Reconciliation, an essential part for our life in Angola

 

Fr Nunda Venancio, M.S.
Born: May 9, 1967
First Profession: Aug. 12, 1990
Ordination: Aug 15, 1996
Ministry: Regional Superior
of Angola since Jan 2006

Reconciliation, an essential part of our life in Angola


Angola is recovering little by little after forty years of war. Fr. Nunda, with great modesty, accepted to speak about the stages of his vocation in the painful circumstances he knew during his childhood. Deep within these words, one can imagine how Our Lady, the Reconciler, can sustain the hope of her children.

Where did you come from?

I was born and raised in Alto Catumbela, about twenty-five miles east of Ganda, Angola, which is about 180 miles north of Huambo. My parents came from the province of Huambo. I had five brothers and one sister and I was the fourth child. Forced to flee because of the war, my father settled in the big city of Benguela. He was hired as a factory worker in a local paper mill until 1980.

During the war, when I was already in the major seminary, my father’s convoy suffered a serious attack and he was severely burned. He was in a military vehicle, when UNITA troops attacked them. He was burnt over his entire body. He didn’t die. He stayed all night in the bush, suffering terribly. In the morning, he said: “I am going to die. I want to stay on the side of the road, until my family comes to get me with the soldiers.” Fortunately he survived. He walked with great difficulty, up to the city of Cubal where the Sisters of St. Teresa worked. He stayed one month in the hospital.

 

How did you come to know about La Salette?

In Ganda, I participated in vocational groups at a parish where the late Fr. Paul Kandiero, M.S., worked. From my birth until I came to Ganda, I had never heard about La Salette. Fr. Kandiero explained to us about the different communities of priests—the Holy Spirit Fathers, the diocesan priests, and the La Salettes. He asked us: “And you? Which family are you going to choose?” We all wanted to be La Salettes. But at that time, the priority of the Diocese was recruiting candidates for the needs of the local church and not for religious life. That’s why I ended up joining the diocesan seminary in Benguela. I stayed there two years to conclude High School. I wasn’t that pleased to continue there. My heart had been touched by the way in which La Salette Missionaries worked.

Before going to see the Bishop, I met Fr. Emil Frick, a Swiss La Salette, later killed in an accident in 1988. I asked him if it was possible to enter the La Salette Seminary because I hadn’t yet found my place. He told me that he didn’t have problem with that, because the door was always open, and that I had to discuss this with my bishop. I left him, feeling confident and very joyful. My bishop was sad at my departure, but I left for the La Salette seminary.

What seminary training have you received?

A recent meeting of Angolan La Salette Missionaries

I spent nine years, finishing philosophy and theology at Huambo, some 180 miles from the coast. In the course of my third year, the war destroyed the city. However we stayed there—no water, little food, no clothes, no soap, and much suffering, with the occupation of the city by UNITA forces led by Jonas Savimbi. They were in opposition to the MPLA (governing party). The war was atrocious and only ended with the death of the rebel leader on February 22, 2002.

I was ordained a priest on August 15, 1996 and thereafter was assigned to work in a mission parish with Fr. Robert Harder, M.S., who was the founder of the mission; he also founded a local religious congregation of the Sisters of St. Catherine. He is currently in Switzerland, his home country. He was a great missionary; he walked hundreds of miles evangelizing the local people. I stayed with him for about four years after which I was sent to Brazil to study Pastoral Theology—2000–2003.

On returning to Angola, I was appointed director of the scholasticate, since we no longer had a director. I went to Catumbela from January 2004 until January of 2006. Then I became Regional Superior of Angola. With Fr. Alberto Ilidio as Vicar, and Fr. Ngonga Gabriel as Counselor, we began our new ministry of organizing our region. Fr. Paolino Kuteka, M.S. replaced me at the scholaticate.

What does La Salette mean to you?

What does La Salette tell me at this time? Really I understand rather well what Our Lady of La Salette means when she speaks of reconciliation because we are living through a very difficult situation: war, confusion, groups who refuse to live with others. We Angolans understand well the acute need for the message of Our Lady because we are living reconciliation at the very heart of our daily life.

Are there lay associatesin Angola?

Building our new
formation house

 

The group of lay associates in Angola was begun by the Swiss La Salettes years ago and reorganized by Fr. Katanga when he returned from the Mountain of La Salette after his La Salette Month. In 2001 he organized the First Congress of the La Salette Associates during which new statutes were approved. From that time until today, the group has grown impressively, numbering more than 600 members. Fr. Celestino Muhatili, who later succeeded Fr. Katanga as the Spiritual Director of the movement, gave it further impetus. In Angola, La Salette Associates are known as the “La Salette Fraternity”. Laity and La Salettes reflect together in order to enter into the charism of La Salette in a way which really effects our life. They understand that La Salette began with two laypersons, Maximin and Melanie, and that in their capacity as present-day laypersons, they can undoubtedly experience a wellspring of good works even beyond those of the two children of La Salette.

How are vocations in your region?

Our new retreat house in Lubango

The future of our congregation depends a great deal on the young who have entered the seminary. At this time in Angola, we have many vocations. We must choose from among all those who knock on our door because we don’t have room for all of them. We have 145 seminarians (37 in penultimate year of High School; 29 in the last year of High School; 23 students in first Philosophy, 15 in second Philosophy, 13 in third Philosophy, 3 Novices and 25 Scholastics). We have asked the congregation to help us look forward to a new construction in Benguela. The congregation welcomed our project.

But the situation in Angola remains very difficult, given the climate of war we lived in for so long. The war devastated the country, destroyed important infrastructures, divided families and introduced a culture of “survival of the fittest”. People can do anything in order to survive and the youth are the first victims of this whole situation. Consequently, the process of seminarian selection needs to be better organized. And this  one of the reasons why we accept candidates only/mostly in the later years of High School in order to know them better and help them understand the essence of Religious Life.

Some La Salette Lay Associates from Angola


In 2004, with help from the Provinces of North America and Switzerland through the General Administration, we began construction of our Scholasticate. Although temporarily interrupted, the construction has resumed and, God willing, we hope to inaugurate the new building in Cavaco, Benguela sometime in 2008. In Huambo, where we also have some other buildings, we are housing our Philosophy students. For the Region of Angola, formation is an important priority—from creating adequate facilities to applying good selection criteria for future La Salettes.

 

(interview by Fr. Marcel Schlewer, M.S.)