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A brief history of activities of Marist laity in Africa

29/09/2009: Nigeria

Lay people participation in the spirituality and mission of the Marist Brothers did not evolve today. Before now, small group of individuals have been identifying with the Marist Brothers under different names such as Marist Family Movement, Champagnat Movement of the Marist Family, Marist Youths etc. The activities of these groups have passed series of transformations which has grown to what we have today as Marist Lay Associate.

It is evident that this lay men and women from their zeal to work with the Brothers in achieving their mission, want greater participation in the spirituality of the Marist Brothers.

In Africa, using Province of Nigeria as an index, the progress of the group has been rapid. In 2004, the inaugural meeting of the group was held at Br Alban Okoye’s hall with few members of the group and some Brothers in attendance. Br Fabian Okeke, director of Marist Laity in Nigeria, used the occasion to formally explain the participation of lay people in the mission of Marist Brothers.

The first convention of the group in Nigeria took place on 15th to 17th December, 2006. About one hundred and fifty members were in attendance. Meetings are organised at the zonal centre once a term with fraternities having different dates in a month within a term for their meetings. Annual retreats are organised at the zonal level and most fraternities has engaged helping the less privileged, teaching the weak student in our schools and visiting the sick and neglected as their apostolate.

Opinion sample conducted adduced the following as the possible reasons for members’ lack of interest in the group:

Economic Reason: Some members become disenchanted when a paltry monthly dues is mentioned. They felt the Brothers should fend for the group activities.

Religious Belief: Non Catholics on discovering that the Blessed Mother is at the centre of our mission become disillusioned and withdrew.

Material Gain: Some on discovering that the Brothers do not share food or give financial reward withdrew their membership.

About one hundred and twenty members at present have strengthened their quest for greater participation in the mission of the Brothers. Some wish to be only observers and will not like to identify with the group activities. Despite these shortcomings, the present group is strong and focused.

Brothers in other provinces and districts in Africa have also given greater recognition to the Lay Marist:

- The Province of Southern Africa has them as Lay collaborators.
- The group in Zimbabwe is stronger because they want to live deeper of the spirituality and mission in their place of work.
- In Tanzania, there is a fraternity of the Champagnat Movement of the Marist Family that meets once a week. They have a formation on social teaching of the church using the document on Vatican II. They also take as their apostolate preparing the youth for marriage.
- In eastern Congo, there are small group in the university that meets once a month. They are engage in taking care of street children as their apostolate.
- The group in the District of West Africa are still young with few members.
- In Madagascar, there is strong presence which gives us hope of growth in our present number.

ACCEPTANCE IN THE MARIST FAMILY

Quoting the circular page 14, paragraph 3 of convoking the 21st General Chapter:

Though lay consultant and observers had been part of previous chapters, our 1993 gathering marked the first time that a significant group of them was invited.

Page 27 paragraph 4:

Our Mission Assembly in Mendes is another good example of a new effort to include the input of a significant number of laymen and women as well as brothers in the preparatory stage of the chapter.

The statements above show the acceptance of the lay persons by the Brothers into the Marist family and recognise the significant role they can play in taking decision that will help in defining their identity, formation processes and greater participation in the spirituality and mission of the Brothers.

In all, the Africa Marist Laity has been involved in all these level of meetings with the Brothers. Two African Lay persons, Mr. Achi Godwin (Nigeria) and Ms. Adrienne Egbers (Southern Africa), were part of the Consultant Laity Group that met in Rome in 2005. Two Africans also participated in the International Mission Assembly that took place in Mendes, Brazil, in 2007. Their participation in these meetings strengthened the Africa Marist Laity. We begin to feel recognised and accepted in the Marist Family. And today, Africa is also represented at this 21st General Chapter by Mr. Rufus Chimezie Ozoh. We still wish to say here that this accompaniment be continued as we share our Marist charism in the Marist Family.

CHALLENGES OF AFRICA LAY MARIST

It is obvious that some challenges have discouraged many Lay people in Africa. These include:

Identity: This is a major issue we are facing today. Some members are yet to understand their role in the Marist Family. We ask two major questions. Are we equal with the Brothers? What is the level of participation in the Marist spirituality? Again, the issue of identity is not yet clear.

Acceptance by the Brothers:v Some Brothers in some provinces/districts in Africa have not fully recognised the Marist Laity. Some see them simply as partners in their various fields of apostolate. They have not done enough to encourage the Lay partners.

Formation: Marist Laity feel that there should be a proper formation process in order to be fully integrated in the Marist spirituality.

THE WAY FORWARD

1. The issue of identity should be properly handled. It should not be confused or be a threat to the Brothers Identity.

2. The Brothers in the provinces and districts where the presence of Marist Laity is weak should create awareness for people to clearly understand the mission of Lay people and their association with the Brothers.

3. Greater participation in the mission and spirituality of the Brothers could be a way forward towards strengthening the Lay Marist Movement in Africa.

4. A comprehensive Formation Guide should be developed and followed properly by various fraternities in all the administrative units.

_______________
Mr. Ozoh Rufus Chimezie
Guest of Africa Marist Laity at the Chapter
Rome, September 19, 2009

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