A Return to East Africa
According to the Chronicle of the Missionary Sisters of the Precious Blood (CPS), in 1897 Mariannhill had already sent some Trappist monks to East Africa to start a mission in Neu-Koeln, now Gare, in what is nowTanzania. Abbot Francis himself, together with Brother Nivard Streicher, paid them short visits in 1901 and 1902 in order to encourage them during their difficult time - five Trappists died within the first half year! In 1907 Abbot Obrecht, visitator of Mariannhill Monastery, demanded the withdrawal of the Trappists from East Africa. But the CPS sisters, who had joined them in 1898, remained behind.
It was under the guidance and the assistance of the CPS sisters that our CMM Province of Mthatha, in the person of Brother Pierre Ferland, got involved in an intensive vocation drive in East Africa in 1995. During his several visits to East Africa he also heard about the Social Ministry Program at Tangaza College, Nairobi, Kenya, a program geared towards a good training of Brothers and Sisters, helping them to understand their profession of vows as an essential ministry in the Church of today. It happened that our African provinces were looking at that time for such a program for the spiritual formation of their brothers.
Then Father Robert Deshaies, provincial superior, and Brother Yvon Bourret, both of the Province of Mthatha, joined the trek to Nairobi in order to finalize the arrangements for a CMM presence there. Eventually a suitable property with a house was purchased and officially opened in May 2000 by Brother Yvon and two young brothers as the Mariannhill house of formation, an inter-provincial residence where brother candidates of the four Southern African provinces could receive appropriate training for their future ministry. Soon an additional house on an adjacent property had to be purchased and enlarged to provide more rooms and space. Our CPS sisters proved to have been very helpful during these initial stages.
Not only were we present here in two houses, but in the meantime the Mariannhill Missionaries received their legal incorporation in Kenya, allowing them seriously to plan future developments.
In 2001 the new provincial superior of the Mthatha Province, Father Dieter Gahlen, asked Brother Yvon to become postulant master of the East African aspirants. In the meantime Father Philip Voorn arrived to give some help. But soon it became clear that a house of formation was not the ideal place for a postulancy. Another place was needed not only for the postulancy but also for the emerging East African community to constitute a complete home base in East Africa.
In May 2003 Brother Yvon and the postulants moved out of the formation house (Nivard House) and rented a building in the vicinity of Karen till we could find an appropriate property for the East African community project.
In November 2003 we found a suitable property and in March 2004 we moved in. On it there were an old farmhouse, servant quarters, another old house and some sheds for chickens. We renovated what we could to suit our needs for sheltering the community and the postulants. Our new home was named Christ the Prophet Community. In 2007 we built another house for the community, and in May 2009 we finished the building of the students housing complex, which can accommodate 24 students in a new candidacy program of three years.
Not long before our establishment in Kenya in 2000, the archbishop of Nairobi approached us and requested that we get involved pastorally in one way or another in the archdiocese. After some time we decided to accept his proposal of taking charge of a newly created parish at Juja Farm. The new parish presented many challenges: it is situated in a remote area that had been neglected for a long time, and it is becoming more and more attractive to the urban people, as it is not far from Nairobi and has high development potential. Father Robert Kaiza, a Tanzanian confrere, has been appointed to look after the needs of this new parish under our care.
East Africa has opened a new chapter in the history of Mariannhill. Not only is it favorable for vocations and the good spiritual and educational training of our young candidates and brothers, it also offers a lot of new opportunities for the work of evangelization. As this territory has at the same time Moslems, Christians and those of traditional African religions, the evangelization fields are here. The geographical position of East Africa also opens up opportunities for new missionary projects in neighboring countries like Sudan, Somalia, DRC, Congo, etc.
After eight years of hard work and the support of a good number of benefactors and people praying for us, we can say that a lot has been achieved. But this is only the beginning. The infrastructures we have put in place should allow us now to look forward, to get more involved and to open new fields of evangelization. Let Us thank God for the resources He has put in our hands up to now, and let us meet the numerous challenges we are called to face. May these new mission fields He shows us witness our commitment to the work our Trappist forefathers first started here more than a century ago, but had to abandon.
[Brother Yvon Bourret, C.M.M., a pioneer of our presence in Kenya, is the superior of postulants at Christ the Prophet House.]
Brother Yvon Bourret, C.M.M.