Bringing the Good News to someone means saying to him, You too, are loved by God. And not only to say this, but also truly to think it. And not only to think it, but also to behave in such a way towards this person that he discovers within himself that there is indeed something great: I too am redeemed.’

Brother Denis-Antoine of the Franciscan Emmanuel community in Cameroon not only quotes Saint Francis but actually thinks and lives these words, together with his 22 brothers and 95 lay members in five dioceses of the country. They go out and visit leprosy victims, blind people, prisoners, young people, families, and they pray with them.

They are my brothers and sisters. In their eyes I see Christ, I see the joy of the redeemed.’ It was 15 years ago when Brother Denis-Antoine founded the community, together with a few other brothers from Canada, in the diocese of Nkongsamba. Their joy is infectious.

‘We are children of God. What harm can befall us?’ Their infectiousness also rubbed off on the bishop of the diocese at the time. He invited the community to establish a spiritual centre where seminarians could inwardly prepare for their future life, shortly before ordination, and where active priests could gather new strength after years of painstaking labour in the missions.

‘We give, and we expect nothing in return. And what we do receive, we share.’ And the present Bishop Dieudonné Espoir Atangana, likewise sees in the Saint Francis Centre a means of support and spiritual renewal for priests and bishops – and for the laity also.

The need is great; many priests are exhausted, some of them burned out. They need a place of silent retreat. The centre needs to be extended. Once the extension work is completed it will be able to accommodate over 100 people. Then there are the daily visitors for Holy Mass and catechetical sessions.

For this too they need a large conference hall and public toilets. And at the same time the community kitchens need to be properly furnished and equipped for both modern and traditional methods of cooking. Brother Denis-Antoine has already found help for the furniture, but the overall construction costs fall heavy on his small budget. We have promised to help.

‘Some of the local bishops’ conferences would very much like to hold their retreat days here’, he tells us. ‘For they also need a few days of silence and recollection from time to time. They too need understanding and to be reminded again and again: I am redeemed.’

In short, the Saint Francis Centre is an oasis. Islam is advancing in the north of the country, while in the south evangelical sects and superstitions are spreading wildly. ‘The remedy for all this is love, is friendship.’ The radiance of this spiritual centre is the power of love.

‘It is love that redeems, that takes shape in our friendship with one another. A friendship built on mutual trust and esteem. Such a friendship conveys the feeling of being loved by a merciful God.’

This article can be found in Mirror 0116.