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Presence in Angola
Noqui lies in Angola, close to its border with the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is a hilly and rocky country; yet here and there the soil is apt for agriculture. Noqui is enclosed between a mine field in the South and the Congolese border in the North. There are about 45 villages along its one road which runs southward for about 80 miles.
Thirty-five years ago Noqui was a prosperous little town with commerce and weekend tourism. In a small harbor there was trade of oranges and grapefruit which are cultivated over the whole area.
Noqui, at that time, was well organized with waterworks, electricity, swimming pools, and opportunities for entertainment. There was a large hospital which treated even those from across the Congo border.
But there is nothing left of all that. The civil war erupted. The occupying armies not only stole young men and women, but carried away all they could carry and sold it across the border in Congo. All the rest they destroyed.
Now there is no commerce, no money, and therefore practically nothing else: no matches, no kitchenware, no food, no seeds for the field, no medicines, no books, no paper, not even one small store. There is nothing remaining - really nothing.
A few people try to sell manioc and fruit in the border area, but soldiers intimidate them and steal whatever they can. There is not a sufficient food supply locally. The river offers fish only from October until February. As the ground is rocky and drought frequent, there is little manioc and saka (a vegetable). People cannot live from only oranges and grapefruit.
Quite a few people die an unnecessary death for lack of basic medicine, and this only four miles from a hospital in Congo. People die from hemorrhage, tetanus, hepatitis, intestinal obstruction, snake bites, appendicitis, malaria, tuberculosis, sleeping disease, etc.
In spite of these circumstances, CICM was able to start a mission in Angola in 1995. Never before had any missionaries ever settled in Noqui.
The people were delighted to see us. To them the presence of Catholic missionaries meant peace, food, medicine, schools, hospitals - at long last an answer to their prayers.
So everybody now comes to us for help. Because of the rocky terrain people are easily wounded. Without disinfectants even small cuts, because of the many flies, quickly turn into suppurating ulcers. Thank God we brought a good supply of medicine with us. We quickly organized a first-aid station and in less than two weeks we had a trained person in every village to take care of the cuts and wounds; for this we receive symbolic payment of some fruits of the field.
Supporting the schools
About 30 villages have four or five grades of elementary school for the children. The teacher is appointed by the government, but never receives a salary. He does not receive any funds for teaching supplies for the classes. If he is lucky enough to have chalk he will use a door as a blackboard.
The children do not learn much. Even fourth graders are unable to either read or write. In the course of our visits to the villages these teachers were constantly asking us for blackboards, chalk, notebooks and ballpoint pens.
The mission received a contribution from benefactors with the designation that it be used for the schools. Now all the students receive a notebook and pencil or ball-point pen, and the teachers get a blackboard, chalk and some other basic materials.
Evangelization and faith life
Everyone was delighted with the arrival of Catholic missionaries, but
only a few understand what it means to be a Christian and a Catholic. During the difficult years, there were a few Christians who continued to gather for prayer in the villages. The catechists can barely read, but they tried their best to read from the missal during those meetings. The people did a lot of singing.
Most members of the communities have not been baptized and do not know the meaning of the Eucharist and the sacraments. Everyone knows Pope John Paul II since he came to visit Angola. His picture can be found in every home. However, few know the gospel and most know very little about Jesus.
In Matadi (Congo) we found a children's book about the life of Jesus in Kikongo, the language of this area. This book is now being read in all communities twice a week. All those who want to be baptized or who want a church wedding participate in these bi-weekly sessions. The people will first have to get to know Jesus. After that, we can provide further religious education.
In some villages people have been busy repairing existing chapels; in others they have been building new ones. Here in Noqui they first built a church with palm leaves. Many Catholics who had not joined for prayer before became active again. In no time the church became too small and with the help of benefactors, the construction of a larger church building was started.
There is a joy in Noqui for, after so many years of misery and war, people have the feeling that a different future is upon them.
Being a Christian means sharing
At first people approached us as if we were going to be the great benefactors. People expected a lot. We started to instruct that every Christian has the task and vocation not to ask for help but to offer help whenever possible. Some Christians
understood this very quickly and offered their services to the mission.
Senhor Sammi oversees the construction work of the church. Senhor Afonso tutors altar boys and a small group of children who help around the mission. The sick receive a visit right away and receive the necessary help.
The mission provides Dona Neti, a trained nurse, with the medical supplies needed to care for dozens of sick
people daily. Two housemothers come daily at 5:00 p.m. to make a vitamin porridge for about a hundred children. The altar boys help with its distribution and afterwards, do the dishes. People and children are getting involved and this creates community!
If true peace comes to Angola, the minefields surrounding our parish will be cleared up. That will bring an end to the isolation of Noqui. Then commerce with other towns can start again. Also, once peace has been established the harbor will hopefully be repaired.
We pray daily for the coming of this peace. We know that we are not alone in our prayers and that many people all over the world pray for peace in Angola. We thank all those who pray with us. We thank all who help the people of Noqui in these difficult times. We thank all those who pray that we missionaries may be patient, so that we may be God's angels among the people.
Jules Chanterie, cicm
Last revised: 2 January 1999