Burkina Faso - Bobo Dioulasso / The Novitiate Community

’In apostolic community we become aware of the various aspects of our vocation, through mutual accompaniment and every-day life among the poor, the workers and their families.’ (RL70)

As the novitiate community in Bobo Dioulasso five of us have been here a year: Srs Maria do Carmo and Sr Ádga, and the first three novices: Mathilde, Marie Claire and Patience. The other three novices: Gina, Emelie and Clémentine, have been here for six months. At the moment, we are eight in all, two sisters and six novices in an international (we come from three countries) and intergenerational community. 
 
 
All of us have undergone several experiences that help us to grow and advance in our journey as human beings and in the time of the novitiate. 
One of these common experiences is hearing ’Go, leave your country!’ 
The fact of leaving our family and those close to us, our work, and the novitiate in Kinshasa and going to a distant and unknown country makes us experience in some way what is experienced by so many of our brothers and sisters who set out into the unknown to seek other living conditions. 
 
We are happy to be in this country where we are welcomed warmly by the people here with gestures of welcome, with cooked food or foodstuffs for a meal. There is also the daily proximity, the friendship, the attentiveness and concern shown to us. 
 
They are people who are so welcoming, attentive and open to ’the foreigner’. We continually give thanks to the Lord for his protection at every moment and for finding Him here in a different country where the majority of the people are Moslems and where we learn from them respect for what is different and the ability to live together in religious tolerance. 
 
Up to the present, we have been living in a rented house while waiting to be able to begin building our own. 
 
We live in the same neighbourhood as the other LSA community, quite close to them. This facilitates life sharing, having some meetings, participating in the Eucharist once a month in our house. We share some of the mission activities in which the novices participate. 
 
With regard to the formation of the novices, we have courses in our house with the sisters of the community. There are talks on self-knowledge with Sr Laura of the Queen of Peace Congregation, and the novices also take part in the inter-novitiate organised by the women religious of the diocese. 
 
Several congregations participate in the inter-novitiate in a very good spirit of collaboration. Every Monday there are courses all morning in the house of the Religious of the Assumption and three week-long seminars each year, held in the diocesan major seminary. 
More or less fifty young people, young women and men in formation, take part in these seminars. We have a beautiful experience of fraternity and friendship together. It is a fine treasure. There is very good understanding between the novitiates. Every time there is a profession, the ceremony is prepared, animated and celebrated together. 
 
Our main mission is the formation of the young women at the novitiate stage. Besides the formation, we are developing the apostolic mission a little. 
Every Thursday the first-year novices participate in the mission with the children at the other LSA community. The same day, the second-year novices hold catechism classes for the children at the Saint John community. 
The two groups are also in the choirs: Saint Rita (the first year novices) and St John the Evangelist (the second year novices) in the Saint John BCC (Basic Christian Community). It is a means of being in contact with other young people and also of improving their voices, which helps in praising the Lord. 
Ágda works with the Salesians in a project with children in difficulty and also in the diocesan and parish vocations ministry. 
 
We would like to share with you the experience the novices had in their mission and also a little of Ágda’s experience. 

The experience of the first-year novices 

’We work in collaboration with the apostolic LSA community in the project with children of different ages, sex and religion. Each Thursday there are different activities with the children: manual work, dance, story-telling, theatre, sports. From 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. we are with the children in the various groups and activities, organised according to the age of the children. They are active and participate with joy and enthusiasm in all they do. 
We are very happy to share our knowledge with the children and, at the same time, to have an experience of our mission. We have difficulty in communicating because we do not know their mother tongue, which is Dioula; this is particularly so with the small children who do not yet go to school. For the children it is the time for discovering the meaning of living in relation with others.’ (Gina, Emelie and Clémentine)

From the second-year novices 

On the 11th of January 2013 we, the second-year novices, arrived in Bobo to continue our formation. Our arrival was marked by a warm welcome from our neighbours and the church community. We have had the opportunity to take part in the training for catechists, which is held in the parish once a month. Now we are at work. We give catechetical instruction in the different classes. Each of us has something to share about her personal experience in her class. 
 
