Angola can count on a large and constantly growing number of vocations: the "hundredfold." Angola has four formation houses for the different levels: Propedeutic (preparatory program), Philosophy, Novitiate and Scholasticate. The Scholasticate will soon be transferred to Benguela, once the building of the new Scholasticate in Cavaco-Benguela is finished. For the time being Philosophy is in Benguela, but once decent lodging is available in Huambo (in the center of the country), Philosophy will return there. We can say that from the point of view of formation Huambo is the bastion of the Region, because in the past it was the house of philosophy and the scholasticate. But because of the war, everything had to be moved to Benguela, on the coast, where it was possible to enjoy relative security.
God has blessed the Region of Angola with numerous vocations. Current statistics demonstrate this clearly. At this time La Salette in Angola has 64 priests, 2 deacons, 3 brothers, 21 temporary professed, 2 novices and 162 seminarians (counting the 19 in temporary vows) in Propedeutic, Philosophy and Theology.
We also have members outside of Angola: in France, Italy, Namibia, Portugal and the United States, working in pastoral ministry or pursuing studies in a variety of fields. Our Regional House is situated in Catumbela.
These are the ministries served by members of our Region: in Angola: Mission of Catumbela, Mission of Hanha, Mission of Malongo, Mission of Ndunde-Ganda, Mission of Tchindjendje, Mission of Cubal, Mission of Kalukembe, Mission of Kola, Mission of Mussolo, Parish of Mapunda, Parish of Forte and the Community of Huambo. Outside the country: Opuwo and Omuthiya in Namibie and Porto in Portugal.
The First Regional Superior
The first eight missionaries arrived in 1946. Once the mission became a District, Fr. Emil Truffer, of Swiss nationality, became the Superior. The Region as such was created in 1964. The first Regional Superior was Fr. Eduardo Jud of happy memory, also Swiss; the first Angolan to be Regional Superior was Fr. Tarcísio Tchiheke, who is now director of CESAFE (La Salette Center of Formation and Spirituality).
Here is the list of Swiss and Angolan Regional Superiors:
1946-1964 – Fr. Emil Truffer (Swiss) – as a District
1964-1973 – Fr. Eduardo Jud (Swiss, first Regional Superior)
1973-1988 – Fr. Emil Frick (Swiss)
1988-1996 – Fr. Tarcísio Tchiheke (first Angolan Regional Superior)
1996-2000 – Fr. Alberto Ilidio (Angolan)
2000-1006 – Fr. Pedro Tchingandu (Angolan)
2006------- – Fr. Venâncio Nunda (Angolan)
The 2009 Regional Chapter
The Regional Chapter of 2009 took place from the 12th to the 19th of January at the La Salette Center for Formation and Spirituality (CESAFE). It was a good chapter, pointed in the right direction by an opening retreat preached by Fr. Dionísio, a priest of the diocese of Ondjiva (Cunene), who works for the CEAST (Episcopal Conference of Angola and São Tomé and Principe) as secretary for pastoral ministry. He first touched on problems concerning priestly and religious life with its ups and downs, and also the burning questions and challenges coming from today's world.
Indeed, thanks to his ability to communicate well and offer deep reflections, the members of the Region were filled with a new spirit, which enabled them to renew their religious and priestly commitment. It can also be safely asserted that Fr. Dionísio mastered all questions. As he showed himself to be a man full of wisdom, the chapter members hoped that he would join us again in the future. We spent two full days listening attentively to his words, and we may affirm that this retreat proved to be a veritable balm for the smooth running and the success of the chapter.
The most solemn moment of the chapter was the election of the new Regional Council, which took place on January 16. It is well to note that before each election, song and prayer to the Holy Spirit helped to create a calm, fruitful and positive climate within the chapter assembly. Fr. Venâncio Nunda, M.S. was reelected Regional Superior almost unanimously (46 out of 50 votes). The same day were elected Fr. Lourenço Flaviano Kambalu, M.S. as Regional Vicar, and Fr. Gabriel Ngonga, M.S. as Second Regional Assistant. It was a real grace for the capitulars to have with them Fr. Leslaw Panczak, General Assistant and delegate of the Superior General to be present at this event. With Fr. Leslaw we were able to feel the presence of the Congregation, and he showed us how to love one another. I thank him sincerely for his presence in Angola.
By Fr. ANTÓNIO DOS SANTOS TCHINDAU, M.S.