Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Fr. Angel Fernandez Visits Chad, Cameroon, and South Sudan

Fr. Angel Fernandez Visits
Chad, Cameroon, and South Sudan

Condensed from ANS

On February 8 Fr. Angel Fernandez Artime, St. John Bosco's 10th successor as Rector Major of the Salesian Society, and his secretary, Fr. Horacio Lopez, left Rome to visit Chad, Cameroon, and South Sudan. The two visitors made fraternal stops in Chad (Feb. 9-12), Cameroon (13-16), and South Sudan (17-21).
In Chad

Fr. Angel and Fr. Horacio arrived at N’Djamena, Chad’s capital, on Monday, February 9. Accompanied by the provincial and other confreres, they were brought to the house at Chagoua, where they received a warm welcome from the students, teachers, and the leaders of the youth center with traditional and symbolic gestures. They heard about the birth of the SDB presence in Chad and its future prospects. The RM addressed some words of greeting in French to the young people present and invited them to come back on Thursday, when he would return after a visit to the houses of southern Chad.

The RM shared a meal and celebrated the Eucharist with the SDB community in a spirit of great fraternity. He left at 4:00 a.m. Tuesday for the SDB house in Sarh, where a large crowd of the faithful and many curious onlookers were waiting for him at the soccer stadium. The RM greeted them and accepted traditional gifts.

He went to the SDB community, where a large number of religious, diocesan priests, and young people were waiting. He answered questions on family ministry, youth ministry, and education; witnessed a show of traditional and modern youth dances; and gave a Good Night to the young people.

On the 11th, the RM presided at Mass in the parish church, shared news about the Salesian Family with the local SDBs, then was driven to Guidolo, a village 13 miles away, to bless a new well.

After his visit to Sarh, Fr. Angel was driven to Doba, where the program included cultural activities and another session of questions and answers.

On his Facebook page the RM chronicled his tour of the SDB communities of southern Chad:

“We are in southern Chad. We have had a long day. We got up at 3:00 a.m. and by 4:00 we were already on the road, in the middle of the night. Dawn came at 5:30. Ahead of us lay 530 miles of road, with potholes that constituted a danger for tires. A young goat ran into our pick-up and damaged the bumper–a typical missionary day!

We witnessed the reality of thousands of people who survive every day by selling something from the fields: firewood, vegetables, and so on.

When we arrived at the Salesian house [of Sahr], hundreds of people from the local Christian community were waiting for us. There was music, song, and dance, and the typical joy of Africans when they welcome their guests. Once again there is a lesson we can learn from the poor, that there is joy in life and in meeting people, even where there is poverty.

On February 13 he wrote: ”Neither the heat nor the 1,050 miles we have travelled in three days (about 24 hours’ journey on roads that were more or less passable) managed to take away from the beauty of all these meetings.

In Doba yesterday, it was impossible to communicate due to lack of technology.

We concluded the visit to Chad in three villages; these people spend their lives on the road, especially on the main road where everything is bought and sold.

We saw that water is an invaluable asset, and so is the shade of a tree. People go into their mud houses only to sleep at night or for safety when confronted by some animal.

I assure you that no one could remain indifferent after meeting these people. What struck us was their dignity even in a situation of absolute poverty or survival, and their smiles!

There is need for a lot of work, education, and development, but they have great dignity and passion for life.

We are leaving highly impressed by the life of the Salesian community and the Christian community we met there.

I cannot find words to express what these experiences mean to me. We prayed with the communities, we heard what they had to say, we shared with our brother Salesians who, day after day, give their LIFE in this mission land. There are 12 Salesians in Chad. They are HAPPY–we have seen it and can confirm it.

Friends: I invite you, simply, as far as I can in the time at my disposal, to continue to accompany our journey of pilgrimage. Let us pray for each other and for this good people who love life even though they lack many things,

Early on February 12, the RM returned to N’Djamena, where he had a meeting with the young people and the faithful of the SDB parish as he had promised. In the evening he presided at Mass for the young people and met the diocesan administrator.

On Friday, after Mass and a Good Morning talk to the students of the SDB school, Fr. Angel left for Cameroon.

A weekend in Cameroon

Arriving at Yaounde, Cameroon’s capital, on Saturday morning, February 14, Fr. Angel remarked: “I am the servant, not the boss. I want to be available to everyone.”

At the SDB center of theological studies, the community welcomed him with song, traditional symbols, and a stage performance by the theology students on the theme of GC27. This was followed by a family meeting in which the young SDBs asked questions, and the RM highlighted the strengths of the Congregation and the areas for improvement.

The next morning the RM celebrated Mass and took part in the community meal, which also provided the occasion for a meeting with the apostolic nuncio. In the afternoon he visited the FMAs at Cité Marie-Dominique and had a fraternal meeting with members of the local Salesian Family, on the triple theme of communion, dynamism, and mission. The day ended with Evening Prayer and Good Night, in which the RM invited all to look to the future with hope.

On Sunday the 15th, many SDBs, FMAs, Daughters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, Salesian Cooperators, and the general faithful participated in the Eucharist with the RM in the parish church. In his homily Fr. Angel invited all present to ask themselves what was their own leprosy from which they sought healing, and then to turn to Jesus with the courage of the leper who asked to be healed.

After Mass the RM blessed the site on which a new church is to be built, then held a press conference. He was asked about the significance of his trip to a continent in political, economic, and social crisis. Fr. Angel said he had come to support his brothers who live in a context of crisis, and also to promote communion and dialog in communities as a way to combat fundamentalism.

In the afternoon the young people performed various cultural and artistic activities. The RM advised the young people to develop a culture of vocations, seeing life as both gift and service. It is from this perspective that all forms of Christian vocation are born.

