I am Sr. Chandana Rebecca Rozario, from Bangladesh. When I was fourteen years old I encountered Jesus, and I decided to follow him closely, to learn from him and to bring him to all. Meanwhile, the Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate (MSI), their passion for the mission and their charism attracted me so much that I decided to become a missionary. In 1997, I entered the MSI family.
In 2015 on the Pentecost Sunday, I received the destination for Cameroon. After a period of preparation, on 19th November 2016 I reached my mission land. I arrived here in north Cameroon three years ago, my community is in Bibemi, diocese of Garoua. My main responsibility is to collaborate with the pastoral work in the Parish: I’m engaged with a children’s’ group called ACE Cop’Monde (Action Catholics of Children), with the formation of the young catechists, and I collaborate with them for the catechism classes.
I remember that at the beginning of my mission I had so many different surprises, shocks, feelings, desires, hopes etc… At the very beginning, for example, when I arrived at the airport of Yaoundé, one supervisor asked me for a “Rosary” instead of the documents! That has been a great surprise for me and gave me an inner joy, making me feel welcomed.
During my missionary mandate, I have chosen the Bible quotation where Jesus recommend to every Christian, especially to the missionaries: “Go, then, to all peoples everywhere and make them my disciples: baptise them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit” (Mt. 28, 19). When I finally stepped on the soil of Cameroon, I tried to embrace my mission according to that recommendation of Jesus. At that moment I could also remember the valuable advice of our foundress M. Dones: “You have become a Missionary only to spread the kingdom of God, so that God may be known by all, that all may be saved”.
I was welcomed warmly in my first community, which is situated in the periphery. Here in the village, people are very simple, kind, and welcoming. When I was presented in the parish after the Sunday mass, one parent (un papa) embraced me and told me “my daughter, you are at home”, ‘my daughter’ this word touched my heart. Since then, I started to feel that these are my people, the people to whom Jesus has called me and sent. During my still short experience here I understand and confirm the words of St. Jean-Paul II mentioned in the “Synod of Africa”, in which he expresses how much the missionaries are needed here.
One day after the children’s mass, one non-Christian widow approached me and started to cry, asking me to come to her house: “my sister (ma sœur) please come to my home and tell my daughters to come to the church”. By seeing her faith in God and her confidence in me, I went to visit them with some animators of ACE. The mother was very happy about our visit. From that day, the girls themselves started to come to the church with joy and began the catechism and one of the girls started the formation to become the animator of ACE.
As I come from another continent, a different country and with a different background in terms of culture, obviously at the beginning of my experience in Cameroon I had many surprises and shocks. For example, my approach with the faith in the families: as I am working with the children, I observed that some of the parents were not coming to the church together with their sons and daughters. When I asked the reason, they answered that they are not Christians; hence, the children come to the church because they are in the movement of ACE. I decided then to start to visit their families and I came to know that, apart for the children, the rest of the family members are often Muslims or of different Christian denominations. In some families, the father is a non-believer and other brothers and sisters aren’t in any group. In this way, I discovered that there are very few Catholic families, thinking also about the so many young people who do not marry at all. The main obstacle for them is the very strong dowry system. In this culture is the boy, the groom, who has to pay for the girl, but the poverty among the families can often be a challenge and a barrier. I realize that here is difficult to form a Christian family. Inspired by the Gospel they would like to change their lives being Christian, but often, they remain a slave to their tradition, culture and cult. Therefore, sometimes there are Christian baptised who unfortunately are still bounded to their cultural traditions. It is a big challenge for us missionaries.
In these three years in my mission land, I can say there are so many things I have discovered. For example, I found here in Cameroon much respect and esteem for religious and consecrated people. In the French language, they used to call us ‘my sister’ “ma sœur” and for a priest “mon père” This expression touched me very much. In the beginning, I had some difficulties to address the priest “mon père” but just a little after, it has become part of my life. We address also the people whom we work with as “maman”, “papa”. This helped me very much to feel that they are my people, my own family. I appreciate very much also the commitment and engagement of the laypeople in the church. Through different groups or movements, they give their service in Church, which makes the liturgy more alive and active. They collaborate and help families who are in need. In this way, they can carry on the responsibility of their local church and they become real instruments of witness and evangelization.
One moment that has been crucial for me in the path of my enculturation and insertion here in Cameroon has been when I went in one of our sub-centre for the annual program “Friendship day for the children with the father and three animators for three days. The goal of this program is to give moral and spiritual education to the children.
For the first time, I stayed out of the community; in the rural area, everything was new for me. However, I had always sufficient courage and confidence in God, so I was not afraid to face the situation. Participating in and leading this program, I have learned so many things. I could appreciate the motivation and desire for Jesus of the participants, which were coming from different villages, from very far, walking for kilometres and never showing their tiredness. Although they were happy to be together, to eat together, and to dance together. There were almost six hundred people and there were not enough places to sleep but they came with their mat and they slept in the place available without any complaint. There was not enough water to wash, even to drink but no grumbling at all. I was really worried about all these things, but I understood that my worries were useless, because I was looking at them according to my reality and my background and not from their point of view.
This gathering helped me a lot to understand, accept and love people more. I have learned so many things and I’ve been able to enter deeply in their culture, tradition and real image of the poverty.
sr. Chandana Rebecca Rozario, Bibemi, Cameroon Province