Malawi

Five Friars were destined to go to Malawi, but all were not ready immediately. The first to arrive, in February 1983, were Brs. Antonio Biafora, Joseph Hund and Cassien Marcil, Canadians coming from Japan where they had been on mission for many years. Br. André Comtois joined them in April and Br. Luigi Galiotto in July. Subsequently another four volunteers arrived, Br. Joseph-Maria Massana in December 1983, Br. Francisco Salgado in January 1984 and Br. Michael Joyce in August 1985, but  Br. Luigi Galiotto and Br. Joseph Hund left in 1985.

Parish Church
Parish Church.

The Friars went to the diocese of the Capital, Lilongwe, and the Bishop, Mons. Chimole, received them with open arms. In order to learn the local language, Chichewa, they had a White Father give them lessons each day as there was no language school available.

To their great surprise, the Friars found some young men expecting to become Franciscans on their arrival. They had been going to the Poor Clares of the area, who had being advising them during the school holidays and accompanied them in their Franciscan vocation.

The Friars were not ready to begin formation of African candidates and were also advised otherwise by other religious. But in August 1983, Br. Liam Slattery, from South Africa, and Br. Sean Gildea from Zimbabwe, went to Malawi and gave some sessions to the young who were interested and convinced the Friars to accept at least a first group, promising to help them in the early period of formation.

The main friary in Dowa - MalawiThe main friary in Dowa - MalawiThe main friary in Dowa - Malawi
The main friary in Dowa - Malawi.

The Friars allowed themselves to be convinced and accepted a group of nine aspirants. Br. Cassien was appointed formator. The young men were due to go to Zimbabwe for the Postulancy in January 1984. In the meantime they lived in a house called “Carceri”, belonging to the Poor Clares.

But the Custody of Zimbabwe let it be known that they could not accept the Postulants of Malawi and so it was decided to begin the Postulancy in the country in January 1984. Other Postulants were received in September 1984 and September 1985. They resided in a house which had been built by the White Sisters in the diocese of Dedza. In October 1985 there were 14 postulants, six in the second year and eight in the first. It was already necessary to open the Novitiate, which was begun in September 1985, with 4 novices, in a house also belonging to the White Sisters in Mlale, in the diocese of Lilongwe, close to the House of the Friars. The formators were Br. Cassien for the Postulants and Br. Joseph Massana for the Novices.

In the meantime, the other Friars were carrying out an experience of parish pastoral activity in the diocese and, in February 1984, took over the parish of Mlale. The Friars, André, Antonio, Joseph and Luigi, left the Bishops Palace where they had been living, and went to live in the parish. Br.  André Comtois was the pastor. But in the General Curia it was thought that the parish was too big and did not conform to the indications of the “Africa Project”. The Friars were asked to find a smaller one, but it was not easy.

Friars involvement with the PeopleFriars involvement with the PeopleFriars involvement with the People
Friars’ involvement with the People.

In the meantime, the Friars dedicated themselves to the assistance of the Franciscan Tertiaries, who were already in existence before their arrival thanks to the work of the Poor Clares and other religious communities.

In 1987 it was decided to build a new house of formation for the postulants and novices in Imfayatonse, about 50 km from the capital Lilongwe. The Friars took up residence there in September of the same year, even though it was not fully finished. In the beginning of 1988 there were two novices and five postulants. The formators were Br. Columbano Arellano for the postulants and Br. Max Langendeefer for the novices. But the union between the two stages of formation in the same house was certainly not ideal.

During the meeting in Mlale on the 13th January 1988 it was decided to move the novices to Kenya from the following year. The low cultural level of the candidates was discussed on the same occasion as were the improvement of the formation programmes for the postulants and novices. At that time, the fraternity was composed of Br. Giles Barreda, Guardian, Br. Antonio Bifora, pastor, Br. André Comtois, parish vicar and assistant to the SFO, and Br. Joseph-Maria Massana, formator.

The decision to begin a new fraternity in Uganda also was taken by the first Council of the Vicariate, held in Nairobi in September 1983, since various congregations of Franciscan Sisters already existed in Uganda also. The project was to found a fraternity in the north, in the diocese of Soroti, and another in the south, in the diocese of Mbarara.

Christians after mass
Friars Sebastian-Provincial poses for a photo with some Christians after mass.

In the beginning of December 1983, Br. Larry Dunphy, Br. Hoffman and Br. Tony Chojnacki left Nairobi and went to Soroti, where the Bishop, Mons. Wandera, brought them to the mission of Wandera to study the local language. In March 1984 they were invited to three different parishes to have an experience of parish pastoral activity. Larry was sent to Katekok, near lake Nakuwe, Tony to Kyere and Jim to Amuria. But each of them had different aspirations with regard to the pastoral activity: Br. Jim wanted to give spiritual retreats, Br. Tony was interested in the formation of the young and Br. Larry wanted to work in the formation of adults.

At the end of April the three returned to Soroti and the Bishop sent them to the parish of Ngora. They arrived in September of the same year, even though their house was not yet finished. Other volunteers arrived later: Br. Simao Laginski, Brazilian, in 1985, Br. Léandre Poirier, Canadian, in November 1985 and Br. Kevin Lawlor, Australian, in January 1986. The latter had just been appointed Guardian of the fraternity in Ngora when he was attacked by unknown men one evening. He died in Nairobi on 25th June 1986.

The house in Soroti was later abandoned and a house in Mabarara was opened. This became the novitiate for the whole Vice-Province (except Madagascar) and, finally, the Friars accepted a parish in Rushooka, in the diocese of Mabarara.