Welcome to South Sudan

On February 17, Juba International Airport was flooded with colorful banners, traditional dancers, children, and youths from the SDB mission at Juba to welcome the RM. Activities in the airport came to a standstill. As soon as Fr. Angel arrived, he was interviewed by the national television.

The Salesian Family was led by the SDB and FMA provincials of East Africa and the delegate for Sudan and South Sudan. A police escort led the Salesian convoy to the mission, where the RM surprised everyone by mingling with the traditional dancers and child dancers. People were astonished by the familiarity, warmth, and fatherliness of the RM as he moved along and greeted everyone on his way to the mission.
A short greeting, prayer, and blessing followed the rousing welcome. Fr. Angel’s first message was the joy that he felt among the happy faces of a nation that had suffered long years of war. He was struck by the poverty of the neighborhood, the simplicity of the people, and the smiling faces greeting Don Bosco’s successor. He was proud that the Salesian Family was very close to this vulnerable population and exclaimed more than once that Don Bosco is truly present and at home among the poor.

The curiosity was so high that one little girl asked the mission’s director: “Is it the Don Bosco that we were talking about these days, that he would be among us? Wow!” Two little girls begged the driver of the RM’s car: “Please allow us to enter Don Bosco’s car.” They managed it with great excitement!

The day ended with a simple prayer and dinner with the Salesian Family. In his Good Night Fr. Angel emphasized: “The poor will save us. The Lord reaches out to us through the poor. I am happy that the Salesian family is here—SDBs, FMAs, and Caritas Sisters of Jesus.”

You can follow the Rector Major and his messages on social networks here.


On February 18, the Rector Major and nine others left Juba by chartered plane for Tonj, flying over the African savanna.

As the plane touched down at Tonj, beautiful melodies from the Don Bosco band greeted them. SDBs, FMAs, Missionary Sisters of MHC, and the Kakamega Sisters of Mary were on hand with youngsters from our schools, who gave Fr. Angel a rousing welcome with song and dance. He was also greeted by South Sudan’s minister of Information, Paul Dhel Gum, a Salesian past pupil from Wau.

The Rector Major blessed the John Lee Memorial Hospital, an initiative undertaken by the late Fr. John Lee (an SDB from Korea) and Fr. Omar Delasa. This was followed by the Ash Wednesday Mass and distribution of ashes, well organized by the parish and young people. In his homily the Rector Major expressed his joy and encouraged the children, teens, and other parishioners to continue to carry the flame of hope toward the creation of a more humane and just society.

Even after a long journey and in 100º heat, Fr. Angel and Fr. Horacio did not show any fatigue. They spent some fraternal moments with the FMAs and the MSMHCs. In the evening they visited Laicok, a leper village, where Fr. Angel came into direct contact with the real poor. He gave this community and their children loving attention and had the joy of blessing the construction of a primary school. His affection for the little ones was very touching.

In his Good Night to the Salesian Family, Fr. Angel expressed his appreciation and love for the Salesian mission and its special predilection for the poor. He encouraged all the members of the Family, marveling at their family spirit. He spent a brotherly evening with the SDBs, expressing his affection and acknowledging all the attention, sacrifices, and hard work done in the mission despite hardships.


On February 19 Fr. Angel and his party moved on to Wau. Again they received a warm welcome from the Salesian Family, youths, children, and parishioners of the Salesian mission.

Wau is a Catholic town, and as the Rector Major’s motorcade passed by the crowd joined in the celebration with blaring sirens, colorful banners, and songs. “Don Bosco is in the city,” was the talk of the town.

As Fr. Angel entered the FMA primary school, the children greeted him with traditional dances, songs, and creative choreography. The Rector Major, all smiles, moved around like an affectionate father, posing spontaneously for photos. Interviewed by the national TV, he stressed the conviction that the Congregation is committed to serving the poor and that the Salesians will always offer the hope that poor youngsters deserve.

At Mass the Rector Major highlighted his appreciation of the Christians’ great witness of faith and their determination to continue the journey of hope. The SDBs and FMAs had a quiet meeting with him. He listened to the SDBs as they discussed the dreams and challenges of the mission. Some youths at risk had a very personal meeting with him. He also had the privilege of blessing the cornerstones for the parish’s multipurpose hall, a new computer center, and a future Don Bosco Engineering College.

The SDBs in Wau exulted: “The Rector Major, daring the heat of the sun and the horrendous South Sudanese roads, showed his determination to be with the confreres and have his own experience of life in the mission.”


Fr. Angel began February 21 with a visit to the camp for displaced persons on the Salesian campus in Juba. It was a pastoral choice to start his official visit by meeting first the most vulnerable people in the camp. The children and babies felt at home in the company of the Rector Major and Fr. Horacio. His affection was unbounded as he took them in his arms and caressed them.

Fr. Angel moved over for the cultural program in the parish and tried some African dances. His well-coordinated movements together with the children brought joy to the folks, and he enjoyed them extremely.

Fr. Angel met the confreres of the Juba and Maridi communities and got to know the reality of the Salesian mission in those areas. He offered his recommendations for the growth of the South Sudan mission. Then he visited the FMAs.

The Eucharistic celebration in the parish brought all the Christians together, and the Rector Major guided the community with his reflections. While thanking them he also reiterated his conviction that the mission has a great future as it continues to enjoy the embrace of Christ’s love. His strength of conviction and hope led him to assure the Christian community of his continued remembrance in prayer for their country so afflicted by war.

His parting words to the Salesian Family were encouragement to remain committed to the poor and to find Christ in them.

“The Rector Major conquered the hearts of those in South Sudan, and he has left behind a beautiful memory of his visit with his gestures of affection, love, and hope-filled words. Thank you so much, Fr. Angel, and a warm hug from all your sons in South Sudan,” said the Salesians in Juba.

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