After a community embraces Christianity, its members need spiritual support and encouragement for their continued growth. Traditionally, missionaries:
- administer the sacraments and help the faithful learn more about their religion,
tend to some of the traditional basic needs of their people, such as clothing and food.
However, mission today goes way beyond preaching and distributing food.
- It is service and liberation.
- It is action on behalf of justice and peace.
- It is economic development among the most impoverished, enabling them to break out of a cycle they did not choose.
More often than not, education is an important factor in our work.
Fr. Ned Marchessault, C.S.Sp., lives in Endulen, a small Maasai village overlooking the Serengeti Plain in Tanzania. Historically, the Maasai were a nomadic people, fierce warriors who moved up and down the Serengeti with their cattle.
In recent decades, environmental factors and unfortunate government policies have deprived the Maasai of their tribal land and livelihoods. Fr. Ned sees the education of the youth as their best hope for the future.
"The Maasai are on the road to extinction," he says. "Articulate leadership holds out their only chance of survival. They are moving toward oblivion because they are marginalized and impoverished. They lack knowledge of their rights and lack the skills to fight for them. Because of this, they have become objects of exploitation."
Fr. Ned runs a Maasai school called Osotwa Prep. The curriculum is drawn from the rich culture of the people. Instruction is in both English and Maasai, as Fr. Ned prepares young Maasai to qualify for secondary schools so they can become leaders in their tribe and represent their people's interests locally and nationally.
Each year, 30 boys and girls attend Osotwa. The biggest challenge is getting the Maasai families to allow their daughters to go to school. "It looks like we have 12 Maasai girls for Osotwa Prep. Four girls have arrived and eight more seem on their way. We are taking every precaution so that their warrior brothers and friends will have a hard time stealing them away. These are girls who made the choice to continue their studies. Now we must work at firming up their resolve by maintaining a good program here," Fr. Ned said.
It's working: As the young people get an education, most of them return home to good-paying jobs and some now work for the conservation authority that governs the national park area where they live. In the 15 years since Fr. Ned's arrival, the Maasai have moved up to the status of middle-management employees on the game preserve, and several hold seats on the policy-making councils.
Times have changed the way pastoral services are delivered to indigenous Indians in rural Mexico. When Fr. Frank Kickak, C.S.Sp., arrived in Mexico in 1976, he says, "there were few paved roads. We parked our jeeps and just hoofed it for two or three hours with the catechist. There were no chapels in the missions. We celebrated Mass under trees and under the sun. My first baptism involved 45 babies and my first group wedding was 35 couples. People had to walk for a couple of hours to get to us. Today, the majority of these villages have roads right into their center. In our time here, we have built over one hundred chapels."
In celebrating baptisms, marriages and Masses, Fr. Kichak says that the Spiritans "have received much more than we have given. The patience of the Indians, their simplicity, and their religious faith put us to shame."