Patience: I am with the 4th class. There are 120 in the class ranging in age from 8 to 12 years and from 13 to 14. There are six catechists. There is very good supervision. We take it in turn to give the lessons. During the teaching the children are very attentive in following the lesson but afterwards the chattering begins. Given the numbers, we decided, with the co-ordinator, to divide the class in two: the older ones and the younger ones. I am with the oldest, aged from 13 to 14, with two other catechists. In this class I learned to know the reality of the life of these children, to understand them, to discover their difficulties and to see how the spirit awakens in me the response to give to their calls. 
I am very happy in my apostolate and I discover the love of God through these little children. Through this teaching I nourish my faith as we grow together. It is a great joy for me to have this experience. 
 
Mathilde: I see to the 6th class, where the children are preparing for confirmation. There are four catechists for this class: an Ursuline sister, a lady, a gentleman and myself. We take the lessons in turn. There are 65 candidates for confirmation. They are attentive in listening to what we say to them. They are happy to know Christ. From the experience we had, we thought it would be good that each child be involved in the various parish groups. 
I am happy with my experience as I see how the love of Christ takes root. 
 
Marie Claire: I have the 5th class, the one for the teenagers. They were 112 in number, with 3 catechists, but we decided to divide the class in two. I was teaching with a woman from the month of October, but in November I found myself alone with 56 children. It was not easy at the beginning but, by the grace of God, I am evolving with them. I feel I am loved and respected. This love encourages me to share my experience of Christ with them, that we may all be witnesses. This discovery I have made has given me the great joy of deepening my life in Christ, of knowing Him and witnessing to Him in daily life. We are all pleased and happy; we witness the commitment of these children and their capacity to know Christ in their life. For us it is a great opportunity that the Congregation has given us, and the parish as well, by welcoming us to their fertile land so as to sow our seed among these children. We are astonished to see these high numbers in a Muslim country. Also, this enables us to make our charism present. 
 
Ágda:  ’I am working in a project for children at the Don Bosco Social centre in the Owenzzenville district. This area is close to where we are and is also part of our parish. 
It is a project run by the Salesians for street children. 
At present, the children in the group are mixed. Some were street children, remaining on the street for some days without going home, doing some petty thieving and eating what they could find in the street. Others were accustomed to being in the street during the day, while their parents or whoever was responsible for them were trying to ’earn some money’ for the evening meal. Others were under the responsibility of an aunt or an uncle after the death of their parent or because they had been abandoned. 
 
Each one’s history is harsh. They have wounds in their heart and yet, in spite of that, joy on their face. The majority of them have never been to school. It is astounding to see their desire to learn, their efforts to write, their joy in success, or in discovery. The surprise of finishing some handicraft with the words: ’I made it!’ 
 
Every day I walk to the centre with Asseta, a young Muslim girl who is following the project. She is 14. We try to talk, in spite of the language difficulty. The conversation is always a mixture of French, Dioula and Moré, her mother tongue. Her family is extremely poor. Her father has three wives and thirteen children. Asseta want to learn, to have a trade, a profession. Like her, many of the children have those same desires. 
 
The welcome given by the children is warm. They run to meet me, embrace me, greet me in Dioula, in French, and give me the gift of joy, of hope. 
We do handcrafts. This helps the children with regard to concentration and patience and also develops creativity and the desire to help the other. I am continually surprised and overjoyed on seeing all that the children, including the very small ones, are able to do. 
At the moment there are 30 children in the group, from eight different ethnic groups, aged between 8 and 15 years. Over 60 children have passed through the project. I also help them with work in psychometrics, and accompaniment for individuals and some families. 
 
I like being with them – playing, singing and working together; touching and letting myself be touched. With the children I learn a lot. They help me to love, to find in them a poor and frail face of Jesus such as I had never seen before. I learn patience, listening, staying with them in fidelity even when I don’t understand anything because of the language or, at other times, because of the culture. I’m learning…! 
The novitiate community in Burkina Faso
12/05/2014
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