By Alexio Mesi, SDB
St. Henry’s Parish in Harare, Zimbabwe consists of four Small Christian Communities (SCCs). These SCCs meet at least every second week but at different times in the week. They meet at the house of any member of that community. The SCC members have Bible Sharing and most of the time say the rosary together praying for their various intentions and those of their parish. At least once every two months the parish priest celebrates mass in the SCC.
Social Context of this parish: It is located in the area with high rate of crime, unemployment, widespread AIDS epidemic and an escalating number of school drop outs.
Having shared the life of the parish I visited St. Vincent De Paul Small Christian Community and made a research using the Pastoral Spiral Method (“See,” “Judge” and “Act”). This is the method that this paper will also use in giving report of the findings. I also interview ed about three quarters of the members of the SCC.
VISION: One faith, one baptism, one Lord (Ephesians 4:5).
MISSION: Building the family of God through prayer, shared faith and works of mercy.
This St. Vincent De Paul Small Christian Community has been seeing the sufferings of the poor and escalating unemployment rate leading to so many dysfunctional families and increase in crime, high rate high school dropouts and promiscuity. These issues were tabled by the members of the SCC at their weekly meetings. A concern was raised to help the suffering people and to aid their brothers and sisters in need. Many of the members narrated stories of how they have seen that the rapid increase of poverty was having a very devastating effect, causing even a good number of people to despair and lose their faith. Some even observed that some parents resorted to sending their kids into prostitution to earn some money while other engaged into robbery and other forms of organized crimes. The SCC members also observed that there was an increase in the rate of HIV and AIDS infections.
I noticed that young people did not attend the Small Christian Community meetings with their parents. This prompted me engage into dialogue with some of the youth to find out the reasons that they do not join their parents for the Small Christian Community meetings. I found the following challenges or factor stemming from misconceptions and ignorance of the essence of Small Christian Communities. First, the youth believed that the Small Christian Community are for married men and women only. Secondly, programs of the Small Christian Communities did not engage or involve the youth; they were practically not given any responsibilities or consideration. Most activities involved issues of parenting and marriage life. Third, the youth has no voice in the Christian community as speaking before elders was considered a lack of respect. Parents preferred leaving young people at home so the Small Christian Communities are meetings for the elders. These same challenges also extend to the parish level.
These concerns emerged from the political corruption and injustice that has resulted in difficult ways and means for people to have a decent livelihood in Zimbabwe. In this neighborhood, most people struggle to put food at table. The community after such intense observation of the problems in their neighborhood felt the urgency and concern to help in their little way to bring relief and the reduction of crime, prostitution, number of dropouts and provide help for the poor. In following the steps of their founder St. Vincent De Paul, they felt the zeal of coming to the aid of their brothers and sisters who have fallen victims to the corruption perpetuated by the prevailing political structure that leads most people in the neighborhood to resort to unethical means to earn a decent living.
The small community also saw the need to intensify prayer for the nation that God may intervene in the political situation that has caused a lot of people to suffer. The community also realized the need to ask God to bless their charitable activities to see that most people are taken care of in their neighborhood.
A commission was set up to see to the needs mention above. In this regard, the commission decided on lines of action to be taken in the Small Christian Community in very practical ways. The called upon all members of the community to play a part starting from helping those members who were having the problems of the lack of enough food to eat and children dropping out to from school due to inability to pay for school fees.
The community decided to have fundraising ventures at the main church every two months in agreement with the parish priest who saw their proposal and working plans. The community decided to have a box for clothes at the door of the church where secondhand clothes would be collected. The community also engaged some benefactors like big grocery stores, some companies and private firms to help. Five grocery stores decided to give out food like rice, cooking oil, salt, sugar and corn flour. Six companies decided to pay for school fees for 80 students until they finished, and the collapsing social welfare decided to adopt 50 college students. Three private school accepted to give some bursaries to 30 high school students. The British Embassy agreed to help in provision of ARV drugs and other needed basic homebased care facilities for people suffering from HIV and AIDS. The Red Cross Society of Zimbabwe agreed to do the homebased care for the victims. It also agreed to train the Small Christian Community members on how to give basic homebased care for those infected by HIV and AIDS. The Red Cross Society also accepted to do run some behavior change programs for five years in this neighborhood.
St. Vincent De Paul Small Christian Community decided to reserve every 20 minutes of the weekly meeting on updates on how the various outreach programs are doing and how the collection of names of the needy still continues and the methods of data collection. The community decided to have each family to save 15 minutes every day in their respective homes to pray a decade of the rosary for these outreach programs to succeed well. Each family was given one of the 20 mysteries of the rosary to pray. They call this the Living Rosary. In this way, they would have all the 20 mysteries of the rosary said making up the complete recitation of the rosary every day.
The parish priest and pastoral council are fully involved in keeping check and balance the activities of St. Vincent De Paul Small Christian Community. Financial reports and working plans and timetables are drawn up and submitted every three months to the members and to the parish office.
In conclusion, I want to express that this Small Christian Community is a great platform that really enriches the church. Many things sprout from great foundation that is laid by the SCC. St. Vincent De Paul SCC has been a good community where the Gospel has been put into practice. The activity up to today is really fruit of making alive the gospel. It helps to restore the dignity of the people that we call our brothers and sisters. However, more has to be done in the establishment of the presence and involvement of young people in this Small Christian Community.
Deacon Alexio Mesi, SDB
Don Bosco Utume Salesian Theological College
11 November, 2016