We are at the airport of Monrovia to take the plane which will take us for a few days to Sierra Leone.
We will put our steps in those of the founder Monsignor Melchior de Marion Brésillac, who came to die in this country after a few days of his arrival.
Illustrated here are a few extracts from Bishop Brésillac’s letters:
Freetown, May 19, 1859.
After many difficulties, here we are, dear Mr. Planque, here we are in Sierra Leone … In physical terms, te country does not seem bad, but morally it is a disorder of which nothing approaches. The heat at this moment is overwhelming, and this, combined with the tiredness of the journey and the inconvenience of being on top of each other in a little house which has but a single room, has given me on the nerves, to the point of being incapable of doing anything; It is hardly if I can hold the pen to write you two words. “
Another extract from a letter written on June 6, 1859:
The hand of God is heavy on us and seems to want to annihilate all our designs. It seems to me, however, that they were formed only for his greater glory. The Abbe Bresson, one of the two remaining missionaries with me, died yesterday, Sunday, in the octave of the Ascension, three days after M. Riocreux. This last blow may have the most disastrous consequences, not only by the impossibility of doing at this moment what we had projected at Freetown and the surroundings, but above all by the bad effect it may have on the minds of young aspirants in the Lyon seminar. “
A letter written on the 17th of June:
Only two words in the interval of the fever, to inform you of our misfortunes.” On the day of the Ascension, M. Riocreux ascended to heaven; three days after, on the Sunday in the octave, M. Bresson followed him there; yesterday, on the Monday of the Pentecost, Brother Gratien also left us. So, of six we were a few days ago, we remain three, overwhelmed with pain and fatigue, and I myself have been devoured by the fever for two days. If the good God wants our mission to end at the same time it begins, let His holy will be done. In any case, this is a terrible blow to our work, and the enemies of our holy faith triumph. I do not have the courage to write you any longer. “
Finally, on June 18 (MgrBresillac died on June 25, a few days later):
To have been six only a few days ago, and to be only two here! I myself have stayed there; it is only today that I have left the bed, and I do not think I can still say mass tomorrow. May the holy will of God be fulfilled.
+ M.M.J. Of Marion Brésillac, Bishop of Pruse, Vicar Apostolic of Sierra Leone.
You can easily imagine our feeling by going to this country, 157 years after our founder and rereading these letters written by him, a few days after arriving in this country. This immense faith makes him say that the will of God is fulfilled. He will not see his work flourish in his lifetime, but these given lives have become seeds, and the harvest is abundant, where the African Missions have worked. We meet young and old missionaries equally enthusiastic to grow the Kingdom of God and put man upright.
Unlike the founder, our approach to the country was done without delay and Fr. Patrickson was there to welcome us at the airport of Freetown. We have imagined for ourselves going directly to the beach where the founder landed. In fact, to reach Freetown and the neighboring parish where the SMA community resides, it takes more than one hundred kilometers. Indeed, an arm of the sea separates the airport from the capital, unless you take the ferry, we must go around this lagoon, a huge tour. We left the regional house of Liberia at 9 am to arrive at the airport around 11:30 am, check in time and after 45 minutes of flight we were in Sierra Leone, and finally to arrive at the mission at nightfall around 6:45 pm. The plane looks closer but for a chip jump, it takes a long time before and after…
So at last we have arrived in the community, only Patrickson is present, the other two confreres went for a session. It seems to be a small mission, but we are not going to pile up all in the same room as the founder. I’ll just share the room with Joseph, my fellow traveller. Here also, no more electricity, the solar power supplies the mission, a weak lamp barely illuminates the room and I can not recharge my computer. Patrickson and Joseph had to absent to helpout a colleague. I preferred to stay here and write down the discoveries of the day. A long road passing through a relatively poor vegetation, one feels like a savannah country with a few scattered trees, the forest has disappeared, the wood has been exported and despite of six months of rain, it is necessary to dig deep to find drinking water. A promised meal in the plane was never served too. Patrickson took us to the restaurent of the airport and we ate a good grilled fish and rice with a good beer for the astronomical sum of 92,000 leones! (There is not a single zero, it is the amount paid all with 10,000 leones currency.) It must be said that the local currency is not supported by any strong currency. Because of the huge chain of train wagons, it is the Chinese who exploit the iron ore in a very discreet way, literally sucking the blood of Africa by bringing a helping hand for the construction of the roads. It was taken over from the former colonials, when will Africa be liberated from its small chiefs who sell their country to enrich themselves personally to the destruction of the people? I feel bad for these countries, full of human resources and great potentialities, which are demolished because of the selfishness of a few supported by international bodies.
So here we are in this country where the mission of our founder began but wiped out immediately. The SMA had deserted this country and in recent years a team has been welcomed to ensure an active presence, because SMA fathers played an important role in the fight against Ebola.
We heard strong testimonies from our members in Sierra Leone. They are only three : Patrickson, from India, David from Ghana and Valery from Togo.
Patrickson and Valery were present when the epidemic broke out. They were determined to stay with the population even if they caught the virus. Often Patrikson had a strong malaria crisis making him afraid more. The population nicknamed them Ebola Fathers. As for Valery, at the request of the SMA superiors asking him to leave the country, he refused by telling himself « how could I return to this country, after the virus killed many people, and announce to them “Jesus loves you, he is with you”. He wanted to testify by his presence. And he tells himself that if he is alive today, it is because God has preserved him. In fact, they took care of the sick, took them in their cars and took them to the hospital. When they arrived to the ebola care center, the nurses would refuse to approach the sick or even touch the prescription papers. These people had to show them at a good distance while the staff was equipped with insulating clothing, boots, gloves and masks. Those who carried the sick, washed themselves with chlorine, and had just the minimum of protection. Their slogan was:
Pray and spray .
For Patrikson and Valery it was a miracle that they escaped death. When they learned that certain families were quarantained and isolated with the Ebola, they went to meet these people to bring them water, but they saw that they also needed food. They took their monthly allowance to buy food and help these people to survive. But for now, we do not see any traces of Ebola, like that of bombs during war. And it was not possible to bury the dead according to the local tradition. Some even hid their dead people to bury them in the night and because of the fear of become a quarantained house. It took the Christian community to educate people to follow the protection guidelines. When there is a death in a house, the house is quarantined with their entire family for 21 days and since they have no food reserve, they are tempted to escape to find food. It was necessary to organize the community so that they could bring food to these people.
Our short stay in Sierra Leone is going on well, I did not send this travel journal earlier because the internet connection here is really bad.
Gerard and Guvvala.