Missionaries Mark 60 Years in Sierra Leone

Authorities Note Catholic Contribution to Development

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FREETOWN, Sierra Leone, JULY 7, 2010 (Zenit.org).- The Xaverian Missionaries are marking 60 years since their arrival in Sierra Leone, recalling how the arrival of the Catholic faith has transformed that region.

Thursday marks the date, 60 years ago, when four missionaries, known as the «pioneers,» arrived in Freetown.

They went to bring the Gospel to the northern part of that country, a region that had not yet been evangelized, reported Fides, and «with them came a new and exciting chapter in the history of Sierra Leone and the life of the Catholic Church.»

Although the Holy Ghost Fathers had already been working in the south of the country since 1864, the Xaverian Missionaries were invited to help in the region that was at that time primarily Muslim.

In fact, Fides reported, the territory was at that time called «impenetrable to the Gospel.»

The missionaries approached the task of evangelization through schools. The classroom was the beginning of the now flourishing Christian communities in the north.

New methods

The leader of the pioneer missionaries, Monsignor Augustus Azzolini, wrote in a letter to his superiors back home that he started a «mission and a diocese out of nowhere.»

«I had to use the systems and methods previously unknown by our missions,» the priest stated. «I had to adapt to the methods already present in this land of Africa, and I had to suffer and struggle to understand that those were the forms of the apostolate and work that were used here in Africa.»

He underlined the importance of «scholastic commitments in Africa,» without which the mission «would lose all its prestige and its entire workforce, with the threat of even being closed.»

«With our schools, we have truly created a Christian atmosphere in this province, where no one even knew the meaning of the word Catholic,» Monsignor Azzolini affirmed.

In 1961, during the proclamation of Sierra Leone’s independence, the provincial commissioner gave an address in Makeni, in which he affirmed that the «government has done much» for the people, «but in many ways the missions have done more.»

«The pace has been set by the Catholics in the ten years since their arrival among you,» he noted. «Today, the new government gives thanks and gives you the encouragement to follow them in their efforts.»

New diocese

Monsignor Azzolini was appointed to lead the newly created Apostolic Prefecture of Makeni in 1952, two years after his arrival. Then, in 1962, when the prefecture was elevated to become the Diocese of Makeni, the priest was named and ordained bishop.

Bishop Azzolini served there until he retired in 1986, a month before his 78th birthday.

At the 1987 installation ceremony of his successor, Bishop George Biguzzi, who is still heading the Makeni Diocese, the minister of the interior gave an address on behalf of the Sierra Leonean president.

The official recalled Bishop Azzolini’s «dedication to work, his ability to love and understand the people of his diocese, the support he received from the Catholic mission,» that «has resulted in a rapid expansion of education in an area of our nation, which until then had been neglected.»

The minister continued: «Before his arrival, the Northern Province had no secondary school. […] When the bishop arrived in our country, he was in a region that was not yet open to the opportunities of education. Now that he leaves this land, I would like to assure him that his deeds will never be forgotten.»

The government official expressed «sincere esteem for the Catholic mission that gave a wonderful contribution to our development efforts.»

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