From Sr. Hélène Mbuyamba, Arusha Community, Tanzania
A brief history
In 2014, five congregations came together to set up an inter-congregational ongoing formation program (ICOF). This initiative came from the collaboration of the General Councils of the following 5 congregations: Spiritan Fathers, Missionaries of Africa, the Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Africa, the Comboni Missionaries and the Society of African Missions (SMA). The Comboni Missionaries subsequently withdrew and the OLA (Our Lady of Apostles) joined the group. Today, these five congregations are considered the founding members.
The vision and mission the founding members had for the ICOF program are:
Vision: Integrated priests and religious in Africa who joyfully bear witness to the Gospel in their personal, spiritual and pastoral lives.
Mission: To provide Catholic priests and religious in Africa with the opportunity, space and time for personal renewal to better serve the Gospel in the concrete reality of Africa today.
Our congregation’s contribution to this collaboration
Our congregation was present at the genesis of this program and has continued to contribute to its development and smooth running by donating one of its members to the executive team. In Tanzania, our Sister Bijundi Bashige was a member of the team from 2015 to 2018; from 2019 up to now, it is Sr. Hélène Mbuyamba who continues to represent the congregation. In 2019 and 2021, Hélène was also part of the organizing team for the program in Abidjan.
Another important aspect of the congregation’s contribution is to send some of our sisters as participants in the program. This is to be encouraged, as our sisters, while benefiting from the diverse riches offered by this program, also bring a special touch to it which is generally much appreciated.
My apostolate in ICOF
The ICOF program run in Tanzania has two cycles of approximately 3 months each.
The Wholeness Cycle focusing primarily on personal and spiritual renewal;
and the Good Shepherd’s Cycle on pastoral skills and on key academic updates.
Participants can choose to attend one or the other cycle, or both depending on their personal interests, needs and financial capacity. This year, we had 15 participants in the first cycle and 13 in the second. 6 of them did the full cycle, which covers both cycles and lasts about 6 months.
I have been one of the 3 permanent members of the local team that organizes the program in Tanzania since 2019, appointed on behalf of our Congregation. I have been also appointed by the Executive committee in Rome as program secretary in Tanzania.
In the program, we share some responsibilities. For 4 years, I was in charge of participants ‘affairs, looking after the welfare of each participant during the program. I have also been responsible for spiritual matters by supervising participants in their liturgical responsibilities and overseeing recollections and retreats. This year, I have also worked as program manager. I do my best in all this to serve the participants and facilitators by responding to their various needs.
What’s important to me in these responsibilities is to collaborate with the participants and empower them to be the actors in their own training. In addition to this, I agreed to accompany 4 of the participants individually: 1 priest and 3 sisters. It was an enriching experience for both sides. The people I accompanied were very grateful for the help they received on their journey. They said it has empowered them for the journeys ahead, wherever they will go and in whatever ministry they will be entrusted with.
Also, I am always happy to help those who need to deal with some heavy issues that hinder their freedom for transformation. I do this using specific therapeutic exercises from the Model of global intervention and health, an approach created by Dr. Marie Paul Ross, a religious Missionary of Immaculate Conception of Canada. These participants are always happy and grateful to acknowledge that the healing that has taken place in them has a more positive impact on their relationships and on their apostolate.
What gives me joy, sustains me and keeps me going in this program to this day, is the positive impact of our contributions on the participants. Their evaluations are often very positive, and we can see the changes they talk about in their lives and how they see themselves.
Speaking of what motivates me, and with his permission, I share with you some examples from the testimony of a young Congolese Missionary priest of the Mill Hill congregation, who attended the 2023 ICOF program in Tanzania, in Arusha.
« If I had not been given this chance to participate in the ICOF program this year, I would have missed out an extraordinary period of personal growth, spiritual rejuvenation, and cultural immersion. The sabbatical year provided me with invaluable time for introspection, self-discovery, and deepening my faith, have rediscovered my sense of purpose and reignite my passion for ministry. The sabbatical year provided me an opportunity for rest, reflection, and intellectual exploration, enabling me to deepen my knowledge of theology, scripture, spirituality and care for the environment. As a result, I am returning to the ministry with renewed energy, fresh insights, and a deepened commitment to guiding and supporting those entrusted to my care and anyone I will come across.
ICOF’s sabbatical program also offered various classes, workshops, recollections, retreats, and opportunities for personal and professional development. These experiences have equipped me with enhanced pastoral skills, empowering me to better connect with and minister to the diverse needs of people of God and my congregation MHM (Mill Hill Missionaries). I have gained a deeper understanding of pastoral care, leadership, and the importance of fostering inclusive and welcoming communities…”
I am happy to share with you this testimony, which has given me a lot of joy and for which I praise the Lord for his wonderful deeds in his people. The Church and the society are the beneficiaries of such positive outcome. I hope that more priests, religious male and female, including our sisters, would continue to join the program, either in Tanzania or in Ivory Coast so as to contribute to their own transformation and that of others in view of a new creation.