ACN’s Head of Projects: ‘the calling of Africa is the family’
FOR 28 YEARS, Christine du Coudray worked at the international headquarters of Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) as head of projects for Africa. She looks back at her years of service.
What did you learn through your work?
I learned that each continent has its own calling. Even before the first African synod took place in 1994, I had discovered that Africa is the continent of the family. This is astonishing: even though the family is damaged there as well and problems do exist—just as they do everywhere else—the family, the future of humanity, seems to be the calling of Africa. When Pope Benedict XVI visited Benin in 2011, he again pointed out this reality, which had already been apparent to St. John Paul II. The support for the family has been a leitmotif for me through all these years.
Are there people who were particularly influential for youalong the way?
Most importantly St. John Paul II, who over the years became and remained what you could call my “spiritual father.” I always tried to understand and implement his point of view for the Church in Africa. It was a privilege for me to be able to take part in the first African synod in 1994. I was the only woman from Europe. There were about 350 participants: cardinals, bishops and priests, experts, and listeners. I was among the listeners and spent a month in Rome so that I could participate in the synod. A year later I started work at Aid to the Church in Need; I could not have dreamed of a better training.
On this occasion, I shared a midday meal with the pope. We exchanged ideas and it was something special. The synod bore fruit and, ten years later, in 2004, I organized a meeting in Rome with bishops from Africa and Europe to build a bridge between the two continents. On this occasion, John Paul II proclaimed the second African synod. I also consider this a gift.
Why was travelling important for your work?
You can’t find out whether a vehicle or renovations for a catechetical center are necessary just by reading the project proposal. We must go there and take a look around to determine what is needed. I can give you an example: a year ago, I travelled to the Archdiocese of Kananga in the Kasai province of Congo-Kinshasa (the Democratic Republic of the Congo). I discovered that the sanitary conditions in the bathroom facilities of the major seminary were unbelievable. It was horrible. I thought to myself, “How can it be that these future priests have to live without a shower and in such conditions?” We received the project proposal this past March, but unfortunately, we had to turn down the project at that time because there was no money available due to the COVID-19 crisis. Two days ago, however, I concluded that we had to revise our decision. This was only because we had paid a visit on-site. I may never have reacted in this way had I not actually seen the situation there with my own eyes.
Do you have something like a favorite country?
My favorite country is Congo-Kinshasa. Personally, I am convinced that this country has an important role to play because of its location at the heart of the continent and because of the high percentage of Catholics. Women, for example, play a major role there. Unfortunately, the country is in total chaos because of its natural resources. There are many more mining resources there than in any other place in the world and for this reason many countries—its neighbors and the West—are interested in it. Where there are natural resources, war is unfortunately inevitable. But the people there have an unbelievable amount of courage and energy.
Has your faith helped you to fulfil your mission?
Certainly, because I deeply experienced that everything that I proposed, all of the initiatives, did not come from me, but from the Holy Spirit—such as the meeting between the bishops from Africa and Europe. That did not come from me. At ACN we have experienced that the bishops themselves need our care. It is crucial to help the bishops so that they can be better leaders for their dioceses. To do this, we must take care of them. We do this by providing them with a few days off in the form of retreats for the entire bishops’ conference. As an example, all of the bishops from the Maghreb (Morocco, Tunisia, Libya) spent time together in a monastery in Senegal. This was a first for them all and they enjoyed it immensely.
What will you miss the most as you now retire?
First and foremost, I will miss travelling on location to gain a better understanding of the prevailing situation and to learn about the projects. Each project is unique. Our brothers and sisters in faith put their heart and soul into writing their proposals and expect to receive our help. This is why I have always said to them: If you want to write an application to carry out a project and convince our benefactors, imagine yourself in a room with a hundred or so people ready to support you. You will then explain to them your expectations with all your heart. It is important that the projects really come from the heart so that we constantly strengthen this bridge between us and our brothers and sisters in faith.
Did you consider your work to be a “mission”?
Yes, definitely! We are not primarily there to provide financial support, but to listen to the bishops, the priests, and the women religious, to share their daily lives and to find out exactly what they need. There is, of course, the moment when we must provide financial aid; of course, that moment comes! But it would be hurtful to them if we only talked about the financial aspects. There is a deep communion between us and our brothers and sisters in faith. What we carry out is not just work but a mission that the Lord has entrusted to us for the growth of the Church all over the world.
—Volker Niggewöhner & Eva-Maria Kolmann