“Insofar as I have felt and realized that my dedication, however admirable it may have been, could end up as simple generosity or degenerate into a purely human activism, I finally understood that Martha needed Mary.”
For the next three weeks we will reflect on the impact of a choice made by two Brothers to stay the course, to make a stand, to listen to the Spirit. In the Congregation’s history, many Brothers have made difficult choices, against the odds or on the margins and have lived out of the charism of the Founder. To remember these stories is to show our gratitude and hope. Today we recount the story of Brothers Victor Kazadi and Placide Ngoie, and their hope to keep the Xaverian Charism alive in Congo.
Because of the exigencies of the Brothers existence early on in our history, and the financial constraints on the Congregation, part of our missionary character went dormant for some years until 1931. That year, the Superior General, Brother Paul Scanlan, brought us in touch once again with our missionary dimension and sent the first group of Brothers to the Belgian Congo—what we know now as the Democratic Republic of Congo.
We settled in Katanga Province, the southeast region of Congo. First in the city known as Jadotville, now known as Likasi. In Likasi the Brothers primary ministry was to teach children of Belgian nationals who were working in the mines, the railroads or other industries. But they did not limit themselves to this population, agreeing to establish the school for Belgian nationals only if they were allowed to establish a school in Kasenga, thus,venturing into some of the poorest communities in the world to minister to those in need of building skills that would help lift them from their poverty.
In the 50’s the Brothers started a novitiate. Among these men entering the community was Victor Kazadi. This was the beginning of a period of great flux in the Congo: Africanization was sweeping the continent and rebellions and political troubles led to the Belgian Brothers being removed from administrative positions and also reducing the number of Belgian Brothers in the Congo. The Charism was being threatened by the national issues. These were very tough and challenging days for Brother Victor, who had been away, taking classes in Belgium.
The hardest moment for me took place in 1970…I was in Belgium taking classes when in ’67, I learned that 7 of the 12 professed Brothers whom I had left behind in the Congo, had left almost at the same moment. It was for me a most terrible blow.
On my return to the country, I was placed with the five remaining Brothers to form a group of 6 Brothers. Then four of those who had remained left…then we were down to two, Placide and I. I think that that moment was surely a very dark moment of our lives. We were truly weakened.
And in spite of being weakened Brother Victor challenged his confrere, Brother Placide, who explains:
Brother Victor Kazadi challenged me one day while we were living in a mixed, multicultural Belgo-Congolese community at the Collège du Sacré-Coeur in Likasi, for the two of us to leave this secure and safe community to go move somewhere on Avenue Lumumba and for the two of us to start an African community in an African environment. Hey! What an idea!?!…
Brother Kazadi and I weren’t sure of the realization of this community but in accord with our motives we believed it could happen.
I told myself then that based on this attitude and like the Founder I would support and accept Br. Kazadi’s challenge, giving the new African community the name “Community of Our Lady of Faith,” to tell future generations what our vision was in founding this African community and to remind these generations to come of Proverbs 18:29: “Where there is no vision, the people perish….”
During a time of upheaval and change, when abandoning the call was a legitimate path for many, Brothers Victor and Placide had doubled-down on their mission to keep the Xaverian charism alive in the Congo. But it would not be easy. There were many concerns for both of them. Brother Victor had been named Prefect of Tutazamie College at a time when there was sinking confidence in the institution. He puts it this way:
When I became Prefect, we were already in turmoil with the Mobuto movement, and the destruction of many things had reached its height. And for the populace, a black person who was going to replace a white in a school like the college was a sign of destruction which was undeniable. You can get a sense of the role I was going to play. There was fear: we are only two black Brothers; the formation program had been stopped; it was white Brothers who had named me the head of a college which represented the hope of the people So it was the fear of disappointing those who named me to be the head of this institution on the one hand, and the people on the other. To disappoint them would be the same as jeopardizing the future of the Congregation here in the Congo.
Brother Placide, also had many questions about his role in maintaining the Congregation’s presence in the region. What was he being called to do?
The storm in my heart was huge and I had deep wounds there. Where could I find the strength and the energy necessary, if not to defeat this storm, at least to tame it within me? I was overwhelmed and my soul was plagued by questions. Why? Haven’t we seen all these departures of our African colleagues, who left one by one at very short intervals? Yes, their reasons were both spoken and unspoken.
While the house was quickly emptied of its occupants, and I stood by helpless faced with these departures, many, many young people in search of their vocation were coming to parish meetings about formation for the religious life.
Invitations to these meetings influenced me as well as Victor. Therefore, we needed to form this African community, despite everything.
There was the answer. It was in the listening, the reading of signs, that Placide and Victor found their strength. They needed to respond to the needs of the youth and their desire for a life grounded in the gospel values, values that were being suppressed in the wider society, according to Victor. And so to live a gospel life for the youth, Brother Placide observed, “One attitude needed, at any cost, to be . . . [lived] in the new community was: we needed to abolish the functional barriers between the ‘Brothers’ and the youth. There would be no separation between the young people in training and us ‘Brothers.’ We [needed to] share the same life. We are the older brothers and we live side-by-side with the young, sharing our lives with them: the same table, the same food, common prayer, and ministries.” Values would be transmitted through the ordinariness of life, the non-dichotomized life of Martha and Mary. Brother Victor:
It was necessary to struggle against the non-values that were being put into the system. The college seemed to be a revolution against Mobutu’s system…One year when I refused to take an oath to support the Mobutu ideology, I was summoned to appear before the CNRI and the office of the Mobutu Youth Agency. I was happy that Brother Placide also refused to take this oath. I felt supported…It’s hard to fight against corruption, to see to it that such a virus as this does not infect your institution.
The two men credit the Founder with inspiring their “labor, effort, and zeal.” Placide, during a presentation to the General Assembly in 2012, said, “I try to orient my quest to understand the founding charism and the religious vocation more and more towards the accompaniment of the young, whose intentionality, aspirations and vision greatly inspire me to develop for myself and for them the various dimensions of the founding charism…I realize that the choice of a particular Congregation is made first emotionally, spiritually, mystically, personally and communally and in terms of presence in the world. Thus, as a Xaverian formator I work constantly to check whether personal gifts are consistent with, whether they fit with, the founding charism of the congregation.” And so today we remember this story that affirms the consistency of these two Brothers’ personal gifts with that of the founding charism of the Congregation and demonstrates the dynamic life of the Charism as it is channeled through the lives of individuals of deep faith.
It was Brother Victor who convinced the provincial in Belgium, Brother Roger Demon, that we should re-open our formation program in Congo in the late 1970’s. Together Victor and Placide began to welcome candidates for the community, and today we have a growing number of young Congolese Brothers who continue the work that the first missionaries from Belgium and the United States began in 1931. Today the College Tutazamie thrives, and the Brothers in Congo carry out a variety of ministries that help educated and empower the poor and marginalized in their region.
We are deeply grateful and inspired by the efforts and faith of Brother Victor Kazadi and Brother Placide Ngoie. Amen.
Next week we will explore more about the fruits of these Brothers’ hard earned presence in Congo.