Dear Confreres, relatives and acquaintances,
For some weeks now the media has been telling the public about the ravages of an outbreak of the Ebola fever, which causes serious haemorrhaging, in Guinea. Three prefectures are regularly mentioned: Guéckédou, the epicentre, Kissidougou, Macenta (in the south of the country) and Conakry, the capital. We have three confreres at Mongo, 17 kilometres from Guéckédou and not far from the border with Sierra Leone which has also had some cases of Ebola; there are two confreres at Kipé (Conakry). The confreres from Boffa, 150 kilometres from Conakry (three in the parish and seven in the novitiate), always stay at Kipé when they come to Conakry for shopping. Those at Koundara, further away to the north, will come to Conakry to attend the Mass of the Chrism.
There is as yet no vaccine or medicine for Ebola. The number of victims is growing: 59 dead, then 76, then 86 –about 100 cases have been recorded.. We do not want to get involved in the controversy about numbers. However these are indicators to show the seriousness and the complexity of the outbreak. A team of national and international experts in epidemiology and in counselling has been rushed to the worst affected areas.
The Guinean government is pursuing an awareness campaign by means of television, radio, newspapers and publicity posters to protect those who are not yet infected. Some sources of infection: use of dirty material belonging to sick or deceased persons, coming into contact with the bodies of those who have died from the disease, eating the meat of infected wild animals… One section of the population is taking these measures seriously and is following them, others want to know the causes and say that the virus has been injected or brought in to get rid of some groups of people. The attack by angry demonstrators on some NGO bases, resulting in the withdrawal of Médecins sans Frontières from Macenta last week, re-enforced their view that they are collectively responsible; they only want to see the problem in terms of the human involvement. This way of understanding the outbreak explains the concerns about the risks which people in vulnerable situations are running today. Even if the basic Christian communities in the missionary sectors where confreres are present do not register the victims, it is difficult, given the movements of people, their points of reference, their beliefs and their value systems which have developed since the outbreak was officially recognised on the 9th of February 2014, it is difficult not to have some doubts and to question the possibility of stopping the rapid spread of the epidemic.
And where are our Spiritan confreres in all this ?
They remain where they are in their mission stations. They continue their missionary work amidst the joys and pains which arise in such a situation as this. Without taking any risks, they keep to the advice given by the health authorities. Their presence is a reminder of the belief in the future in which the Guinean people whom they evangelise must continue to live. Some small examples illustrate this. In Mongo the confreres continue to visit their bush stations and hear the often confused remarks of the people. Taking only the facts into consideration, they advise them to be prudent and ignore the ideological stances being taken. This was the case at Koundou (34 km from Guéckédou), from the 30th of March to the 5th of April during the catechumens’ retreat. During the Sunday Mass of the 6th of April, at the parish of St. Jacques de Lambanyi (Conakry), the confreres, at the introduction to the sign of peace, invited the faithful to do this only orally. They also insisted that the people give spiritual and moral support to the families and individuals who are often isolated because of Ebola. Without the same means available as the health experts working in the affected areas, the confreres are an effective force mobilising the people in this context. In the novitiate, the formators and novices ask all visitors to wash their hands in water containing disinfectant. They have also telephoned their families to assure them that they are alright. Mutual support is also evident in the calls made between Spiritan community members, their families and Guinean friends.
Faced with the “monster killer Ebola”, all of us, in Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mauritania and Senegal, are discovering our Spiritan solidarity. At the regional meeting on the 6th of April in Dakar, the confreres from Senegal prayed for Guinea. This indicated the concern they had for the country, its people and the confreres there, as they also did with regard to the confreres from the Central African Republic appointed to FANO. We all hope that, as the annual circumscription calendar tells us, we will see each other after Easter at Cap des Biches for the retreat, to pray once again and realise concretely our solidarity. But it is not certain that there will be a quorum – the borders with the countries around Guinea remain closed for the time being.
Dakar, 10th March 2014