Home At Last

By Sr. Marie Madeline ocd

Some years ago the Carmelites of the Philippines decided to send a missionary team to Ghana, Africa, carrying on them missionary spirit of St. Therese as their response to the Pope’s call in 1981 when he visited the Philippines that more Filipino Catholics serve in Africa. In 1998, after a year’s preparation in which they lived together as a community, a group of young sisters set out for the long journey to Africa along with her mother superior, Sister Marie Madeline. Luckily they had a guardian angel, Father Charles, and many other angels on their way. Here is an extract from Sr. Madeline story of how she accompanied this new group of contemplative nuns bravely setting out for Africa at a time when Africa, contorted with war and famine, is no picnic. We apologize for cutting down Sisters beautiful article in which she thanked so many people but space only allows us the following. One their way to Africa they stopped in Rome and actually met the Holy Father and got a special blessing from him. From Rome the Sisters set off for Africa. (Ed)

Our Alitalia flight left Rome promptly at 2:30 pm and after 8 hours or so we landed in Accra, the capital of Ghana. It was 8 o’clock in the evening and the air was hot and humid. After a week of ‘first-world’ life in the cool and comfort of Rome, we were coming to another world. Amidst the jostling and the shouting as black African bodied crowded around us to help wit hour luggage, we found refuge in the welcoming arms of Filipino Friends who came to meet us. They were with Fr. Christopher Bazaanahm, the Vicar General of Tamale Archdiocese, who had a mini-bus ready for us.

Arriving ‘Home’

Monday, May 4, was a whole day of travel-from 5:30 am to 7:00pm- from Accra all the way up, up, up to Tamale, by mini-bus which was a far cry for Our Holy Mother’s carriages but still as open to adventures and the exclamations of cloistered nuns going  to a new land. As the road moved north, the weather got drier and hotter, the surrounding country side less green and the land more flat. It was dark when we reach Tamale but our heats lighted up when we met the Archbishop, Most Rev. Gregory Kpiebaya, who was waiting for us in his residence with an African meal ready for tired and hungry travelers. His tall, dark welcoming figure with the eagerness in his voice and his big warm smile was more than enough to soothe our aching bones. Yes, we were home indeed! And that evening we did reach home – a newly renovated and painted bungalow in Nim Avenue (about two blocks away from the Cathedral) with 8 cells, a refectory and kitchen, 2 bathrooms and toilets, a veranda, a small chapel in a separate building, 2 water tanks and the whole property of bout 1/3 hectare was surrounded by a seven-foot-high-wall. Each cell has a bed, a desk and a chair, a cabinet and a ceiling fan! Everything just seemed perfect and every nook and corner drew cries of delight from the Sisters. “Lord, it is good for us to be here!” it was almost midnight when we retired – dead tired but deeply grateful to be ‘home’ at last.

The night it rained! A precious gift from heaven for sub-Saharan Africa. One of the missionary priests said, “Our people will always remember that the day the Carmelite arrived, it rained.”

Left by our Good Shepherd

Our Carmelite companion who had now only two days left with us. This time was put into full use: a serious 3-hours session with the Archbishop to clarify and settle the contract between the order and the Archdiocese regarding this mission-foundation, our first Mass concelebrated with the Archbishop and followed by the blessing of the house, a visit to the 10-acre land in Tempe-kukuo where the monastery will eventually be built, and a visit to Archbishop Emeritus Peter Dery who had originally asked for this foundations. Fr. Charles gave his time making contacts with other priests and religious to whom we could turn case of future needs. In the evening of Wednesday, May 6th, he bid us goodbye, as he had to leave early the next day for the long trip back to Accra and then on to Rome. Our hearts went with him and we felt like orphans for he had been our good shepherd for these early beginnings, but we knew he also left his heart with us and we could always count on his support and prayers.

Now We’re on Our Own

Sisters took turns for the cooking each day. Some Sisters learned to do the marketing, at first with the help of their Chaplain, Fr. Gregory, or an FMM Sister who offered to bring them with her regular weekly marketing and later on their own. Sr. Susan was sacristan and in-charge of all the basic things needed for our daily Eucharist. Everyone did her share for the cleaning. Sr. Ria was portress and was kept busy by the constant flow of visitors eager to meet the new arrivals, but she had Fesini, their Muslim day watchman, to open the iron gate whenever someone knocked. The sisters also began preparing garden plots and planted vegetable seeds which they had brought all the way form the Philippines as soon as it rained again. In a few days time the corn and kangkong were sprouting – signs of new life.

P.S. The eight Sisters who went to Ghana were Sisters Mary Bernard Magaro, Maureen Virtucio, Miriam Florentino, Mary Chritesa Villena, Maria Corazon Quiamboa, Maria Teresita Cadelinia, Mary Rachel Deano, Mary Susana Tamayo.