By Honoré Onana Olah, SJ
Pope Francis, the First Jesuit Pope, invited today (Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord), all the faithful in the world to pray at noon (local time) the prayer of “Our Father”! This invitation to prayer which comes at a time when several countries on the African continent are announcing an increase in cases of contamination, comes to join the many efforts which aim to fight against the pandemic of the Coronavirus (Covid-19) in the world and where African Jesuits participate in a special way.
Fr. Arturo Sosa, the Jesuit Superior General, in a Message published on March 24 entitled “COVID-19: Discerning a path to God” encouraged the Jesuits to “continue looking for the best ways to be close to those in need, in order to continue to walk the common path together”. He also recalls that the members of the Society of Jesus have already had to undertake “many creative initiatives” in their different communities and apostolic works to counter this pandemic.
Indeed, previously in Africa, Fr. Agbonkhianmeghe E. Orobator SJ, President of the JCAM, on March 17, addressed a Message to the Jesuits and collaborators of the Jesuit Conference of Africa and Madagascar (JCAM) entitled “Being one another’s keeper in the time of COVID-19” where he invited them not only to “solidarity” but also to “self-responsibility” and to “compassion” which “lend moral weight to a deeper awareness of the common good.” Fr. Orobator, SJ did not fail to quote this African proverb which says that “when one finger touches oil it soon soils the others.” to call for scrupulous respect for public health rules.
Fr. Mathieu Ndomba, SJ, Provincial of AOC (West Africa Province), invited members of his province to join Pope Francis in prayer on March 25 and share their different “local experience” in the fight against this pandemic. Let’s underline here some of AOC members around the world who are on the front line: like Deacon YAO Amegble, SJ, in Kenya, who continues to preach the Word of God, providing advice, spiritual accompaniment , and to bring comfort on social networks to all people affected by this pandemic; in Spain where Fr. Alain Pitti, SJ, is working in collaboration with laboratories to help find a vaccine against COVID-19; In Abidjan in Côte-d’Ivoire, under the supervision of Fr. Jean Messingué, SJ, the Jesuits also set up a “Free Distance Coronavirus Crisis counselling” which operates 24 hours a day and during the 7 days of the week.**
The example of AOC province is not an isolated case on the continent In Central Africa province (ACE), Fr. Rigobert Kyungu, SJ, Provincial appointed continues to urge respect for the rules of hygiene and to pray with the suffering people of God. He reminds people that during this battle against the coronavirus, by washing our hands regularly for 20 to 30 seconds while reciting a “Hail Mary …”; “We can create a real Ave Maria chain.”
In the future great province of South Africa (Southern Africa) which will bring together several provinces of the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits decided to put online via the website “Jesuit Institute South Africa” articles related to how to live his “faith in a time of pandemic”. Fr. Anthony Egan, SJ in one of those publications says in particular that we must abandon this “bad theology that sees sickness as divine judgment or punishment.”
In East Africa, the Jesuits based in particular at Hekima University College, in Nairobi, while insisting on prayer through the different prayer intentions with which they are entrusted, continue to provide psychological support to people wishing and affected by this coronavirus pandemic.
The novices based at the novitiate of Cyangugu (Rwanda) in the Jesuit region of Rwanda-Burundi also pray for the healing of the sick and “the non-contamination of other provinces” in the country.
In addition to those brief activities listed, African Jesuits in several countries on the continent and outside continue to work alongside doctors and everyone in health care to be on the front line against this coronavirus pandemic.
** 24 hours assistance numbers: (+225) 03 38 24 11/ 08 09 02 88/ 78 27 55 14