Dominicans in Africa and the challenge of prophetic witness

Dominican friars in South Africa

The Year of Consecrated Life challenges consecrated persons to be prophetic witnesses in the Church and in the world. Our recent visit to the Vicariate General of Southern Africa and the Provincial Vicariate of Rwanda and Burundi (January 27 to February 8, 2015), allowed us to see how our Dominican brothers meet this challenge in this Year of Consecrated Life.

As happens every year, the brothers of the Vicariate General of Southern Africa held their annual Assembly at La Verna Retreat Centre in Vandelbiljpark, south of Johannesburg, from 27 to 30 January 2015. The brothers reflected on the Year of Consecrated Life. Among the speakers was fr. Albert Nolan, one of the elders and prominent theologian who has worked a lot on contextual theology. He addressed the assembly on the Theology of Consecrated Life. "To be prophetic witnesses”, this is the meaning of the theology of the consecrated life, said fr. Nolan, emphasizing the significance and role of the prophet: a man chosen by God and not appointed; who is moved by the Spirit, speaks in the name of God, foresees the future and proclaims a message of hope from God. Our religious vows of poverty, chastity and obedience must "speak to the world", insisted fr. Nolan. Renunciation, sharing, unconditional and universal love should lead us to solidarity and sharing with the poor.

The brothers in South Africa try to be prophetic witnesses through their prophetic apostolic commitments: Radio Veritas, helping poor children, orphans and AIDS patients (Saint Martin de Porres Development project, Khuleleni), the apostolate of deaf-and-dumb, and parish ministry. The Police Chaplaincy is another important place where there is need of true and strong prophetic witness, as it is to inculcate ethical and Gospel values, respect for human rights and the dignity of the person. In this milieu, there are many cases of suicide and depression. The chaplain, our brother Chaka is trying to be a prophetic witness through his attentive listening, counselling, and liturgical celebrations.

In Burundi the brothers seek to be prophetic witnesses through their prophetic apostolic projects like UBUNTU Centre which is a “laboratory of analysis and action for the promotion of Peace and Reconciliation in Burundi and the Great Lakes Region”, Youth Providence AGAKURA project which takes care of marginalized youth. Their leadership on the Independent National Commission on Human Rights in Burundi (CNIHD) is certainly a mission and prophetic witness. As the president of the commission, fr. Emmanuel Ntakarutimana highlights, “to play the delicate interfacing role between state institutions, civil society organizations, international institutions and organizations, and the populations - it requires a great sense of independence.” Talking about the ethical and Gospel values unknown or ignored in these environments is a big challenge and a prophetic witness. Fr. Emmanuel underlines the pertinence of the teachings of the prophets like Jeremiah, Amos, Isaiah, in the context of his work; but also in the current situation where Burundi is preparing for presidential elections and where there are arrests, imprisonments and violence. In his homily on Sunday, February 1, 2015, fr. Emmanuel emphasized the role of the prophet, the watchman who foresees the new day and who is bearer of hope.

Finally, in Rwanda where we ended our visit, great was our joy to see the brothers going from the capital city of Kigali to the peripheries. The new community of Nyagatare in the eastern part of the country is settling gradually. As a sign of solidarity and sharing with the poor, the brothers allow peoples to cultivate freely the few hectares of the land of the priory to feed their families.

Moreover, community life and fraternal communion in our convents in Rwanda and Burundi are a prophetic witness in these countries marked by ethnic problems, “decades of cyclical violence with ethnic connotations”, and the genocide of 1994. In this Year of Consecrated Life, may we be true prophetic witnesses and may our vows really speak to the world!

fr. Gabriel Samba, O.P.


(25 February 2015)