The brothers in Senegal


The brothers arrived in Senegal at the beginning of 1993, at the invitation of Cardinal Thiandoum, the then archbishop of Dakar. The intuition of Brother Roger was that we should establish a small fraternity of the community in a Muslim country of black Africa (officially there are scarcely 5% of Christians in Senegal) even if at that time the tensions around Islam had scarcely begun to make themselves felt in the world.

The brothers set up home in a large working class neighbourhood of Dakar, to live their community life of prayer, welcoming others, and sharing. The reception they got from the neighbours, while obviously a bit suspicious at first, quickly became warm and trusting. The house is open every day to children from the neighbourhood for activities that complement what they do in school. They are taken care of by adolescents who themselves receive support for their own schooling. The young adults also come to study and to reflect. Some of the women come to do sewing work for which an outlet has been found.

According to the number and the qualifications of the brothers, there are or have been various activities involving refugees and emigrants, prisoners and people with AIDS, with particular emphasis given to the most destitute and those who are more or less marginalised.

The local church has welcomed the brothers generously and they are committed in various ways: organising prayers, training programs, architecture. But the most essential remains their presence in the neighbourhood, listening and occasionally helping out with so many recurrent problems: health, work, and even survival, at a time when those who are most vulnerable feel directly the effects of the economic crisis and have reached the limit of what hey can do.

The prayer together is nourished and stimulated by the fact of its being rooted in the life of the neighbourhood. It is also sustained by the faithful participation of many children, of young people and some of the adults from among the Christians of the neighbourhood.

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24 December at Grand Yoff

One of the brothers living in Dakar writes:
Just like every Christmas Eve, we can see a large marquee being set up at the nearby cross roads and reaching right to our door. It blocks all the traffic. People bring carpets, a platform, chairs and some armchairs for the dignitaries; and a very impressive sound system, with an electricity generator to take care of any possible overflow. The loud speakers are obviously directed in such a way as to cover the entire neighbourhood, us included. From 3 pm we can’t hear ourselves speak in our little courtyard. We are told that the aim is to organise nights of prayer and religious songs for the young Moslems! There is nothing against us. But what are we to become, with the little prayer vigil we had planned?

As evening approaches, we try to negotiate. The big tent is still empty; at present there are only the organisers, neighbours we know well. We explain that this evening we too would like to celebrate the birth of Jesus, with a vigil, mostly in silence. “No problem! We are your family!” And the sound system stops immediately. “When you have finished, just let us know.”

A beautiful vigil, joyful and meditative, with children, young people and some of the mothers. Our courtyard is like the humble stable on the night in Bethlehem. When we finish around mid night, whenever the children leave the house, the loud speakers start up afresh. We will not close an eye tonight.

The Transfiguration

One of the brothers writes: “There are no mountains in Senegal. Everything is desperately flat. So how can we live the Feast of the Transfiguration?

We go up onto the terrace of the house at six o’clock in the morning. It is still night. A priest friend has come to celebrate the Eucharist with us. Young people have come, some of them from quite far away. The children arrive one after the other, still drowsy as they climb the stairs, some dragging their mothers with them. We can begin. Little by little the singing becomes more assured…

It is almost cool. There will be no rain today, just a light breeze and some clouds in the sky. The dawn breaks gently, and the birds start to sing. We have passed unawares from night to the light of day. What a parable!”

Last updated: 8 January 2010

Making the earth a place where all can live, be they nearby or far away, is one of the beautiful pages of the Gospel for you to write by your life. …
By sharing, are you among those who, with very little, generate a fine human hope?

The Sources of Taizé