More on Chad Mission
The diocese has fifteen parishes. Three are in Sarh town while the rest are scattered over the rest of the diocese. Each parish is divided into several Communaute Ecclesial Base (CEB). In the parishes in the interior, these communities are joined in groups of 8-12 to form a SECTOR. Each sector is like an outstation with movable centers. Each parish has between 7-15 sectors. The priest goes to each SECTOR for the celebration of the sacraments as often as his energy can carry him. It is rotated among the communities within the sector.The distances between the communities in the parishes in the interior is between 7-10km. This means that the distance between one end of a sector and the other end of the nearest sector is between 20-60km depending on the size of the parish. These communites are made up of farmers who live in clusters of small villages. Each community has its own administration and runs its affairs neatly. The catechist is supervised by the community leaders who in turn are supervised by the sector leaders who are under the charge of the parish leaders. The diocese had its first pastoral plan in 1991. The second plan came of the diocesan pastoral conference held in 2001. This plan is what is guiding the pastoral life of the Church. The plan has as its main focus the straightening of the CEB, inculturation of the faith, fighting poverty, and participation in the Universal Church's mission. There is also the emphasis on the training of the youths, dialogue with other religions like Islam and ATR.
It has three formation centers for the catechists. Each parish sends one or two persons there each year. The formation lasts for two years. During the training, the candidates live in the center with all the members of their families. The community, sector, parish and the diocese takes care of their training. Experts in different fields like Church history, Catecheses, Liturgy, animation, etc go there for crash courses.
The liturgical year of the diocese commences in September and ends in June or July, depending on the location of the parish. During the heavy rains, the Church is almost closed as the members are very busy with their farms and all the communities are reachable by foot alone. The roads get too slippery for even bicycles. Most of the missionaries return to their countries while the indigenous priests and religious take holidays outside the diocese. The churches at this point are in the hands of the catechists and the lay eucharistic ministers. The church is VERY CENTRALIZED around the bishop who is the father in the CHURCH-FAMILY OF GOD at Sarh. This image of Church-as-family of God is so strong here. And to a large extent, they try to live it out. Though things are very centralized, they do not seem to be too hierachicalized. Before very important decisions are taken, every single strata of the Church send in its contributions and suggestions. For instance, a document from the regional bishop's conference (Women in the Society and in the Church) was the theme of the annual meeting of all the priests ; the religious; and the laity. The reflections of the meetings will eventual come out as a letter by the bishop. The proceedings of the Conference Episcopal Chadian are typed and sent to all the parishes and all the senior seminarians in the country. This helps to take all along. However, like a typical African father in a typical African society, there are never two fathers in a family. That means: the bishop is in-charge and every one here understands that and respects it.
Spending Two Christmases in Sarh
by Rev. Fr. John Anih, MSP
At my priestly ordination in June 2000, my Superior General (SG) assigned me to Minna Catholic Diocese for a year post-ordination pastoral experience in Nigeria. This compulsory first year experience is in line with the wishes of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Nigeria for the Missionary Society of St Paul. They desired that each MSP priest work at least for a year in the Nigerian church before going to a foreign land. Towards the end of that year, I prayed silently not to be sent to a "hard" mission as I had experienced real difficult times in Minna. At the beginning of July 2001, the SG invited me to his office one morning and said to me, "John, I wish to congratulate you for your first anniversary and to inform you that I am sending you to Chad mission". Instantly I went blank. I just looked at him and then looked above as if to say, "oh heavens, what have you done to me?" I asked him why. He responded with something like, "you are a missionary and we think you have all that is required to make that mission that has given us a lot of difficulties work." I looked at him very sternly. Then I said, " Ok, I will go if only you would support me." Two of us were sent. He then promised the support of the Society and thanked me for accepting. In September of that year, there was the second general chapter of our congregation. A new council was elected. After waiting for another one year to learn a bit of French and, to conclude some other preparations, we came here to Chad in December 2002.
On arrival here, we did not find a source of support as the first team of MSP had gone before our arrival. We depended entirely on the good people of the diocese for everything. And they were excellent. Everyone welcomed us with smiles, though very cautiously. And then we hadn't the language. Our French was just not good enough for any useful communication.
Chad is one of the poorest countries in the world. However, it is important to underline that this poverty is only material. It is one of those countries that are rarely in the news. With a population of less than eight million scattered in a land area of over a million square kilometers; two-thirds of it being desert and high mountains, there was nothing of much interest to the powerful western media until very recently. This lack of interest is changing fast with the exploration and exportation of petroleum products from the southern part of the country. Ninety percent of Chadians live on less than one euro a day. The country depends entirely on Nigeria and the UAE for manufactured goods as there are less than five manufacturing industries in the whole country. Chad is underdeveloped, landlocked at the middle of the poorest continent, but has so much natural wealth that can transform it if well developed. Apart from its rich cultural heritage, the south is very fertile and could feed the whole of Africa. Its cultural richness is abundantly displayed at the celebration of Christmas, especially in the Liturgy.
Being here has been very enriching as it has been difficult. But there is much hope since 65% of the people are young. The only concern is that the average life expectancy is forty. People hardly attain old age.
Sarh diocese where we work is a predominantly traditional environment. Only about 40% go to church, and only one-half of this number is baptized. However, the whole population celebrates Christmas in a magnificently flamboyant manner. People start preparing for Christmas as early as July. They plan hugely for the celebration and celebrate it lavishly. At the church level, the priestly ordinations are held during the Christmas break. Each of the fifteen parishes of the diocese is actively involved in the celebration. At last year's celebrations (2002), we had the priestly ordinations of four deacons on December 30. It was also the silver jubilee celebrations of the first two priests of the diocese who are providentially, the only indigenous catholic bishops in Chad. At the celebration, there were more than eight thousand persons present. That ordination brought to eighteen the number of priests of the diocese, which was created in 1962.
Being a largely traditional environment, the Church has made huge progress in the area of using traditional images and symbols in expressing the faith. At Christmas for instance, the procession is made up of some women carrying lighted kerosene lamps. These lighted lamps show that Christ's birth lights up the whole world. Just as the coming of a king or any important personality in the society is heralded with songs and dances, young girls called 'filles danceuse' accompany those women with lighted lamps in the procession. These girls dance to the sweet drums and balofon. The understanding is that Jesus is the Great Light. He is The Huge Personality and attracts all persons to Himself. His coming has to be celebrated and accompanied by songs and dances. Then at the end of the homily all the children born in the month of December are brought to the altar for special blessing. Somehow these signs and symbols help prepare the people for the social dimension of Christmas, which is done flamboyantly.