Growing up, living a true and genuine personal relationship has always been part and parcel of my experience in my family and with my friends. But, it wasn’t until I joined the novitiate that I discovered that there is something extraordinarily special in not just being with people, but in developing and building deeper personal relationships with others, particularly, with the elderly, and those who are rejected, directly or indirectly, by our society. Two of my novitiate experiences brought this to the limelight and ignited in me, a profound interest for the social apostolate.
The very first experience in the novitiate which sparked my interest in the social apostolate was my experience as a member of the CARITAS group of the novitiate. On two Sundays of the month, this group dedicated itself to visit the sick and the poor in a nearby parish Church. Each of these visits were moments for a deeper self-discovery. As I carried on this apostolate, little by little I got to know these persons whom I met regularly. They shared their joys and pains, and my heart was moved to readily render services to them, and in doing this I could make them feel better and happier and loved.
The joy in doing this, on my part was so great. I felt so much consolation in making these persons feel good. I felt happy alleviating the suffering of others. It stands out as one of the most beautiful experiences I had while I was in the novitiate. From that moment, I developed great interest in being with the simple, ordinary poor people. This interest was further enriched by my experience I had with the street children at Foyer d’Espérance in Yaoundé, Cameroon.
I was sent for my hospital experiment, as recommended by the probation program of the novitiate, to work with the street children at Foyer d’Espérance in Yaoundé. They are really modern society’s ‘outcasts’. They are rejected and nothing good is said about them. They are seen as persons, who commit all the crimes in the town, who are the most disrespectful, vulgar, thieves, drug addicts, etc. Not denying this reality, which is sometimes and very often a distant perception of them, my working and interacting with them made me realise that they are not much different from everyone else. Some of them possess rare qualities that even ‘normal’ persons of the society don’t possess. They are very courageous, intelligent and attentive, and have a deep sense of humanity, affection, and trust. These few and many other qualities explains why they give mutual assistance to one another, and despite the rude and unfriendliness of our society they keep up, and can still smile and be joyful. Then I discovered that, it is primarily the injustices that exist in our society and the absence of true and genuine relationships with each another, that are at the origin of them being on the streets. Their being on the streets appears to me as a concrete expression of injustices that is around us. In them, injustice is concretised, and the cry for justice takes up a habit.
From a general perspective to a very personal one, I was challenged by one of them to work on my own injustice. This very young street child, who found in me, during the period of my stay there, a place of solace, towards the end of my stay with them disappointedly discovered I could not reciprocate the same trust he had in me. Actually, he wanted a souvenir from me. But knowing that giving him this souvenir could cause some jealousy amongst them, I many times refused to give him. But each time, he told me, ‘don’t worry about that, no one will be jealous, and no one will disturb you’. I didn’t believe him, nor did I trust him on this. Then, on this blessed day, he made the same demand and when I refused as usual, he retorted in dismay, ‘I trusted you, and shared my experience with you, but unfortunately, you can’t even trust me on this!’ Immediately, I decided to give the souvenir he asked for, and to my greatest surprise, no one seemed jealous about that and no one bothered me about his own souvenir till the end of my stay there. So, I learned that injustice is also the betrayal, or the non-reciprocity of trust. Injustice is the exploitation of trust.
Marked by these experiences, I nursed an ever growing interest in the social apostolate and an ardent desire to see trust be reinstated in our society. A very liable way which appears to me very valuable, is that of relationship. Through true and sincere relationship with those around us, we can make the world a better place, where mutual trust and fraternity reigns. The social apostolate then comes to me as that medium through which this deep and genuine relationship can be created, thus my ardent desire in the social apostolate. Through this I am sure that by facilitating true and genuine relationship with ourselves, with our neighbour, with nature and with God, a more just, peaceful and happy world is possible.