At Kermaria, France, two Sisters in their nineties, Thérèse Le Carrer and Anne Le Roux, former missionaries in Africa, were behind a beautiful initiative: the celebration at the Motherhouse on the 23rd of April 2023, of the 70th anniversary of the arrival of the first three Daughters of Jesus in Cameroon.
“Value does not wait for the number of years” (Pierre Corneille, 1606 – 1684). That is no doubt true, but the great number of years does not always alter the value or the dynamism of the Sisters. With a small team, they actively participated in the preparation of the celebration.
A well-prepared celebration
All of the former Sisters who had been in Africa, whether for a long or a short stay, were particularly concerned, but an invitation went out to all the Daughters of Jesus in France. The presence of the General Council and the Provincial Council was particularly touching, as well as that of many other Daughters of Jesus, Associates, and friends.
And so, the celebration began. The chapel was magnificently decorated for the occasion. At the foot of the altar, a photo of Bishop Yves Plumey, was displayed on African pagnes. Mgr Plumey was originally from Vannes, and it was he, in his capacity as Apostolic Prefect in north Cameroon, who called the Daughters of Jesus to Cameroon. Alongside, another photo showed the three departing Sisters, accompanied by Mother Pauline, Assistant General, the four dressed in white and Mother Saint Thomas Aquinas, then Superior General, in black. A calabash, a map of Cameroon, the national flag and beautiful bouquets completed the decor.
Celebration in thanksgiving
The Mass took place at 10:30 am. To the sound of the percussion instrument, the balafon, the two concelebrants, Father Firmin, the parish priest of Locminé and originally from Cameroon, and Father Antoine, the chaplain of Kermaria, made their entrance. The song “Today is a feast day, great joy in the heart of God. Let us go forward, full of joy, let us acclaim the King of heaven” rang out.
Sister Patricia, Superior General, then welcomed the assembly:
“Yes, we want to give thanks to God for the 120 Daughters of Jesus who left France/Belgium, for the ten Sisters who left Canada or England, for the two Sisters who came from Latin America and the West Indies, all of whom sowed the seeds of the charism on African soil. Yes, it is indeed the whole Congregation that is in joy… Our feast today is intimately linked to the experience that the Daughters of Jesus and the Associates of the African Province are called to live, especially in Cameroon.”
The Gospel of the day was that of the disciples of Emmaus. What could be more appropriate than to sing at the end of the Mass, “Jesus who burned my heart“?
Father Firmin’s homily
In his homily, Father Firmin thanked the Congregation:
“With your permission, I wish to proclaim myself ‘spokesperson and faithful echo’ of those thousands of Africans who have benefited from the presence, so precious, of the Daughters of Jesus in Africa and particularly in Cameroon.
I warmly salute the memory of all those who have preceded us in the house of the Father without forgetting those who are here and who are true libraries today of the religious history of Cameroon.
The disciples of Emmaus are joined by a stranger. This same stranger joins us in Kermaria to ask us the subject of our conversation: “What are you talking about, what are your doubts, your worries and your expectations?”
The offertory procession
As is the custom in Africa, the procession of offerings began: at the head of the procession, a booklet of the successive openings of the communities in Cameroon, made for the occasion, was presented to the assembly, and then placed before the altar. Sr Germaine Kabemba, an African Daughter of Jesus followed, carrying a beautiful basket of exotic fruits on her head, and then the bread and wine.
African music, played on the cora, an African cord instrument accompanied the procession. At the moment when we remember the dead, a large candle was lit, evoking the seventy plus Daughters of Jesus who were missionaries in Africa and who have already gone to the Father. After the communion we expressed our thanksgiving with a vibrant Magnificat. Finally, a song of praise closed the mass: “I want to sing your love, Lord“.
The celebration was beautiful and prayerful. We knew that you were united with us from everywhere. All the Provinces were represented… a beautiful internationality! Sr Chrescence, the Provincial of Africa also addressed a word to us in the name of her province:
“It is a great joy for us to be together with you, dear Sisters, former missionaries of Africa, and the whole family of the Daughters of Jesus present today to remember the missionary life given from 1953 until today, and even since the origins.
We pay homage to our predecessors, three extraordinary women: Sisters Marie Louis Joseph Christien, Anne-Maria le Ray, and Nicole Vavasseur, who sowed the seed of the charism by their simple life given in Africa. Happy feast day to each one… We are together“.
The festive meal
The celebration continued with a very good meal which brought together the General and Provincial Councils, the two priests, and about forty “former Africans” in the room of the Sacred Heart. It was a joyful reunion and an opportunity to recall good memories of adventures on the roads of Cameroon and elsewhere. The joy radiated and we could have gone on, but we had to prepare for what came next.
A time to remember the foundation
All of the participants were invited to join us in the room of the Sacred Heart. It is a large room, but all the seats were soon occupied by a large number of Sisters, Associates, and friends.
On the big screen, we joyfully relived the celebration of the fiftieth anniversary in N’Gaoundéré, Cameroon in 2003, through extracts from the film made by Anne Le Roux.
And a time to support the “branch”
We must not forget however, that the branch has grown since our first Sisters set foot in Cameroon, Gradually, it has also taken root in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Chad, and the Ivory Coast. A slide show opened up realities that were not familiar to everyone: we got to know the Sisters of the different communities and their various works. A good opening!
The assembly showed a lot of interest and a very lively exchange followed. The Sisters were happy to get to know the Africa Province better. Questions arose which were answered spontaneously by Patricia, Henriette, and others.
In the Province of France, we lived the 23rd of April with great fervour and thanksgiving. It allowed us to renew our ties with one another, in the joy of reunion, especially for those who have worked in Africa.
It was also an opportunity to strengthen our sense of belonging to the “Congregational Body” (Acts of the General Chapter 2022). We left strengthened by the assurance that the sap of the charism continues to irrigate the new branches and bear fruit.
Srs Jeannine and Madeleine,