The testimony of a boy who, thanks to the “Youth and Mission” journey, spent a month in Koupor in Chad, together with Father Marco Frattini. An experience made up of small things and many encounters. Which left a profound mark on him
«Sussè!», in the local language it means thanks, best wishes, peace, congratulations. And I too would like to greet you like this: «Susse!»
I discovered the PIME mission in Chad in its simplicity and essentiality, nothing super missionaries or super days, the key is in the small gestures, the ones we take for granted like a greeting or a smile.
Chad is three times the size of Italy, mostly Sahara desert; 17 million inhabitants (1 million Christians), second to last place in the United Nations Development Index, in government is the son of the president killed in 2021 by rebels from Libya. Chad is a very backward country, especially outside the cities. We traveled from the capital N’Djamena along the Logone river south-west, to the border with Cameroon to arrive at Tikem and Koupor, the two PIME missions.
I left with Martino, my mission companion, a young man from 2001. We shared our days for an entire month; being with another person becomes a real mission, it leads you to reach out to the other, and it’s not immediate, it takes patience. In Chad, as in all Arab-Muslim countries, there is a saying in Arabic that says: “Patience is beautiful!”.
Upon arrival they put us in a hut with a woven straw roof, two beds, a wardrobe, mosquito nets. We are welcomed by the missionary fathers and around sixty children aged 5 to 17: they come close, touch us, smile at us, laugh at my long, curly hair and Martino’s moustache! They give us flowers and shake our hands. A warm welcome. We try hard to realize that we are in Africa, but with poor results, until we decide to let ourselves go definitively by choosing not to use the telephone, not to buy a card with the connection (which the village antenna didn’t even always receive) and to listen to reality, to us, to others, to God. Tiring at first. The days pass and we immediately enter the rhythms of the day.
One evening Father Marco Frattini, a PIME missionary, originally from Germignaga, warned us that the next day we would go to visit a boy in prison. He wakes up like every morning at 5.30 / 5.45, with the crowing of the rooster, prayer or Mass, breakfast… And off we go! Three people on motorbikes, without helmets, on roads that are not asphalted but on sandy soil which, if it rains, becomes pure, clayey mud, among endless millet fields, cotton and peanut plantations, among trees with roots above and below the ground, giants and some they are healing. Wide trunks, baobabs, mango plants and pink and yellow flowers with tall, thick stems, resistant to water and high temperatures. It travels well, a few slips with the rear wheel, splashes of mud and then… the fall.! I find myself on the ground, I see the wheel continuing to spin. «We have fallen!», I exclaim. And Father Marco replies: “Yes, it’s the first time and it won’t even be the last time.” Nobody gets hurt, we get back up. Martino burns his ankle with the muffler, but he doesn’t tell us anything: a nice one souvenir from Africa. We set off again carefully, in the parts full of water we go down on foot, slippers in our hands and feet in the mud. We arrive close to the village, we get off the motorbike and we see the lake to cross with a small boat, a pirogue. There are six or seven of us on the pirogue plus the motorbike. I turn to Martino and tell him that we weigh too much like this, we can’t do it, we will definitely go too far and take on water. Father Marco looks at us and asks us if we can swim. We nod. Instead nothing happens, we get to the other side without effort. We enjoy the sound of the tufts of grass between the wood of the pirogue, the wind and the sound of the water.
We set off again and reach the prison in the city center which consists of a building surrounded by walls, there are no rooms inside, there is nothing. People sleep outdoors and only go out if they have visitors. Soldiers with machine guns sit and talk. We approach one of them who is under a tree with a table, we leave him the phone and ask for Justin, a young man of 25 years old, father of a family, who has been there for 6 months and has to do as many more to regain his freedom, wrongfully imprisoned on an unfounded accusation. An absurd story: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 5:10). We had read it the last Sunday at Mass and Father Marco had cited Justin’s example. They make us sit outside the walls, they bring us a smooth and clean log to sit on. Let’s wait. Here he comes, he greets Father Marco first and then the two of us. He has shiny, bright eyes on his tired face and wrinkled skin. Marco introduces us, he looks at us, nods, welcomes us to Chad, smiles and thanks us. After a few words, Justin approaches confession, we move away, then together we recite (listen) to some passages of the Mass in the local language and French. We listen to the Gospel, pray together, exchange peace, and then Justin receives the Eucharist. We are silent, we receive the blessing. We’re still there with him for a bit. We brought him some food, he goes back inside and comes out with three gifts, rings and bags that kids in prison make with materials they find there, one each. Beautiful! We say goodbye, we shake hands, he thanks us again, he tells us to say hello to his family and our community.
We take advantage of the place to buy something at the market, like bread, some drinks or something else, and set off for the mission. Motorbike, pirogue, motorbike, house. We have lunch and rest a bit. In the afternoon there isvacation school, a sort of school for the kids from the nearby villages (some of them walked an hour or two every day to participate). Prayer together and then football tournaments for the boys and handball tournaments for the girls. We played football matches, barefoot, on dirt fields, with goats here and there, and spectators in the trees or on thatched roofs. Sunset, home, shower, dinner together. Prayer at 8pm in the chapel with many children from the villages. Every evening, some of them stop for a few minutes at home, we read a few pages of a Gospel with illustrations in simple French for children. Saturday night is movie night. And it always is sold out! The children return to the villages by moonlight or torchlight, everything profoundly dark. We stay with Father Marco, he smokes a pipe, Martino a cigarette, I think about the day. In the meantime, a fresh herbal tea with a plant that grows there. A chat and goodnight! Tomorrow the rooster is on time!
«We all receive our first mission, with Baptism – Father Marci once told us -. Then comes the rest, but the first mission for everyone, and it is this.” Good mission then! «Sussé!».