The Diocese of Laï was formed in 1998 with territory taken from the other two dioceses in southern Chad. Comboni Missionary Sebastian Martinez Miguel Angel was called to be the first bishop. Half of the population are Catholic, many follow traditional religions and there are few Muslims. The first missionaries, the Dehonians, arrived 75 years ago. Later, the Canadian Capuchins joined them. They did a good job and now the local Church is a young a living reality.
Bishop, what are the major challenges that you face in Laï?
The major problem is poverty and injustice. At the end of the civil war, power went into the hands of northerners. They have political, military power and economic power. The majority of businessmen are Muslims. Manufactured goods come from the north. Our people depend on agriculture, which in turns depends on rains, which are now erratic.
Chinese companies found oil in our region. They bought land and offer work to our youth. They pay the minimum wage, but it is already something. Unfortunately, the youth earn money but they were never educated on how to manage it; often what they earn today is gone by tomorrow.
What about the development of the Church?
When I arrived the diocese could count on only five local priests. I went out looking for missionaries. Today it is a little better. Since the beginning I asked missionaries to help and develop a local Church giving local forces important responsibilities. As the bishop I do have a leading role in ministry. All the same I made sure that local priests shared my pastoral responsibilities, mindful of Saint Daniel Comboni’s methodology “Save Africa with Africa”. Now half the clergy are local.
Do lay people participate in pastoral activities?
In the past, the major role played by lay people was that of catechist. They were very well prepared. Yet lately I realised that we had some difficulties. So we decided that this year will be a permanent year of formation for catechists and community animators. The community animator’s is a new ministry.
How does the Diocese respond to social transformation challenges?
The Church in Chad worked hard for rural development. Because of diminishing funding from outside, all agricultural projects have been put on hold and funding directed towards health projects. We have also invested a lot in education. One of our priorities is the education of children and the youth.
A new initiative is helping people to save. In six centres, we invite people to save money and deposit it with our project. They are given a debit card and they can ask the money back when they have a special need. This is a new concept, people here are not used to saving, and when they earn money they spend it immediately. Another very important activity is in social communication. We have a radio and through the radio we can reach out to people, proposing evangelisation and social awareness, promote justice and peace and support development. The radio is also good to let people know what is going in their region and country.
Returning back to life in the Diocese, what are the priorities?
We have an action plan that was made 10 years ago and that is due to finish next February. We chose four priorities. First of all the formation of local communities, we believe that formation is the right tool to help the rise of a true Christian identity. It is a way to support their call to be witnesses, especially in their own neighbourhoods. The second priority is the development of evangelization programs. The third concern is education, an area where we committed much effort to reach children and the youth. The fourth is the promotion of justice and peace, we achieve that by promoting our own awareness, that leads the community to act in society.
What gives you the strength to continue your ministry?
What gives me most satisfaction is the relationship with the people, the simple people. On Sundays, I don’t stay in my office. I always spend Sundays in a village, in a parish and I make myself available for the people, to celebrate with them. The liturgy is very well prepared and this makes me happy. It gives me great joy seeing the youth wanting to follow Christ. There is a positive response by the youth in the calling of the Lord. Many accept to become catechists or community leaders, and our seminary is filled with seminarians. We do have a shortage of clergy, the perspectives are positive and encouraging.