Duekoué (Ivory Coast). On 14 January 2022, Saint Teresa Community of Mother of God Province (AFO) celebrated the 40th anniversary of the arrival of the first Daughters of Mary Help of Christians in the Ivory Coast, in Duekoué.
Sr. Pascaline Affognon, Provincial Secretary, interviewed Sr. Maria Teresa Añaños, one of the two pioneers of the first FMA community in Duekoué, of Spanish nationality, who talks about the beginnings of the mission of the FMA in this part of West Africa:
“Our arrival in the Ivory Coast is an anticipation of Project Africa of the FMA Institute, which will see the light in 1983, after the XVII General Chapter, held in Rome from 15 September 1981 to 27 February 1982”.
In the Chronicle of the Community of Duékoué we read:
“On 14 January 1982, with John Paul II at the Pontifical See […], Mother Rosetta Marchese at the government of the FMA Institute, and Sr. Maria del Pilar Polo of the Province, began the FMA Mission in Duékoué, dependent on Our Lady of the Pillar of Barcelona, Spain”. Duékoué belongs to the Diocese of Man, the fourth largest city in West Africa.
The foundation responds to the appeal of the Rector Major of the Congregation of the Salesians of Don Bosco with Project Africa and to that of Pope John Paul II, “It is time for Africa”. The purpose of the work, as expressed in the minutes of the General Council, is “to evangelize and promote the young girl in her dimension as a woman in the Church and in the African world”.
In June 1981, the Provincial, Sr. Maria del Pilar Polo, and Sr. Concepción Ibáñez, with the SDB Provincial Vicar, Fr. Luis Oliveras, travel to Abidjan, welcomed by the Bishop of Man, Msgr. Bernard Agré, and by two missionaries. For the FMA, these are intense days of a first contact with the African reality and with the culture, full of emotions, discoveries, celebrations, festivities on the part of the people who come to greet the Sisters.
Following the report on the trip, on 10 July 1981, the General Council authorized the foundation of the mission of Duékoué and of the first community, made up of Sr. Asunción Bosch Bagur and Sr. Maria Teresa Añaños Colón. Roser Navarro, a young nurse, would also go with them. Duékoué was no longer a dream but a reality to be discovered day by day.
“On 10 January 1982, in the chapel of the provincial community of Barcelona, we received the missionary cross. On 13 January, we arrived in Abidjan, in the Ivory Coast, where the Salesians were waiting for us,” recounts Sr. Maria Teresa.
“We immediately realized that the mission is not a personal matter but a community one, even if each of us had a specific responsibility. For me it was school. Bishop Agré was like a father and he always trusted us. We found that education in values was an emergency. The school grew very quickly and in a short time we had also added the hostel for the girls.
I took over the direction of the Catholic school with the concern of applying the Preventive System through our effective presence and the regular formation of teachers. Initially, this took place in Duékoué and then in 8 other schools of the Diocese. The relationship with the professors was simple and rewarding, but arriving at a change of pedagogical mentality required time and method. Little by little the practice of assistance, equality, and respect of the boys and girls became more evident and, in all of this, we were united, FMA and SDB, to give the mission the Salesian color.
Everything gave me joy, a joy that I tried to share without expecting anything in return. When I arrived, I thought I could give, but I was the first to receive. There were also all kinds of difficulties: two months before our arrival, there was a cyclone that caused great damage, but where we experienced concrete solidarity. Everything helped us to mature, to abandon ourselves to Him, to dream, to invent, with the certainty of the presence of Mary always at work.
The inclusion in the life of the Diocese was linear, because it was well organized, with a work plan evaluated periodically. A surprising discovery was that the Salesian charism was already in the hearts of the people, of the children, in the culture, waiting to be awakened with African colors. The welcome, the sense of celebration, simplicity, openness, sharing, solidarity, the religious dimension, the sense of God, the joy of children capable of rejoicing with little, the resilience of the people. Everything helped us to move forward.
One of the difficulties was the language, because in Duékoué there are many ethnic groups with their own mother tongue and not everyone speaks or understands French. I could only say a few words, but people were happy to hear them. They laughed when I was wrong, even if the universal language of the heart has overcome the mistakes.
Sundays were beautiful because we went with the priests and some catechists to the villages for liturgical animation. The parish had more than 80 Christian communities, visited monthly with the Eucharistic celebration or with the celebration of the Word and communion.
In January 1991, the Preprovince was erected and Sr. Yvonne Reungoat was the Superior. In August 1992, the Province of Mary Mother of God was established and on 5 August 1991, the Novitiate was opened. In this new page of our history, I was engaged in formation with the sisters who arrived in Duékoué for this new mission: Sr. Angela Zampa and Sr. Christine Vaquié.
Everything was an opportunity to bring my pebble with so many sisters to this beautiful Province with its shadows and lights. Mary walks into this house! It is she who has done everything; she continues to do everything. In this 40-year jubilee of presence in Duékoué there is so much to tell and to thank God who, with our littleness, continues to do wonders”.