‘'For me it was a very hopeful week. Because it is inspiring to be involved with the history of the Congregation'.Brother Elijah Agilo, superior of the province of Kenya-Tanzania.
Twenty brothers from Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia, led by study secretary Charles van Leeuwen, participated in a workshop on the history of the Congregation of Brothers CMM. The workshop took place in Nakuru, from 9 to 15 April 2023.
‘This workshop is a form of empowerment. Seeing where we have come from as a congregation. Continuing to work on our mission of mercy. Continuing to look for vocations. Continuing to realise the goals of our founder. This is not only something of the past, but also of today and tomorrow,’ said Brother Elijah.
The group had a mixed composition, including brothers who have been in the congregation for more than 20 or 30 years, as well as young brothers and some postulants. Together they spent a week discussing the major themes of the brothers’ history.
The simplicity of the past
‘I learned more than in my formation days,’ says Brother Dennis Omeny. ‘Then it was mainly about Founder Joannes Zwijsen, now we also saw how the brothers themselves went about their work. It is very special to think about the community life and the simplicity of the past. It is very instructive to see how the mission began in the Netherlands and Belgium and continued here in Kenya. What it has done for me? I understand things much better now. And it gives me a sense of pride.’
In practice, it is not evident for the brothers to read history books. They lack the time to do so, and the English language is also difficult for some brothers. ‘We don’t have a reading culture in Africa. But we do like to discuss and engage in debate,’ said Brother Augustine Monari. ‘It was good that this was really a workshop, with images, stimulating questions and the opportunity to engage with each other.’
‘For me it was important that we also focused on today’s questions, says Brother James Ochwenga. ‘You learn from history. Some things have always been difficult: financial frameworks, leadership, community life, formation. That’s putting things into perspective. History helps to talk about big questions.’
What was most surprising? ‘That all the brothers in history bore the name of Mary. And that St Joseph had such a prominent place in our spirituality,’ said Brother Vincent Odhiambo. Most impressive? ‘That brothers always worked so terribly hard, with so much dedication,’ said Brother Dancan Wafula. New insights? ‘That you can see Father Superior De Beer as a co-founder of our congregation. With all the texts he wrote and the choices he made, over half a century of leadership.’ Most instructive? ‘That Zwijsen had to revise his opinions so often, on numerous topics,’ says Brother Elijah. ‘The founder led his congregations for decades, which could not be done without renewing policies and fine-tuning.’
In June 2023, Charles van Leeuwen will give the workshop again for the brothers in Indonesia and Timor Leste.